“I think of transexuality as a kind of birth defect.”
So do I. I was born into the wrong culture.
– Riki Wilchins, from “17 Things You Don’t Say To A Transexual,” Read My Lips
Dysphoria came first and fiercest as the sense that something was wrong with me. Something was terribly, fundamentally wrong with me, and it would never be put right. The feeling was vague and confused, yet vast, pervading everything. I didn’t know what was wrong, exactly, but I knew it was very, very bad. It seemed to be my fault, though I had never intended to cause it. It had something to do with the future, with world of adult relationships. I knew that I would never marry a man; the idea was absurd. Would I marry a woman? Would anyone ever want me? I did not know. I had a deep, gnawing fear that I would never have children. I wanted to, desperately, but it seemed extremely unlikely. I remember trying to comfort myself, Most people have kids, right? I wanted so badly to fix myself, solve the problem, grow up right, be worthwhile. I didn’t want to be a boy, per se. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to be like everybody else.
When did the burden materialize? I have no recollection, and I suspect it is as old as I am. It was a strict taboo in my family. It wasn’t til many years later that my parents acknowledged I had always been masculine, that they knew something was going on with me, though didn’t guess what. My masculinity went unacknowledged like toilet paper stuck to somebody’s shoe. Embarrassing. I think my parents thought it would crush me to point it out–they felt a need to insist I was normal and adequate as a girl. But I just wasn’t, and that was far too obvious to miss. So instead of knowing I was masculine, I knew myself as a failure. Everything came so easily to everybody else, but all I tried to do came out crooked.
What was I supposed to make of it? I had been given no words, no examples, no stories, no chance. Occasional snippets caught from grown-up television gave intimations of freaks, wholly alien kinds of people, pathetic in doomed quests to be what they are not. “Men in dresses,” etc. I vaguely related to Joan of Arc and figured I’d missed the boat by a couple of centuries. I could only see myself as an abject failure, utterly hopeless, a doomed hybrid in a world of opposites.
Since no one ever acknowledged it, I thought I might be the only one who realized what I was. Here is where things really went to shit. Seeing myself as a freak and failure, and with everyone else pretending nothing was wrong, I learned it was my job–my most important job–to keep the secret. To fake it, to act like it wasn’t happening, to pretend to be a girl. They were pretending in an insane attempt to protect my feelings; I was pretending in a desperate bid to spare theirs, to spare myself the look on their faces when they realized what had happened, who I really was. I was suffocated by the burden of their hopes for me–hopes I could never fulfill. I learned to lie by example.
The damage of that denial runs deep, deeper even than the gender issues that sparked it. I have grown up into a man; my whole family accepts me. Yet I still suspect I am not worthwhile. The bullshit habit has its own momentum. Sometimes I can observe myself swallowing a thought or emotion, recoiling from love in fear and mistrust. I struggle to release my stranglehold on the same old shit. I get good grades to be good enough; I am impeccably polite to be good enough; I mentally berate myself to be good enough. I was so afraid of disappointing my parents, but maybe I was disappointed with myself all along.
I remember my depression and rage as a child. I didn’t want this life. Strange. It seemed at once so fair, so unchosen–yet I blamed myself completely, believed I could fix it, be different.
I am so sick of carrying the belief that it’s all my fault. It’s not my fault. My body and soul were simply given, and then badly mishandled by an idiot culture and well-meaning young adults who knew very little about the world. And there is nothing wrong with me.
I know this. I’m still trying to feel it.
If guilt is hell, what is its opposite?
– A Course In Miracles