Above All, Be The Heroine Of Your Life, Not The Victim
I have lived with a transgender problem since as long I can remember and yet it is only very recently, on the eve of my 40th birthday, that I made a conscious effort to start writing my thoughts about it. This may seem even more surprising if you realize that I have a flair for writing, and engage in it eagerly and hungrily.
I suspect it has to do with the state of denial I have lived through all these years, out of fear to confront my gender identity and feel “shamed” by the reactions of others. Or perhaps, I was just in doubt over being transgender and chose to turn my head the other way – something I felt almost compelled to do since coming out has always meant me for becoming vulnerable to judgment of others and also risking the dearest things in my life such as my wonderful family, my high-paying job and a bunch of super friends. Either way, it just seems like my denial was grounded in fear.
It is since several years that I study and explore the question of “what makes me happy” and “what should make me happy”. This relentless quest has taken me to study Buddhism, to meditate, to reflect over the role and meaning of the human (and my) ego, to seek a connection with nature, to learn about the Cosmos and our place in it, to delve into the role of human consciousness as postulated by Biocentrism and most recently to uncover the mysteries of positive psychology. What’s more, my quest for self-empowering knowledge about happiness have also made me do quite some unconventional things such as quitting my corporate job, starting a business (one that failed), bungee-jumping, and volunteering in Africa. And I’d like to think that happiness is no longer outside my reach and that I have had a good taste of it the recent years. It may be worth asking why happiness has been such an elusive thing for me, a fundamental question I suppose.
Looking back on the last 20 or so years I feel that I wasn’t living entirely my own life, but someone else’s. And I don’t mean to elude directly to the fact that since I was a young teenager I secretly fantasized over being a girl (and later a woman). I think the source of my mediocre satisfaction with life wasn’t this alone, by far not. I shall give a much bigger credit to how the modern world operates and how I, along with everybody else, have found myself trapped in it. I believe that we are conditioned from the early age to work towards overly ambitious goals, to get successful careers, to amass money and to spend them excessively, to ceaselessly compare ourselves to others, to fear being judged, to pretend that we are stronger than we really are, and generally to constantly run on a treadmill of life hoping to finally one day be happy, and at rest.
I am extremely fortunate to have uncovered the startling truth that being happy is for the big part about being yourself, which signifies an unconditional acceptance of who you are, with the imperfections that all of us have and which by the way is what make us all individually so unique, and hence interesting. Being happy, so it seems to me, is also about stepping off the crazy treadmill and instead pacing slowly down the rocky path of our existence with a conviction that life’s beauty is in it being ordinary rather than exceptional. This explains why I no longer multitask (or at least try not to), a habitual activity for so many of us but one that I believe to be a truly corrosive poison contaminating our minds and bodies. After all, how can you catch a happy moment if, while eating a seemingly “ordinary” meal in the warmth of your house with your beautiful family, you frantically check your emails, scold your children, or get into an argument with your beloved over nothing?
As I have learned, happiness doesn’t descent on us but is a skill that takes a great deal of effort and time to master…
About Happiness – Second Thoughts
But, on the second thought, I must retreat on my initial claim that my secret teenage fantasies about being a female (and cross-dressing along with it) did not affect how satisfied I was and am with life. On reflection I think that my view of the world, and the way I got sculpted into an adult, was heavily influenced by my gender, by being a boy and later a man. After all, as males we are taught to be and to act in a certain way…at least I was. For example, we are more likely to be egocentric and self-focused, or driven to get certain things done, or be obsessed with goals, or to fear being shamed or judged, or not to show our vulnerabilities in any way. Most of these things are what not just frustrated me but caused me to suffer (and often others) from feelings of anger. I objectively think that men, due to our prevailing social norms, are significantly more likely to chase life (think self-imposed pressure to achieve this or that) or to pretend being stronger than they are (think how hard it is for us to cry).
Assuming this latter argument is valid, then perhaps my dissatisfaction with life has after all had something to do with my gender, and the gender dysphoria I seem to suffer from. There is some sort of inner disaccord in me with male values or male characteristics, particularly competitiveness, aggression and dominance. This may very well be why, rather than watching a football game (never liked it really) or instead of reading through auto-magazines, I feel much more at ease cooking dinner for my family and friends or looking with awe over the setting sun. This is not to reinforce any male or female stereotypes, but just to point out that I am finding myself to be attracted much more towards my “softer” side, which typically is thought of as a female trait.
In my quest to be happier, and more content with life, I have without a doubt made a huge leap forward. Somehow, each day seems brighter and lighter and enjoyable moments are infinitely more abundant. Anger seems like a thing of the past – most of the time at least – and my life is filled with more peace then I could have ever hoped for. And yet, I do feel that I am incomplete…so long I am a man. I must go back 30 years back…
My Early Years
I cannot remember how old I was when I tried, for the first time, to dress up as a girl. I must have been 8 or perhaps 9 years old. I recall opening a drawer in my mom’s wardrobe and, at the sight of her garment got curious over how I would look dressed as a girl. I did put on some of her things, the tights, the hat, the bra… Most of these were over-sized and I surely must have looked extremely ridiculous. And yet I enjoyed the experience a great deal, for reasons that were not clear at the time.
Later, during my teenage years, I dressed up as a girl countless times more, this at the unexpected encounter of female apparel and presence of sufficient privacy. I recall doing it once at my cousins’ bedroom, few times at my girl-friends birthday parties (in the bathroom), at my own home (when everybody was out), and at many other places… Each time it was an unplanned, and rather spontaneous act but one that appeased to my curiosity and filled me with a strange joy, and even sexual arousal.
With the arrival of financial independence, I was able to start building a collection of my own female apparel, adding few years later a set of my own wigs as well as my own make-up set. By the time I was approaching my 30th birthday I regularly sneaked out from the office and spent afternoons at home enjoying “being a woman”.
I cannot say I was different than other boys exclusively because of my desire to look like a girl. It has recently struck me that, as a young boy, I eagerly and easily mixed up with girls, and did so infinitely more often than other boys. But my mixing up with the “opposite” sex was easy insofar it had a completely asexual context. Any hint of an erotic attraction between me and the opposite sex would result in me feeling tense and shy. It is this shyness that prevented me from dating other girls, despite my obviously solid credentials i.e. good student, sporty and athletic type, rather presentable. On those rare occasions that I managed to date a girl I did not feel particularly masculine at all, in fact I wanted to be hugged and embraced and looked after…surely not what boys look for in a relationship with a girl. I cannot explain why I felt the way I did, I was simply shy when attracted by girls and felt very vulnerable.
As I look back on my teenage years I cannot help noticing that I felt torn apart between two feelings. From one side I admired the girls, and wanted to be one of them – a feeling that has grown infinitely stronger with the passing years. From the other side, I felt heterosexually attracted to some of them but felt awkward and out of place making any meaningful advances. It is only so much more surprising that in the end I did manage to marry, to a beautiful and wonderful person who I still share my life with (although I am not sure how much longer our marriage can last)…
Until very recently, when I finally started coming out to my family and friends, I retained a huge secrecy about my change-overs and the only person I have ever shared this with was my wife. Thinking back I cannot help noticing that my cross-dressing always filled me, besides self-content, also with deep shame. Paradoxically therefore, the whole experience tore me apart between two extremely opposite feelings which were very hard to reconcile. My shame was grounded in an obsessive fear of being caught by somebody, or to raise a suspicion of any sort. The latter has of course happened, as I am sure many people noticed that something was going on with me. And yet, besides openly discussing it with my wife on a handful of occasions I have never been confronted by anybody – either a very tactful behaviour on their part or perhaps my secrecy was more effective than I dare to admit.
In any case, the feeling of shame is what accompanied me through many years. And as I reflect over the origin of my shame I cannot help thinking that my wanting to be a female almost always felt like a very, very evil thing. Somehow, at a subconscious level, I felt that being a female would depreciate me profoundly as a person. Obviously, there is nothing less valuable about either of the genders/sexes and yet our society places a lower value on women than it does on men. This is not a speculation on my part but rather a sad reality, as explored by the Economist in its shocking article “Gendercide“. But it isn’t just the socio-cultural views on female gender that drove me to feel ashamed. If anything, my upbringing was at the core of it.
I was raised in the firm believe that I must be strong, very strong in fact. My mom and dad did not enjoy a particularly happy marriage and got effectively separated when I was a very young teenager. My father’s presence in my life was fairly infrequent, which may explain the strength of his influence. It is under his subtle, yet extremely powerful persuasion that I became a top student at the secondary school after moving, at the age of thirteen, to our new house in the new quarters of my home town Poznań (in Poland). It is also under his influence that I became very good as a fin-swimmer at a local scuba diving club. And my drive to excel continued for many years after, for reasons that have their origin almost most certainly in the relationship I had with my father during the teenage years. In a way, I must thank my father for the way he influenced me – I am sure he had the best intentions and wished the best for me and my brothers.
But my father wasn’t only a strong influencer, he also had very strong opinions on a variety of subjects, including women. With passage of time his strong views abated, after all he is a very intelligent and smart individual which cannot be told for his social skills… Despite all his weaknesses (who doesn’t have them), he remains my father and I respect him deeply.
But on the main subject, I recall from my childhood my father making on many occasions derogatory comments about my mother, and women in general. These happened not only during frequent (and occasionally violent) arguments with my mother but also in casual conversations with us, his sons. This subtle factor surely added to my believe that being a woman means being less valuable as a human being. And so, for years I held a very firm conviction that women and men are not “created equal” and that I am lucky to be a man. I am certain this conviction pushed my transgenderism deep, very deep, under the skin and behind firmly closed door.
But, as I have found out recently, my secrecy- and feeling embarrassed about my transgenderism seems to be extremely common. In fact, it is estimated that one in three MtF transsexuals feel this way and are referred to as autogynephilic or secondary type. There is a lot of debate, it seems, about the causes of transgenderism and what makes a person transgendered. But if to believe the particular resources I have studied recently, I am unequivocally autogynephilic.
Typology of Transsexualism
The resource I refer to suggest that there are two basic and distinct biological causes/conditions found in trans-gendered persons.
The first of these two, often thought of as the “classic” pattern, is when a person is extremely gender atypical from early childhood, often gender dysphoric from school age onward, and universally attracted to their same natal sex. Such persons find their sexed body deeply repugnant and embarrassing from an early age, but increasingly so at puberty. They do not experience sexual arousal with cross-dressing or to the thought of being or becoming the opposite sex. The prototypical “classic” transsexual are often called a “sissy” by her peers growing up. She avoids rough and tumble activities. Her primary social circle consists of one or two girls. She actively participates in girls’ games and imaginary play. Her parents are embarrassed by her femininity, and may or may not seek professional help in trying to discourage her behaviour. As a young teen, she becomes interested in girls fashion and make-up, often exploring how she might look as a girl by dressing up and experimenting with make-up. This does not involve erotic cross-dressing. She has crushes on boys at school. Her peers think she might be homosexual. She is hassled, perhaps even bullied, by homophobic boys, but otherwise is reasonably popular in her chosen circle. She is considered very neat and well dressed in boy’s clothes. She seeks out opportunities to interact with small children and infants, taking on babysitting jobs. As she approaches adulthood, looking at her own nature, her potential future, both romantic and economic, makes a rational decision to transition to living as a girl so as to grow up to be a woman socially. Her family may not disown her in late adolescence. As she is naturally feminine, she finds that she is socially and romantically more successful as a woman. She actively dates men while pre-op, but assiduously avoids direct contact with her penis, finding that emotionally uncomfortable. She lives several years as a woman, taking feminizing hormones, before having SRS to improve her sex life, replacing genitalia that she didn’t use with those that she did.
The other type is generally gender typical in behaviour as a child, but may experience transient gender dysphoria, nonetheless, keeping it usually secret, due to correctly understanding that this is socially undesirable. Such persons hide their desire to be, or be like, the other sex, not gender atypical behaviour, which they don’t naturally have. They are mostly attracted to the opposite natal sex, but may be behaviourally bisexual or asexual. They exhibit an unusual pattern and orientation, in which they find the thought of being or becoming the opposite sex to be emotionally rewarding. They may also find altering their appearance to approximate the opposite sex, by cross-dressing, to also be rewarding. Transsexuals with this biological condition are most often called, “non-homosexual transsexuals”.
It is the latter type that I can most easily associate myself with, and so – if the above typology is correct – I am an autogynophilic transsexual. Of course, putting a label on my transgenderism matters only insofar one wants to understand the origins of my condition. On the other, it is an irrelevant subject in many ways since I am where I am: stuck between genders, with male body and female identity.
Should I Transition?
This question has been on my mind for as long as I can remember. At an emotional level I have always felt that I should transition and start living with authenticity. But I was holding back for years, and it had to do with a long list of fears and worries which played endlessly in my head, to my peril.
To start with, I have always doubted that my transition was feasible. I could simply not imagine that I could ever blend in to look, sound, act and feel like a woman But as soon as I made the unimaginable leap forward into the realm of femininity I quickly realized that my rather small size and soft physical appearance make me pre-disposed for successful transition. Should I call myself lucky? Most certainly yes!
But if anything, it has been always my commitments towards my children and my beloved partner that made me doubt about what I should do next. The pivotal question in my mind was whether I could establish a rainbow family with my wife and my children, and continue living our lives in a loving relationship under new, and admittedly unusual circumstances? From my end I could not imagine loving them less due to my transition, but I could imagine them loving me less or not at all. And yet, my transition has not made my family stop loving me. On the contrary, it actually strengthened some aspects of our relationship in a way that I thought impossible before. But the question is still open as to whether my partner and I want/can live together or rather become life-long friends.
Lastly, I have also feared how everything else was going to change for me. Take my job for example? I have thought I could probably re-establish myself as an independent professional under a different name (and gender). Admittedly, this depends on how successful my transition will be and how well I can “pass” as a woman in the future. I believe that during the period of my transformation, when my gender is most ambiguous, I must seek intermediate work (perhaps working as a volunteer), in order to keep my skills “hot”, to retain sanity, and perhaps even to bring just a bit money home…
And my extended family? I have known all along that it would be a shock to them, but I hoped that I could – with the right preparation – explain it all to them with a fair chance for being understood, and perhaps even accepted. Admittedly, this is not settled yet and my fears are as real today as they were a year ago, five years ago, and fifteen years ago.
A Lifetime as a Woman
Goals we embark to achieve in our lives – especially the very ambitious or romantic ones – often turn out to be anticlimactic, with the final outcomes being less than we expected, when exaltation is replaced with disappointment or even regret. I have experienced this more often than I can remember and so it is only fair to ask myself how I imagine my life beyond the point of transitioning towards a female.
Well, as hard as it may seem, I would like my life to remain largely unchanged. Put differently, I imagine slipping into the new skin and then pursue the happiness, for me and for my family in exact same way as I have so far. I suppose the hardest part is to find a way to conform, to pass, to blend in…can I achieve (and survive) this truly heroic step-over?
Clearly, living as a woman from dusk to dawn is quite different than occasionally dressing up like one. But behind the veil of our gender, particularly the physical- and socio-cultural aspect, I believe men and women are not that far apart. And this makes me believe that I am unlikely to become a dramatically different person, at least when it comes to my personality and character. I accept, however, and even look forward to certain things changing in my life, such as that fact that I will become emotionally more sensitive or that I will cut down on my male privileges.
But as has been said, beyond these perhaps somewhat dramatic changes, I see myself being more or less the same person. I imagine waking up in the morning full of energy and drive. I imagine being there for my loved ones, day in and day out. I imagine enjoying my professional career as a freelance finance professional. I imagine engaging in the sporting activities I hold so dear. And I imagine spending great time with my friends and extended family, laughing over a joke while sipping a glass of wine.
Admittedly, all this will require quite a great deal of readjustment on my part, among my loved one, and everybody else. And there are some new routines and habits to develop on my part.
Is it all worth it?
As someone once said you should not think you’re on the right road just because it’s a well-beaten path. Indeed, I no longer want to be diverted by my masculine physicality, and the frustration and anger that – in my case – come with it. I believe that beyond the wall of my desired gender there is a vast space that will offer me the life-force which I so much need, and the authenticity, and the opportunity for self-realization.
Can I become the heroin of my life, and not the victim?
I am convinced that I can….