Trigger warning for talk about suicide and slurs.
I woke up yesterday morning and followed my typical work-from-home routine. I went straight from bed to the kitchen to feed the cats and get the coffee going. As I walked back upstairs to login to the work VPN and get set up to start working, I thought about how much I wanted to finish the blog post I started last week about finding acceptance. A wonderful dinner with my family for my birthday the other night–which included witnessing my mom get drunk for the “first time in her life”–reinforced how lucky I have been through my transition and this seemed like the perfect cap to my drafted post.
Then, reality hit me. I may not constantly think about suicide anymore like I used to, but I am not cured from such thoughts. Yesterday quickly took a turn from a face full of smiles to a bitter fight with a head full of suicidal thinking. It seems like it always comes back to this. I get overwhelmed by regular life because my normal baseline is too high and there isn’t enough room to handle the other stressors. Some days, a single bad interaction or having too many things on my plate sends me over the edge. I feel alone, unwanted, and unnecessary.
In my head, I have this place I go in retreat when I’m not having a good day. I don’t go there willfully, but I blink and there I am with no way out. It’s dark and unfriendly, but it offers an easy escape from my problems. I used to spend a lot of time in this place and its solution was enticingly easy and complete. For close to two decades, I had a reason to fight through it and not accept the offer. I didn’t want to be remembered as a man and I didn’t want to die without getting to live my life as me. That would have been worse than living was. If not for this, I can’t say with any level of certainty that I’d have seen 20.
In hindsight, this should have been more than enough indication that I needed to transition. It wasn’t. Life is complicated and as unfriendly as the world is to trans people now, it was much, much worse then. I had never seen a positive representation of a transgender person until midway through college and I had never seen any representation that I even remotely identified with. It was always “tr*nny” this and “sh*male” that. “They’re a man!” These words were thrown around with such hate and disgust. I didn’t know what I was, but I knew I wasn’t disgusting and I didn’t want be a freak. I felt alone and alienated. How could I chose this path while feeling that way?
In my junior year of college, I actually learned the word “transgender” and experienced positive representations of trans people. It wasn’t trans people in the wild though, it was in a sociology of gender and sexuality class. Still, it was the exact opposite of “tr*nny,” Jerry Springer, and Ace Ventura. Trans people were real people and not freaks. I thought I had found what I needed. I thought maybe, just maybe, transition was a real thing that actually happened and something I could do too. I felt hope and saw a bright light cutting through the darkness. There was freedom from feeling suicidal all the time.
I took to the internet to learn more and find out how one actually starts living as a woman. What I found was a world shaped by people like Andrea James and Calpernia Adams. A world where trans women were “transsexuals” and sites like tsroadmap were the supposed havens for people like me. Where there were cookie-cutter paths and ways to live if you wanted to transition. A single representation of trans, but no representation of me. And in this world, the aforementioned slurs were acceptable. It all read like a “How to be on Springer” guide. None of this was for me. This wasn’t what I felt at all. I felt more alienated than ever. The one path to not hating myself I had always hoped for had turned out to be purely academic. I wanted to die again.
I built a world of lies to live in to convince myself what I felt either wasn’t real or wasn’t real enough and what I wished for was impossible. I spent another almost ten years living in this fragile web of lies. I was miserable inside. I thought I could be cured by falling in love and that would be enough to make me happy. I fell in love, real love, but it didn’t fix me. Marrying my wife didn’t make it all go away, it couldn’t. I thought about suicide every day. I was living a wonderful life that I loved, but I wasn’t me. I was a lie. I hated myself. I wanted to die, but I was constantly saved by the same things that always saved me, not wanting to be remembered as a man and the fear of never experiencing my real self.
Eventually, I found what I needed to make transition possible. I found people whose experiences I identified with. I found representations of trans people and trans lives that represented me too. I found people who were living what I wanted to live. I learned it was possible to be trans well outside of the cookie-cutter molds which would have provided me with nothing more than trading one lie for another. This time, I did it. I went through with transition. I now live my life as Amelia and as a real person. As me.
The constant haze of thinking about suicide cleared. I got to actually face my dysphoria, gender, and me head-on and work on things. As I got to let more of myself out and discover the reality of transition and what was possible, I started thinking about suicide less and less. With each day, I grew to love myself more. I was finally just happy to be alive.
But as I led all of this off with, I’m not cured and some days are a reminder of this. Over the last couple of weeks the fight over transphobic slurs has boiled over to a whole new level. The details are not the subject of this post, but the rift mainly centers around the use of the words “sh*male” and “tr*nny” and the same Calpernia Adams and Andrea James who nearly killed me ten years ago.
These words are among the things that turned me away and alienated me a decade ago and they are the words that terrify me today. Thankfully, I have never had any issue being trans in public, but I fear each and every day when I leave the house and go anywhere in public. When I am in public, I am never relaxed. I try to tune out the world and keep my eyes forward, but I am listening. I am listening for words like “tr*nny” and “sh*male.” I am listening because if I hear these words I know it’s time to make a quick exit. I know my safety may be in danger. These are not good words and they are often an early sign that your physical self may no longer be safe. These are words that scare me. These are words that make me extremely glad that I’m a marathon runner.
All of this is a reminder that I’m still different. I’m not just another woman in the world. Yes, I live openly transgender by choice, but that does not mean I want to feel separated from the rest of society.
This is the baseline of what’s in my head. I no longer hate me, but I’m often reminded that most of the world hates me. Those who fight for these slurs and think it’s infringing their freedom of speech to be told they can’t say them, this is what they’re fighting for, to be able to remind people like me how different we are. How we are less than everyone else. How maybe we should kill ourselves. Daily reminders of this push my baseline higher and higher.
This argument flaring up has left me little mental capacity for anything else right now. This is what made my morning so ruinable yesterday and threw me into self-care mode. This is what makes dealing with the rest of my life difficult. This is why just a slightly annoying or rough day at work makes me want to exit this universe. This is why a every little disagreement with my wife becomes an existential crisis. We all have our own things to deal with, this is mine. This is my baseline. When people say trans people are being “oversensitive” and “they’re just words,” what they’re really saying is they care more about their own entertainment and humor than they do about whether or not they’re making other people’s lives harder. It really is that simple.
I started writing this as a simple attempt at catharsis and opening up more about still feeling suicidal sometimes, but this is where it went because these things cannot be separated for me. And I am not alone. And I am not special. And I am not unique.