14

Being transgender and transitioning doesn’t make me brave or courageous

I hate to break it to you, but I’m not brave or courageous or any other similar such thing. I know, it certainly looks that way, what with the transitioning and deciding to live my life authentically and all that, but I’m not.

This is the most consistent response I’ve received over the last year and a half when telling people about my transition. Don’t get me wrong, I truly do appreciate the sentiment and, even more than that, I appreciate the support it typically comes along with. I also greatly appreciate people whom I haven’t spoken to in years, some not since high school, who have taken the time to message me their support.

However, the reality here is that I’m just not courageous. It wasn’t courage that helped me make the decision to transition. I didn’t bravely march into my doctor’s office and declare that I wanted to override my body’s hormones. I was scared out of my mind for a long time. I didn’t know if transitioning would make me happier. I didn’t know if the dysphoria would go away. I didn’t know if I’d be able to look in the mirror and be happy with what I saw or even if I could look in the mirror and simply not see myself as a freak. I didn’t know how my friends and family would react. I didn’t know if my marriage would survive this. I didn’t know how my job would be once I came out. I didn’t know if I’d even be able to leave the house safely without fear of being violently attacked by anti-trans bigots. I had more fears than you could possibly imagine. I didn’t stare those fears down and attack them. Not one bit. In fact, for more than a decade, they controlled me, kept me from transitioning.

A  year and a half ago, when I decided to transition I didn’t have any newfound bravery. I hadn’t worked up “the guts” to do it. What changed was that I found hope. I saw what gender dysphoria had done to my life and how miserable I was. I recognized that I could never picture a real future for myself. I admitted to myself I wasn’t happy and falling in love and getting married didn’t “cure” me as I had always hoped it would. I saw all of these things and I found hope they could be changed. I found hope there could be a happy version of me out there somewhere, one that didn’t think about suicide all the time and liked the person she saw in the mirror.

Having hope didn’t make the fears go away. I was still scared beyond all words. And I still doubted any of this would work out—I assumed it would be a disaster—but the hope I had and held onto finally presented another side to all of the fears. The hope represented the underdog, a long shot at a life worth living. It was an alternative to continuing to give into my misery. I didn’t have a choice in being transgender or the life I have, but I did have a choice in whether or not I was going to do something about it. I “chose” the underdog, the option I didn’t expect to pan out, because, when I looked at it, there was no choice. It’s not brave to do something when you don’t have a choice.

To put it a different way, imagine being in a dark cave and the scariest monster you can imagine jumps out from behind a pile of rocks. The monster starts coming at you and you turn and run the other direction as fast and cowardly as you can. You run and run for what seems like an eternity, but that monster, with its giant teeth, razer-sharp claws, and pointy horns, is still right behind you with every intention of turning you into dinner.

Eventually, as the cave opens up and you finally think you’re in the clear, you discover you’ve simply entered a giant cavern within the cave and…there’s a cliff. A huge cliff with a bottom so far down it can’t be seen. It might as well fall all the way to the center of the Earth. You stop, just barely not falling off the cliff to your doom. The monster slows to a slow walk as it approaches, its mouth drooling. You turn and look behind you at the cliff again. You could just jump, it’ll probably hurt a lot less than being torn apart and eaten alive. Instead, you decide that if you’re going down, you’re at least going to put up a fight.

You turn back to the monster and you charge at it as hard as you can. The monster is slightly taken back by this, but quickly sets and gets ready to shred you. Somehow, as you make contact, you take the monster to the ground. It wasn’t expecting the amount of momentum you built up in the just the ten feet you had. As it’s down on its back with you on top of it, you start hitting it with everything you’ve got. What else are you going to do? If you run, it’s going to keep chasing you. The monster tries to fight back, but you refuse to let up. After you’ve worn it down, you spot a small rock off to the side and grab it. You use the rock to start bashing the monster in the skull until it’s completely unconscious  Somehow, you’ve defeated this monster with nothing more than the will to not die without at least trying. Then, as the monster lays there, barely still breathing, you decide it’s not just good enough to win this battle. No, you’re going to ensure you don’t end up like so many victims in horror movies who turn their backs thinking their enemy has been defeated. No, not you. You drag it’s body over to the edge of the cliff where you were standing and contemplating jumping just a few moments ago. And then…you roll it off. You stand there and watch it fall down into the darkness and out of sight. You take a moment to catch your breath and realize everything that just happened. Finally, you stand up tall and walk out of the cave still alive and with a new outlook on life. You defeated this monster that was bigger, stronger, and faster than you. You should not have survived, but you did.

So no, I’m not brave, courageous, or anything else you want to call me. I’m just surviving. I had no choice.

I spent enough of my life pretending to be something I’m not and I refuse to keep doing it. I’m not special, I’m just a person.

3

For a year and a half, I’ve essentially been a superhero with a secret identity

I made my decision to transition a year and a half ago and I can say without any hesitation that it’s been the second best experience of my life, with only marrying my wife ahead of it. Transition has changed my life and how I feel about myself in ways I don’t have words to describe. However, that doesn’t change the fact that transition can be complicated and challenging and sometimes you’d give anything for it to just be over. For me, there’s one specific aspect of transition that I utterly and completely hate. It’s not giving myself weekly injections, it’s not the awkwardness of constantly being in situations where you need to explain that you’re transgender (e.g. getting carded at the bar), it’s not the coming out to friends and family, it’s not all the money transition can cost, and it’s not getting my face blasted with a laser on a regular basis to remove all the hair. I can handle that stuff. At this point, I’m not even phased by any of it.

The part that sucks is having to maintain two completely different identities during the “in-between,” that time between when you decide to transition and when you’re finally fully out and living as your true self “full time.” I hate this. Hate it! Hate it! Hate it! When I finally decided I was going to embrace who I truly am and transition, I was eager to choose my name and start interacting with people as myself. It didn’t take me long to choose the name Amelia and I quickly went ahead and created Tumblr and Twitter accounts, among others. As I came out to my friends, I asked them each to start using this name.

As much as I wanted to only be my real self and only be referred to as Amelia, I knew I had to be patient. So for the last year and a half, I’ve lived a double life. At times, I lived as my old boring self, the one everyone knew and, when possible, I lived as myself, as Amelia. Often times, I would be living both simultaneously, switching back and forth depending on who walked in and out of the room or whether I was talking to the person next to me or with someone on my phone via text or Twitter. In the beginning, things were a bit easier as I was Amelia only in very limited settings, but this progressively changed as my transition moved forward and I started spending more and more time being myself. In more recent months, I’ve been spending more time outside of my house physically being myself in addition to moving more and more of my online presence over to my to my new name.

During the day, I would continue to be my old self at work while chatting with people and hanging out on Twitter as myself. Because of the number of coworkers I’m friends with on Facebook, I was forced to leave this account under my old name and identity until just this week. I toyed with created a new account, but this just didn’t seem to be worth the effort. None of these people at work knew I had an entire secret life, that the person they knew me as was a lie. At night and on the weekends, I was Amelia. I only used this name and physically presented myself as Amelia as much as possible. I was like my own personal superhero, out there being awesome and people in my life didn’t even know about it.

I used to think it was hard to keep my real self hidden when I was still lying to myself about who I really am. I lived within a carefully scripted web of lies. Everything I said and every single move I made had to first pass through a conscious filter to ensure any trace of my real gender was either stripped out or hidden. If that sounds exhausting, that’s because it was. I didn’t think things could get more challenging than this, but I turned out to be wrong. Even though I wasn’t showing people the real person I was, I still wasn’t living a double life, that real person wasn’t allowed to actually exist.

Once you decide to actually explore yourself and you’re ready to go ahead with transition, it’s like opening the proverbial Pandora’s Box, you don’t know what you’re going to find and there’s no putting it back away. When I started actually letting myself out, the filter became something I needed to actually turn off and then back on again. I needed to constantly be on top of when the filter needed to be on. Letting nothing through 100% of the time is a lot easier than letting nothing through 50% of the time.

Finally coming out at work this week means I no longer need to keep my old identity around. I only have to be me, the superhero. I only need to use the name Amelia unless my legal name is required–and that’s only for another couple weeks. I can now talk about the things I’ve kept hidden. When coworkers ask the obligatory “what’d you do this weekend” question, I no longer need to either make something up or sound boring and tell them I just stayed in. When I go to Starbucks or Chipotle at lunch and bring back a drink or burrito with the name Amelia written on it, I no longer need to worry about hiding the name from everyone…or having to use my birth name. I don’t need to worry about mannerisms anymore. I don’t need to be secretive about doctor’s appointments and why all of a sudden, even though I’m a marathon runner, I started caring about my weight and not eating too much. I don’t need to worry someone will come over to my desk to show me something and see the name on my GMail (which I always keep open) or the name on the user account I use to test code on my local system.

Transition brings a whole lot of challenges, but most of them aren’t too hard to get used to. Unfortunately, living a double life isn’t one of those things I was ever able to get used to. I could and did do it, but I hated every moment of it. I was constantly on the verge of saying the wrong name, my birth name while out as myself or Amelia at work. Not even a few days would go by without having to either rely on a string of lies or clever wording to hide my real identity. If I couldn’t come up with a lie quick enough, I’d have to quickly change the subject or simply hope no one was actually paying attention or thought to question the words that just left my mouth.

I’m so glad this is coming to an end. Death to my old self and my old identity. That guy was a dick anyway.

9

Today I come out at as trans at work

After 30 years on this planet, a year and a half of transition, seven months of hormones, and four months of working with HR, I can’t believe the day is here, but it’s finally time to come out at work. In just fifteen minutes, I’ll be heading into a meeting with my manager to tell him I’m trans and I am transitioning. As soon as I walk out of this meeting, I will be sending an email to my entire company telling them the same. Our parent company is around 3,500 employees, but I only have to worry about the 55 or so that work for my smaller company and around ten of them already know and support me. Once the email is out, my work life will be at the mercy of all my coworkers, but I don’t foresee any major issues. After working here for almost six years, I feel confident that most people here will be positive and supportive with just two or three exceptions. This Friday, I will begin showing up to work as my real self.

Once I send this email, I can also finally post about this on Facebook and update my profile to reflect my real name and show a more accurate photo. Unfortunately, I’m friends with too many coworkers on Facebook to have been able to do this before today and, after thinking a lot about it, I had decided not to create a new account. For Facebook, I plan on writing a very short message and then linking to this post here for a longer bit about it. I’ve already posted this letter on my old Twitter account and received a lot of positive responses!

Anyway, I wanted to share what my work letter will be just to give an idea of what I felt like I needed to say here and to also help any of my fellow trans sisters (and brothers) in the future who may be grasping at how to start writing such a letter.
Read my letter!

0

How I came out to my wife’s friends

Tomorrow, I will be coming out as transgender at work and I will be posting the letter I’m sending to my coworkers here, but a few days ago, my wife and I finally told the remainder of her friends about my transition. Unlike my friends, we’d been keeping it a secret from her friends. Anyway, I wanted to share the letter I sent to them.

Read the letter