I almost called this post “A Cure for Depression.” Notice that I didn’t say The cure for depression, mainly because what I’ve learned won’t work for everyone, but it did work for me. The thing I found that made my depression go away, that made me stop feeling like dying every day, the thing that made me stop wishing for a train every time I drove over the tracks, was surgery.
Mostly, this surprised the shit out of me. I had some expectations for surgery, but not this. I hoped things would be better, that I’d feel different, but I knew that surgery wasn’t going to fix everything. And in a sense, it hasn’t. It didn’t change much of anything, not really. I still go to work like I always did, I still go home at the end of each day, we still fight about what we’re having for dinner, try to figure out what to do on the weekend. What did change, though, was the way I saw myself.
I knew that surgery was going to be for me and about me. Not that transition hasn’t been about me, but so much of it has been about finding my place and learning how to be a woman so that I could fit in. It felt like fixing how I related to the world around me. Surgery was about fixing the relationship I had with my own body, and when I said I didn’t expect it to fix everything else, I didn’t realize that was everything else. Everyone else saw me as a woman– I was one of the only people who didn’t. I think there were several roadblocks to seeing myself as a complete person, but not feeling at home in my own body, especially as things changed and some parts felt increasingly foreign as other parts felt more natural, was a huge part of it.
Something I’ve realized throughout all of the processing of the last few months is that I was completely unprepared for one aspect of transition– the need to continually press further and further on. That was something that no doctor, no psychologist, no counselor, no friend, no one who went before me said anything about– the need to finish. What drove my dysphoria the most, I think, was always feeling like I was in between two places, at a place in the gender spectrum that I didn’t want to inhabit anymore than I wanted to be a man. My gender identity shook out to a spot that was stereotypically feminine. I wanted to fit in, right down to not wearing white after labor day, and transitioning made fitting in easier and easier. My depression was fueled by the things that kept me from fitting in– and as I fit in better and better– those things became increasingly bigger problems. And I wasn’t prepared to deal with them.
It was a rough couple of years, finding ways to make everything happen– the trach shave, electrolysis, hormones, doctor and therapist visits, and eventually surgery. We scraped and struggled, but we did make it. We really didn’t plan out all the expenses associated with surgery as well as we probably could have– there were a lot of unforeseen circumstances that made things cost more than we expected, but we made it through that, too. There were a lot of near misses on the suicide front, and a lot of that was driven by that above-mentioned need to finish combined with the added stress of struggling to find the money to make it all happen. If I had to counsel someone in my position, I’d advise them to wait to transition until they had a little more money saved up so that it wouldn’t be so stressful. Have a plan to make it to the finish line, I would say, and you won’t get so discouraged along the way and try to check out like I did.
At the time, I thought starting sooner than later would be worth it– I could go full time sooner and while I might have to wait longer to get surgery, at least I’d be waiting that time out as a woman and not as a man. In truth, it was a mixed bag– the good times were really good. I felt genuinely happy and whole for some of the first times in my life. The bad, though, the need to finish and to actually be whole, was really hard.
And that’s where my relationship with my body comes back into this. Transition has largely been a social adjustment, and I think I’ve made a decent go at it. The affidavits* from my therapist and doctors all say that my transition has been very successful, and for the most part, they’re right, right down to being accepted as a woman by friends and colleagues and successfully living and surviving as a woman for the last few years. The relationship with my own body though, has been a lot more rocky. I’m not sure if it’s fitting or aggravating that the last step in this whole process would be the thing that sets right so much of the dysphoria I’ve lived with for so long. It’s sort of poetic, like a wooden doll living the life of a real child and finally being made a real child at the end of the journey. You can’t be what you want to be, the lesson is, until you start living the life you want to have. It makes sense in a way. But it is frustrating. It’s hard because it feels like so much pretending. I lost count how many times the word “acting” popped up over the last few sentences and I had to edit it out because it gave an air of pretense to this whole endeavor. And that’s telling.
Transition, guarded as it is by gatekeepers (as we call them) and letters and affidavits, can feel full of pretense– like one is always on trial, always expected to perform, especially when being socially measured against stereotypical gender presentations. The one thing, though, that I hope people take away from this blog is that life is too short for pretending to be someone you’re not, whether that’s gender non-conformance or anything else. Hell, that’s the reason why I transitioned: there was no magic cure waiting for me in the wings, no blue fairy waiting to turn me into a real girl, and life was too short to keep pretending there was.
When I was younger, I thought that I was supposed, like St. Paul, to wait, that I would be fixed when my time had come. You see, right after his conversion, St. Paul says in the first chapter of Galatians, he went into the desert. And after three years in the desert, he went to see St. Peter and then became a missionary. The way I was always taught about this passage growing up is that we were supposed to wait for our knowledge and faith to mature before acting on it. And I thought I was supposed to wait. So I waited. I prayed and read the Bible and went to church and prayed and sang and waited. And waited. And after more than twenty years of waiting, I decided I had waited long enough. But, a person might say, but maybe you didn’t wait long enough. How long, I would reply, how long would be long enough? Till my whole life had passed me by? I had already lost the entire decade of my twenties to this waiting and I decided I didn’t want to see another ten years go by without doing something about how I felt. Life was too short to be something I wasn’t. It was the parable of the talents all over again, and I wasn’t going to be the fool who buried her valuables in the ground and waited for something to happen. It’s the go-getters who do good in that story, and I decided to stop sitting around and to go get to it.
Now, it’s time for the reckoning. There is no more pretending. There is just me. I had transitioned socially, and all I had left to manage was how I saw myself. As I’ve said, in the eyes of most people I know, I’m accepted as a woman. It’s my eye, most often, that is most critical of myself, of how I look, of how I am. I am not sure how much is related to internalized transphobia, how much is just residual dysphoria, how much is socialization and biological essentialism, but until I was able to look at myself in the mirror and see not-a-penis, I don’t think I realized how hard it really was to internalize a female identity. But it’s taking.
Which brings me back to the proposed title of this post: a cure for depression. Feeling complete, albeit flawed, was really the biggest thing I had left to accomplish. I wasn’t sure how much of it was going to be worked out in therapy, whether surgery would help the process along or not, but I knew that it had to happen in order for me to go on living. I had decided last year to stop the self-destructive behavior and see what could be changed, if anything by taking that next step. Not long after surgery, when I was still battling the post-surgical depression, I figured I would give it six months. If I didn’t feel better, if things hadn’t gotten better for me, I figured I was going to go back on the suicide track. It wasn’t a threat or a way to get attention. It was an honest assessment. I was miserable a year ago. Surgery was an act of desperation. If knocking everything apart with that kind of a wrecking ball couldn’t help me get my life together, I figured it was a lost cause.
Through some combination of surgery and therapy, I feel like it worked, but I don’t think that surgery is for everyone, or that everyone who’s trans should want it. I know some people that are perfectly happy being non-op (as opposed to pre-op) but what convinces me that surgery was the right choice for me is that it doesn’t bother me for people to be non-op, just that I couldn’t have gone on if I had not had the option. I knew that. What convinces further is the fact that it worked. It was a gamble, a huge gamble but it paid off. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. And now it’s over. I feel like a huge chapter of my life is finished, and the last four years feel like my entire adolescence was crammed into them. In a sense, it was.
Now that I feel like this chapter of my life is over, I’ve been giving more to ending this blog, and it seems this is the time for that to happen. It has served its purpose, and given me the space I’ve needed to vent, to think, to find my place. I never anticipated that the end would come so soon, especially since I expected surgery to be at least six to ten years away in my future, but things never go as we expect– in addition to whatever else I’ve learned from this writing exercise, I’ve learned that much. I also realize that things aren’t wrapped up all tidily, topped with a bow. I remain estranged from my brother, from several members of my family, and expect that won’t ever change. It’s not satisfying, but most endings are rarely perfect, even if they’re happy. There’s probably a surgical revision in my future, too, probably around the end of the summer. Some things remain to be worked out, but I think that’s also a part of life– there’s always more to do. But all stories have to end somewhere, and really, the story of my transition, this story, is more or less over. The exciting bit anyway. So thanks. Thanks for sticking it out with me. Thanks for your friendship and your support– it helped me through a very tumultuous time in my life. ;-)
*I’m in the process of getting together all the documents needed for a court ordered gender change. The court order will help me get my birth certificate amended, and part of the court filing is a set of affidavits from pretty much every doctor I have. There’s a sort of script that these things have to adhere to, and mentioning that the transition was successful seems to be the really important part.