Transgender Day of Remembrance

Tonight, for the first time, I attended a Transgender Day of Remembrance memorial service.  To be frank, I was somewhat apprehensive about going—for a couple of reasons.  Social anxiety is always at the top of my list of excuses for avoiding public events, although I’m improving in this area.  I find myself able to do things I have never been able to do before, like walk into a room filled with strangers as if I actually belong.  Last month, I participated in my first transgender support-group meeting.   I went there alone,  without knowing anyone, and found the experience as transformative as it was nerve-wracking.  So, yes—I was nervous before setting out tonight.  All the old familiar scenarios of embarrassing myself in public decided to play with my head beforehand.  And yet, tonight’s battle with my well-worn anxiety issues was not so much about walking into a roomful of strangers and embarrassing myself….it was more about the guilt I’ve internalized for my entire life.   I was afraid those guilty feelings might be triggered by the service,  reminding me that I had come out late in life—and that sometimes I still feel like an outsider among the people I most identify with.  I guess it’s even simpler than that.  When I hear the accounts of so many young people who’ve had the courage to come out and live their unique lives openly and proudly in their communities (making themselves targets for physical assault, among other terrible things) it fills me with a certain sense of failure.  And shame.  I feel I don’t measure up.  So that’s where my inner child was huddled tonight as I listened to the somber and humbling roll-call of names of those trans sisters and trans brothers whose lives were snuffed out just for wanting to be happy.  But all those inwardly directed feelings evaporated as the names of the murdered accumulated,  filling the room with their presence, these singular lives hovering above us as one.  I felt a sense of community that I have never felt before, a sense of belonging—a need to belong.  Going to this even was important to me—to show my solidarity, to show that I am in this now, to show my kinship with the others who attended…but most importantly, to show my respect to those who were murdered.  It was an emotional evening,  filled with the sad and unnerving knowledge of all these horrific deaths—and the details were particularly horrific.  All these beautiful people, young and old, who died such brutal and lonely deaths….It’s hard to say anything else that matters.  But I wanted to write this down tonight, before I go to sleep.  I wanted to mark this day….I needed to mark this day.  I need to remember this day.



Living with intense anxiety my entire life, I learned to avoid a lot of things.  The biggest thing I avoided?  Risk.  Everything in my life was divided between “inside” and “outside”.  I drew a circle around myself.  A very small circle.  This was my safety perimeter.  This was my inside.  Everything outside of that circle represented danger.  Basically, the rest of the world.

Growing up, I developed a lifestyle of strategies to manage those risks.  I stayed close to home, figuratively and literally.  I avoided any situation or circumstance where I had to venture out alone or exist independently without my safety-blanket of the familiar.

As  a kid and a teen, I was able to get away with this, because my life pretty much existed within my family circle.  And I fostered it by sticking close and never letting go.  But after high school, my carefully pinched life began to fall apart.  My anxiety increased, because now I had to deal with adult things.

All this is a long preamble to one of the reasons (and there were many) that it took me so long to transition.  My delay involves more than confusion about gender, sexuality, or self-identification.  The fact is, I’ve always been an emotional mess.  I was just able to mask it by doing all the “normal” things “normal” boys  were  supposed to do.  Except I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a boy and, as I grew older, had absolutely no inkling of how to be a “man”.

Hitting my twenties, I found myself unable to work, unable to make friends, unable to have any romantic relationship–and to be clear, that means not just emotional intimacy, but also sex.  Never.  Ever.  Not once. To this day.

So by the time all my peers were working, finding partners—living adult lives—I was essentially surviving on wishful-thinking, even as I grew more fearful of the world.  I drank in secret and I told no one else about my worries.  I never left home.  I hid.

When I was twenty-four, after a summer of anxiety and paranoia (basically going crazy without anyone knowing it), I attempted suicide by cutting my wrist.  After that, I settled into decades of depression, anxiety, self-medicating, and avoiding having a life.

Until now.

But the secret is, transitioning isn’t simply about one thing.  It’s about a lot of things, all of them interconnected.  I had to deal with my life-long depression and anxiety before I could deal with all the medical and mental issues transition brings.  Last November, after two years on Prozac, the desire to affirm my true gender overwhelmed every sense of my being.  The thought of it made me so happy, so ecstatic, that I wanted to cry.  All the time.

I guess my whole point is this:  I never thought to myself, “Wow, if I could be a woman, all my anxiety and depression will end.”  Quite the opposite.  It wasn’t until I had dealt with my anxiety and depression that I finally realized:  “Wow, I’ve always been a woman–now I can deal with it.”

It’s a lovely thing to realize.