Triggering content, suicide, anger, hatred of others towards transgender people, self doubt, self worth, etc.
I’m writing this mostly for those who have concerns about my mental health when I change my social media profile picture to just a black image. I do this when what I am feeling becomes overwhelming. When I have similar feelings that led me to an attempted suicide. When I feel like the battle may not be worth fighting. Most times these thoughts and feelings are fleeting. They are easily escaped by focusing on the joys and happiness I am now able to feel.
Sometimes escape is brought by blocking people who spew the hatred. I recently chose to block some of my cousins & an uncle. Yes, this brought a great deal of pain and sorrow to me. I love my family, even those who hate me for who I am. Knowing I must remove myself from their hate so I may continue to progress is painful. It is however, a short lived pain.
Many times I will post about the political and religious climate, especially when trans human rights are threatened. I try not to focus on the hatred these sources bring. This is very difficult when the false or incomplete information is used to hurt others like me. These bring even more pain and sorrow. The length of which extends far past the time the laws enacted are in effect. Hopefully it will also be temporary.
The above are two large sources of suffering which have brought many including myself to attempt suicide. I want you all to know if those thoughts ever persist for me again I will seek out a great deal of assistance. The above are what I struggle with daily and what I have thought of in one way or another my entire life.
The one thing I constantly focus on is a fear. My fear that I will never meet the image I have of myself.
You see at a very young age I developed my self image. I was certain I would eventually physically develop into a girl and eventually into a woman. My self image was not that of a transgender woman but of a cisgender woman. Yes I can take hormones, remove facial hair, and undergo surgeries to approximate the physical characteristics of most cisgender women. I am currently doing and preparing to do these things.
Seventeen days from today I will have my first gender-affirming surgery consult. I have chosen to undergo breast augmentation. Hormones have been wonderful and have given me the opportunity to grow my breasts to a full A-cup size. Many may say that I should be happy with this or that many women don’t even have that. I fear that if I don’t undergo augmentation and reach at least the C-cup size, (This size is what I hold as part of my self-image.) I will never feel complete as a person. I fear that I will slip back into my dark thoughts and perhaps remove myself from existence. I simply can not and will not allow myself to live out this fear.
I harbor fears about my eventual vaginoplasty also. They are also based on my need to meet my self image. Medical technology can construct a vagina out of my donor tissue (penis and possibly a few other parts). This vagina can replicate very closely what many cisgender women have. Including the capability to self lubricate to an extent. The lubrication can not increase with physical excitement. I fear that the smallest of differences in what medical technology can provide me versus my self image will open the door to my darkest of feelings. I have been to that place before and I do not want to go back.
There are other physical organs I feel I should have had which medical technology can not currently provide a solution. I so desperately need ovaries, fallopian tubes, a cervix, and a uterus. This need is something I can attempt to explain but many will not understand. The easiest way for me to explain this need is so I can feel complete as a person. I fully understand that the technology to provide a trans woman with these things may never exist in my lifetime. So you see I will be forced to live out a portion of my fear.
It is this realization that I will never feel complete, that I will never be able to live as the full person (both mentally and physically) I see myself as which drives my depression and anxieties.
I want you to know that I see your attempts to help me feel better. They are very much appreciated. I love you all dearly. I sometimes just need to time and space to process that I will never be able to live up to my own expectations of who I should have had the natural ability to become.
I woke up this morning with a lyric stuck in my mind, along with a number of thoughts about sex.
When this song was written there was so much negative stigma about sex in the LGBTQ+ communities, specifically surrounding AIDS and HIV. I’m not going to lie I fell victim to the false information. I mistakenly believed it was a “Gay” disease, and possibly a judgement from god. (I was very foolish, impressionable, & afraid.) The song also deals with misogyny and teen pregnancy.
I was 23 and trying so very hard to be the person I was told I should be. I attended and volunteered in a christian (mormon) church. My ex-wife was pregnant with our first child. I was also trying feverishly to hide and extinguish who I was afraid I was. The things I hid at this time were my need to express my femininity, my expanding sense of attraction to people I thought at the time to be the same gender, and my self exploration of penetrative anal sex. Surely if I let anyone in on my secrets I would eventually catch AIDS and die. I must again state how foolish and lacking in knowledge I was.
The portion of the song I quoted now has many more meanings to me than when I first heard it.
Let’s talk about sex…uality!
Back in the 80’s and 90’s I had only heard of Gay & Lesbian, and I was told both were evil things to choose. WOW! I was a very sheltered and unknowing young woman. I had also heard of transsexuals but thought them to be a kink in the Gay world. To be clear being Transgender or Transsexual is NOT… I repeat NOT a sexuality. Being Transgender or Transsexual is a person’s identity.
Sexuality = Who I am attracted to
Identity = Who I am
Some of you may have cringed seeing that I use the word transsexual. I use this word based on it's true meaning. One who has changed their sex. Crossing from one sex to another. I consider myself to be a transgender person who is taking the medical steps to become a transsexual person. The use of the term transsexual in reference to sexuality or a kink or fetish infers that because a person is transsexual they are someone to be fetishized. This is a hateful and damaging perspective.
A person’s sexuality can seem to shift over time. I used to think I was a heterosexual male. I forced myself into believing that anything outside of the heteronormative realm was bad. WOW! Was I wrong! Deep introspection of who I am and my beliefs brought me to the conclusion that I am indeed not male. I may currently have some male body parts but they do not define who I am. My old perspective of being heterosexual was also challenged. I learned that this perspective, for me, was based on unfounded fears. As I discovered more about who I am, I removed most of the fears from my life. This allowed me to understand my sexuality more in depth. To others and even to myself these actions and understanding may have appeared to be a shift in my sexuality. I am learning that this was always part of who I am and always have been and what type of person I am attracted to.
As I grew in years and knowledge, I came to understand there are seemingly infinite labels for a person’s sexuality. I now feel the most accurate term to describe my sexuality is Omnisexual. I am attracted to people of every gender presentation but I recognize I have a preference to those who are more feminine. How my attraction manifests also differs in relation to a person, their expresion, parts, and hearts. If you are interested, this article from Cosmo (Yes, that Cosmo!) contains a listing of many sexualities using inclusive language. A Comprehensive List of Sexualities to Know, From Pomosexual to Heteroflexible
Let’s talk about sex…ual experience
I want to make something crystal clear. A person’s sexual experience does not dictate their sexuality. I will explain this using myself as an example.
I have only ever had sexual experiences with cisgender females. If this defined my sexuality I would be labeled a Lesbian. Hang on! NO! I love and find things sexually attractive about males, non-binary, gender fluid and agender people too! Recently in a peer support group I stated it this way: Uhhh adult humans? YES Please! This is a bit extreme to explain my attractions. They are far more nuanced. Because I am able to be attracted to pretty much the whole range of humanity does not mean I want to have sex with them all. I still have my personal standards. I am also in a relationship with my very loving, and compassionate wife.
I also want to express how I used to, and how I now experience sex from a mental awareness and thought process perspective.
As a young girl with male parts, the feelings and ways I thought of sex were to say the least, confusing! I wanted to feel pretty, dress sexy, develop breasts, and be penetrated during sex. How could I do this and remain the person I was supposed to be? My male parts demanded that I fall in line with other males. They demanded that I own the role of the penetrator in a sexual encounter as something I was entitled to because I looked and acted male. I tried to own this role for many years. I had a number of encounters. No, I’m not telling you my body count. Each of these encounters were very gratifying physically. The thing is, something always felt off afterwards.
This “off” feeling made me think I was either not doing it right or not frequent enough. I did what heteronormative males do, I overcompensated. My body count grew and so did that feeling of something being “off”. Eventually I tried what the church was telling me to do. Move my sexual encounters into a relationship with one person and begin a family. Supposedly following god’s plan of procreation was supposed to bring me sexual fulfilment. It did not. Was I with the wrong partner? Yes, but because my belief system had revealed itself to be different from what I originally understood it to be. Maybe I needed variety? Many views I was exposed to indicated that males needed a wide variety of partners and how shal I say it “Unique” experiences. I became “That Guy”, and still something was “off”. Eventually I settled into a relationship which I still very much enjoy and want to be in.
Let’s talk about sex…ual dysfunction.
All throughout these experiences I continued to hide who I truly was. I also continued to discover more of who I am. My “off” feeling grew at a controlled rate. When I finally came to the understanding that I am female, my “off” feeling made sense. It’s growth suddenly moved from a steady growth pattern to an exponential model. That is to say, each time I experienced it, the feeling seemed to double if not triple. My encounters also shifted to those of a solo nature. My “off” feeling has also been compounded by the dysphoria encountered by having a sexual experience as a female minded person with body parts which many females do not have.
The spironolactone and estrogen I take to assist my bodily changes and ease the mental anguish I feel also somewhat ease the newly modified “off” feeling. They do this by bringing on erectile dysfunction (E.D.) and changes in how I experience an orgasm. The medications at first decreased my libido. The addition of progesterone has brought back and even increased my libido. While I welcome the E.D. some transgender girls do not. My inner self image does not have a penis while my current physical self does. If you haven’t thought to yourself how does this work now, go ahead now and think about it and how it may disrupt your thoughts of sex and the encounters you have. While I still crave a sexual encounter it is not the one I used to know. This change and the discrepancy between my mental image of how my encounter should be and how it physically has to take place makes for many difficulties in reaching my goal. This is further compounded by the recommendation that a transgender female try to stay sexually active (even if solo) so the donor tissue does not atrophy.
Let’s talk about sex…ual stigma and misconception.
Since coming out as a transgender woman I have been asked by many more people about my active sexual encounters than ever before. Most of these have been medical professionals. While I understand the need for an accurate health history, working on the assumptions that transgender women have unhealthy and risky sexual encounters is just that, an assumption. Questioning us further when our sexual history is documented in our charts leads to a mistrust in the medical relationship.
My active sexual encounters have also been questioned by random people and even friends. This in none of your business unless we are about to have a sexual encounter.
Many scenarios assume that a transgender person is more promiscuous that the rest of the population. Sadly in some cases transgender people have had to turn to the sex work trades to continue to survive. A sexual encounter with a transgender person has also seen by some as an accomplishment to be achieved. Generalizations like these dehumanize and fetishize us. These actions are very damaging to our mental health. Many of us develop a false sense that we are not worthy of an actual healthy relationship, especially one that includes sex.
Misconceptions of transgender people directly relate to our physical safety too. Many times have I wondered if I will live past an encounter where someone finds out that I am transgender. Please keep in mind that I do not purposefully put myself into a circumstance where my safety would be at risk. These thoughts of mine on this subject tend to deal with only one possible future where I may seek a sexual relationship.
Let’s talk about sex…ual thoughts
Transgender people think about sex as much as the rest of humanity. My thoughts on the subject have definitely changed and continue to evolve as I discover more about myself, and my body. This entire article and many more thoughts were spawned by just having that simple song lyric stuck in my head.
We enjoy fantasies, role play, and even many kinks that the rest of humanity also enjoys. Assuming that we will enjoy something simply because we are transgender again dehumanizes and fetishizes us. We just need some extra time to deal with all of the other mental clutter left over from years of hiding our true selves. I’m very hopeful that when my body is in more alignment with my self image that most of these extra thoughts will no longer invade the pleasant and good thoughts I have when I am presented with thoughts of sexual encounters. I know the fear of not surviving an encounter will always weigh heavy on my mind.
I used to have a place in this world where I was told I’d be comfortable, where I would “fit” in. I tried to live in this space but I never did truly fit. I broke free and in doing so I felt the need to re-establish who I am. To accomplish this I have torn the life I knew to shreds, unraveled the shreds into threads, and the threads into individual fibers. With the help of a few trusted friends, I sorted the fibers, keeping those which truly belonged to me and giving up the others. I spun the fibers which withstood the scrutiny of self examination and self discovery into the new thread of my life and created a beautiful but durable fabric. It was fit for a fine dressmaker rather than a maker of men’s suits.
I tried the services of a few dressmakers. Some made dresses fit for public show. Others to be worn while lifting others from their troubles. I found that wearing dresses made by others would never fit me correctly. Therefore I have created my own dress that is free and flowing. One that allows me to be the kind caring person which I am. The dress also has the lacey intricacies of my many intertwined emotions and the beautiful, yet structured embroidered stitches of knowledge and experience.
I am now in need of a place where I may wear my dress. This place is not a physical location like a house or an apartment. It is a place in society where I am simply allowed to exist. Without requiring me to justify my existence. Without having to prove why I belong. Where my rights are not questioned because others fear I may be their equal. Where I am not judged for who or how I choose to love.
When I’m gone will I be just another tally mark? Bits in a database used to catalog another trans fatality? Will my name, age, and a sentence or two summing up my life be printed on an index card to be read? Will I be reduced to a few semi-viral shares on social media asking for “thoughts & prayers for the family”?
These questions have taken up residency in my grey matter.
Let me explain why.
This week is Transgender Awareness Week. A week meant to lift the spirits of trans folk and to bring more visibility to among other things, our successes. It precedes the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I have a very deep and complex relationship with this day. It is a day if mourning for transgender folk all over the world. We gather in our respective communities to read the names of our siblings who were killed due to violent acts over the past year. The local group I am part of will be reading SIXTY names this year.
I help in a few online groups to ensure those lost are remembered using their true names and pronouns. We spend hours researching news sources for phrases such as “Man killed while wearing female clothing” or “Random masculine/feminine name was also known by…” We also search for mention of some gender neutral names that many who are non-binary choose.
When we find an article that may list a possible lost sibling, we perform many searches. They include but aren’t limited to: social media, local news outlets, law enforcement, coroner reports, obituaries, crowdfunding for final expenses, mentions by family & friends, balloon releases, and vigils. The searches are used to “prove” the person was killed violently, and they identified as trans or gender diverse. Collection of the statistics is where it seems many organizations stop. Semi-viral posts sweep social media usually reporting these statistics.
The weight a trans person feels when they find out a person similar to them was killed violently can be tremendous. It can foster deep feelings of doubt and worthlessness. Doubt that we will ever be good enough to be accepted in society. Fears that our existences are no longer worthwhile, which can drive us to suicide.
Many trans people have empathic personality types. That is we are capable of placing ourselves in the situations of others. Some also the capability to mimic and share the emotional states of those we are connecting with. I am one of these people. Each name I help research ends up feeling like a close sibling. Their family’s and friend’s statements bring joy, sorrow, and even hatred to me in a way I can’t explain. I often cry for hours over each person lost. I try to counter these feelings by doing my self-care routines. Sometimes they help, other times the losses come in such quick succession that I find myself unable to cry, but still all the feelings and emotions build inside. When this happens, I find it hard to find any of the joy their families express at having had such a person in their lives.
Why then do I do this? It is because our siblings deserve so much more than to be reduced to a statistic. I deserve more, when I am also gone.
If you can’t tell from the title, this entire article needs a huge, flashing content warning.
Content Warning: Discussion of suicide and how it formed a coping/survival mechanism in my life.
My first and only brush with suicide came when I was twelve years old.
I was nine or ten when I resigned my hopes of developing breasts and my penis changing so I could become the girl I dreamt I was.
I was about eleven when I first had anxiety attacks and developed ulcers due to overthinking how puberty would affect my body.
I was being taught by society through television and newspapers more each day that the person I knew I was would be ridiculed and shunned by those around me.
My family’s religion teaches that people like me would be the reason our family would never live together forever in presence of God & Christ.
These are the main reasons I had for developing my plan. I had decided that after attending an AYSO soccer practice/try out, I would “slip” into the Idaho Canal as it ran along South Holmes Avenue. I would be too tired from soccer to use my feeble swimming skills to make it out. I found my spot to “slip” while walking to practice. It was on a catwalk bridge with a cable handrail across the canal. The water below was turbulent and sure to drag me under for long enough.
Near this crossing was a vacant lot. I figured it can’t hurt one last time to spend some time enjoying the leaves, grass and sounds I found calming. I would use this calm to carry me through my plan. I began to enjoy the sounds of nature when I heard crying, sobbing, and screams of pain. I searched and soon found the source. It was one of my new school-mates, smashing his head repeatedly into a large sharp rock. He had been sniffing model glue to build up his courage and perhaps numb the pain of killing himself. I was instantly angry with him. Why would he choose such a painful method?
I ran. I ran to the nearest pay phone a few hundred yards away. I called the police and explained what was happening to him. The officer told me to go back to him and stay there until help could get there. I had no idea how much time passed before they arrived. I do know I heard him screaming out his reasons. A few were common to mine. He felt worthless, trapped, and alone. My anger built stronger with every word and action I saw him take. My sympathy also grew stronger. I had met someone that I could possibly connect with. As he was taken away in the ambulance I wondered if I would ever see him again.
A month passed. School had resumed for the fall session. I entered my math class and saw him. I should have been happy he was still alive and attending school. I was instead confused by anger welling deep within. I was angry first that he chose such a painful method. Then slowly my anger shifted to myself. Why hadn’t I followed through with my plan? Why am I still not a girl?
Over the years my anger shifted to different causes when suicide was a topic. It always remained when I thought of reasons why I wasn’t a girl. I used this anger to hide, and to deny myself. I’m now a fifty-four year old out and proud transgender woman. I still get angry when suicide is mentioned. I understand now that even though many see it as a quick way to end their problems, that it instead causes so many more problems for those who remain.
Recently while talking with my best friend I discovered something about myself and this anger I have for suicidal ideation. I am indeed angry. I’m angry that people I love feel this is an option. I’m angry that people don’t talk about their feelings enough to avoid suicide as a potential end.
Most of all I’m angry with myself that I ever felt suicide was an option for me.
First of all, I need to define what these two terms mean to me. Being an advocate means that you are able and willing to speak for a group or community to promote an idea or further the knowledge and understanding of the group. Being an activist means you take actions to further the cause of a group. Sometimes the two terms are used interchangeably.
It has been just over two years since I made the public announcement on FaceBook that I am a transgender woman. One paragraph in my announcement instantly made me an advocate of sorts.
“If you have any questions which don’t involve personal or medical information, please ask me. If you are unsure if your question is too personal or concerning a medical topic, please ask me. I will let you know If I feel uncomfortable in answering and explain as best I can why I don’t wish to answer.”
I offered to everyone who comes across my post that I would try to answer any questions people had. These are my personal views and opinions of what I am experiencing as a transgender person. In 2015, GLADD released a study showing that only 16% of Americans think they know a transgender person. Because I chose to answer questions I became a defacto source of information on the transgender community. I became the person people mean when they say my friend has a friend who is trans and they said this or that.
Being an advocate can both build up and tear down a trans person. Especially for those of us who are considered empaths. There are times when I get a great deal of satisfaction and fulfillment from educating others on how I view my gender. Providing this education can at times be extremely draining. One reason for this is that I am frequently justifying my existence and why I deserve my human rights. I want you to pause and reflect on that statement for a moment. Have you ever justified why you should exist or should be treated the same as anyone else? There are many who have to do this on a daily or near constant basis. They are forced into this situation by simply being who they are. The reasons are many including color, national origin, sexuality, and gender identity. Being forced to defend your very existence because of something you have no control over is exhausting.
Why then, do I advocate? The answer for me is simple. The sense of fulfillment and satisfaction I get from knowing that I helped another understand a little more about transgender people provides me with the energy and strength I need to survive most of the situations I face daily.
What drives an advocate to become an activist? I feel it has to do with what or how much is at stake if action is not taken. As a transgender person, my very life could be at stake if I don’t take action.
Things like using a restroom, playing a sport, obtaining health care, changing a name, and updating gender markers have thrust trans people and our rights into the spotlight. These are things most people take for granted. If you need to urinate you go into a restroom and do so. If you wish to play a sport you do so. A trans person is forced into evaluating many things before doing these things. Will I be raped, beaten, or killed? Will I be discovered as different? Will I be bullied and suffer emotional and psychological harm? Will I have to take out a newspaper ad and announce to people I don’t know that I am trans? Will I be allowed to see a doctor? If these were taken or even threatened to be taken away from you what would you do?
Why am I an activist? I take action because people like me are having these things taken from them. If I allow it to happen to them, it will set a precedent and potentially lead to these things being taken from me. I take action because just as being an advocate brings me energy and strength, being an active participant in my survival intensifies the amount of energy and strength I receive. I take action so others may have an easier path than I.
My answer to the article’s title question: I came out as transgender, do I have to be an advocate and activist too? I can not answer for you, but for me, yes. I have to be both to ensure my survival. How much of each role I take is a balancing act involving survival, comfort, strength & energy.