Thursday, December 11, 2014

12-11-2014 Entry: The Depressing Reality of the Choices We are Forced to Make


Most of my posts lately have been more of a social commentary than of my personal journey into the unknown world of Emma the transwoman, but today I feel inclined to bring things back to home a little. There is something about Gender Dysphoria and the transition journey that isn’t well understood among many who never have to question their identities like transgender folks do. The aspect I am referring to is the depression that frequently accompanies the transition process, especially in the early parts before full transition is made.

Key among the many causes to this gender dysphoric depression is self-doubt and social concerns, which can manifest in any number of ways depending on the person experiencing it. For me, at least today, this depression is manifesting in concerns about how my coworkers will handle my decision to transition, and in particular, I’m highly concerned about my co-workers from different countries. I happen to work in a law office that has a rather large diversity of ethnic backgrounds, including Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and Korean employees. The main concern on my part is the language barriers that separate us and finding myself unsure that I will ever be able to fully articulate to these coworkers what it means to be transgender.

Most of our Chinese and Japanese employees only have a semi-functional handle on the English (American) language and as such, we hardly ever have the occasion to really socialize or interact with one another. I cannot blame them for being shy, because if I were to head to Spain to work I think I’d find my Spanish skills rather insufficient to really be sociable and would probably find myself being overly shy as well. There is nothing quite as uncomfortable as not speaking the same language or only knowing a very limited amount of the language. So what am I to do when the time comes for these employees to start questioning what’s happening with me?

My American coworkers at least have the advantage of completely understanding my words and explanations, even if they will likely never fully understand what it’s like to be transgender, but what about the Japanese lawyer who barely speaks English? How am I ever going to adequately explain to him something that’s already so difficult to articulate to begin with? And what about the culture differences? Traditionally speaking (forgive the generalization about to come, this is merely a perception that may be inaccurate) the Japanese and Chinese cultures are both very patriarchal. In China, male children are favored over female children (so much so that some of them are abandoned shortly after birth). In japan, for a female to disobey her father (or husband?) would be to dishonor him, and honor means a great deal to the Japanese. Under such cultural influences, how will a male-to-female be perceived? Will there be more phobia than my American coworkers? Will there be any understanding at all? I’m really unfamiliar with how transgender people are viewed in either of those cultures, and because of that unknown, I find myself filled with doubts again.

And that is the nature of the beast called gender dysphoria and the depression that comes with it. One day I can be the top of the world, shunning gender boundaries left and right, spinning my gender outlaw issued silver revolver of justice, and then the next I’m feeling a crushing amount of worry, anxiety, and fear about what my future holds.

During my session yesterday with my darling therapist Melanie, we discussed the journey of the hero (by Joseph Campbell) and it was surprising how similar the journey of the hero is to making the transition. Which means, You guessed it, I’m the hero! BumBahdahdum!! /epic cape flapping in the wind as I look over the city I protect. Okay maybe I’m not really a hero (/sad trombone), but the idea of the discussion was to compare the metaphorical journey of the hero with the journey of the gender transition and I found it quite compelling; especially the part in the beginning where the hero struggles with even embarking on the journey at all. At this stage the hero is still trying to decide if they really want to take the call to adventure or if it would just be easier to go back, and I have found myself doing exactly this during my bouts of depression. I find myself becoming overwhelmed at the enormity of the journey ahead and start to wonder if it wouldn’t just be easier to stay Robert the supposedly-cisgender male and pretend like none of this happened. I find myself being plagued by fear and insecurity as I continue to let go of this identity I’ve held onto for as long as I’ve been alive, much in the same way a child fears letting go of their security blanket.

And that’s the rub that few people every really talk about or hear about, the letting go of the identity. Transitioning is much more than just becoming a different sex or finally getting to display the appropriate gender expression. Transitioning is also the letting go of everything you’ve ever known about yourself. In order to fully transition (especially for one who is already an adult) a person must completely deconstruct every aspect of their identity to figure out who they even are anymore. They have to do what I’m doing as I examine each and every aspect of myself to determine if what I’m finding is something I want to keep or is something that’s just a socialized coping mechanism I’ve been dragging around with me for 29 years.

Let’s look at this in a metaphorical sense. Imagine you’ve been promised a gift that is priceless, like perhaps a Genie in a bottle who will grant you three wishes (and he’s a nice Genie who won’t turn every wish into something awful), but the only way you can receive this gift is to destroy all of your possessions except for the ten most valuable and important possessions that you own; the possessions that really make you the person you are (no money, sorry). Additionally, when you are making your decisions about what you keep and what you allow to be destroyed, every person you know and interact with (including acquaintances, friends, family, co-workers, and familiar strangers like your neighbors) will be standing around you, watching and commenting on what you pick and don’t pick. Oh, and you cannot pick your home itself or your vehicles that you travel around in, those too must be destroyed. You can keep the property that your home is on, but you’ll be forced to rebuild it afterwards. (if you live in an apartment or condo, just pretend you have a house). Lastly, you cannot wish for any of the things that are destroyed to be replaced by the genie; once they are gone, they are gone forever, AND you cannot use your wishes to give something to anyone else, they must be completely selfish wishes.

 So what do you pick? How do you choose? How much do you allow the surrounding people to influence your decisions? Who’s opinion do you value the most? Who’s do you value the least? What happens if something you choose not to save means a great deal to someone close to you (maybe it was a gift they gave you), do you sacrifice one of your ten possessions to save their feelings, or do you sacrifice their feelings with the hope that they will forgive you one day? Do you even take the wishes at all, or do you live your life always wondering what would have happened if you had made that deal? If you do take the wishes how do you cope with the loss of all of your other possessions? Will the priceless three wishes be enough to compensate for all that you’ve lost?

What if, in addition to losing all of your possessions, you had to also pick 10 people who’d remain in your life but everyone you didn’t pick would stop being your friend or would disown and hate you completely? Would you still be able to make the decision to take the three priceless, yet selfish-based wishes? If so, who would you pick? Would you choose friends over family, or family over friends? What if one of the people you picked insisted that you kept a possession you didn’t value enough to save? Would you choose them and the possession over losing them to keep something you actually wanted?

To me, and many like me, these are exactly the kinds of questions we have to deal with when we make the decision to transition. The three priceless wishes are the end result of our transition where we finally get to be who we want to be (being true to yourself really is priceless). The possessions we choose to keep are parts of our identity that we feel really make us who we are, while the parts that are destroyed are the aspects that we have to sacrifice to become who we really want to be; they are the gender aspects that we’ve been socialized into, which could very well be seen as very important to people like our parents, friends, or spouses/partners. The people surrounding us who get to comment on our decisions are the people we interact with as our assigned gender, the ones who will possibly be hurt or angry at our decisions on what to keep and what to leave behind. They include our acquaintances, friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and even the cashiers at Chipotle who know us by name and face because we have a shameless Chipotle addiction… mmmm Chiptole…… do I want Chipotle for lunch??.... er… what? What was I saying? Oh, right, the metaphor.

The house and car that we cannot save are our appearances and bodies, because in order to transition we must completely rebuild our physical selves (assuming we are opting for medical transition). We cannot replace all of our possessions afterwards because they no longer apply to the new identity we are taking on. Emma can’t be the guy with a goatee anymore. Emma can’t claim to be a hetero-sexual white educated male anymore, and therefore can’t claim to have that same social power (as dictated by the rules of the pyramid of social power) as one. Emma can’t expect to be compensated higher than her female coworkers simply because of her perceived gender (not that it was ever right to begin with). The people we have to choose to keep in our lives are the ones who will support us, and sadly we really can’t choose who does that and who doesn’t. Sometimes we have to choose between our transitions (the identity possessions) and keeping very close friends and family members in our lives, which might mean things like choosing not to have SRS because your spouse doesn’t want you to have different naughty bits, or choosing to lose your parents or family because their religious beliefs don’t accept what you are.
Lastly the wishes are completely selfish because transitioning is a very selfish, ego-centered process and it has to be that way. It’s your possessions (identity aspects) that you have to live and die with, so you have to be very self-centered in your decisions. Your choices will affect the people around you, yes, but in the end they are not their choices to make. All you can do is decide if what is important to them is also important to you, and that decision may just end the relationship altogether.

And this is why I felt depressed at the beginning of this post, and why I’ll continue to struggle with my decision to transition, because sacrifices must be made. If we lived in a world where the gender-binary wasn’t so oppressive, people like me wouldn’t be forced to make such difficult and often permanent choices about who we are, who we get to keep in our lives, and how we are going to cope with the inevitable losses of friends and loved ones.
It is exactly this reason that we need to raise awareness of transgender people and why I'm authoring this blog at all. I want to pull back the curtain on what it means to be transgender so that understanding and empathy can ensue. Maybe if enough people discover what's lurking in the deep dark unknown of the transgender mind, they might realize that there is nothing to worry about because we are just humans. Humans with worries, fears, hopes, and dreams, just like everyone else.

-Emma

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