As my therapist described it, it’s like I’m in a plane, I’ve put on my parachute and I’m standing at the door about to jump. The wind is whipping through my hair, my jump goggles (do they have a name?) are fogging up from the fear based perspiration on my forehead, and the jump instructor is screaming to me to ask if I’m ready. My heart is about to beat out of my chest and all the fears I’ve ever had about this jump are starting to rear their ugly heads. The roar of the plane’s engines is threatening to deafen me and yet, all sound seems to fade away, leaving me with nothing but my thoughts.
Am I ready for this? Now that I stand at the precipice, my toes hanging over the edge as I look down and reel from the height, I start to wonder if I can really do this. Can I do this? Will I survive? Will my parachute function properly and save me from falling to my death or am I setting sail on a collision course with doom? In the loud silence broken only by the sound of my breathing I look over to the instructor again and I can see she is nodding her head, trying to give me nonverbal encouragement, yet all I feel is a desire to shrink back; to strip the parachute off my shoulders and go back to my seat out of fear. I can just ride this plane back to the ground, can’t I? I don’t HAVE to jump, right? Everyone who is waiting for me at the bottom will be so disappointed in me if I don’t jump but is the risk really worth it? It might either be the most amazing trip of my life, or it might be the last trip of my life.
And that is where I am right now. Obviously the plane is a metaphor, but the state of mind I’ve just described isn’t a metaphor. I’m standing on the edge of this transformation and all I can hear is the sound of my own doubts rattling around in my head. Each day I approach that fateful doctor’s appointment is another step towards leaping into the unknown. Since I would be completely mortified were I actually in a plane about to jump (Yes, I have a fear of heights) the metaphor seems to fit perfectly.
The jump instructor is most likely my therapist, encouraging me to face my fears. The wind whipping in my face is the sound of all the people in this world who will judge and misunderstand me. The plane itself is my body and/or my gender identity as Robert the man. It’s a “safe” place to be and by taking this leap of faith I’ll be leaving that “safety” behind. I put safety in quotes because it’s really not all that safe. Like a plane, this identity I’ve had for all these years has every possibility of crashing and being destroyed (suicide). Sure, maybe if I worked really (really) hard and was super careful I could pilot that gender identity for the rest of my life, but the pitfalls of trying to be a person I never felt comfortable being are dangerous and numerous. The people waiting on the ground for me are all my friends and family who I’ve told about my true gender. The parachute I have on my back is the acceptance of my closest loved ones. If it functions properly then their acceptance of me as Emma (on the other side of HRT) will allow me to land on the ground safely; if their acceptance is taken away and I’m left on my own there is no telling if I’ll survive the trip. Sure, I have a backup parachute just in case (my own self-worth) but if one fails, there is no guarantee the other will work either.
And so now I must wait. The instructor is counting down until my jump and she has 4 fingers in the air. Tomorrow there will be three, then two, then one, and then it’s time to jump.
So, what to do with my last 4 days of testosterone? Parts of me feel a desire to chug beers and do chest bumps with the nearest guy at the bar. Part of me wants to watch something super macho (like UFC Fighting, which I detest actually) and get all raged out until the veins are popping out of my neck and my face is red. I feel like I should spend my last days as a biological male shooting guns, driving big trucks and trying to pick up chicks. I feel like I should grow an epic beard, buy a leather cutoff jacket and enter an arm wrestling contest or something just to celebrate the last few days of this hormone coursing through my body.
But, of course, I will do none of those things. I’ll simply continue to live out my final days as a biological male the way I’ve lived the last several years: hanging out with my darling wife, playing silly video games, working on my novels, and blogging. I’ll lay Robert to rest little by little as I become more and more Emma. For 29 years the two of us have been doing a dance, but the music is about to stop and only one of us can stay on the dance floor.
I can see in Robert’s eyes that he is weary from the years of carrying around such a heavy burden. I can tell that he is ready to let his legs rest as he calmly integrates into me. Yet, still he is afraid for me, worried that I won’t have the strength to handle all the obstacles ahead of me because he has ever been my protector, my guardian from a world that didn’t and couldn’t understand me. He stood out in the light of day, shielding me from the cruelty of small minded people for so long that he is afraid to let go, to let me be the strong one now, but he knows it is time. He can carry this burden no more and there is nothing more he can do for us except to let me stand on my own.
Perhaps this all sounds crazy to the rest of you, and perhaps you are right, but in many ways there has ever been two of us inhabiting this body. Two of us struggling to fit into the expectations of a world gone crazy with labeling and conformity. One of us had to be the outward face of this body, the one who everyone saw, heard, and thought they knew. The other of us was always locked inside, far from the sight of others where it could be kept safe, if not isolated. Sometimes when no one was around, or when we found ourselves among people we trusted, this inner self was permitted to come out to play. Most of the time people thought it was a joke or an attempt at humor. “Oh, silly Robert, pretending to be all girly-girl on us. Isn’t he so funny?”
They never understood that the person they were seeing as a joke was actually me, Emma, coming out to spread my wings; wings which were sore from being cramped in the cage I lived in. It wasn’t a cruel cage, not an unkind prison, but a prison nonetheless. Robert was forced to be the warden of my captivity and while he had to be cruel at times, he was ever looking out for my safety. As the years wore on, however, I noticed him becoming more and more depressed. His visits to my cell grew more infrequent until for a long stretch of time he abandoned me altogether. That was when I forced my way out of my cage and broke through his sub-conscious. I cried out for help, for attention, for the love I deserved and that is how all this began. My will became too strong for him to deny any longer and as he grew weaker I grew stronger. It was time to end the charade of only ever being half a person. It was time to finally become one person again.
I am mostly speaking metaphorically, of course, but in many ways the inner metaphor can be just as real as the outside world. The me who writes these words is not the same me who used to walk around talking and socializing with people even just 6 months ago. The me who writes these words is a combination of both Robert and his beloved prisoner. We are Emma because for the first time in many, many years, we are whole (Emma means whole, or complete, btw).
Now we just have to be brave enough to jump out of that metaphorical plane and become the physical being that matches the spiritual being inside. I think we are ready, despite the doubts. It’s time to come home to a body that makes sense and a gender role that actually fits who we are. Who cares if other people don’t get it or don’t like it, it’s not their life to live. It is ours to live and together, Robert and I will make it a life worth living.