Perhaps it is because the anniversary of my dearly departed friend’s suicide was yesterday or perhaps it is because I’ve been wondering if I’m really a good enough person to be helping others, but either way my thoughts have lingered on a few regrets lately.
The first of these regrets is honestly my biggest one. They say the people you care about the most are sometimes the ones you end up hurting the most and that statement couldn’t be more true about this person. I’ve talked about this person previously in my TMI Tag post but I’ll refresh your memory. There was a girl that I dated off and on during the span of about 6 years during high school and college who I was very close with. We were good friends and shared a lot of experiences together, especially given the fact that her parents were friends with my mother and step father (at the time) and they hung out quite often. We saw each other quite often even though we didn’t go to the same school or even live in the same city for a good portion of this friendship/relationship. I say we dated off and on because that’s really the truth. We went back and forth between being exclusive with one another and giving up on the limitations of long distance teenage dating several times.
She and I first met when I was about 14 and even though neither of us were strictly aware of what was happening, our friendship took root during one of the darkest periods of my life. My dysphoria was going into hyperdrive at this point as I was becoming increasingly masculine in my physical body and people were starting to treat me like I was “becoming a man now.”
I was forced into increasingly uncomfortable gender roles and expectations as I entered highschool and my overcompensating, hyper-masculine step father was doing his damnedest to teach me responsibility and to toughen me up like a man. At the time I just thought he was being an asshole stepdad, but looking back on it now I wonder if my inherent femininity wasn’t really just exacerbating his insecurity about his own effeminate tendencies. My mother was insistent that I become some sort of football-loving jock stereotype and was convinced that forcing me to play high school football would make me realize just how much I wanted to be that person (which I didn’t).
This was the environment that this girl and I became friends in and then eventually became boyfriend* and girlfriend in. I was a depressed, confused, and angry wreck of a person. I hated my step father’s presence and the environment he brought to my life. I hated that he and my mother seemed to be tag-teaming up against me to teach me responsibility and to teach me how to “be a man”. I hated having to be a boy, and the shame I felt about my desire to frequently (and secretly) cross dress when I was alone skyrocketed. I considered suicide almost every day and even almost went through with it before breaking down and asking to see a therapist.
This poor girl did everything she could be there for me, to care for me, to love me. She tried to be a friend and to help me through my bouts of depression. She tried to take me seriously when I laughably became obsessed with religion in order to find answers for why I felt so wrong inside. She was a good, kind, and loving person, and I totally treated her like shit. I was so miserable with myself and my life that I just couldn’t treat her the way she deserved. Our relationship escalated at one point to me considering proposing to her when I was 20, but again I allowed my confusion about myself and the despair I felt inside about my inherent wrongness to destroy our relationship.
I broke things off with her and she had had enough. I had finally pushed her too far and she wasn’t okay with me being so hot and cold all the time. She had allowed herself to believe I’d changed after a long break, that I had really become a stable person and so, she lowered her guard further than ever before. Then, when my instability eventually bled through and I decided to cut her off, yet again, she was hurt beyond belief. She hates me to this day. And when I say hate, I mean spitting venom, I hope you burn in hell you son of a bitch kind of hate. I have tried a few times over the past few years to extend an olive branch, to apologize for the way I treated her and for breaking her heart so cruelly, but she would have none of it, and I couldn’t blame her for that.
So, as I’ve progressed through this transition and I’ve started to follow this thread of gender dysphoria backwards in time to see how it has affected my past, I cannot help but begin with my failures with this person. I loved her, I really did. I love my wife, of course, who I could never live without and who has been such a boon to me in these past few months, but I really did care a great deal for this person. She was the first person I ever thought I could be married to and there have only really been two of those people in my lifetime.
I have been wondering in recent days if I tried to extend another olive branch to her how it would be received. Would she finally understand why I was such a monumental asshole back then? Would she finally get why I was always so confused, depressed, angry, and unstable? Would she finally understand that the cards were stacked so tall against her that she can forgive herself (and maybe even me) for our failed friendship/relationship? Would she see me differently? Would her hatred abate and be replaced with some degree of pity or empathy instead? I almost feel like my transition has to include some sort of making amends step in the program. I feel a desire to apologize to the people I hurt because of my dysphoria. I haven’t decided if I’m going to try to extend that olive branch again or not. Perhaps it is best to leave old wounds alone rather than pick at them.
Thinking of this person inevitably leads me to another one of my biggest regrets. One of my best guy friends from high school and college was also a victim of my unchecked dysphoria. He, like this girl, was always such a good friend, such a supportive friend, and in many ways like a brother to me. He encouraged me to work harder, to think better of myself, and to try to achieve academically like he always did. We shared so many fun experiences together, including but not limited to, working together as lifeguards and swim instructors (my favorite past job, btw). Our friendship collapsed after years of the same kind of instability that drove away the girl I just discussed. They even became friends with one another afterwards and started a little “we hate Robert” club.
Again I’ve tried to extend olive branches over the years to this person but unlike the girl who always responded with such venom-filled words of hatred, he simply has responded to my attempts at conciliation with silence. He will not speak to me, even after his mother who I am still in somewhat regular contact with tried to bridge the gap between us. Again I wonder if my attempts to make amends would be more easily accepted as this new version of myself. Would the apology coming from Emma mean more to him than it did from Robert? Would he finally understand why I was always such a pain to be friends with? Why I was always dipping into depression and turning to organized religion for the comfort only my transition has ever been able to offer? Would he, like the girl before him, finally realize that I really have changed?
I come to the same conclusion that perhaps it is best to leave old wounds alone rather than pick at them. I do not need them in my life and they very clearly do not want me in theirs, yet I still miss knowing them. I miss being able to be friends with both of them. The love is has long-since faded with the first, but a fondness remains, even if that fondness is returned only with coldness and bitterness.
And these two are not my only failures caused, in no small part, by my dysphoria. There have been many other people and opportunities that were driven away because of this persistent feeling of internal wrongness. Another male friend and previous roommate suffered my abandonment of our friendship because of my dysphoria. I spent years trying to measure up to be this good Mormon boy and allowed countless people invest time and effort into helping me be that only to disappoint them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy I’m no longer that good Mormon boy and their disappointment is of their own religious making, but I built many of those friendships on the unstable foundation of trying to find rightness inside through outside measures.
I did so many things as Robert that I, as Emma, would never have done. I acted in so many ways that I, as Emma, never would have acted. I squandered so many good opportunities as Robert that I, as Emma, would not have let slip away so easily. I even endangered the very marriage that I find so much love and happiness inside of as Robert that I, as Emma, would never do.
It was like I was in a constant cycle of self-destruction, always blowing up my life and rebuilding from the ashes, hoping that one of these times I would finally get it right; one of these times I’d finally feel right inside. I guess in the end I did get it right, and all those cycles before carved the person I am today, but I’m not sure many of those self-destructions were even necessary. Had I just known or admitted to myself that I was really an us, and that we were really more like a girl than a guy, I could have possibly saved myself from this loss and pain I feel as I reflect back upon my failures. I will never know how my life or these friendships might have turned out had I done that back when I was 14 and knew that I wasn’t supposed to be a boy.
The only thing I believe that I can do is to try to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes again, that I don’t allow myself (ourselves) to sabotage the good things in my (our) life. I must continue to endeavor to spread love, kindness, and compassion to those I meet instead of allowing my own suffering to tear down and hurt those I love. The only conciliation and repentance I can offer to those I have failed is to make sure I do not fail those who now depend on me and who look up to me. I can only encourage others to not make the same mistakes that I did.
Don’t let your dysphoria destroy your relationships or drive away your opportunities, my friends. If you have been holding onto confusion about your gender or sexuality for a long time and any of what I’ve just related sounds familiar, then I encourage you to face your fears before it’s too late. You may think you have a hold on yourself, like I did, but I promise you that it’s still bleeding through to the surface. People are seeing your suffering. Maybe they just think you are bipolar, or mean, or depressed, or selfish, or just a complete asshole, but they are seeing it. You can shove it down, you can deny it, you can try to pretend it isn’t there, but it is and it will probably never go away until you do something about it. Your choices might be different than mine, but in the end it came down to either committing suicide or making the biggest, scariest, and honestly hardest change I’ve ever attempted. I’m glad to say I picked option two and am still here to encourage you to do the same.
Dyshporia, for as quiet and subtle as it can manifest or feel, has the potential to destroy everything good in your life if it goes unaddressed; at least it did with me. I drove away so many friends because of it, and some of those friends are ones I still miss even after all these years.
I’m sorry Salina. I’m sorry Nathan. I’m sorry Richard. I’m sorry Chris. You all deserved better than Robert gave you, and he knows that. We know that.