(disregard this bit: <a href="http://www.bloglovin.com/blog/13632069/?claim=qkeq4angy24">Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a> )Hello all! Thanks for stopping by and especially thank you to anyone who watched and/or shared my news story with others. It was definitely a crazy experience, which I kind of want to discuss today. I’ve already written an official reaction post to the news piece itself but I don’t think that I really captured what it was like to go through this experience of coming out in such a visible way.
Obviously, as I wrote previously, it was so exciting to be interviewed by Liz Collin. To sit in the chair a few feet across from a reporter, a bright light shining down on me and a camera sitting in the background felt completely other worldly and like a long-time dream come true. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before, and the fact that it was about me definitely made it feel different than say if I was being interviewed about something big that had happened to others (like I witnessed a liquor store robbery or something like that). it felt very validating, and definitely stoked the fires of the ego. I felt important, I felt interesting, i felt like I deserved the attention, which is important to note
Working with my therapist has helped me to understand how my early life as an only child growing up in a single parent (mostly) house with a mother who worked a stressful job (with a lot of overtime hours) likely ingrained inside of me an almost permanent state of feeling unattended to. Don’t get me wrong, my mother did her very best to always be there for me, to come to every event I was part of growing up, to really make sure I knew she cared about me and that I was important to her, but I was often a lonely child. With my father moving away when I was about 5 years old and only really being present in my life during my summer trips out to see him (going months on end without talking to him), I often felt like I didn’t matter to him, or wasn’t important enough for his attention. Due to this, I often felt like I was completely invisible or insignificant growing up. I had no siblings, I had a relatively absent father, and I had a busy, stressed out mother doing her best to make ends meet.
When my step father came around during the height of my isolation, loneliness, and confusion about who I really was on the inside, these things only got worse. He, I believe, felt like my mother gave me too much attention and that she needed to allow me to be more self-sustaining. It was like his personal objective was to teach me how to be a man, likely out of some misplaced desire to fill in the shoes of a father who was often absent, and so he drove a wedge between my mother and I. Not only did he take away some of the positive attention I got from my mother, but he enforced so much more negative attention. I was constantly being grounded and chastised for not being responsible enough or not acting the way I ought to. I was constantly teased and emotionally poked and prodded by this man. I suspect he did it as a way to try to toughen me up, you know, tough love. All I know is that it didn’t work for me, and only further drove me into isolation and depression (I know, depressed teenager? /yawn, right?), and further compounded the belief I had been developing that something was wrong with me.
I started to believe I didn’t deserve attention, that I wasn’t worthy of it. I didn’t deserve love or admiration, I was broken. I certainly felt completely wrong in my body, so why not in my mind as well? My father certainly hadn’t give me the attention I’d wanted, and now my mother was taking hers away at the advice of a man who did more to shame my effeminate nature than anyone ever had before. It’s really no wonder to me now that I started to turn to thoughts and plans of suicide before I finally asked for help.
That therapist during my teenage years helped me try to cope with and navigate the long held beliefs that there was something wrong with me, that I wasn’t worthy of love or attention. I’m not proud to admit this but at the time I had begun to turn to fantasies of being important to escape the pain and isolation I felt in reality, and in that fantasy realm I had started to lose myself completely. It became so bad that I even started losing time, not remembering what I’d done or where I’d been for days at a time. I literally felt my sanity starting to slip away. My grades fell, my friendships started to fall apart, I acted out more against my parents, and I really started shaming myself about these desires I had to be a female or to wear women’s clothing. I felt like I was a monster and deserved only the worst things. I was convinced that I was forever broken and could never be worthy of love or attention again.
I tell you all this because it played a role in my reaction to being interviewed and then ultimately in response to what was shown on the news. All of these things, these old pieces of emotional baggage that are stored away in the basement of my mind crept up to the main floor and started to gnaw at my resolve. The entire day before the piece aired on the news I was a total emotional wreck. I was so anxious, so afraid, so worried about how things would go. I was about to get more attention than I had ever gotten before and that child that still lives inside of me (we all have one) was certain that we didn’t deserve this. it was certain that the only attention we would actually get from doing this was negative attention, because we didn’t deserve to be loved, admired, or appreciated.
That little girl inside was convinced that we had made a mistake. Even as I, Emma, was eager and hopeful for this to happen, that little girl inside of me was very angry and upset that we’d stepped so far out into the spotlight. In the same way we had shamed ourselves during the darkest years, we struggled to feel worthy. Who were we to be on the news? Who were we to be worthy of this kind of attention? Why did we deserve to have our story shared when so many others never get the chance?
We wrestled with this until the news came on and then we just sat on the couch in a pure state of anxiety, clinging to a pillow, wrapped in a blanket with our wife, barely able to breath until the moment finally came… and then… what? That was it? 4 minutes of us feeling completely dreadful about the way we looked and then disappointed that much of our actual story was not shared…
“See, I told you so!” the little girl inside seemed to shout. “I told you we weren’t worthy of this attention, and I was right! You See! They didn’t want to tell them everything about us because how could they? We are too different, too wrong for them to care!”
I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t process it. I couldn’t figure out if I was disappointed, angry, sad, or just plain confused. I got up from the couch and rushed off to the shower I’d been putting off until after the news and just stood in the hot water, trying to come to my senses. There were so many emotions, so many thoughts. It was good but it wasn’t good. I liked it but I hated it. I felt like people would like it and yet also felt like no one would care. It was like there were two people inside of me warring against each other, both trying to win us over with the way they saw things. I can’t say that it was a struggle between Robert and Emma, but more a struggle between our adult self and that wounded child.
I went to bed thinking about how I sad and alone I felt, about how I wanted to kill myself. I stared up at the ceiling thinking about how it would just be easier to call it quits than face the reality of the next day. I wanted to cry but my wife had seemed to like the piece and so I didn’t want to show how upset I felt. I struggled to fall asleep and honestly didn’t sleep very well at all. I kept feeling like I was trying to wake up but couldn’t quite get there. I think I might have even freaked out upon my wife touching me and startling me awake, but the memory might have just been a dream. I forgot to ask her about it the next day.
The next morning came far too early and I wanted nothing more than to just stay in bed, but I knew I didn’t have enough time off from work to justify calling in. I felt somewhat better about the story than I had the night before and the thoughts about suicide subsided. Maybe we could turn this around, we thought, maybe we could share the story with others and it would mean something to them. Even if we were somewhat disappointed and were struggling not to enter a self-destructive spiral, it might still be a good thing.
Deciding to take a more proactive approach we decided to share the story on Facebook and Twitter. We tweeted the link to the story to some of the biggest names in the transgender community and blogosphere hoping they would find it worthy of sharing. We sent it to our idolized author Kate Bornstein, the ever graceful Lavern Cox, the recent rock star Caitlyn Jenner, the ever amazing PrincessJoules, and the ruggedly handsome Michael Hughes, among others. Maybe if one of them shared the story with their numerous followers, the validation we’d been hoping for would finally come, but it never did. None of them shared it. None of them responded and there is no evidence that any of them actually watched it (except Michael, who I think at least watched it). We went to the WCCO Facebook page to see if they had shared it along with the other stories and were completely disheartened to see that they had shared the utterly ridiculous story about teenagers taking to hammocking (mocking) at the local lakes, but hadn’t shared our story. Teenagers in hammocks were more important than transgender visibility? Were we dreaming?
“I told you so!” the little girl inside seemed to shout up at me again, this time with more surety than ever. “They don’t care about us, and they shouldn’t. We are nothing special and we don’t deserve their attention. We are still a no one and don’t really matter. Why did you even do this?”
This time the battle was lost by us, the adult, and was given over to the child. She believed beyond a doubt that we didn’t deserve to be on the news, that we didn’t deserve for people to hear our full story, that we didn’t deserve the attention of others who’ve already done so much before us. She knew we were nothing and that we were, terribly, awfully, and completely alone. Everyone we knew personally who shared and watched the video said such nice things to us. So many people told us how proud they were of us, yet she wouldn’t allow us to feel proud of our accomplishment. Her surety that we were nothing and always would be, prevented us from truly appreciating what we HAD had, despite it not being what we might have envisioned.
We went through the day, depressed, and feeling completely alone. “How could we be such a failure?” the little girl kept asking. How could we have ever allowed ourselves to think our story was something people would care about? It’s difficult right now to even express these feelings and thoughts without wanting to cry, that’s how powerful they were.
It was fortunate that yesterday was also the day that I went to my weekly therapy appointment where I knew my therapist was waiting to talk to me about this story. We discussed it at length and in the end she helped me (the adult) to realize that the child had taken over. She reminded me that I didn’t have to identify with the pain and isolation that inner child was feeling, that it didn’t have to be the way I processed or viewed things. That child had developed and practiced those beliefs that we were not worthy of attention, that we were not worthy of love, that we were invisible and insignificant for so long that it was no wonder it all came bubbling up when our story hit the news; when those people we had hoped would take notice of us and share our story didn’t.
In reality, it was that little girl and her father who had moved away all over again. Why didn’t he pay attention to me? Why didn’t he answer my calls? Why does it seem like he is ignoring me? Do I not matter? There must be something wrong with me, because why else wouldn’t he be there for me? I must not be worthy of his love… I must have done something wrong… I must be broken…
And so we fell into the same feelings of isolation and depression that that little girl eventually developed over the span of her childhood. (I say her simply because the more work I have done with this inner child the more I have identified it as a little girl, even though at the time we were both a little boy and a little girl at the same time) We had allowed past issues of seeking validation and wanting attention from those we looked up to and admired to overtake our senses and blur our vision from what was really happening.
What was really happening was that we were doing something rather remarkable. Barely one month after going fulltime as Emma we were coming out on television for tens of thousands of people to see and countless more on the internet. Many trans people become shut ins for the first few months of their transition to full time, constantly feeling uncomfortable with how they aren’t looking exactly the way they want or that they aren’t as passable as they want. We were throwing all of those common self-criticisms to the wind and baring it all for everyone to see. We did a television interview with our voice still not in the place that we wanted, with our body still not the way we wanted, with our fashion and exterior not the way we wanted.
More than this, we were allowing a medium that has been historically unattainable for transgender individuals to display us in a positive light for others to see. We were allowing our story to be shared on a scale that most people never achieve, and all within the first 9 months of coming out as transgender. What we did was more than just about us or our own needs, it was about what we were bringing to the transgender cause: visibility. Not to self-congratulate too much, but what we did was extremely courageous and brave. Our therapist helped us to remember that, to see that more clearly.
Beyond all the self-doubt, the fear, the anxiety, and the disappointment of not being validated by those we look up to, we were proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that we really had value as a person, that we could be important and worthy of positive attention. That little girl was confused and the assumptions she had been operating under were wrong. She had done nothing wrong and she wasn’t broken. The attention she wanted but never got wasn’t a reflection of her or any failure on her part, it was simply the consequence of another person’s decisions that were out of her control.
Just because Kate Bornstein, Lavern Cox, Caitlyn Jenner, PrincessJoules, or Michael Hughes didn’t share our story didn’t mean that it was without value. Just because someone at WCCO decided our story wasn’t worthy of sharing on their Facebook feed (with its 138k followers) doesn’t mean our story wasn’t important or that it won’t reach the people who need to see it. All it means is that these things are the consequence of other people’s actions that we cannot control. The only thing we can control is how we continue forward. All that matters now is that we tuck this 4 minutes of fame under our belt and go back to work making a difference the only way we know how to, with our words and our writing.
Our therapist asked us what we would do if this news story was the pinnacle of our achievement with this blog and if things never really grew further from here and we didn’t know how to answer that question. It had never occurred to us that this might be the end, that this might be the most significant thing we would achieve with this blog, and with sharing our story. The only answer we know how to give is that we know, on a fundamental level, that there is still so much left to do, so much left of the story to tell. Even if that story only ever reaches the eyes of a few hundred people a week, that doesn’t matter, it must be told. Even if the huge influx of visits that we received as a result of our news story fades and we return to typical readership levels, it doesn’t matter, because we love each and every one of you. Even if those big-wig transgender people we look up to never get to behold how extraordinary our life is, has been, and will be, it doesn’t matter because we aren’t living it for them, we are living it for us.
No matter what, I’m going to become a therapist and I’m going to work with transgender individuals, their marriages, and their families. I am going to take this wonderful gift of a life I have been given and use it for the powers of good, for the sake of easing the suffering of my fellow humans and my fellow kindred spirits. No one who has not experienced gender dysphoria can fully grasp the levels of anguish that are possible within it, so I must use that intimate knowledge to free others from its icy grasp. Even if I never become the bestselling author I’ve dreamed of being since I was that teenager handing in extracurricular stories to a beloved high school English teacher for review and comments, or the high school student who spent his time writing and editing for the school newspaper, I will still live a life worthy of remembrance. I will still be a success, even if it’s only to myself.
We are Emma and we are not a failure, we are not broken, and there is nothing wrong with us, except the possibility that we might be too awesome for our own good! =p::::::
Thank you for reading, and thank you for taking this journey with me. It has been truly rewarding for me, I hope it has been for you too.