What i really want you to know,
is the real me.
not what's on the surface,
not just what you see.
You see my fear,
not what i fear,
you see me listen,
not what i hear,
you see me cry,
but, what brings the tear?
if you could only see me as i am.
I deal with my pain,
in different ways,
at different times,
on different days,
but never in indifference phase,
and you never see me as i am.
My truth and joy are hidden, yes,
if you would only try to guess,
who knows? it's just a little mess,
but you might like me as i am.
Longing is a short poem i wrote in 2006 to try to express my frustration at gender incongruity and gender dysphoria. About how maddening it is to not be seen as you truly are inside.
The following essay was written for the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto's inaugural session of it's gender education and outreach program that I was honoured to be asked to speak to. Gender 101 is being developed to help educate the church and congregation about T* people and their unique needs, spiritual and social.
Kudos to Jon and Sara for their efforts
Being Me: On fear and its effects on a life.
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. I have to make some assumptions because, as you may have heard already, Gender is not always readily visible on the surface.
Now I could start off with some statistics, Like “According to the DSM-IV, one in 30,000 biological males and one in 100,000 biological females are transgender (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Newer data suggests at least one in 500 persons is transgendered (Olyslager & Conway, 2007).” Or “Transgender persons have an attempted suicide rate that is somewhere in the 31% to 41% range (depending on the study).” But this is not a story of statistics; this is the story of one person. This is my story.
When I was young, before I ever discovered I was different from other children, I was nearly fearless. A lot of this has to do with the fact that there are few visible differences between boys and girls until around age ten. Any differences between sexes at that age are imposed by parents and society and although I understood that I was physically different than my sisters, I didn’t understand that I wasn’t a girl and didn’t realize that I wasn’t going to just change if I wanted it enough. I didn’t get the physical rough housing and games of cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians or war… I liked my sister’s dollhouse and dolls, I liked my mother’s miniature tea set, I liked the stove toy at my grandmothers. In kindergarten, I liked playing house and school with the girls… and this apparently caused adult concern, because I was pulled away to more appropriate toys and games at which point I would retreat and read.
In my knowing that I was a girl, there was no sexuality involved, I just knew and was positive I would grow up like mommy. When my sisters played dress up with me, there was no shame… just a feeling of rightness. Yes I was different than the other kids, isolated to an extent, but I ran with both boys and girls never seeing any difference, never afraid. I didn’t hate boys, I just wasn’t one. Though as I grew older I felt distanced from other children my age. My childhood was isolated but never a source of fear. The fear arrived when I was eleven. I had taken advantage of having a house to myself and was dressed appropriately, to my mind. I was comfortable, I felt right. I was too relaxed and didn’t hear my family come home. To them I was crossed dressed… I felt their fear and it terrified me. I didn’t understand it but I could feel it. They call it strong empathy, I called it terror.
Their fear was deep… I was the only son and I was a cross-dressing perverted freak and I needed to be cured. No one asked me what I wanted, I was told what was to be. This was early 1976, there was no easily accessed internet for information and fellowship, no television programs discussing people like myself, just rumour and innuendo. As far as I knew I was the only person in the world that felt like this … to them, I was gay, I would grow up molesting children, I was not normal… a freak to be cured. At this time, people were still very comfortable being homophobic, making jokes and even gay bashing. Transphobia wasn’t even a word yet nor was transgender. I was quietly whisked off to a family councilor to find out how to fix me, and we made sure the neighbours knew nothing of our family’s shame.
So, picture this if you can, I was eleven years old and scared by my mommy and daddy’s fear… I was terrified of losing their love. I only knew how I felt inside (girl) but the message I was getting from them was I was wrong, twisted, sick somehow. The psychotherapist talked at me for about 20 minutes about things I didn’t understand but would be frightening to any child my age. Then, this professional Family Councilor asked me, in front of my parents, if I wanted to be a boy or a girl.
I Lied. I lied so my parents wouldn’t hate me. I lied to fit in. I pushed everything that I was deep down inside of me so that my parents would love me. I began to build a false face, a persona; I built him because I feared being me… I was him… I hated having to be him. I hated him.
All of a sudden I wasn’t happy; my parents couldn’t figure out where their happy little ‘boy’ had gone didn’t get that their fear had forced me to hide. All of a sudden words like anti social and depressed got thrown about. I started over eating and wouldn’t leave my room. I wasn’t doing well in school because I had given up… I couldn’t understand the role I was supposed to play… so I would read but not get involved… I was tested and moved into a gifted program. I didn’t fit there either…all I wanted was to be left alone… I couldn’t relate to the boys and the girls wanted nothing to do with me because I was a ‘boy’. But I also discovered one fact that kept me alive during all that reading… there were other people like me, people who weren’t what they appeared to be on the outside.
I’d really like to be able to tell you about my teen years, but the fact is that aside from some rage incidents (no one was physically hurt), my teen years, when I was supposed to be learning about socialization and interaction, as well as English and geography, are a near complete blank. I’m not sure whether there was any bullying involved, but I doubt it. I was fairly large and in all the pictures I’ve seen, I had a heavy lidded appearance to my eyes… I think most people took me for a drug user and left me alone. This was also a time that I would experience what I have called fugue states, where I would be one place, like a classroom, and then find myself somewhere else entirely, several hours later, without memory of the hours between. It wasn’t till about age 18 I started to have any definable memories at all.
During the years between 18 and 24, I read everything I could find on these trans people. It was mostly porn in the late 70’s and early 80’s or sordid biographies with lurid titles. ‘I changed my sex!’ or ‘Man to Maiden’, but it gave me a glimmer of hope. But with that faint hope was guilt and fear, fear of being caught with pornography or reading about weirdos. On the brand new medium of the daytime talk show, Phil Donahue and other pioneers were interviewing cross dressers and drag queens, but I didn’t relate to them, I didn’t feel any sexual thrill about cross dressing. All I wanted was to find out how all this related to how I felt deep inside, so I would surreptitiously find psychotherapists and try to let me out of him. But if a real step forward was offered he would push me back down and retreat in fear… fear of family reaction, fear of society. So I pretended to be an over masculine chubby guy who did everything in his power to prove he was a man… I joined the armed forces, I went on the road with a carnival and I shut myself down emotionally. I would hide behind humour and sarcasm and I was lonely.
I was living, but I wasn’t alive… I was barely aware. I cross dressed occasionally, but there was always shame and fear attached. Never the comfort and relaxation and rightness that were once there and I cried inside. A lost, trapped little girl never allowed to be me because of fear. I grew older and I tried to be who my family thought I was. I tried to be a guy and have relationships, but my partners always sensed something wrong or off about me and would leave. I dated someone who was more masculine than I was, though I didn’t realize it at the time, but she sensed the ‘weakness’ in me and became abusive, both mentally and physically and I retreated further into myself.
After this I spiraled further into depression and finally had a breakdown. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t go out, and all I could do was stay in bed and try to escape my thoughts. I would have died I think, but I was responsible for more than myself. I had cats, and I was afraid of hurting my family, so I suffered. And I hated. I hated everyone and everything, especially him, especially me. But I lived.
In June 2002, I had a breakthrough… I let go of my hate and fear for a moment and saw the me I had buried. In my journal of the time I wrote “Shit! I’m a woman!” I couldn’t rebury me, he started to weaken. I told my therapist, I told my friends, I told my family…. They all seemed to already know. My fear of society, my fear of my family reactions, all that had kept me in the darkness and made me miserable… it was me…
Nothing brought this more to my attention than two phone calls last Wednesday afternoon. One was from my eldest sister who is a Pentecostal churchgoer and a bit of a fundamentalist. This sister once told me I was under some sort of demonic curse. However, on Wednesday, when I told her that I was going forward with my transition, she told me that it seemed to be doing me good and I was more emotionally present. Not what I expected.
The second call was from my father and it was because I set a fuse alight a few months ago when I cancelled my old Facebook account. He surprised me by asking why I had cancelled it as he had only just now got the message. I was shocked into direct truth and told him everything, about being referred to CAMH (the Center for Addiction and Mental Health) for its gender clinic, about my name change and together we had a big emotional event with him starting to accept me, and me having a big ugly cry (which I needed). Fear had kept me from coming clean and maybe learning to be my fathers daughter.
At one time the fear may have been justified, but that changed while I kept myself locked away, and I lost over 30 years of my life. I still struggled over the last ten years fighting him, fighting the fears but I am starting to allow myself freedom from fear. I am allowing myself to move forward and I am allowing myself to be Diana Michelle Howe.