So we’re currently at the ignoble stage where, in order to have anything to talk about, I’m appropriating questions from real columnists, like a mail thief who then shows up at your door to critique your marriage. I think Prudie nailed it in responding to this question, and I think the practical advice is right-on. Talk to your partner, for your own mental health, and get you someone else to talk to about it also. I’m not here to disagree – I just wanted to talk about some of the underlying thoughts you may be experiencing right now.
This is a familiar story to me. When I was about 15, my parents sent me to a therapist. It wasn’t explained to me precisely why, so when the therapist asked about my hobbies, I talked about Zelda and Starfox and D&D. I also mentioned my best friend, and how important she was to me. Almost at once, I was forced to insist that our relationship wasn’t sexual, that I was not a lesbian. I had this conversation with my very progressive family pretty often too. It wasn’t that they had any issue with me being gay – quite the opposite, in fact; my mother routinely ended arguments with my stepfather by turning to me and snarling, “Marry a woman!”
agony and uncertainty was where they started
It was that to them it was both fascinating – something they wanted to know about, and constantly – and yet also trivial enough to mock. And to me it was frightening, and invasive, and diminishing to what I saw as the “purity” of my relationship with my friend. It was dysphoric, is what it was, only I didn’t know that at the time. I’d grown up surrounded by gay people, but because it wasn’t remarked upon in my family, none of the pain and confusion we can feel in the closet was mentioned to me. I only saw the happy, open adults these people had become. I had no idea that my agony and uncertainty was where they started. I didn’t trust my family enough – for other reasons – to tell them what I felt, and when the therapist immediately started in with the same prurient curiosity, insisting that a close friendship just couldn’t be that close without something gay going on, not-that-there’s-anything-wrong-with-that… I didn’t trust her either.
This is where my life divided. I tell myself stories about it sometimes, like the stories you’re telling in your dreams right now. In one story, someone explains to me that trans is a thing you can be, and that I do not have to look like my family’s idea of a lady to be worthy. I register the fact that the person I always imagine myself growing up to be is a man. In that story, I imagine, maybe I transition, and maybe I’m someone’s husband and that makes me happy. Or however that ends up going. Transition is no guarantee of eternal happiness – it would just have been a different life.
In the other story, the one that’s more detailed but less narratively satisfying because it actually happened, I don’t know until much, much later that the pain I feel is not normal, that it’s not just me being fundamentally deficient the way my parents tell me I am. In this story, I do not tell anyone that I don’t recognize my own face in the mirror, and so no one explains to me that I should. In this story, I spend the next fifteen years trying to become the woman I am supposed to be, the woman I don’t recognize. The “lady” my grandmother wants to see. The daughter my family could love. I am told that if I obey, I will be safe, and so I do. I obey the pain away. I obey myself away.
I was a good girl. Just like I imagine you’ve been a good guy, a good boyfriend, a good son. So much unspoken weight is in that, not just the words but the promise and the threat: stick to the script and you can stay. Do what we expect, and you’ll be taken care of. Follow in our footsteps and you’ll always be safe. It’s understandable, to a certain extent, that our loved ones feel that way – their path is the only one they know, and they turned out okay, right? There’s only one life they can be certain is livable, and it’s the one they’re living.
But you can’t live in anyone else’s flesh prison, and the life they’ve found livable may be toxic to you in a way no one else can understand. I got to 30 before the disconnection from myself nearly killed me. My body felt like a space suit, loose, bulky and clumsy, with me screaming and lost somewhere inside, far away from the faceplate. I couldn’t see forward – every life I could imagine ahead of me felt the same, that same grinding, choked, claustrophobic feeling, that same hopeless, worthless girl starring in every frame. That girl I didn’t recognize. I didn’t want any of those lives, and I couldn’t imagine any others. I didn’t want to live at all if it had to feel like that.
nothing will ever feel real… as long as the person starring in your life is not you
If you can’t get out of bed, I think it’s a decent chance you feel some of these things too. So I want to tell you that it doesn’t have to feel like that, and also to listen to those feelings. I don’t say this because I’m unhappy with the disheveled machine ghost I’ve become, far from it – in a fucked-up way that I spend 90% of this blog trying to articulate, I value the life I’ve had. I just know that nothing, not love, not success, not wealth, not the desires you don’t tell anyone – nothing will ever feel real and no success will make you feel enough as long as the person starring in your life is not you.
Before I came out, I was suicidal, because I couldn’t envision any future where I was happy. No matter how flawless the vision, no matter how happy the ending, I wasn’t in it. That girl wasn’t me. Her victories meant nothing, and her sorrows seemed imposed, the result of trying to cut off every part of herself that made someone else uncomfortable. So much of what that girl feared, needed, found challenging or impossible… I can’t even see now. The message I was given, and you’ve been given, was, “You must fold and crush the person you are until you become someone who can be happy where we’ve put you.” But that’s not true. The demand can be sidestepped when you see that it’s based on a lie that many families, corporations, and governments would like you to believe: “Happiness is only possible through me and my way.” That’s not true either.
I’ve got a different message for you, while you’re being scolded from on high. “If you’re not happy where you are, as you are… move. You don’t need another reason.”
a spicy bean
And that’s the final point I wanted to make. I don’t mean “move” as in “don’t get married, sell your house and run off and transition and then join Cirque du Soleil or something” (although I would watch that movie). No. When I say “move,” I mean just that – make a move. Take literally any step toward something you want. A little one or a big one. Any one. Gamble even just a few minutes of your time on the possibility that what you think matters, that what you feel is right, that even if you’re wrong about the things you might enjoy or want, no one else is a better authority on you than you are, and your life is about trying things to see if you like them and want more. That’s literally what life is. “What’s this thing? Put it in my mouth to see what it is. Ow, it stung my lip. That’s a spicy bean, I don’t think I like it.” That’s all of life. Here’s a thing – like it? Want more? There’s more over there, go get it. And you are the first and last judge of what things you want more of in your life. You might take in data from people around you to inform that decision, to tell you more about what might occur and which of those consequences you want, etc., but you are the only one who gets to decide, because you’re the only one who has to live with it forever.
So make one small change. Talk to someone. Start wearing a different coat. Get yourself some earbuds so you can listen to music for a minute when you get stressed out at work, and actually do that. Take a class on something your family thought was stupid, or go browse the memes on r/egg_irl and see if anything feels familiar. Remind yourself that exploring this idea will not instantly result in the life you have crumbling to pieces. Try to resist the feeling that this is an either-or, an irrevocable all-or-nothing decision between the life you have and being true to yourself. It feels like that, because you don’t know what might happen, so you’re imagining the worst possible outcome. But it’s not. This is a long, complicated, hard process if you transition, and gender questioning is a long, complicated, hard process whether or not you ever do that, and it looks different for everyone. All you need now is someone to talk to about how you might like it to look for you.
looking for reasons is looking for permission
And do it today. Right now. (Let me finish here first, it’s rude to run off when I’m pontificating.) You will always, always find a way to convince yourself it’s not time yet, or it’s not worth it, or it’s too risky. Looking for reasons is looking for permission. You want something unequivocal that will take the choice out of your hands, convince you of the right move, and you’re never going to get it. You will, however, assemble a thousand data points that convince you to stay in bed, so afraid to lose what crumbs of comfort and joy you have that you’re willing to pass up even the chance at not living on starvation rations.
You don’t need anyone’s permission to explore and express who you are – not your fiancée’s, not your family’s, not Prudie’s, and not mine. You’ve been trying so goddamn hard, for so fucking long, to be what they wanted you to be, and the person who’s done that isn’t bad or wrong. You don’t have to sacrifice everything he is to be the woman you truly are, because I’m willing to bet that woman is a LOT like the man your fiancée agreed to marry. I bet that woman is every bit as considerate, as conscientious, as kind and as loving as you are in a man’s body.
The only real difference between that man and that woman, apart from a few years of medical nonsense and stress… is that the woman thinks YOU being YOU is worth literally any risk at all. The voices that brought you here, the ones that are telling you to shut up and swallow this… they think that “not rocking the boat” is worth sacrificing every single bit of you. When you’re questioning whether something you would be doing for yourself is “worth it,” remember that you’re really asking, “Am I worth it?” To you, expressing yourself honestly should be worth literally any risk, any cost. Start believing it now. Then make your move.