You awaken in a cold sweat.
You’re confused, anxious, and although you’re not in physical pain you can already feel that something about your body is… out of place.
There are pieces missing and pieces present that are not yours. You start to panic, jump from bed and rush to the light-switch. You throw on the lights and look down; your heart skips a beat. That’s not right. Your chest is wrong - it’s not what it was when you went to sleep. You touch yourself, hands shaking slightly, just to confirm what your eyes are seeing and your fingers feel the difference your eyes can see and an uncomfortable weight drops into the pit of your stomach.
Your hands move downward as you feel the area between your legs. It’s wrong there too… that’s not the part you went to bed with; that’s not the identity you had when you closed your eyes and fell asleep. That’s not who you are, it’s not what you’ve always been. A lump begins to form in your throat as your mind races and your pulse quickens even further, your heart beating inside your chest like a drum that you can’t escape; like the horrible nightmare you’ve awakened to.
No. No, no no no no.
This isn’t real, you tell yourself.
Over and over again in the span of a moment. It’s impossible, what happened. What happened??? How did this happen? You rush to the mirror, near tears from confusion and panic and you see what you already know. It’s you, alright - that’s your face… but at the same time it’s not. The angles are wrong, the features skewed just ever so slightly in such a way that you’re recognizable but only barely; like looking at yourself in the surface of a warped mirror. It’s you, but it’s not… it’s wrong.
You’re in full panic mode now. You rush to the phone and quickly call your mother or your father, perhaps your best friend. You call the one person that knows you best; the person you trust the most in the world… You can tell you’ve awoken them as they answer the phone - you can’t even feel embarrassment or guilt for having called them so early in the morning, you’re in too much of a panic. You begin to speak, trying to explain to them what’s happened but they’re not understanding. They can tell you’re panicked though, so they offer to come over and help you through whatever’s happened.
A shock goes through you as you realize they’ll see you… like this. A million worries, fears and questions shoot through your mind. What will they think? How will they react? Will they treat you differently seeing you like this? … no, you tell yourself. They love you, they care for you - they’ll help you. They’ll help you understand all of this and make sense of what’s happening. You agree and quickly prepare for their arrival.
They arrive and offer a comforting look or embrace. You wait for their surprise or their shock but it doesn’t come. They stare at you expectantly and you usher to your body, your face, your suddenly new identity and they only offer you confusion. You tell them you’re different, you woke up different and they don’t understand how you mean. You look just the same to them. You stare at them in horror and confusion.
How can they say that?
This isn’t you!
You don’t look the same at all, you look different; like yourself but the opposite gender. You’re still you but you’re shaped differently; the same clay but pushed through a different mold at some point in the night. They try to offer more comfort but their confusion and insistence that you look the same as you always have to them only frustrates you and eventually they leave, feeling worried and confused and that only makes you even more confused.
The change doesn’t wear off or go away.
You spend days and weeks waiting to feel like yourself again… but nothing changes.
Every morning you wake up and for a brief moment there’s a small flicker of hope that today it will be different - you’ll be you again and it was all just a bad, crazy dream. Or perhaps for a brief, shining moment you forget who you are or where you are or what’s happened… But it only ever lasts a moment. You wait for the morning when you’ll wake up and suddenly be you again, like before. But that morning never comes. And the longer you wait for it the more anxious you get. The creeping sensation that it’s never coming is slowly sneaking up on you and you’re no longer panicking… you’re sinking. Sinking into something similar to panic but much, much deeper.
A constant state of irritability and discomfort, it’s almost a sense of foreboding in reverse; you’re not afraid something bad is coming, you’re terrified the good you’re waiting for isn’t coming.
You begin to realize that you’re becoming depressed and so you force yourself into a routine of distraction. You over-work yourself, showers and bathroom breaks are quick and oftentimes done blind as you try to keep your eyes closed as much as possible. You’ve moved the mirrors around in the house - they all face the walls now. Except the one in the bathroom, you couldn’t turn that one around so it’s just gone now - the front of the medicine cabinet an empty hole in the wall stacked with shelves of toothpaste, deodorant, and floss.
You focus on the things that make you forget about your body and how wrong it feels, unfortunately that means you end up isolating yourself from the people who now identify you with this new, fake body; who have apparently always identified you this way. Your friends, your family, you keep them all at arms length now because they don’t understand the way the name they call you cuts when it slides past their lips. They can’t see the grimace of pain when they refer to you by the wrong pronoun, it doesn’t make sense to them why that upsets you the way it does so they simply chalk it up to you being oversensitive which only exasperates you.
So you push them away and you isolate yourself and distract yourself with work and anything else that helps you forget but that only lasts so long. Eventually you understand that you’re going to have to do something because living this way isn’t working. No amount of distraction or ignoring it is going to make it better. If you don’t do something soon you’re going to lose yourself to the dark feeling growing inside.
Finally, you work up the nerve to seek out a doctor and explain to them what you’re feeling. The doctor is nice, super compassionate to your situation and makes you feel a bit better. He talks about a solution to your problem and your heart sores. He throws around some words like “transgender” and “dysphoria”. You kind of understand them but not really, he explains them and it makes sense to you and something inside you starts screaming and jumping up and down: “yes! That’s what this is! That’s me, that’s what I’m experiencing!” And most importantly, he says that he can fix this for you! … but there’s a catch.
The fix isn’t perfect.
And it’ll cost more than anything else you’ll probably ever buy in your life. When it’s all said and done the “cure” to this nightmare is going to cost you more than a car, more than a house, probably even more than college. And it’s going to be painful. The procedures are intensive, intrusive and take a long time to recover from and the medicine you’re going to be taking to “fix” what the procedures can’t is administered painfully and is, most likely, a lifetime commitment to maintain what you had already had before all of this without any effort at all.
It’s going to cost you tens of thousands of dollars, a lot of pain and work and the results will probably never be exactly what you had before. It might get close, maybe even better, but there’s no guarantee to that at all and the doctor makes this very, very clear. You think about it for a little while but only as a formality. Living like this the rest of your life is unbearable to you, it’s not an option. You think to yourself frequently these days that anything would be better than this, even death as it is… so you knew the moment he said there was a “cure” or a way to “fix” this that you’d do whatever, pay whatever it cost.
You agree to this treatment and the doctor sets out a five year plan of therapy, hormones, and an array of other things that you’ll need to do to prepare for the first surgery.
Five years is a long time, but it’s all you have.
You’ll take it.
You sign the papers and for the first time in a very long time you feel a small sliver of hope; maybe things won’t always be like this. There may be a light at the end of this tunnel after all, you tell yourself. You leave the doctor’s office and immediately call your friends and family and tell them, you think for sure that they’ll be as excited about this as you are … but they’re not. A couple are supportive but only tentatively so. They’re a little awkward and you can tell they’re still concerned. You hang up with them and an overwhelming feeling of loneliness washes through you. They don’t understand this… they don’t even want to understand this. It honestly feels to you as if they’d really rather you just suffered with it in silence so they didn’t have to deal with it. You feel like a burden and it hurts you in ways you didn’t know you could hurt before.
That pain only intensifies as you begin the process of transitioning over the next several months. Your family makes excuses not to have you over or to visit you - some of your friends won’t even return your calls or answer your texts anymore. People you don’t even know are now suddenly very, very interested in you and your life; some are strangely fascinated with the process of your transition and make you feel incredibly uncomfortable and violated; others are judgmental and cruel, telling you their god hates you for simply existing the way you do or that you’re disgusting and unnatural. This only further fuels your desire for isolation and you retreat from the public eye as much as possible. It’s easier to be alone than to be constantly scrutinized and observed, watched like a criminal or fetishized by people who treat you like a trophy.
You turn to the digital universe, because you can be whoever you want to be there and no one questions you. Eventually you find a website full of people… just like you! They’re bright, and vibrant and confidant and happy. They accept you with open arms and give you so much positive feedback you’re practically sick with it. The overwhelming feeling of relief is so powerful you could almost get high off of it. You throw yourself into this online community headlong and for a while it’s pretty good, it really helps you not feel so alone.
But then… you start to notice that some of the people who are so supportive and who have embraced you with open arms say things sometimes that make you feel weird; uncomfortable. Things that don’t… quite make sense and you ask questions. They insist things like “gender doesn’t exist” “it’s a social construct” “you don’t have to have dysphoria to be transgender” “you’re perfect just the way you are” “you shouldn’t change yourself you should just learn to love yourself more” “transition isn’t necessary” “some trans people love themselves and don’t want to transition”.
You assume that they don’t understand how these kinds of things are wrong and harmful to someone like you; they’re part of the reason you have to wait five years and go through extensive therapy before you can finally get to your first surgery approval and move on with your life. You try to explain this and your friends, the ones who had been so nice before are suddenly very, very mean. In an instant they go from kind and supportive to downright cruel. They say awful things to you, tell you you’re a terrible person and that they hope horrible things happen to you.
You retreat and isolate again. If you’re lucky you find people who understand you and who agree with you… but there’s never any guarantee of that. You stare at the long path of transition ahead of you and you wonder if you’re even going to make it to the starting line…
This is it. This is the reality.
Fear. Discomfort. Paranoia. Anger. Frustration. Exasperation. Isolation. Loneliness. Depression. Self doubt. Confusion. Desperation.
These are the things we experience regularly… and it isn’t because cis people exist, and it isn’t (just) because we face oppression. It’s because we are disconnected from our bodies; because we face one of two equally unpleasant avenues: live with the bodies we have that we do not feel at home in or undergo expensive, painful, emotionally draining and sometimes dangerous medical procedures and a near lifelong commitment to bi-weekly injections of hormone correction therapy.
This is the reality.
This is what it means to change who you are outside to match who you know you are inside; who you’ve always known you are inside, even when everyone else insists you’re wrong or crazy.
This is what it means to be like us.
This is what it means to be transgender.
Anyone who tells you differently is lying to you.