During the summer of 2001, my mom received a call from the Boy Scout Camp where I was spending two weeks. I was calling her in a sheepish voice and I said, “Mom, I drowned.”
Of course, she knew it was not true, because I was the one saying it. I was confessing my failure in the personally hardest merit badge I had faced so far. This was the badge designed to prove that I could save a life if they were drowning. I had failed in the tasks for this badge, and therefore I drowned with them. In my mind at the time, this failure was very real. It was a badge required for Eagle, although I had already completed Emergency Preparedness for that requirement, there were many Lifesaving requirements for it were very far out of my league. When I pronounced that I had drowned, I had given up completely. I knew I would never meet the long swim requirements – there was no chance.
At this point in my life I felt as if I was failure and I could not succeed at anything. This was in the summer after my freshman year in high school and I was on a quick trip to depression. My depression stemmed from the fact that there was only one thing I was trying to do at this time – I was trying to hide my true self. I was succeeding but I was not proud of accomplishing that particular goal.
I acquired Lifesaving, that summer, on July 14 2001 along with Aviation, Mammal Study, and Environmental Science. On my Eagle Scout transcript, we listed it as my 21st badge even though it was not. I still had many more badges to go but once I passed Lifesaving, I knew I would be an eagle scout. I knew I could do anything required of me for this amazing task. Lifesaving comprised skills I saw that would help me grow up into a good person.
How did I make it? When I had given up that day, I returned to camp called my mom and pledged to everyone that I would try this badge no longer. Two people found that unacceptable and said that I would class the next day. When my scoutmaster and father, who was a chaperone for this particular trip, arrived to the campsite the next day at the time for my class and saw me still there they both were very stern. They dragged me, almost kicking and screaming, to the class and I continued my path in this badge because of it. They forced me to try.
The next week I spent at least three hours every day in the lake swimming. Each day I got a couple of meters further than my previous record. I spent so much time in that lake near Springfield, IL. If they were going to force me to continue I was going to force myself to succeed at something. I powered myself forward and swam further than I had ever swum before. I had felt it was the first time I felt like I had accomplished something positive since 1997.
Yes, that is correct, I saw that between May 1997 and July 2001 I had not accomplished one positive goal. The only thing I succeeded at during those years, was to hide my true self. It was the only thing I really tried to do. I didn’t care about school; I didn’t care about my future. I didn’t see a positive future so why care about it? I rarely did homework, projects, or papers. Why bother when I have no future? Yet, somehow Lifesaving merit badge gave me something to work toward. I was captive. I wasn’t allowed to give up. So, I tried.
My life up until this time was just sitting around waiting for the answers. I was not going to try to find them. I felt like it was pointless to put in effort. I wanted just to wait until the tide carried me away. Either to happiness or sadness. It was starting to grab and pull toward sadness, then Lifesaving merit badge came, and helped me realize that if you don’t put in effort, you cannot possibly succeed. I was trying to take the easy path though my life. For a while it was working, but it was clearly going to lead me out to sea to get lost forever.
So, I decided to put in effort. To try to become the man I was ‘supposed’ to be. Correction, the man ‘society’ thought me to be. I tried so hard to grow up, to be mature, to be a man. What was ‘a man’ well all I really had to go on was movies, and my dad. That lead to a weird mix of qualities in my mind. One thing was for sure: emotion was not in the picture.
My dad was always a calm logical ‘let’s fix this problem’ type of person. At least that was how I saw him at the time. Now, I know there are emotions there too — Just a little harder to get at. When I was younger, one night, he was working on taxes and watching CNN. I couldn’t sleep; I don’t even remember why. I became engrossed it what was on the TV, all I had ever watched on TV before was cartoons and game shows. We (The United States) were bombing another country. The Gulf War had just started. I was confused by the TV, no idea what was going on but my dad calmly and logically explained the situation in a way to me that I could understand. It put my problems that evening in perspective. My problems were made tiny by the idea that someone else is losing their home right now. My problems were quickly forgotten lost in the sadness of war.
My method of ‘problem solving’ as a man, was mirrored in this system. I always fought the big problems; and ignored the little ones, by finding big ones. By coincidence all the small problems were emotional in nature and all the large problems were physical in nature. I saw men on TV doing the same. None of this came natural to me; I wanted to confront and solve emotional problems. But, I was a boy, I was taught boys don’t cry. I was taught boys don’t have emotions and are supposed to be strong. I was far from strong. But, I tried so hard. A few times in my life I tried too hard and it threatened emotional and mental collapse.
I learned to try to balance my life into two different compartments. An emotional compartment that I struggled to hide from everyone and an external compartment that I showed to everyone. I thought this was the normal actions for a male in our species. It wasn’t until much later that I would realize inside me was always a girl struggling to get out. I didn’t really talk about what was going on inside me, in fact I tried very hard to constantly hide it. How was I to know that it was abnormal to bottle emotions to the extent of not even knowing they are there? Or maybe this is normal for men? I just couldn’t do it anymore. I lived a life of ‘happiness’ and fake smiles outside. However, in the privacy of my room, I lived a life of tears and depression under the weight of emotions that I could not control.
I struggled to control my emotions, overall I did a good job. Nobody even knew I had emotions. I built a life on calm logic denying that emotion even existed. I had a few friends who called me their ‘logical half.’ It was a bitter-sweet nickname. It showed that I was doing a good job fooling everyone. I was fooling everyone to believe that I was ‘okay’ when things happened where I should have been sad, angry, happy, fearful, anxious. However, it was also proof that they did not see my whole self. They did not see the person crying themselves to sleep overwhelmed from trying so hard to fit into a half of society where they didn’t belong.
Each day I reserved a part of the day for looking into ‘screw-ups’ places where my shell fractured and someone had or had almost seen inside. I vowed each time to try harder. Trying to keep my shell intact, trying to keep that image that everyone ‘expected’ of me up ended up taking a majority of my mental and emotional capacity over the course of many years. How was I expected to do homework when I had to study myself and my own screw-ups every day?
So much effort was put into the shell. I had to decide who would see which parts of me, and most importantly remember which parts of me I had shown each person. My mental capacity was expended in trying to retain this fake shell of a person. When I was asked to try with Lifesaving merit badge my reaction was ‘how can you expect me to do that?’ Well, I did it. You never know what you are capable of until you try.
Being transgender is to be fundamentally sexist. I realized that being a man isn’t good enough. I decided that the core of what is inside me is that of a woman. However, there are many people who see it exactly the other way, where being a woman isn’t good enough for them. We go through extreme steps because we realize that there are differences between male society and female society and we do not belong to the society to which our body assigned us. For me being male was a great deal of work because I had to suppress many things about myself that are naturally feminine. It took a great deal of work over the course of many years to suppress those things.
As I transition to female society I find that burdens are lifted off of me because I can stop trying to be someone who I am not. I am not a man. I have never been a man. I was a boy; I succeeded at that. I was a teen, although I found it difficult to be a male teen. I could never grow past that. I tried to be a man. I really did. I tried to be a man harder than anything else in my life – I just couldn’t do it. Many people around me looked at me and thought that I had achieved success. Society said that I was a man, I was over 18 and male… I looked in the mirror and saw something very wrong; I saw a frightened young boy refusing to grow up.
It was this disconnect that created my inability to build self-confidence and self-esteem. Everyone said positive things about me, but all I could see what a frightened boy unsure of what was wrong with him. The mirror never showed me what everyone else told me. I tried everything I could think of to be a man, including being a feminine gay man. There was nothing that made my life add up properly. Until, it all made sense.
However, once it did all make sense. I didn’t have to try anymore. For some people this transition has been very difficult. However, for me, it has been very easy. Most of the time if I had to try in regards to this transition it was because there was someone, or something preventing my inner self from being shown. Most of my fights have been with external factors. To be a girl, to be a she, I haven’t had to try at all. It has all just come naturally. I have never felt like life was so easy. I have never felt so good. I finally can see myself in a positive light. Little by little over the last year I have shed filters, shells and lies. For me, it has been glorious. It has been a year where each day is better than the next as opposed to years upon years of each day being worse than the next.
However, many people are having to get used to the idea of me being a girl. It has caused distress for many people around me. Women and Men are fundamentally different. There is no denying that, that is not to say one is better than the other, but there are differences. To change genders fundamentally changes how each person around me interacts with me. My hobbies may be the same, but the way I interact with people is different partly because people are seeing less filter, less shell and more honesty. That causes many people around me to have to adjust.
There have been various amounts of success. But I don’t care about success. I want people to try. I want people to see that this is something positive in my life. I don’t want people to be surprised when someone calls me ma’am, miss, or she. I just want the people to be happy for me. Screw ups happen. I’m going to get called ‘sir’ I’m going to called ‘he.’ It really doesn’t bother me that much. What does bother me is when people act surprised when someone calls me she. Is it that hard to believe that I’m really a woman just like any other? Sure I found a different path to get here, but I’m still a woman. I get upset when someone says “oh, you must be happy they called you she.” No, I’m upset that you are making a big deal about any single word or instance of someone properly gendering me.
Something important happened last week. I was able to change my gender on my driver’s license. It is the first document that properly identifies my gender. It took me months of research to do, and four hours at the DMV on the day, all to add two letters. I finally officially, somewhere, received the ‘fe’ that has always belonged in front of ‘male.’
I’m not trying to fool people into thinking I’m a woman. I just plain am a woman.
There is no need to try so hard anymore.
The pressure is finally off.