Today’s post was written by my wife Jennifer. Jenn’s story is intensely personal and I applaud her courage in sharing it here. I am so grateful to have her in my life. If you would like to read a bit about my experience with this check out the next post.
How do you love yourself when you hate the way you look? The way you walk? The way you talk? How do you love yourself when you are always trying to be someone you’re not? How do you love yourself when you spend nearly every waking moment desperately trying to conform to social norms, no matter how much your heart and soul aches to be anything but who you are?
These are questions I dealt with for nearly 3 decades. Questions I still struggle with but am coming to terms with.
I firmly believe that to love yourself requires you BE yourself. Loving yourself is inherently selfish. That’s ok! Too often we think of “self” as a “four letter word”. That if we do things for the self, it is wrong. If we make choices that support the self we are… Self-centered. Self-indulgent. Self-interested. Self-seeking.
About 3 years ago, I made a critically selfish choice.
I chose ME.
Not my wife. Not my family. Not my friends. Me. I chose to talk to a therapist about ME. I chose to take the steps needed to fix ME. I put my needs first. My heart. My mind. My soul. My body.
Since I was a small child, I have always wondered why I was denied being born a girl. I learned very early on that I was born a boy and boys do boy things, but I was always curious, envious and angry that I couldn’t do girl things. In preschool, I got mocked for wanting to wear nail polish – I quickly learned to keep that a secret. In elementary school, I was made fun of for being a “wimp” and because I got along better with the girls than I did the boys – I quickly learned to defend myself with vicious words and rhino-thick skin. In middle school, I endured the horror of starting to grow facial hair and the aching envy as the girls around me started growing breasts – I quickly learned to hide, even in crowds, even from myself.
I learned that it was better to hide who I am and how I felt to maintain the status quo. I thought that if I immersed myself into high testosterone activities that the pain would go away. I prayed that these feelings of longing and confusion would disappear. I joined the army. I learned martial arts. I lifted weights. The pain did not go away. The longing and confusion were just as crippling. I hated myself.
Something had to give…
After months of therapy I came to the understanding that the depression, the anxiety, the pain I had suffered through for so many years was not going to go away without drastic change. That the feelings I had buried in the deepest darkest places of my soul was no longer going to sit idle and be ignored.
It was time to be selfish.
It was time to love myself.
Loving myself meant…
- Choosing not to become a statistic – Fully 50% or more of transgendered people dont get the help they need and end up taking their own lives.
- Risking the loss of my marriage – The vast majority of marriages – nearly all – end in divorce when one partner transitions.
- Risking being disowned by my family and friends – Due to lack of awareness and acceptance, many transgender people lose contact with their family. Often it is as simple as just not seeing eye-to-eye and drifting apart, often it is a pronounced and profound rejection.
- Risking violence and abuse – As a community, the transgender population suffers some of the highest incidents of criminal abuse, physical violence and even murder, with some of the most lax protections.
- Paying for my therapy and medication out of pocket – Though I am “fully insured”, my insurance does not cover my time with therapists (which averages $100 per 60 minute session nationally) nor does it cover the needed medication and surgeries.
I was lucky…
I did get the help I needed.
I did not lose my marriage.
I lost a friend or two, but I did not lose my family.
I have been blessed to not be harmed in my transition.
Cost of treatment is still a struggle. I am thankful that my liver is able to handle the generic meds though they still cost $50 a month, and I only need to see my doctor every 6 months. (Surgery is another story since it costs between $35,000 to $70,000 on average.)
Was the risk worth it? Of course!
I am alive.
I am happy.
I am stronger and more authentic in how I face the world.
I love the person in the mirror.
I’m even starting to tolerate the idea of having my picture taken. (which, as a guy, was a fate worse than death! Egad!)
Most importantly, having taken the steps needed to begin living *my* life, I can now begin to be genuinely present in the lives of others. My wife. My family. My friends.
If you look in a thesaurus, the antonyms to “selfish” are words like “caring, kind, benevolent, giving”. But I ask you, how can we be caring, kind, benevolent and giving to others, if we don’t take care of ourselves first?
Jennifer’s word for the year is “Authenticity” and she is striving to find it in her life and in her self.