The first thing you feel obligated to do when you emerge as visibly trans in the world is to reject your history and your biology.
Whatever you claimed to be before this date was a lie. You were never really a man, never really male. It was all a lie, forced onto you by the demands of society. Whatever you claimed in the past was just so much claptrap that protected your tender truth using the polemics if internalized transphobia.
This rebellion against the past is the rhetoric of every adolescent, emerging to reject what was imposed on them as the first step to claim their own unique expression. The need to swing the pendulum wide, to be free and experimental, breaking the conventions of your family and community is a key part of trying to find a new centre of balance.
It’s easy to get to the rejection stage, to be loud and clear on what you are not, on what you need to disavow as lies and chains.
It’s easy to see what you are asked to make invisible so that people can see you in a different way, like trying the best you can to make the masculine features of your body disappear.
It’s easy to want to believe that demolishing your past demolishes your demons and makes the world treat you the way you want to be treated, in the way that you always dreamed of.
It’s much harder, though, for transpeople to move to the next stage, the exploration to find the truth of who you really are.
Part of this is the fact that we do not have as much freedom to play as young people, don’t have the venues and support, but the other big challenge is that our past, our biology is real and binding in our lives. We really did spend lots of time in another shape, another mode, another truth, with other obligations.
Project Runway’s Tim Gunn talks about his experience with in-patient psychiatric treatment. His choice was not to speak to the professionals, to stay silent. “I didn’t know who I was, but I was sure what I wasn’t, which was heterosexual, so I announced I was nothing, asexual,” he says.
It is easy to know who we are not. It is hard to do the work to find our who we are. Transvestism is about changing your clothes, transsexualism is about changing your body, and transgender is about changing your mind. That change is about rebuilding a new you, past old pain and emotional buttons, a smart, kind rebuilt you.
The first step to becoming new is always deconstruction. We dismantle our old shell, rejecting old claims and habits to find new. This rebellion is the easy part of coming out.
Analysis, experimentation and exploration is the next step. What works for us, is what we need to hold onto, and what doesn’t work for us, is just old habits that project our pain and confusion?
Any darn fool can burn down a barn, but it takes work and skill to build a new one. Discipline is in construction, not in destruction. Moving past the “Fuck you, I did what you wanted for so long now I get to indulge myself!” part of emergence is always really, really hard.
Swinging the pendulum wide, going through your stored reserves of pain and fear, entering your own inner hell and waling through it is rarely a pretty or gracious process. Having to do that in the spotlight, always in the public eye, means that you will be tempted to play nice, holding on to expectations, rather than doing the messy, hard, almost impossible work.
“My past was all lies! My future is nothing but truth!” That’s a great line to cry out as you take the sledgehammer to your old identity, but is only the first, negative step into building a real, complete, honest and gracious new identity.
Shedding the old skin is always only the first step to doing the work to change your identity, to change your choices, to change your mind. You new skin will still have to fit over all of you, even the parts you kind of wish would just go away, the messy parts that others find contradictory and challenging.
Cutting off your old parts may seem easy but the real core of you — the content of your character — is deep inside, not on the surface. It is that core you carry with you, that core you need to enter, that core where the jewels you carry reside. Curating your own life to throw away the dross, enhance the functional, face the challenges and find the gifts is hard work.
They often say that time changes things,
but actually you have to change them yourself.
— Andy Warhol
God grant me the strength to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Getting a dumpster and throwing out the old garbage can be a crucial start to reinvention. It marks a moment of commitment, a leap into the future. But, like Hedwig who strips naked at the end of the show to walk naked into the world, you will quickly find you need a new garment, a new face. new choices to remain stable and effective in your life.
Rebuilding a life with reimagined and rethought choices, is at the heart of transformation. Rebellion and rejection are only at the start of that process.