Once you are trans and emerged, no longer struggling to fit into your assigned box, it’s easy to look back and ponder what might have been if things had been different.
What might have happened if you didn’t have to hide, instead feeling safe to show yourself? What would you have learned by going through your emergence with the rest of your peers, rather than just playacting at being who you believed other people expected you to be?
And what could have happened if you didn’t have to take that enormous hit of letting go everything that you built to recreate yourself, all the while being challenged and attacked by people who felt you were being sick and self-indulgent?
It takes so much more effort to learn social skills out of order rather than being schooled along with a whole class trying to own the same challenges at the same time. You not only have no others to mirror and help you, you don’t have safe people to practice with, trying out gendered behaviours to see which work well for you.
That second adolescence takes much more time, ends up with much more challenge and leaves many more loose ends, more gaps in your possibilities. Facing the stigma that is intended to cripple and slow difference by resisting the unusual at every step always has a cost, one that can easily leave you exhausted.
The world is set to to protect and empower emerging kids, but that kindness and compassion isn’t extended to those who need a do-over because their first time was destroyed by the fear and compulsion placed on them by dint of their reproductive biology.
Later emergence also requires the willingness to give up what you have now to claim who you know yourself to be. We have had to create a life that didn’t fit us because we felt denied the opportunity to emerge, but that doesn’t mean that life didn’t contain key parts of who we are, didn’t hold much that there was a cost to losing.
For many transwomen who emerge later in life, the cost is losing a family. That doesn’t just include connections to children whose mother is angry, but can easily mean members of our own family who choose to shame us, feeling the need to side against us. They start to parrot all the horrible things that come up, telling us that if we really loved our family, we would never do this to them, that we would continue to deny our own nature and “take it like a man.”
This kind of stuff takes a long time to heal, especially because we almost always have to do it alone. The journey to claim yourself beyond social conventions is always a lonely one, and very few of us can find a guide or coach who can help us with the pain and challenges. Healing becomes a solitary and slow journey, if we can ever really accomplish coming out from behind our own defences.
There will always be moments when we see others who have claimed some of the simple dreams we had, dreams that were denied to us because of social stigma and our response to it. In that moment, the loss becomes palpable again, even as we know we took the only path we could find, making the best decisions we could in the moment.
For me, much of that loss is about my capacity to perform. I tried being in drama club in high school, but with cutbacks, the best we got was a shop teacher to whom I had to explain who Brecht was. There was no one to help me trust and polish my skills.
Even if there had been, though, the stick up my butt that even stopped me from wearing shorts because they might be too feminine would still have stopped me. If I wanted to pass as a straight guy, even as an iconoclastic, eccentric, intellectual and weird guy, I had to keep my nature bottled up.
And what if I had been able to present as a woman? Would I have gotten cast to play the role of normative, attractive gals? Or would I have just been seen as too distracting, too much of an off note, and have been relegated to backstage work as I ended up being anyway?
My voice, my body, my instrument doesn’t read simply feminine and never would have. How much would I have had to try and conceal my body and history, how much would it have broken my heart when I failed to do that?
I know, I know, I know that I had that spark which can light a room and hold attention on a stage.
I know also, though, that feeling the need to keep it hidden incapacitated me, never allowing me the chance to take the flyer and show myself.
Of course, my family was also a part of this, with Aspergers parents who couldn’t support the emotional things they didn’t comprehend, and a mother who needed everyone to live in her narcissism and pain, but added together, loss happened.
No matter how grown up and pragmatic we are, accepting our lives with serenity, every transperson has moments when the loss of what might have been tears at us. The joint pain of having to endure the demands of normalcy and losing the possibility of following our dreams, leading us to a life outside of bounds, is always with us.
I don’t know who I would have been if I had been free to be who I knew myself to be, but in many ways that not knowing is even worse. It is rarely the things that we do which we regret most profoundly but rather the things we dreamed of and never found the courage to try.
Whatever my dreams were, life would have thrown me curve balls, some that would have brought me down to earth but also some that would have opened possibilities that I never could have imagined.
Everyone endures loss in life, yes. For transpeople, though, that loss has almost always been a very isolating thing, beyond the support and comfort of others who share those experiences. We rarely have a sense of what we gained from that loss other than deep wisdom, a gift that most still find impossible to value.
Losing to social stigma, to the closed and shuttered minds of others, is extremely frustrating, especially as we see how trans has become part of society and the possibilities for young transpeople have blossomed.
I listen to the stories of others around my age who sought to claim their dreams and while I am happy for them, it always makes me wonder what might have been for me if only the world didn’t believe they had to brutally beat my tender heart into normativity.
There is always a price to being exceptional, but the price for having to live as trans feels very high when it is felt on your own skin, laced into your own history.
The more I read about medical studies, the more I understand that old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is just crap. The injuries of our life persist, and the body keeps the score, as Bessel Van Der Kolk reminds us.
What might have been? What indeed?
Mostly, though, it feels too late to find out.