It all seems like a long time ago now.
It seems a long time since I realised I had a secret. It seems a long time since I realised I wore a mask. It seems a long time since I realised I had a problem. It seems a long time since I realised I wasn’t who the world thought I was. It seems a long time since I realised I had to do something.
And make no mistake, it was a long time ago.
The first happened maybe 8 years after I was born, looking in a mirror and not liking what I saw. Wishing I’d been born differently, and feeling helpless and afraid.
The second happened when I was a teenager, when I realised that the world definitely wasn’t ready for people like me. When I understood that there were people and institutions who would hound and humiliate me if they knew my secret.
So I kept quiet, and wore a mask of “normality”. It was never perfect, of course — and the bullies could sense that. Inwardly was a mess, and when I look back I can’t help thinking that it’s a miracle I made it into adulthood in one piece, let alone as a functioning individual.
And yet function I somehow did, as by the time I reached adulthood the mask was so good that even I couldn’t really see inside. Denial is such a powerful thing.
But no mask lasts forever. Eventually the elastic starts to wear out, and the mask slips…showing fleeting glimpses of the person beneath, and leaving them exposed and vulnerable.
For me that all came to a head in 2001 when the world still thought I was straight. I was married, and had two young children…and I honestly had no idea what was coming next.
But come it did. Time has blunted my memory of the sheer terror of it, but I know that I came closer to darkness than I care to think about, and that I only made it through by determination, faith and endurance and with the support of close friends.
But make it through I did, and 16 years on I’m still here.
I’m talking of course about transition. I am a trans woman, but for the first 35 years of my life everyone thought I was male, (relatively) conventional and straight. It turned out that I was none of those things, and now — 16 years later — I have a rather different perspective on who I’ve always been, and what I missed out on by being brought up wearing a mask which was not of my own choosing.
It’s true that nothing can never make up for those missed years and experiences. That’s something all trans people have to come to terms with, and I’m certainly no different in that regard.
That however is balanced by what I’ve learnt and experienced since, as despite the pain of what I lost my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. So many people have stood by me, and it’s been a voyage of self discovery which has been at times alternately incredible, funny, maddening, humbling and illuminating. From a standing start where I could all too easily have become completely isolated, my life has been quite literally transformed.
I was through with wearing a mask, so from pretty much the outset I chose to be open about who I am and what I was experiencing. I cried, learned, wrote, met my partner and new friends, joined an inclusive church, started a company, spoke at conferences, went to lots of Pride events and generally got on with life. It’s all been pretty amazing, really.
Along the way I’ve met many awesome trans people and learnt so much that I could probably write a book or two — but if I had to focus on the most important things, I’d say that they are to not be afraid, and to believe in yourself.
Every so often I take a breath to marvel at where I am now. To that 8 year old kid it would all be an unbelievable dream, but for me it’s just my life. I’m happy, I’m here and (most importantly for the first two) I’m me.
If you think you might be trans and are trying to come to terms with it all, please don’t be afraid — the tide is turning, and although it isn’t easy by any means there are now many more support resources and allies than there used to be.
Most importantly, know that you aren’t alone. Good luck!