A Letter To My Younger Self.
Your demons don’t leave you but you find strength and beauty because of them.
I could not look away from the smiling images of the fourteen year-old trans boy who seemed to exude promise and joy — even if that joy was somewhat tempered by a familiar pain.
He was perfect. And he was gone.
The images were recurring on my Facebook timeline because this beautiful, young, soul had died by suicide last month. I saw myself in him, though I never found the strength to come out in childhood. It took me well into my twenties when I was in law school and dreading the idea of pursuing such a gendered career path in the disguise of my assigned birth sex, to admit to myself that I am trans.
And now here I was, almost thirty-five years old, and by the grace of God still navigating the endless pain, joy and beauty of this life, looking at yet another trans young person lost to suicide. Another person who had the love of family, the support of a community, but who nonetheless battled the demons that torment us and found his only solace in the idea of moving on from this life. I have those demons too. I have battled them for as long as I can remember. And even today as I write this, with all that I have in my life, there are days that I wake up and wonder who I am and where I fit into the complexities and pains of life. Then I put on my headphones, I read the wise words of my friends and heroes, I lean into the uncertainty and I find my way through to a place of relentless commitment to life, love and advocacy for my community, for my family.
There is so much I want to say to my younger self and to the young people struggling like I did. And it doesn’t sound in the refrain of “it gets better.” In some ways and for some people, it simply doesn’t. But, it can get different.
To my younger self I would say:
You find a path through your demons, you find strength and beauty not despite of them but because of them. Your experiences navigating the dark pain of questioning your place in the world help you to embrace the pure joy of finding a place, of discovering your passions, your people, your beauty. You strengthen your connections to your family of origin the more you claim your truth, you build a chosen family, you have a child, you fall in love and experience heartbreak, you find a career that gives you life and purpose, and you see beauty in the body and identity that you spent so much of your life wanting to destroy.
For much of my life the sight of my own reflection would make me physically ill. It would send me into a depression and the persistent need that I felt to crawl outside of myself limited any vision I had for the future. There was no future I could see because I could not see myself aging in the world.
And I felt that self-rejection within my white, thin, blue-eyed body, celebrated in so many ways by society. I knew then and understand even more now that the pain and vulnerability that I felt are magnified beyond compare when one’s body is marked for destruction by society because it is Black, brown, disabled, fat. We exist within bodies that we are told, in varying ways and to varying degrees, are grotesque, disposable, unlovable. This happens through the inherited and systematic trauma of anti-Blackness, white supremacy, transphobia, ablism. It happens on purpose. It happens and people die because of it.
I lived because of privilege and chance and love.
I did not know that I would find a truth inside my darkness. But I did. And that truth is a beautiful truth that connects me to so many people who have come before me, who are living alongside me, and who will no doubt come after me, like the young people I hope will find hope amidst their demons.
I have not lived the neat life that I envisioned as a pre-requisite to adulthood. I do not make all the right decisions or always handle myself with grace. I have tormented and rejected myself over and over again. But somehow through that I learned that our trans bodies are beautiful in all their permutations and manifestations. I learned that holding up the history of our community is a gift that I will never stop paying forward. I learned that pain and messiness and self-doubt can actually be our path towards light, happiness, and confidence.
I learned that I have a place in the world.
It is not lost on me that that the lawmakers that stand up and defend legislation that would seek to ban trans people from public life are sending clear messages to trans people that we do not have a place in the world.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is right to be concerned that his state’s proposed anti-trans bills would mean the death of trans Texans on his watch. The stakes could not be higher. In the coming weeks, lawmakers will again descend on Austin with an agenda to torment, demean and exclude people who represent a perceived threat to the social order they so desperately want to maintain — immigrants, trans people, people who seek control and autonomy over their bodies and reproductive choices.
To my younger self and the younger people watching this and other debates over our humanity, I say, you are beautiful, you are perfect, and the very demons that haunt you may just be your gift.
And to the lawmakers in Texas and elsewhere who seek to eliminate us, you will not succeed. We are too resilient, too committed, to inspired, and to loving to ever give in or give up.
See you in Austin and anywhere else you seek to attack us.