A Story of Transition
I used to live in a room full of mirrors; all I could see was me. I take my spirit and I crash my mirrors, now the whole world is here for me to see. -Jimi Hendrix
My alarm went off, wrenching me from the safety of one of the few places I ever felt free of my nerves anymore. I pivoted on my mattress, being careful not to wake my sleeping wife next to me in bed. I put my feet onto the short carpet fibers worn down from so many days of the same routine and shuffled into the bathroom. I flicked on the light, and there he was. The man.
Some men wake up and feel empowered by a face growing a beard. After a short morning routine, they’re ready to conquer the world…but I never felt that way. The man I was looking at was that same man with a grouchy expression on his face. He had the look of unshaven apathy for a body he didn’t much care for. It was the look of someone afflicted with profound unhappiness.
But why? I hadn’t done anything in my life to invite so much negativity upon myself. I worked hard, I loved my family, I should have been happy…but something was missing. It wasn’t a fancy car, or an expensive house. I made enough money to be content, but somehow happiness continued to elude me. When I looked in that mirror I looked directly at the enemy, but I wasn’t sure exactly who my enemy was. Was it the mirror, or was it the shell of a man that reflected back at me?
This is the true story of my relationship with mirrors. It may seem vain, or self-indulgent, but this story is the result of a victory in a long-running war I had with my own demons, and how my relationship with myself grew as I grew into to woman I am now.
If you spend any time talking to a transgender person about their transition, you’ll hear them tell you stories of sad disassociation and the evidence they saw of that disassociation in every mirror they ever looked into before transition. They’ll explain the complexities and insecurities of the people they were forced to pretend to be for years before they finally brought themselves to reconcile the deviation in the way they saw themselves on the inside and on the outside.
In my previous life, mirrors had been a cruel necessity to me. I needed them, but at the same time I hated what it showed me. A younger version of me would stand and stare into my own reflection looking for any glimmer of recognition I could find. It felt like there was a disconnection, something I didn’t understand. It was always just beyond me. With every expedition I would take, I would always come up empty handed.
I would think about my own mortality knowing that someday I would die. I thought maybe if I can just make it through this life was lucky in my next life karmic justice would right the wrong it had done to me. Maybe in my next life I would be given the opportunity to live my life as the girl I knew myself to be. The concept that I had any agency over my gender presentation was completely alien to me.
When I entered my mid-twenties, my aversion to mirrors became more pronounced. I avoided them so fiercely that some friends would comment that I must be a vampire since I went to such obvious lengths to dodge my own reflection. As it happens with many of us, it took a time of trauma to induce me to do something about these feelings.
Eventually the internal discomfort I had and how it related to the other mounting pressures in my life; my anxiety, my depression, my atrocious self-esteem made it difficult to even finish a workday without distraction. All of these things tied back to one bare fact; I had been living my life in the wrong gender. Religious people sometimes say things like, “God doesn’t make mistakes…” Well, it turns out that’s not true.
One day, I gave myself the freedom to explore my gender presentation. I had to know what I was missing out on, so I bought a wig, a cheap eyeliner pencil and a tube of red tinged lip gloss. I dabbed some of my wife’s liquid foundation onto my face, and stenciled a line around the edge of my eyelid with the jet black grease pencil. I stared intently into the mirror, and let myself forget how badly it used to make me feel to even catch a peripheral view of my reflection. I scoured my edges of my face looking for signs of recognition again. I felt that I was on the edge of a great discovery.
I turned my back to the bathroom mirror and pulled the wig out of its plastic sheath and stretched it over my head. I only wanted to see myself when I felt I had completed my look. I took a deep breath, and turned to face the mirror. There she was. The girl that had been hiding all these years. She wasn’t complete, but I could finally see her peeking from beneath the surface the way a miner feels when they first pull a diamond out of compressed rock. I needed to chip away the remnants of the body that kept me from being free.
As the months went on, my experimentation had given me more and more perspective into a world and a life I never thought could be my own. I had looked at transition photo collages from other trans women before, feeling a jealousy and a yearning build as I watched the hardened male features of the girls in the photo melt into soft feminine edges. I watched the frowns turn to smiles as the dates on the photos increased. I remember thinking that it wasn’t fair that they were able to realize the same feelings I was having. I thought that I would never be able to do what they did and get to the place they were.
I was wrong.
Many months later, I would decide that it was time for my own transition. I began seeing an endocrinologist. I started taking estrogen, and then the day came where I was ready to transition at work. The relationship I had with every mirror I saw was slowly starting to improve as my hair grew longer and my confidence grew.
This was it. My gender wasn’t something that I was only going to express in my free time anymore. The girl I saw in the mirror that first time was finally going to be free. It had only been two months before that I shed my wig in preparation to live my life as the girl I always should have been. I had modified my morning routine to make time for all the things I used to do as soon as I got home. Shower, clothes on, makeup, and as I finished putting the final touches on my lip gloss, I gazed into the mirror.
There was the girl who had been hiding out of sight my whole life. I felt a rush of emotion finally seeing myself without any space between who I am inside and outside. I don’t have a reason to fear my mirrors anymore, because now they show me who I really am. I am, as the song goes, “just a girl in the world”.
It turns out that the mirror showed me more than just a visual reflection of myself. It was a very real reflection of the happiness I was experiencing. They say that the truth hurts. I had once experienced that pain in a much more literal way, but what I came to understand was that I did have control over the happiness I could experience in life. All I needed to do was to be honest with myself, reach out and take it.