The Wall — pt. 1: The Construction
In the summer of 1989, I made a serious attempt at suicide.
I still have the scars on my wrists as an ever present reminder of that particular time of my life (although I’ve since covered one with a tattoo and the other has a tattoo of a semi-colon underneath — or is it above?). It’s funny, but right before all that happened, I got a tattoo on my leg of a yin/yang burning up — a symbol of my life being out of balance. And I knew exactly why it was out of balance and I knew that I had two options to end the constant pain I was in, either find a way to transition or end myself and hope that I would reincarnate as a woman. And, at that moment, ending myself was a lot simpler and cleaner. I had done all the research and I knew that transitioning would be a worse kind of death for me because I would have to disappear from my life. At least with suicide, people would know where I went.
But I survived that night.
In the months that followed, it all began to build up again. Worse, really, because I promised myself I would never make another attempt on my life and I knew what the one thing I could do to stop it was and I wasn’t sure if I could find the courage to do it.
But it was there, all the time, demanding action and I began to research places to go where I could settle, have a small community, and go fully stealth — as was most often recommended. This was 1990 and if I had waited a few years, the internet would have provided me with better options than I chose, but I went to Denver because I saw they had a Gender Identity Center.
And so there I was, just about to start a new quarter at school. I had no car at the time and my motorcycle had died. But I was finally at the point where I could either kill myself or take action. This time, I took action. I had my tuition money and I figured the cheapest way to Denver was by bus, so I packed as many of my things as I could, called a cab and went to the Greyhound station.
When I arrived in Denver, I had literally no idea what I was going to do. I had about a thousand dollars left and thought that might be enough to get an apartment. But I just kind of sat there at the bus station for awhile before finding a newspaper and looking for a place to live. I eventually settled on a weekly motel and found my way there.
It was really strange. For awhile, I kind of holed up in that room, not really sure what to do. I knew I would have to get to the GIC at some point. But I really just kind of started to try to begin to think of myself as a woman. I decided on a name for myself, went to the store and bought some new clothes, razors, hair dye. I added some piercings to my ears and started going to meetings. I also found some work as a day laborer, something a college bound child of a wealthy man would have never imagined for herself. Every day I would show up and hope that someone would offer me a job so I could take home $25 bucks cash for the day and get the rest of the pay at the end of the week.
The GIC was a cool little place. I was really quiet at the meetings I went to. I just sat and listened. I began to find out that the stuff I had read about in all the books in the library didn’t even begin to describe all the things I would have to do. On top of that, life was pretty bleak. The only reason there was to do this was to end the dysphoria, but I was 20 and I began to look at my future as a woman, based on what I was hearing from the ladies there, and ask myself if maybe suicide might just be a better option.
But again, I had promised myself I would never do that again. I also became very afraid of the idea of transitioning. I had no family support, little money and I even thought of joining the military just to make enough money to try again another time. And then I stopped going to the GIC. I was eating very little, doing hard physical labor and losing a bunch of weight (I dropped 100 pounds in 5 months in Denver).
It was then I started building my Wall.
The mind is a powerful ally in the fight against reality. We can convince ourselves that many fallacies are true, that facts are not so, that we are not who we are. Sometimes we have to do this to get through a given day, or week or lifetime. We convince ourselves because we think that it is easier than facing the truth or the world around us or ourselves. We can build structures in our minds: castles, battlements, defenses…even file rooms. We can contain parts of ourselves within these structures such as memories, emotions, and, most importantly, pain. We can wall up that pain if we have the right materials, the right falsehoods and justifications.
I was so afraid of the truths of what being trans meant for me — truths that I had learned from other trans women about what my life would be, the best that I could hope for. I did not want the future as a woman that was presented to me. The pros of transitioning seemed far outweighed by the cons and in my desperation I raged against being trans.
I took the girl I knew myself to be and started walling her up, brick by lying brick until she was sealed completely behind the Wall.
I began spinning my own fictions about myself and as I would try to keep the roaches off of my clothes, I did a kind of self-hypnosis where I trained myself to believe something that wasn’t true. As I worked in the trenches, I continued my mantra, training myself to believe something that wasn’t true. And I managed to turn the pain into a fiction, one of the many fictions of my life. It was always there, but it wasn’t the truth I had always known. I recreated it as a fiction I lived with and the pain became an often overwhelming depression that I could blame on my weight or my financial situation or my predisposition to being depressed.
As for thoughts related to being trans, I became adept at compartmentalizing them. I would only think about them as part of a fictional landscape in my mind, a place I could live from time to time to find relief from the whatevers that plagued my life. I could close my eyes and be in those fictions as a woman. Somehow, in those moments, I would not feel the pain as badly. I don’t know quite how it worked, but it did. At least it worked well enough for me to put thoughts of transition away, to tell myself the lie that it wasn’t me.
Protected by my newly built Wall, I found my way back to L.A. and told my family and friends the half truth that I had gone to Denver to “find myself,” when I actually ended up losing myself there. I never talked about what happened in Denver with anyone, except to talk about the dives I lived in and the crap jobs I worked. I never said any more than that because I needed it to be a fiction.
I needed to protect the Wall.