See the pretty girl in that mirror there?
Who can that attractive girl be?
Such a pretty face
Such a pretty dress
Such a pretty smile
Such a pretty me!
--Steven Sondheim 1957, from West Side Story
There have been many days when I did not want to look in a mirror. Many, many days!
Reflection's can be funny things. There are reflections of our outer surface, and there are also the deep inner reflections that each individual process their way through. How many of the following questions do you reflect on?
• Who am I?
• Where do I belong?
• What am I doing with my life?
• Will anyone ever really love me?
It is excruciating difficult when one is so busy working on answering these internal questions and then see the reflection of their outer surface does not match how they see themselves internally.
I know what this is like! Denying and hiding my struggle with gender identity for close to 60 years has made me familiar with how often the reflection I see in a mirror belies my true self. Many times it was easier to believe what I saw in my reflection rather than the truth inside of me. After all, isn't what I saw in the mirror the same as how other people saw me? How could I ever hold on to all of those relationships if I told them they were not seeing the true me? My inner reflections told me that there would be no way to do this. Absolutely no way!
I was ten years old when West Side Story opened on Broadway, and it was not long before I heard the song "I Feel Pretty" on the radio. "See the pretty girl in the mirror there" was already triggering my internal reflection. Ten years old and I could not even begin to understand what this meant, and I dare not tell anyone about this. I was already trying on my mom's clothes when she was not home. I had no idea why and I just could not stop doing this. I climbed on the bed to look in the mirror over the dresser and would dream, and hum that song to myself, while carefully listening to make sure there was not a key scratching to open the front door. I wanted so much to be the girl I saw in the mirror. That girl was definitely inside of me. I knew she was, but there was no way she could get out and be seen except when I would dress up like this. I also thought that there must be something seriously wrong with me. Life was clearly going to be a challenge.
It took me a long time to realize that I was not alone, and that being transgender is not the only reason that people may struggle with mirrors and reflections. The questions I asked above seem to part of the package of being human. In my almost seven decades working through my life, I have met very few people who do not ask themselves at least one of those questions, either at some point during their life or constantly. Perhaps dealing with one's gender identity is not so different than each person's search for his or her own truth. I believe that his is an absolute truth! It is one that we hardly talk about, as we try so hard to fit in to some mold that our culture and family teaches us. How many people feel they must, must deny or hide who they truly are?
For those of us who are transgender and choose to be visible visible in the wider world, perhaps we are becoming a model for others that it is OK to be and express your truth, no matter what it is - of course, within the bounds of doing no harm. Now wouldn't that be something? I have learned that there is nothing wrong with me for being, accepting and living my truth. I hope that everyone can learn to both live their own truth and accept others who choose to live and express theirs. I dream of the day when the term "people like us" takes on the meaning of people who are free to be just who they are without any conditions or judgments or discrimination. I like this dream. I like it a lot.
I no longer have my old problem with mirrors. For me it took a long time, and the decision to make my outside match my inside. This is certainly one of many possible solutions available, and each of us needs to find our own.
I have learned to be OK with what I now see in my reflections. My internal picture of who I am is now in alignment with the reflection of my outer self. In the Afterword of my book No! Maybe? Yes! Living my Truth, I share how valuable reflections are to me now:
She loves watching the snow now. She takes in a very deep breath--and calmly squeezes her eyes into a smile that can focus sharply. She closely watches flake after flake float by and is always so curious to see how each is unique.
She doesn't know how, still loving the mystery of it all, but she knows she is connected in some way to each and every snowflake. She loves the warm feeling that flows when she recognizes the beauty in each one of them.
She steps away from the window and catches her own reflection. Her smile steadily grows as she notices the same warm feeling flowing through her entire body as she recognizes the beauty in herself.
Grace Stevens is a transgender woman who transitioned at the age of 64 and holds a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a father of three, grandparent of two, athlete, advocate and author of No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, an intimate memoir of her personal struggle to transition and live her true life authentically as a woman. For more information about Grace, her work and how Gender Variance Education and Training can help you, visit her website at: http://www.graceannestevens.com/. Follow Grace on Twitter: www.twitter.com/graceonboard .