The secret was tearing me apart. I hid for so, so long. Not only from others, but also from myself. I could not even admit it to myself. I got to be an expert in hiding, denying and making excuses. I learned that this is a very common experience for people like me, who are transgender.
My inner experience was really an inner war that I describe in the introduction of my book, No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth:
A part of me kept screaming, 'Be a Man!'
While another part could not stop laughing while thinking, 'Who are you fooling?'
I had a part that got so turned on by girls; that wanted the sex, the pleasure, the release, the intimacy.
Another part took me to flights of fantasy and then scolded me for hiding my truth.
There were many more... arguing and fighting and judging and criticizing and making all sorts of noise.
These conflicting parts were tearing me apart from different directions. At the time, I had no idea that each had their own single mission -- to protect and save me -- to save me from something they each thought I could never handle. I tried to shut them all down in many various ways. This proved impossible.
For those of us who come to understand, and accept that we must transition gender to find inner peace, we know that we are faced with finally telling our "secret." It's hard to describe to those who do not experience it. We can watch how others perform their own "coming out," but each of us will have to find our own path. There is no other way.
For me, the physical changes were already happening. I was the old guy with the ponytail growing. The day I came into work with my ears pierced everyone made some comment. That only lasted a single day and was attributed to my "mid-life crisis." I laughed with them on the outside, but was a nervous wreck on the inside. Even so, I knew I had put another check on the transition checklist. I started taking hormones and my body was changing. The tight t-shirts were eliminated from my work clothes and replaced by baggy shirts and sweaters. I purposefully went for electrolysis on Friday evenings, so my face would heal before going back to work on Monday mornings. I managed like this for almost 2 years.
I had a date for my facial surgery -- April 28, 2011. I knew I would be out of work for four weeks healing, so I had to start sharing my secret. It was time. I had a plan and a timeline. I always recommend this to anyone transitioning. First, I told the diversity team and human resources -- then senior management followed by confiding my secret to about a dozen peer level managers. The first time was excruciatingly difficult, but it got easier with each person. When I left work to have my surgery I didn't tell all the coworkers what was going on. That was handled the week before I returned with an HR training class held for around 200 people. I was told it went well. Looking back now, I can certainly say my experience returning to work was positive and amazing. I was fortunate to have the help I got at work.
We now have seen "The Interview" with Bruce Jenner. I can't help but reflect on how similar his journey seems to be to the one I traveled only a few short years ago. However, there is one big difference.
When I started to share my secret, every single person was surprised. No one had guessed, or expected me to announce I would be transitioning my gender. Some got it and some did not, but they all professed support. This was a giant relief and helped relieve my internal shame.
I am sure that the screening of the Interview was a huge relief for Jenner. I know because I too have walked in those shoes. The path is not easy, internally or externally, but it is a journey that so many of need to travel.
After I transitioned, I started to run workplace trainings just like the ones that were done at my company when I transitioned. Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to train hundreds of people to help them understand what the transition journey is like. When we see someone transition, it is often after many years of hiding and struggling to find self-acceptance. There are stages most people go through to transition. In 2004, Aaron H. Devor, defined these stages in his paper, Witnessing and Mirroring: A Fourteen-Stage Model of Transsexual Identity Formation. I've shared an info graphic I've developed for my teaching that shows these stages and the transition timeline. It's clear to see there's a lot of internal hiding for many of us before we accept our truth -- long before the actual transition "event."
It's critical to note that the "event" is far from the end of the journey for any of us. Perhaps if Jenner does indeed announce his transgender journey, this will give us a better sense of his timeline and the path he has traveled. I suspect, that just like me and many of us who have found the courage to share our secret, Jenner will reveal he has been on his journey for far longer than anyone may know. Perhaps no one will be surprised given the exhaustive public scrutiny that began when he grew his ponytail and pierced his ears.
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 .
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