Fear kept me silent about my sex change in the past. Vanquishing the shame meant looking at what's underneath.
I used to watch the movie Labyrinth from time to time when I was growing up. Jennifer Connelly plays a teenage girl who, in exasperation, wishes her baby brother away to another world, the Labyrinth, only to learn that she must undergo trials and tribulations to get him back from the Goblin King, a sort of dictatorial sorcerer played by David Bowie. At the end -- spoiler alert! -- the Labyrinth world shatters like glass upon a line Jennifer Connelly says to David Bowie: "You have no power over me."
Secrets weaken their keeper. They wear down hopes and dreams with the weight of guilt.
At first my secret was being in the wrong body. The torment drove me to risk surgery, in the faith that things would get better afterward.
Then it was being in the right body, but -- dare I say it -- in the wrong time in history. Too few men seemed comfortable enough in themselves to get to know me, and it was especially so in the beginning. Or maybe it's that I wasn't able to help them feel comfortable? Years passed as I tried to find the softest and easiest words with which to explain myself to others -- until finally I gave up and resorted to simplicity, if not bluntness.
And then there are memories of times past, when the ignominy of everything being all messed up distorted my perception of the world. I lost the capacity to see myself as loveable anymore -- until I endeavored to stop blaming others and face reality.
All the while it has been meeting rejection and prejudice with a smile that seeks to conceal my heartbreak. Of course the heart grows back, and so it has for me, but not before I ran out of hope.
Openness matters, particularly now that media coverage of transgender people is molded by guidelines that suppress questions about sex-change surgery, as if it is something to be ashamed of.
It is not. Nor are the questions that people have.
Considering the mercuriality of transgender terminology these days, who can blame anyone for asking what they want to know, beginning with what the terms mean? The more inclusive a definition becomes, the less definite it is. The word "transgender" has come to embrace a spectrum of genders and identities. It can mean just about anything.
In promoting universality, however, such inclusiveness also threatens to swallow the very individuality that gave rise to the discussion in the first place.
For me, the question has become: With my sex-change surgery in the past, am I even transgender anymore?
I can imagine few experiences more bizarre than feeling marginalized out of the very marginalized group of which I am supposed to be a member.
On the one hand, I must be: "Transgender" is meant to embrace people like me, whose histories include travel between the sexes. On the other, do I still fit into this concept now that the past is the past and I am who I am today?
All I know for sure is there has been a change in me that can never be undone. I no longer have a choice. I cannot stand up as anyone other than who I am, ever again. I am I.
Yet there will always be an option. My dad is fond of reminding me: "The mind is its own place and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."
So too with being transgender, for me. There is hell in dealing with the rejection and prejudice, which are based on how things were, when they are different now. But there is heaven in the experience as well: Surpassing obstacles makes being alive all the more precious -- even if the process amounts to no more than just getting over myself.
Socrates, choosing death instead of exile from Athens or holding his tongue in silence, observed that an unexamined life is not worth living. In that spirit I choose to remove layers of me to explore what's underneath: the dream that one day being transgender will mean enough to make no matter.