This journey that has taken me from hiding, through questioning, to self-acceptance and then to actual transition, has been ― and still is ― quite the ride.
I am fully aware that each person, who does not fit in the strict binary model ― that for lack of a better term we might call being cisgender ― is on their own totally unique journey.
I remember when I was in the questioning days, when my therapist advised me to spend more time building and being in relationships with cisgender women than with the various friends I met in the trans community. Her logic was that it would be the best ― and perhaps the only way – to start to learn the socialization skills of “being a woman” in society at large. Certainly, already into my 60s at this time, I had acquired a pretty full “program” of male socialization.
Now, having spent so much of my life in hiding, the idea of building relationships, actually any relationships whether with men or women was more than a stretch and quite foreign to me. The years of learning “how to be man” were deeply programmed in don’t let any one truly see me; don’t share; and since I was hiding my true gender, there was my internalized “prime directive” of don’t feel!
I wondered how in the world I knew I was female? I absolutely knew, and yet the words were never there that could explain it. The reflections in mirrors and windows and lakes and ponds belied what I knew. So that was my sense of dysphoria. Over time, I have learned that this dysphoria is a theme, and that each of us who has experienced it has their own variation on it. Yet, most of us want to know that we are fit in somewhere, we are really OK, we will not be lost or abandoned and perhaps that we are not totally out of our own minds!
The latter item usually drives us to find ways to make sure how we see ourselves is real and true. I have learned that this is a challenge in two different directions. How does the world outside of me see me and recognize me, and perhaps even more importantly, how do I see myself?
I have started to think a lot about the concept of validation as how it related to transitioning one’s gender.
tr.v. val·i·dat·ed, val·i·dat·ing, val·i·dates
1. To establish the soundness, accuracy, or legitimacy of: validate the test results; validate a concern. See Synonymsat confirm.
2. To declare or make legally valid: validate an election.
3. To mark with an indication of official sanction: The official validated my passport with a stamp.
When it comes to gender transition, I have been wondering how important the direction of validation is for each of us. Is it more important to be validated by external forces or internal forces? Are they equal, or is it even possible?
I remember early on in my journey, when I would cross dress, I was obsessed with taking a picture of every new outfit, every mix of clothes that I owned. I printed out pictures so I could look at myself and validate that the woman inside of me actually existed. When I went out with others, a picture was required. Eating, dancing or just standing around, I needed a picture; the moment had to be captured, as a part of me would not believe it ever happened or she ever existed. Perhaps some of you can relate to this, perhaps not.
Much of this mental wondering has been lying just under the surface of my thoughts for some time. I transitioned six years ago, and recently, I realized that the need for pictures has long ago evaporated for me. The dressy items are worn less and less. The external trappings of “female” have seemed to lose some sense of priority as a tool of validation, as I am living my life and the daily challenges as the woman I always knew I was, with less concern on what others may see or how important their view of me is.
It is funny that before my transition I thought this was a strong “male” characteristic ― not caring what other people think of me ― but I realize now it is very different. Before it was more of an eff-you attitude to the world, “I don’t care what you think,” but internally I was worried and avoiding any feelings. Yes, now it is different in that not only do I know who I am, I am at peace with it and that is entirely enough! My sense of validation is totally from within. The question of “how to be a woman?” has been replaced by the question “how to be?”
I am not sure how I evolved to this. It is not the clothes or shoes, it is not the level of my hormones, it is not the pictures to prove to me that I am truly me. I talked before that when I transitioned, all the internal chatter died down. I go to the gym with other women. They know my history but I am just one of them. I do spend more time with my cis women friends than my tans friends.
Although I talk, and train and teach about trans issues, that, now, is only a part of me, and does not fully define me. I am certain it does not have to fully define any one of us.
When I think about this journey and now just going on living my life and looking forward to the next adventure I am amazed at this new found reality. Feel free to pinch me to make sure I am not dreaming it all.
Grace Anne Stevens inspires people to find their truth and live their authentic life!
She is the author of No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, and Musings on Living Authentically. Grace is available for speaking to all groups who would like to learn the values of, and how to live authentically. Workshop descriptions can be found at her website.
Grace has been selected as an Amtrak Residency writer for 2016, and is traveling around the USA in May 2017 while sharing her experiences on the rails on her website.
Visit her website here.
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