It took me almost 60 years before I let myself feel anything. I mean REALLY feel anything. Perhaps some of you can understand this.
I did not need any kind of drug, or drink to numb myself. To the outside world, I certainly appeared as a fully functional human being. However, inside of me, the ability to care, or share was held prisoner by the parts of me who feared my truth. I was petrified of not only letting others get to know the real me, but also of getting to know myself.
When asked how I felt about something, I was like a deer in the headlight - frozen. I never knew how to respond. Sure, one or another part of me would always come to the rescue and make up some answer, but I barely heard the words come out of my mouth. Today, I know it was my heart that was frozen. Emotions and feelings were shielded and blocked from either entering or exiting that organ we commonly refer to as the home of love and compassion.
I have come a long way from that time. My frozen heart has melted and I have learned to embrace my source of feeling love and compassion. The gentle beating is now the rhythm I march to in my life. For so many decades I hid behind my identity as an engineer and was so proud of my analytical view of just about everything. This has now, at last, taken a giant step into the background of my life. My head no longer takes the lead. I've learned that when I let my heart lead in all relationships - with co-workers, with friends and with loved ones, and yes, even with strangers, I am able to understand things in a new way that is not only so much more satisfying to me, but no longer separates me from others. When I let others in to see the true me, the open me, the vulnerable me, I have a better understanding of relationship. It's not just that I am now more clear about my own feelings, it's that by sharing I have found a more powerful way to help others understand their own.
Since I began sharing my stories, my feelings - my heart with you in My Transgender Life writings I've heard from so many people. They are getting to know me and have a better understanding of what the journey is like for people like me. I know that being transgender is a difficult concept for many to understand. Sometimes the spouse, or child or parent who wants to know more has picked up my book and come back to me with questions. They've come to understand that this journey, for all of us, is about so much more that transitioning gender.
In the past few years, as I've been speaking, training and teaching about gender variance I have learned so much. When I first started, I had a dozen slides with all the facts about gender transition. I talked about sex, and gender and tried to explain what was then called, the diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder. There was so much detail. The audiences were always polite, but when I finally finished my long presentation I found the questions they asked had nothing to do with the info I'd just presented. Almost every question was about how to talk to someone who was transitioning in the workplace. They wanted to know how to talk to the co-workers they originally knew as a different gender. I realized that their questions came from the heart. They simply wanted to know how to preserve their relationships. They didn't want to offend. They wanted to understand. What if I use the wrong name, or pronoun? Will it be embarrassing if I say he, instead of she by mistake and how do I apologize? If the person goes for surgery, what can I ask? What can they say? It was an eye-opener for me.
I knew how scared I was when I returned to my two different workplaces when I transitioned. Later, with my training and teaching, I realized that so many people were just as scared - maybe even more scared than me. They didn't know how to be with a transitioning person. They didn't know what they could say. This honesty changed me. As this realization moved from my mind to my heart, I began to change the way I teach and talk about the transgender journey. Now, I focus more on feelings. I still share what the life journey looks like, but now I ask about feelings. What's it like when you hear the news of a co-worker's change? How does it feel?
The more I let you into my life, the more I hope you will see how similar our journeys really are. My truth was coming to terms with my gender identity and choosing to do something about it at the age of 64. Almost everyone I've met through my training or my book - whether they are transgender or not, has said that my story has helped them to realize that they too have buried, or held back some part of their own truth. They tell me they've cried. I have touched their heart!
If I can touch your heart there's a good chance you will begin to understand that those of us who are transgender are just the same as you. We all want to live as authentically as we can. After all, if we can touch your heart we can change your mind!
Who really wants to live their life to meet the expectations of others? I suspect few want to, yet many do. It is not easy to conquer the fear of following our truth. I know this first hand. It took me too many years to get out of my head and learn to lead with my heart.
I cannot prove it with statistics or any form of analysis, nor do I even try, but I believe if you too, let yourself feel, and operate out of your own heart, and live your own truth, you will not only better understand my journey, but yours as well. You will be living a life of love and compassion.
It is such a better way. I believe that with all my heart.
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 .