My Transgender Life: Labels and Boxes

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

No surprise here, Words have power!

No, I am not just talking about those magical spells in the Potterverse that so many of us have learned to escape to, but I am talking about those every day comments that can enhance or tear apart one's very soul.

I am talking about some simple words and phrases that we use every day that have the power to make or break our connection with others.

"I understand," are the words that will bring connection and comforting warmth.

"You don't understand," bring the icy bards that separate and threaten connection in so many ways.

So much power in so few words!

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To me, being human is quite magical in itself, whether or not we can control mysterious forces to cast spells on others. We have the magic of language, which when I was a young one, was taught that this is what separated us from the rest of the animal kingdom. I did accept this way back then but after so much time, I begin to wonder its truth.

We have the magic of emotions and feelings. For some of us this is a source of ongoing wonder and joy, yet for others it may seem that we are ruled by dark forces we cannot control, and fight against with all our might. I know what this is like as for much of my life most of my energies were spent to draw a curtain over all the feelings that would bubble up in me. I was so afraid that if I shared what was inside of me, I would never hear the magical warmth of "I understand!"

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Again, when I was a young one, I was taught that there were those two boxes that people fit in. There was the mostly Blue box that was labeled "male" and the Pinkish box that was labeled "female." It was so simple, and there were no other possibilities. When you were born you were placed in a box and given a label and that was that!

For anyone who dared to creep or crawl their way out of the box they were placed in -- even if they just wanted to explore -- there would be so many voices, so many forces pushing them back -- some starting out gently but invariably getting stronger and less gentle with the messages always saying you need to go back where you belong, and "You don't understand!" For those who were exploring, their internal voices were struggling to yell out, "No! It is you who does not understand!" Some of those internal voices were also struggling themselves to understand why they did not feel right in the box they were put in, but were so afraid to say this to anyone.

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In a world where gender is thought to be a binary construct of male and female, those of us who do not fit in the simple constructs, whether we feel we are in the wrong "box" or the boxes are insufficient to describe ourselves, often go through a life of confusion, fear, shame and struggle. It is a challenge to ever find the words to express what we feel.

For so many, it is so much easier to place things and people in a box with a simple label on it. It does not really matter if the label is correct or even if what is in the box may change over time. This requires work for us and even the risk of exploring our own feelings -- and there may be danger in that!

Sometimes our human gifts of language and feelings are not compatible. Can I ever express my true sense of being me to another person? I am pretty certain that is a desire we all have. Can I know you? Can you know me?

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Even within the transgender community there appears ongoing changes in language, in labels and in boxes on how we describe and communicate what our feelings are inside. I get it! There are times when knowing where things belong are quite useful. Being able to organize, list and categorize are most often considered to be valuable skills for both young and old. Losing this ability is often a warning sign of mental decline.

Sometime we even need to have a label for ourselves so we can understand where we are, where we belong, how to share our feelings. This is hard and by no means ever exact. It may be a struggle to find the words but I wonder if it is ever worthy of a fight about it?

Juliet knew the truth that the names -- the words did not matter. Her family, culture and society did not, and her story ended as a tragedy.

Our stories do not need to end this way. Perhaps we can all learn to say, "I understand" and the smell of the roses will remind us that this is all that matters.

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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. Grace is available for speaking about authentic living with Living on-TRACK, and Gender Variance Education and Training. Visit her website at: http://www.graceannestevens.com/. Follow Grace on Twitter: www.twitter.com/graceonboard .