My Transgender Life: Optical and Other Illusions

Over the years I have been fascinated by my relationship with mirrors and how it has changed.

There were the years when I truly hated what I saw when I looked in the mirror. I hated that I had to wear glasses to see anything at all; I hated seeing my uncontrollable wavy and curly hair; and yes, as you know by know, I was so confused to see that boy, then man, looking back at me when I sensed that there was something terribly wrong.

There were the years after college when I lived on my own, and had long hair, and morphed from the hippie look of embroidered jeans, to the glam days of platform shoes before I got married. The mirror was my friend in those days. The illusion I saw of someone different that who I really was was more pleasing to me, but it still did not soothe my soul.

The years when I was married and raised a family, I had so many mixed episodes with mirrors and the illusions I saw back. There were the good days, the great days of being dad, when nothing else in the world mattered at all -- not the future, not my career, not my underlying dysphoria. There were days when there was the feeling of being trapped, and I wondered whether happiness for me was an illusion that would never see the light of day. I never was quite sure who I would see back in the mirror each morning, and how hard it would be to get through each day.

I kept going. Day after day, year after year. Some days were plodding while some were filled with adventure and excitement, but I usually felt I was at the mercy of forces that were outside of my control.

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I was taught that what I saw in the mirror was a view of reality. It took me a long time to understand that the mirror was only a two-dimensional representation -- one with no depth at all, of me -- a real multi-dimensional person. It was only an illusion of who I was. Yet, this illusion had so much power that I never knew it was not the true me.

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The power of illusion fought to take over my life after my marriage ended. In 2001, I was single again at 54 years old and after 25 years of marriage, after raising a fabulous family. My apartment became a huge "closet" for me as my gender dysphoria was allowed to run wild. I was a closeted cross-dresser (or so I thought at the time) and would never leave the safety of my apartment. After work, I spent almost every evening staring at the "woman" in the mirror, changing my outfits uncountable times.

Were the optical illusions I saw reflected really me? I wanted this to be true, oh I wanted it so much, but was so confused, so afraid and so full of shame. I knew these feeling were not illusions. I took picture after picture in the mirror to prove her existence. I would look at the pictures over and over to prove her existence. A battle was raging within me as to whether the male version or female version of me was the reality or the illusion. As I have mentioned before, deep down I always knew the answer, but the confusion, fear and shame would not let that answer bubble to the surface for many more years.

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When and after I transitioned, I learned that there are so many more illusions besides what we see in the mirror. In my book, No Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth I share an interview with my youngest son and his wife , when I asked him if he had any losses when I transitioned. Their reply on illusions is I believe, priceless. Here is an excerpt of the conversation:

Grace: I have a question here that asks, do you think my transition has cost you any losses? Are there other things beside the awkwardness you mentioned earlier?

Elie: Well, there was not a loss here. I was worried that Grace would be so vastly different from Larnie that there would be a loss, but I don't feel that you are that different.

Grace: Interesting, because I feel I am vastly different. Since I no longer am hiding who I truly am, I think I am more open and softer. I think I live in a space of compassion now, to others.

Becca: Elie has said that the masculine/feminine piece has never been an issue for you, (to Elie) but since you always want to remember the good things, and not the bad, the biggest thing you lost was the illusion that your dad was happy for his whole life, before he transitioned. The thing that you thought was that everything was always good, always. What you lost was the illusion that things were always good, always. That was really hard for you: to realize that your dad really did not have a happy life.

Elie: Yeah, We always had the coolest family on the block and always had people over. I had good friends whom you knew who never let me over at their house because they had a weird family situation or a weird home or whatever... and maybe we had a similar situation, but we always had an open door.

Elie: It seemed like you were just living your life the way you were supposed to. I see this all the time. Like people are twenty-eight and say, I got a job, I got married, I have kids; that's just what I do. This is just what you do. So many people seem to do that. We really don't want to live like that. That's wrong, that must have sucked.

Becca: (to Elie) That's the biggest thing that happened after we found out your dad was transgender. You said, "I need my life not to be living like that. My dad has apparently been unhappy for sixty years; we need to make sure we don't do that." We always make sure we are living the life we want to live.

Grace: And that's become my mission, when I heard you say this.

Becca: It sounds so terrifying to not live the life you want. It is so sad.

I am good with mirrors now, and yes my kids understood and understand. Not living your true life is so sad. I learned that it is never too late to live your truth! Be True!

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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/ to see all her blogs and interviews. Follow Grace on Twitter: www.twitter.com/graceonboard .