Part of the autobiography of a transsexual psychology graduate student.
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Heather and I have been corresponding for awhile. In a previous letter I said, "you can ask me anything!" and Heather just wrote back with the subject "let me take you up on your offer." She also said, "This is not a frivolous question of mere curiousity, and I would appreciate a considered or even deep answer. But on the other hand I don't wish to explain just now how it is pertinent to my present situation for fear of influencing your response. ... Please, pretty please, tell it how you see it and don't write whatever it is you think I might want to hear or need to hear."
The following is my way-too-long response but I wrote it because I ended up in this weird stream-of-consciousness mood. It's the first thing I've written in awhile that I feel is worth adding to this site. It's kind of a retrospective look at some aspects of my autobiography. I know from many of the letters people write me that the way I handled emotions growing up is one of the biggest places people identify with me. I wrote this over a year after the "Am I Happy" letter to my parents. I don't feel I have all of these issues worked out for myself but I would like to share how I've looked back on my life so far.
Maybe a few years from now I'll write another retrospective on my experiences to see how I've changed even more?
I'm happy to answer your questions & you never need to tell me why you're asking if you would rather not. Even if you did tell me, it wouldn't change my answers. I only share my personal experiences because I know they can help others with similiar experiences figure out how to think about things from many perspectives ... and eventually find their own perspective. I'm not sure what you think I might think you "want/need to hear" but even if my answer is "wrong" please don't take it as though it answers something for you. I can only say my decisions were right for *me*. Whatever path you choose for yourself needs to be the one that's right for *you*. No matter what you decide, I hope we're always friends.
I wrote in my autobiography, "I spent years trying to not feel anything so I never really learned how to express my feelings well. But when I decided to go back to graduate school I decided I would be myself no matter what." And you asked, "What was your rationale for this decision? If you were able to avoid the dreadful pain of GID (Gender Identity Disorder) by not feeling it then why would you choose to 'be myself no matter what', surely you were aware this would put you back into the pain and risk major losses (I gather you could easily have dropped out of school as an example bad consequence). Was this a decision to embrace life even if that meant martyrdom or was it that the solution of 'turning off' the pain wasn't really working?"
I've been thinking about your questions the last few days and I feel I need to start with some background context of my life up until that point. I'm in this kind of weird "middle" generation of transsexuals. I'm too young to have ever heard of "Ex-GI becomes Blond Bombshell" which people tell me is was the big moment they understood who they are. I'm also too old to have discovered the internet and positive role models. I write lots of kids in high school and college today and I often wonder how my life would be have been different had I had someone like me to talk to. I had some vague ideas about what transsexuals were like. My ideas came from talk shows and the few dusty psychology books like Freud's works that I found in the library. I couldn't identify with any of it. What I'm trying to say is that, though I had vague ideas I might be like a transsexual, I really didn't know I was a transsexual. I thought there was something wrong with me when I was little because I was teased constantly by other children and didn't get along very well with my family either. I knew I hated most boys. I knew I wished I was a girl. I knew I liked playing with girls more and, in retrospect, I can see how many of my likes and thoughts and feelings were probably a lot more like those of girls I knew. But I really didn't understand this as something "deep inside me that tells me I'm a girl." I know that's how lots of transsexuals describe their experience but it's just not true of me. I wonder if your experience is more like this "deep inside" idea because of how you interpreted my supressing emotions as a way to "avoid the dreadful pain of GID?"
I *didn't* try to avoid emotions to avoid GID. I had no idea what Gender Identity Disorder was and somehow it just never occured to me that gender was a big issue underlying my experiences. I tried to stop my emotions because I concluded *emotions* must the core of what was wrong with me. I somehow figured out that a big reason nobody liked me was that I cried and got upset far too often. I also was called various names like "flaming" (which took me years before I asked somebody what that meant), even by my 'friends', if I found myself getting too happy and enthusastic about something. I was a *very* sensitive child. And when I started supressing my emotions it really seemed like I found the answer. Bullies stopped bothering me because it's not much fun is it to tease somebody who barely reacts. And my grades went up because I spent so much time trying to think logically. It even helped my relationship with my parents! It really seemed, to me, that emotions were my problem and I had solved *the* problem! But in reality I may have indirectly 'solved' the problem. I have a friend that I bumped into by chance recently. He was on my dorm floor my freshman year of college (when I was still *very* anti-emotions) and we spent a lot of time together. We stayed up all night talking *many* times. I asked him recently how he saw my gender when he knew me in college. His response was something like, "somewhat masculine ... no, not really, because if you were a girl you certainly wouldn't have been butch ... how analytical you were probably completely overshadowed a lot traits you have." So it might be that I "solved" my "problem" without ever really knowing what my problem was.
But this really didn't solve anything. I became so completely jaded and sarcastic but I found an outlet by logically tearing down anything adults (especially teachers) said. I became miserably depressed and suicidal but I found an outlet by crossdressing. I cross-dressed *constantly*, every weekend through middle school and highschool I would bike ride to distant parks, change in the woods, and play on swings and read books on parkbenches all day. Even through college I often get my schoolwork done by changing in a secluded bathrooms and doing my schoolwork on a parkbench or in the library. I thought I was *absolutely* CrAzY but I was terrified of therapists because I thought they would "lock me up." I know that was over-reacting now but at the time my only ideas about psychology were very old-fashioned non-scientific things like Freud. My 'self-analysis' at the time was that I needed to be 'good' (which meant a normal analytical boy) which meant I needed to supress my emotions; but that meant my emotions had to find an outlet to be 'bad' (which meant an emotional girl) and that was cross-dressing. Looking back I wouldn't say cross-dressing was something 'wrong' about me because I really can't figure out why it should matter to anybody how I flip roles. Some people are quiet most of thime and flip roles with a burst of extroversion at parties. And I found flipping roles between boy and girl something I needed and likeed. There's really no reason how I flip roles should be considered something bad except that society likes to say it's "bad." That's SOCIETY's problem!!!
But deciding to supress all of my emotions really was a problem. And I'm still not sure I can explain why. Maybe several years from now I'll have a better answer? But I'll try to make a few jumbled thoughts. I recognize that having an emotion (any emotion from completely overwhelming joy and miserable sorrow & anger) isn't "bad" or "good" ... it just *is*. My emotions just kind of *are* me and without them I'm not really anybody. Though I'm not sure why? Emotions aren't bad to have because they let us know what we like and what we don't like. Emotions motivate us to have passion to change our life for the better, and they make us fear when there really are things to be cautious about. I guess it's just without having emotions life is more like passively observing a person going through life rather than being an active participant in life. It's like when I first decided to not supress my emotions anymore (which was gradual steps for years and then one giant step) I went absolutely bonkers. It was one torture I unleashed on myself after another. Any slightly bad thing like an unexpected look from somebody could send me into immense fears of being rejected. It took me a year to start to see how my fears (like of rejection) were actually a big cause of my problems (like being rejected by people for being too clingy). And that doesn't mean my fears, my emotions, were bad but there was something poor about the way I was *expressing* my emotions. But before I figured this out I had some 'observations' of myself and my emotions. I could tell I was like an adolescent again which was when I shut down all of my emotins. I also often wondered if my emotions were really real. I mean, I could actually be crying in my bed hysterically and at the same time thinking about how ridiculous it was that I was crying and I should just stop this 'act'. It just didn't feel real even though they obviously were real in some sense inside me. I was really reacting to something and I really couldn't stop crying no matter how much I chastized myself for acting this way. It like my feelings were there but just not at all connected to my thoughts? It's been a long time since I felt and thought like this. Now I experience my emotions as real and they're all mixed up with my thoughts rather than as two mysteriously competing 'things'.
It seems kind a paradoxical that you seem to feel supressing emotions could have helped me 'avoid GID because I actually feel this is one of the most positive aspects of no longer supressing my emotions. I don't feel my transsexuality is something 'wrong' about me. It's just an aspect of me. And it was being free to feel whatever I needed to feel which let me figure out who I am and what I neeeded to do. At the time I actually imagined that letting myself feel anything would a way of stopping my crossdressing! Afterall, if I just felt whatever I felt and acted however I naturally would act (which brought out a lot more girlish traits in me) then why would I ever need to cross-dress? I really imagined at the time that what I was deciding to simply be me ... which was a very feminine boy. And I thought that was compltely okay and I had lots of 'reasoned' ideas about why it was okay (kind of like challenging gender paradigms, etc).
I guess I should bring closure to all the things I mentioned supressing my emotions helped me 'solve'. Feeling whatever I naturally feel has been a big step for me in dealing with a lot of aspects of my life. I'm now much better with friendships. I really enjoy being with people in a way completely unlike how I wouldn't connect before. My relationship with my parents has gotten a lot better too because, among other things, I now say explicitly how I feel about things they say and what I need from them. To be honest, my schoolwork really has suffered. I'm pretty sure if I kept suppressing my emotions I could have become a major theorist of Developmental Psychology. I could have put my energy exclusive into my research and I probably could have done 3 times the amount of work I've done so far in graduate school. And I'm kind of confused about what I really need because, though I have enormous passion for my research, I'm not nearly as motivated to stay focused on my work. It's disconcerting especially in the last several month that I've been completely overwhelmed and almost paralyzed in trying to write my masters thesis. Maybe it's that I know I'll never be the researcher I could have been so anything I do will ever do motivate myself to do will never meet my intellectual standards? Where did that come from????? That's the first time I've ever thought that.
I guess what all of this means is that I'm just not the best person to ask about her emotions. Maybe I should have just made that sentence my entire reply to you! :-) I still don't really understand my own feelings that well. And I still can't say why I like having emotions or why I feel my emotions just *are* who I am. But I'm very confident I made the right choice for me because, at the very least, I would rather be happy as an academic failure than empty as an academic success. At the very least, I hope some of my rambling confusions let's you know you're not alone in trying to understand yourself or your feelings. Best wishes with finding your path!
This is page 12 of 12.