On Death and Dying – transition and the loss of self

This post has been a long time in coming because of its difficulty. The challenge of writing about my own grief process was a bit intimidating in and of itself however writing it after hearing my dad’s prostate cancer diagnosis became almost impossible. I’m not going to bore you with the details of my dad’s health anymore than to say that he’s had surgery and will be undergoing radiation. It’s very much a wait and see game. Oddly enough, it’s very much like my transition when I think on it.

I remember when I first came to realize (that is, had the language to explain) that I identified as trans my very first reaction was simple denial. I spent some time trying to convince myself that I was just searching for something to blame for the lifelong dis-ease I had felt. Maybe I wasn’t one of those happy people I saw around me day in and day out. Content to live their lives in the best ways they knew how. Afterall, I am a recovered alcoholic/addict and one of my recurrent lifelong themes is that I almost NEVER take the easy road so I simply figured this was another way for me to avoid dealing with things.

That only lasted a couple of weeks and then I decided that MAYBE this was just a phase. Something for me to try out and try on while I got my bearings. To that end, I packed away all my ‘girl’ clothes and said that if I hadn’t gone back to them for very practical reasons within 6 months then perhaps this thing had legs. That was 18 months ago…….and I only went back to the clothes once for a sweater. I dont’ think it’s a phase.

I’d like to say that everything from there on out was all well and good. I want to tell you that I lived happily ever after in my new tranny identity and it was all smooth sailing. If I told you any of that, I’d be lying through my teeth. As much as I talk about the physical and social challenges of transition, I very rarely talk about the emotional ones.

Transition has a price and that price is my life, my identity and my past. In order to become the person I believe I am, I must in many ways walk away from the person I once was. I must die to myself and my past in order to become the person I am becoming.

I grieve the loss of my identity. While I have all this history locked up in my head, sharing it with new people in my life becomes an exercise in anxiety and trust. Do I trust the person I’m talking to enough to reveal my other gendered past? Can I share that history in a way that removes all gender references? What happens if they find out?
The loss of self that I grieve isn’t just for my past, it’s also for my present. Here I am, presenting as a fully grown (but still short) adult male and I have almost NO points of reference from my childhood to fall back upon. For better or for worse, we as parents often raise our male bodied children with certain social cues. Even if we decide not to, society will provide the male bodied child with reminders and cues about how male bodied children should behave.

I’m not here to debate the rightness or wrongness of this. At present, it is what it is and what it is not, is the cues and lessons taught to me as a child. I am a man without a boyhood and I grieve this. Growing up female as I mentioned in an earlier post, the best compliment I could receive from a roomful of guys is that I blended right in, and rendered invisible. Now, I’m expected to participate and I have absolutely no idea how to do that ‘as a guy’. My female identified friends tell me ‘you’re such a guy’ while some of my male bodied friends say ‘you still socialize like a girl’. I struggle to make my place in the world and leave a legacy of strength, flexibility, sensitivity and warmth in my wake. Often I don’t strike that balance and I lie awake at night wondering when I will learn.

I must put my past to rest for I am not that person any longer and yet, those experiences have shaped me into being the man I am today.

I grieve and I fear.

  1. First, I don’t know what you’re talking about. You ARE a good writer. Second, this reminds me of a friend new to sobriety who was worried that everyone would know she was an alcoholic if she turned down a drink. I said to her, “I’ve never been much of a drinker, I’ve had a lifetime of turning down drinks and no one has assumed that I was a recovering addict.”

    Bear with me here. I think when you transition from your assigned gender to your true gender the expectation is that you want to and will fulfill traditional gender expression and behaviour for your “new” gender. Of course the reality is that there are a million ways of being a man, and while all men feel some pressure to be “a guy’s guy” that pressure is likely to be more keenly felt by transmen who’s very “manness” is constantly challenged. So, for you, when you don’t act “just like the guys” you attribute it to not having been socialized as a boy and, as such, it undermines your confidence as a transman. But for my cis/straight male partner the fact that he can’t relate to “guy’s guys” at all is just because he’s not a “guy’s guy”.

    I guess my point is that I understand how difficult it is to have a childhood experience so discordant with your identity and your present life. But the fact that you’re not “just like the guys” doesn’t in the least bit reflect on your manhood.

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