On Becoming A Man (expanded from On Death and Dying)

I wrote this piece for my own blog last June. As I review and expand on it I realize that at its core, it is still as true today as it was when I originally wrote it, in fact even more so.

What prompted me to write this post was hearing my father’s diagnosis of prostate cancer. I had already been thinking of writing a post dealing with grief. However after hearing about my father’s health, I was overwhelmed with fear, sadness and anxiety about what his future held. Writing this at that time was an impossible task for me. I’m not going to bore you with the details of my dad’s health any more than to say that he’s had surgery, has had radiation and is currently cancer free, so far as they can tell. At the time however, it was very much a hurry-up-and-wait game. These events resonated very strongly with me in light of my own transition.

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. After all, 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. Perhaps this was 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 almost 3 years ago, and I only went back to the clothes once for a sweater. I’ve decided it’s not a phase.

I’d like to say that everything from there on out was all fine. 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 however, 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 to 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 they 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 men is that I blended right in, and rendered invisible. Now, the men invite me 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.

Recently I’ve become involved in a men’s circle and the experience has been profoundly terrifying and rewarding at the same time. To my knowledge, I am the only trans man in the circle at present and this has brought no small amount of fear into my life in a way that stands sharply contrasted to the general fear I live with every day. The brave men who attend commit themselves to radical honesty, supported self-awareness and ask of themselves a level of emotional engagement that simply astounds me. There are men who are taciturn and men who are boisterous; men who come from many walks of life and bring with them years of accumulated shame and guilt and self-loathing. Within the circle, these men share some of those hurts and fears and hopes and ask the others in the circle to hold them safely while those emotions flood through them and are released into the ether so that peace, joy, love, honesty, openness and the experience of being present can enter in. Emotions and qualities I want for myself.

In order to become that man, I must first wrestle with my past. I must own my own history with its disjointed narrative and surreal feeling. I must become ok with experiences that, for years, are ones I raged against and tried so very hard to reject fully. Most importantly, I must learn to silence that voice inside of me that says I don’t belong. The one that chatters constantly to remind me that I am an interloper, a fraud and that I do not belong. I have told the men in my circle about my physical past. They welcomed me in my present self into the circle; I need to do the same.

I need to 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. It is time to let that part of me die a graceful death, to mourn and thank my past for giving me the gifts I bring to my every day. To do this, I must grieve. And that, my friends, is what I need to learn how to do

  1. Really appreciated this post, Wes, and your ongoing honesty and sharing of your journey. I’m thankful for you Wes.

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