Written November 2004
This article started out small but grew both in size and emotional intensity. It covers a lot of the stuff I was unable to look at before.
Although this article, by its very nature, is focused upon my experiences with gender identity, its themes affect everyone equally. It should be read, not only by those dealing with gender confusion, but also anyone who is on a journey towards healing. This, I reckon, covers just about everybody. Its conclusion is as relevant to the next person as it is to me.
There comes a point in everyone’s life that they have to face themselves. There can be no exception to this. We all have to experience the pain of looking at the inner most portions of our personality, those parts of us we have spent most of our life hiding from others and probably from ourselves most of all. Indeed, if we do not do it before, it is on our death bed that we realise, too late, that all we really needed to be was ourselves. And to learn to afford others that same opportunity.
Yes, it is easy to look at the nice bits, those tasty morsels that everybody likes. However, it becomes another matter when we have to stare at the anger, the resentment, the frustration, the hatred, those parts of us that parents, peers and society have deemed inappropriate character traits, qualities that are deep within us but are nevertheless stifled because others find them unacceptable.
All that we are, all that we see ourselves as being, is programmed by those around us. We cannot have a vision of ourselves until we have a vision of others since we build the picture we have of ourselves in relation to them. We must therefore, interact with others in order to gain insight in to who and what we are. We learn what we need to learn by that interaction, and not by sitting atop a mountain meditating all day. Sure, you can find peace that way, but can you really know who you are?
For example, if we do something that gains a good and positive response from our parents, we will obviously do it again. If we do something that receives a bad and negative reaction, we learn that this is not appropriate and so are programmed, by them, not to do it again. This is ok when we are very young so we do not hurt ourselves, the hand in the fire sort of thing or to stop at the kerb to look both ways before crossing the road.
But later, when this programming starts to squash, to suppress, to stifle, to smother some innate personality trait that we choose to hide from others because they are the ones that cannot deal with this part of us, that the trouble for us begins. As others find us unacceptable and unworthy, so we begin to believe this of ourselves too.
This programming can be, and is, very insidious and incredibly subconscious so we do not know this is happening. It starts from the moment we are born and will only stop when we have worked through the pain of the chrysalis to become who we are truly meant to be.
Of course, most people don’t realise they are programming you, they merely believe they are doing the right thing. Mostly, they are fighting against their own programming, trying to control the others around them in order that their own fear does not surface and overwhelm them. There is nothing right or wrong in this. It is simply how things are.
Our fear comes from this feeling of being unacceptable, of being judged by everyone we meet. We think that others will dissect the minutiae of our being, blowing us apart with comment and derision. In fact, most people are so wrapped up in their own lives, and their own fears and traumas, that they rarely have time left to be concerned with someone else’s behaviour.
Actually, the only person judging us is ourselves, so programmed we are into believing we are less than everyone else. We throw our own phobias and feelings of inadequacy onto others using them as a foil, as a mirror to reflect back our own feelings about ourselves. It is not others who assassinate our character – it is simply us, it is our perception of ourselves that forces the dissection that eventually eats our soul away and sometimes our body too.
The fear builds and collects if left unexpressed and has nowhere else to go but into the body itself, into the very cells that are designed to keep us healthy. You see, pain and anger do not decompose when buried, they merely fester and mould waiting to surprise us at the most inopportune moment, waiting to surface when we least expect them to do so and usually in front of those we love and who do not deserve our tirade of abuse, profanity and vulgarity. It is not at them we are angry, but at those that came before.
Only now, looking back at the person I used to be from the person I am now, some 45 years after I perceived my difficulties began, my journey towards healing began at the very same time. In spite of, or perhaps because of, these experiences, the solution to my present physical symptoms, feelings and emotions rest in the person I have become. We are the sum of our experiences. We therefore cannot be anything else. Change just one aspect of our past and who we are now would be completely different.
Certainly, the path mapped out for me by others has led me to this point. There was almost a compulsion to follow this road because I felt I had no other choice, no right to be who I was – an individual and free to be me. I was not strong enough to resist my parents and peers in what they wanted me to be and do. And there was an inevitability about the road and its affects on me, and the actions, experiences and choices I had to make. Because I had no proper example of boundaries, I could not give others the same and hurt many people by misreading their actions as meaning one thing when in fact they meant something entirely different.
Until they fall from our grace, we all believe our parents have good intentions toward us and would not see us harmed. That is our biggest mistake, one that we will all come to regret in time. It is my perception that my parents lied to me, gave me wrong advice and showed me inappropriate examples in how to act towards others and of course, the big one, how not to express anger, or rather, how to suppress it. Their actions were not deliberate or done with malice you understand. It was just the way they were. Like their parents before them, they themselves were just the sum of their own experiences. They knew no better. They had no better examples to work from than I did.
Many times, my parents walked into my bedroom without first knocking on the door and waiting for my word to be invited in. They also barged in unannounced when I was bathing. Initially, when a child is very young, this does not matter greatly. However, it is when a child reaches maturity and enters the formative years of puberty and of early adulthood that these boundaries have to be, must be, put in place and maintained rigorously. In my case, these boundaries were not given and the experiences of puberty were felt in full view of my parents. Puberty needs privacy.
Sex was a subject left un-discussed and so was masturbation. In fact, so critical of that act were my parents, that they used guilt and shame to fully discourage my pleasure of it. Once, when I was discovered sleeping without my pyjamas, my mother would go into paroxysms of how disgusted she was of me and how I must not do this again. Guilt feeding upon resentment feeding upon anger feeding upon guilt. I sometimes wonder why I am not totally screwed up about sex and identity. Perhaps I am and don’t realise it. Since I was not strong enough emotionally, I could not say what I was really thinking about them and their actions, and as I was not shown how to express anger properly, all I could do was suppress it. Remnants of this anger are still around today and rise every time my boundaries are invaded by others.
This is the burden I have had to carry from my earliest recollections and still do so today. But with much healing and willingness to look at the thoughts I have about my parents and peers, I can release much, cry a lot, and move through the anger, feeling it when necessary, and lessen the burden of that weight of negativity that is causing so much of my present symptoms.
Although not totally aware of this until much later, throughout my childhood, puberty and early adulthood, I noticed how differently my sister was treated to me in terms of privacy. Her bedroom door was always shut and no one barged in without knocking first. Was this experience in some way providing me the first seeds of doubt in my gender as a male? Are women given more freedom and privacy than men? In public toilets, why are men expected to urinate in front of other men when women are given cubicles? Certainly, it is my experience that men are placed in a societal straightjacket that becomes very difficult, if not impossible to discard.
Men are expected to be tough and resilient, unemotional and firm. Women on the other hand, are expected to show emotion, and to be communicative and gentle to others. Women may be the weaker of the sexes but I believe this is just physically. Where it counts, in the areas of communication and emotion, they are definitely the stronger of the two. Women get on with it while men just go to bed and complain.
Since I was not your average male, having a more tender compassionate nature, I could not meet the requirements of the masculine path laid out before me by others. In order to find some acceptability that matched my personality maybe I would try being female instead. Of course, that choice was not made consciously. It was extremely subconscious, very subtle and very confusing without a knowing or an understanding of where these feelings came from. Throughout my life there were and still are many negative reinforcements towards men in general, and many positive towards women, programming further the need for me to become female.
The road I have chosen to follow is not any longer of my parents making. That road has been closed for eternity because it no longer serves. The road I have chosen to take will lead to a better life and a better understanding of myself as a person, all of which was previously hidden from view.
I have chosen the scenic route as opposed to the one that leads through the concrete jungle of fear. The scenic route may ultimately be longer and will have more unexpected turns in the road but it is a far greener pleasant land than the one that consists entirely of grey. The scenic route will still present fear in all its guises but I am willing to face that fear with all the difficulties that that may cause. It is the journey that counts, not the conclusion.
We must journey until the fear of where we are exceeds the fear of the unknown should we break the shell of the chrysalis. Until we reach that point, we will not move forward. I use the term chrysalis as it describes the process we go through every time we meet fear and are willing to face it. Fear causes us to brake on our journey, to consolidate, to integrate all that we have learnt to that point. We transform because of that fear, because of the choice to face that fear, and to move through that fear. The chrysalis gives us time to absorb and release, understand and liberate, so our inner self can become the butterfly for the next stage of our journey along the path to wholeness.
Part of this journey was the decision to face that feminine side of my nature, that cross-dressing part that offends so many people in our society. Women can wear trousers but can a man wear a skirt? Not likely. Not only do I have to face the ridicule of others, I must also face my own phobia against it.
I began by telling June, my partner, about this situation within three months of our relationship starting. That was in 1997. Although it was the right thing to do, it has definitely caused a rift between us, but one that is gently closing all the time as we both progress to an understanding of what gender rebalancing actually is and means to us, both as a partnership and as individuals. I choose to use the term rebalancing instead as it has a more positive feel than the negative term of dysphoria implying something is wrong about what we feel and who we are, something that is distorted from what society has deemed normal.
In the beginning, I was deeply resentful of June because she essentially prevented me from becoming the woman I needed to be. Relationships are difficult at the best of times when gender confusion is experienced by one of the partnership. A person going through this sort of transitory process needs their own space to work at the feelings and emotions that surface. Family, friends and partnerships usually short circuit the process bringing to it their own agendas thus preventing the completion to wholeness.
That resentfulness has lessened over the years as I realised she bought with her resources and people that I would have never met had I still been on my own. Those people have helped me considerably in coming to terms with the confusion and accepted me unconditionally when I would not.
Moving Through It
Having spent all of my time dressed as Caren (my feminine name) at home, I chose to bring her to a wider audience on Christmas Eve 2002 at our church, St Michael’s. Now out of the box, my confidence as Caren blossomed enormously as I chose to experience her more and more. However, as time marched on, I discovered there was a down side.
By February 2003, I began to lose weight. A trickle at first which then became a torrent. Originally, I felt good as my shape was changing to become female without the use of drugs – the outer beginning to match the inner. But by May 2003, I had lost nearly a stone in weight. Joy transformed to concern as several trips to the doctor and several tests proffered nothing. The sickness and diarrhoea continued unabated although was definitely more manageable at first. Going to work some mornings was a real struggle as my legs would not move properly. To say my brain was foggy would be an understatement. And being a software engineer, I had to have a good, clear mind to do my job.
During this time, my feelings of fear rose sharply, feelings of fear of just about everything. The fear was unfocused and very difficult to sense what it was I had a fear of. I could not go anywhere, eat anywhere or go to the cinema because I was continually fearful of being ill out of the family home. At least at home it was manageable. Since I was not eating much because of the sickness and nausea, my weight continued to drop.
I have also realised that what you focus on is what you get. You somehow give it the energy it needs to manifest in your life. We rarely accept positive things because we cannot believe it is our role to enjoy life, but we will all too readily accept negative things. When there is good news we always ask if it’s true, because it is so difficult to believe. But when there is bad news we rarely inquire because it’s so easy to believe. Focusing on happiness is hard because we have not been trained or nurtured, as a society, to do so. The media is full of the negative skewing the impression that life and the world is a bad place and rarely commenting on the positive, alluding to it at the end of a bulletin almost as an afterthought, something mentioned just in passing.
The one fear I do have is the fear of needles and injections and going into hospital just to spend time at my most vulnerable being prodded and poked with all manner of torturous instruments. I realised that this scenario was very likely due to the continual progression of my illness, so could not help but focus on the very thing I was fearful of. It was like a closed circle, an ever decreasing spiral towards oblivion, the fear feeding upon the fear, magnifying the symptoms, only to feed the flames of anxiety and panic I felt.
The fear we feel we try to suppress in all manner of ways and means. We are not supposed to feel this way. Society tells us so. We anaesthetise ourselves with anti-depressants in hope that we do not feel, do not feel the sadness in the world and within us. Whilst I am on anti-depressants, I do not feel the pain of life but I also do not feel the joy that is possible, the laughter and tears of a great film or seeing a child take its first steps or ride a bicycle without falling off. These are the things I miss. Anti-depressants thus become both our saviour and our chains.
When we suppress anything, the only place it can go is in the body, into the very cells that are designed to keep us healthy. We become a pot boiler, the steam trapped by a lid shut tight and waiting to explode when the time is right, or rather, at the most inconvenient time. Eventually, our cells cannot take on any more toxic load and start to break down and die causing illness in the body. The body uses this way to communicate with us to notify us that there is something wrong.
Since it cannot use words, the only language the body has in it arsenal is to use pain and illness. An itch here, an ache there, a twinge somewhere else, an intense pain over here, all these are telling us something that we need to be aware of, something we need to deal with. If we choose to ignore these whispers, the body will rack up the volume until we listen to what it has to say, until the point we cannot afford to disregard these signals any longer. It is at this stage that chronic illness sets in with symptoms that inhibit our lives dramatically limiting our ability to enjoy what life has to offer.
Unfortunately for us, the language of our body is unique to us. You cannot study its language like French or German. You can only understand it from your own perspective, and from your experience. Talking to others, discussing your symptoms will proffer little in terms of understanding your own plight as we are all so different it but will definitely lessen the burden of the pain and anguish we feel. Louise Hay has written several books on this particular subject but one book that resonates with me is Your body speaks your mind by Debbie Shapiro.
In October 2003 I began a course at St Michael’s Church which was entitled Embracing the Goddess, a course that was to last until September 2004. This was an opportunity to learn more about and experience the Goddess and my feminine nature bringing Caren to the surface more fully and experiencing her during the course. That was the intent.
It began well enough but something occurred that I was totally unprepared for. I had given healing on the very first session to someone that was in the throws of ME. In less than a week I had taken on the pattern of this illness and eventually had all of November off work. I don’t think I have felt anything like it before. The sadness, the depression, the tiredness, the lack of focus. To add to what I was already suffering made it doubly difficult to survive.
In the months following, apart from the sickness and diarrhoea which continued unabated, there seemed to be a definite change in my confidence as Caren. The more she appeared, the more I realised and experienced her capacity to be herself. The energy I felt while dressed as her was immense. Several times I had to face crowds of people both in the street and at an exhibition I visited. These were faced with a confidence and resilience not felt before as Colin. He always walked along the road with his head down unable to face people or look them in the eyes, his shoulders hunched as if trying to hide. Caren has shown me parts of myself and has helped me to discover the hidden depths to my personality, those innate resources that I could not have found in any other way.
People ‘read’ others very easily. This happens at a very deep subconscious level and appears to be an inbuilt defence mechanism. When we present ourselves as confident and at peace with who we are, our body language reflects this inner peace. People who ‘read’ this are themselves happier. They drop their own façade, their own mask and release their need to feel afraid. Your confidence rubs off on them. They no longer feel the need to be continually wary of others, continually bolstering their defences as this takes energy, energy that can be used to enjoy life rather than making them always ready to fight.
When you are not confident and not happy with who you are, our body language will reflect this also. People will respond to this and immediately go on the defensive. Why are you afraid? They think something is wrong, maybe about the environment they should be wary of or something wrong with them. They raise the barriers and steel themselves ready to fight should the need arise. Since most communication between people takes place non-verbally, at a very deep subconscious level, people are unaware of why they suddenly feel afraid or fearful. This is where the flight or fight response comes from. This is also why people attack and abuse those who they see as deviants from the norm, the gays, the cross-dressers and the transsexuals of this world.
Because most gays, cross-dressers and transsexuals are still basically very unhappy about who we are, because of our own programmed phobias of about who and what we are, we present that to the world in copious quantities wearing our fear upon our sleeves allowing others to read that fear. Others see this and some will attack rather than walk away because somehow, we are reminding them of their own limitations, their own programming, and their own lack of control in their own lives. They attack rather than reason because we reflect back to them their own vulnerability.
When others talk about their experiences of how they manage the fear, the anguish and pain, the feeling of wanting the ground to swallow them whole, they can only use words to describe these experiences. Words are useful in passing concepts and logic but lack the ability to express feelings and emotions. In order for us to even begin to understand another’s experiences, their words must first begin to resonate with us at some deep level. We can only succeed in this if we ourselves have experienced similar occurrences, similar events that trigger an understanding in someone else’s plight.
In July 2004, I had some healing which started a chain of events that submerged Caren to the point where I thought she had gone forever. The need to dress had disappeared so rapidly I was very suspicious but willing to see what transpired. I eventually purged just over half of Caren’s clothes, but knowing the possibility of her return, I didn’t rid myself of everything just in case. It has been my experience that these purging events happen in cycles. Purging, then rebuilding the wardrobe only to purge again only to rebuild at some stage later. The cost becomes prohibitive. At least it gave the opportunity to rid myself of the unworn and inappropriate.
With the sadness, depression and illness becoming unmanageable, I was near to ending it all. Against my better judgement, in August, I returned to anti-depressants, needing them rather than wanting them.
In September 2004, my appointment at the hospital had arrived. My fear rose sharply as I waited with June in the corridor outside the doctor’s surgery. I was sweating one minute and feeling cold the next. I was shaking, my stomach was reeling like a roller coaster, the muscles in my groin were cramping tightly and had become extremely painful and the nausea kept flowing over me in waves so big that I felt I would have to exit to the toilet at any moment. I don’t think I have felt so bad before.
After the doctor had seen me, I had to have several blood tests. This also is one of my fears. I lay there with smelling salts in one hand and the other resting on the arm of the chair trying to relax. I hardly felt the sting of the needle as the experienced nurse took my blood. She was an extremely capable nurse. The exit of the needle was slightly more painful. It was all over then. The next day my arm showed little of the event with just a small bruise about ¼” in diameter. Just a bit different to the previous blood test when my arm was covered in a bruise 5” long and 2” wide for a few days. This nurse obviously had little experience of the process.
I had to take the following day off work to get over the event. Somehow though I felt different, somehow lighter. It was as though I had burnt off some negative energy, energies that no longer served. There is a book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. How right these words are. Until that day at the hospital, I did not realise how right.
When we suppress our emotions, they get squeezed and stuffed into the cells of the body bringing to them the toxic load of negativity. Eventually, the load becomes too much and the cells begin to die causing illness and pain. This toxic load has only one way out. We have to feel the pain and fear of the original suppression, the event that caused the original fear.
If we learn it is easier to suppress than express, and do so for many years, the negative emotions all get jumbled up into an amorphous mass becoming unfocused and mixed, continually churning and stirred, the original events unrecognisable in the swirling cauldron of fear. All those situations left unspoken where it would have been better to have stood our ground, asserted our own personality and let the feelings go during the original episode rather than experience the immense struggle of releasing it many years later.
I understand now, that all my unfocused fear is an amalgam of all my different fears mangled together in an ever decreasing spiral of terror, dread and panic. It is unfocused simply because it is all those events and situations in my life that I was not in control and simply because another person was trying, and succeeding, in controlling me.
When we start to heal, a common reaction of this is that we feel awful. These symptoms usually abate after a few days as the toxic load begins its journey out of the body through the skin, the kidneys, the liver and the lymphatic system. If we have spent most of our life hiding parts of ourselves from others and suppressing our anger and resentment towards others, the body has to first dislodge the toxins and negativity trapped within the cells.
For this process to begin it will require a trigger to break the stranglehold. Facing the very things that give us the most fear are needed as the trigger. Facing the fear of needles and hospitals and doctor’s examinations are my fears and I had to experience these in order to dislodge the negativity trapped in my own cells. Had I been willing to face people at a much earlier age, facing the fear when they were at manageable levels, I would not have to face these fears now experiencing the volcano that has erupted uncontrollably.
My volcano started smouldering Christmas Eve 2002 and finally erupted in February 2003 and emotion has been cascading down the slopes of my being since then. When it will finally stop? Only time will tell.
In conclusion, you can see I hardly ever mentioned gender. For me, the journey has not been about being male or female but coming to terms with who I actually am, becoming acceptable to myself and to be able to work through the fear without the fear of fear. Gender, as it turns out, was just a side issue, a false path, a mask to hide difficult feelings about that part of me I did not want to face, that I felt was unacceptable, that I felt everyone else found unacceptable too.
For most cross-dressers and probably some transsexuals too, there is an element of unacceptability that forms part of their own equation. Some of the transsexuals I have met certainly want to expunge every ounce of masculinity from their being resorting to plastic surgery to give them the appearance of femininity so they can pass without comment. For some, this is the right path, for others it will be their biggest mistake. Like me, are they just hiding behind the metaphorical, and literal, skirts?
It is the sadness I see in their eyes that reflects back my own that moves the deep compassion I have for people such as these. It is the resonance I feel with them that guides me to write articles such as this. And it is my own pain that inspires and motivates me into documenting my own path for me to read later in times of despair as a reminder for me of what is and what I have come to understand about myself.
We are all so deeply programmed with Hollywood’s view of men and women, can anyone truly match that picture? Rather than accept who we are, and others unconditionally, we still acquiesce to society’s rules in defining the roles of both men and women and what each is allowed to be and not be. Rather than accept who we are, we become actors playing parts on this stage called life, not being, but doing what we think others require of us. This is not limited in any way to cross-dressers such as myself, but will impact on the lives of everyone to some degree, some more than others. Cross-dressers and the like just face a more visible struggle to gain the acceptance they so desire. And mostly, that is self acceptance.
Those poeple that reflect our greatest fears are undoubtedly our greatest teachers. They are there to move us, to propel us, to drive us onwards to our goal, to help goad us into breaking out of the chrysalis. And that goal is the journey towards discovering who we are, the journey of Self discovery.
And of course, the role we play in the journey of others. What are the fears we prompt in others? We can never really know.
In the course of writing this article, Caren has re-emerged. She returned at the end of October. I am still not sure if I am happy about this situation because it means I have to face the confusion all over again. Perhaps I will have to realise that she is such a fundamental part of me, of who I am, that she will not go away no matter how hard I try. It is to learn acceptance rather than erasing.
The psychiatrist said that gender confusion can be connected with the depression as it is a way of hiding from the world. However, since I am on antidepressants, and am not depressed, why is Caren around at all?