Written May 2012
Over the course of many years, I have felt myself die. Not in the literal sense as you would not be reading the words printed here but metaphorically speaking. This process has happened magnificently two times that can I remember and I now discover I am on the threshold of yet another metaphorical journey. This though, feels more momentous and more wondrous than the sum of the previous two.
My first symbolic death happened in 1994 when I attended four funerals and a wedding, was made redundant from a 21 year career with the BBC and my wife (now ex) left to live with the spouse of one the people who died. The old self cracked open to reveal the hurt within that I had spent so much time hiding from. I became very adept at burying my head in the sand and ignoring things and events just inches from my face. It was, I thought, the easiest path to take only to discover later, through stunning revelations, that the easiest path required turning that philosophy and belief upside down. “Going through instead of around” became something of a mantra. Another version of equivalence would be “feel the fear and do it anyway”.
The year of 1994 became the worst but also, surprisingly, by its end, had become the best, and one of great change. I had been given a wonderful opportunity to revisit all I had been in order to rebuild the Phoenix out of the ashes of the flotsam that was no longer serving me as a human being. I was shedding old, outdated masks and my skin big time.
My old belief was hindering me. No, obstructing would be a more apt depiction. I carried the collected pain around like a martyr showing it to all that would listen. The pain and I had become so closely associated that I became the pain. It had its uses though and this was to garner attention; attention at any cost just as long I was getting attention. I had for decades played the joker, the jester, for other peoples’ amusement. Attention at any cost!
During that year I had unearthed the Source, God or the Creator (whichever name fits for you). Not that I had become a born again Christian or “found” religion. In fact, I discovered and opened myself up to experience spirituality. There is a sense of freedom with spirituality not found with organised religion. I experienced a life without the imposition of the shackles and the dogma and through this let go of much of the pain, anger and hurt.
It is said the first step in any journey is always the longest and the most arduous. For me this described the experience. During that time I discovered I could write poetry and this provided me with many opportunities to release so much of the past in fixing the pain on the page. Much later, I began to write about my experiences. The cathartic nature of the written word reaping unexpected rewards and with this an understanding of my past became visible, triggering a cascade of liberation. My words, I realised, have inspired and encouraged many other people following similar paths.
That first step was like an iceberg. The pain and anger I released was only that lying visible on the surface. The rest was hidden below. And it was this that required a colossal willingness to view the anger and hurt buried deep within the crevices of my mind. Gradually, I shifted the flotsam aside to expose the wounds and injuries hoping to rid myself of the pain. To say this resembled a titanic struggle expresses the iceberg analogy.
During our lifetime, we collect emotional garbage from others who we think are right simply because our esteem is low. This emotional garbage thickens our shell in places requiring more protection in order to stop the intense irritation of our buttons being pressed. It is only in the looking can the irritation diminish and eventually stop.
The second metaphorical death came at the end of 2004 when I had to face the gender dysphoria head on. My body you see didn’t fit me. It was like a badly cut suit that rubbed in all the wrong places. One’s gender is such an important part of our makeup and nature that we don’t notice it if our body reflects who we are inside. If however, the body opposes our image of self, this is when our stress levels increase a hundredfold.
For me, that pressure and anxiety came from the fact I couldn’t express this fundamental part of me because people didn’t like it, were not prepared to tolerate it, and some even chose to ridicule it. Letting the woman inside, out, changed so much about me and led me on a road of recovery essential to me as a person. The shackles placed on and around me by other people fell away suddenly, freeing me into finding slices of me that were hidden in boxes secreted under the bed. Parts of me were hidden so deeply that even I had forgotten they existed.
I feel like I am now very much on the threshold of another more stunning and wonderful metaphorical death. I can see the waters on the distance horizon rolling relentlessly towards me. Is it really another beginning, another dawn? I am at the edge of a cliff face hanging on with the nail of my little finger stubbornly clutching at the crumbling verge. Will I let go and fall into the arms of the waiting angel or continue to remain in the pain zone for yet another few months or even years?
As we grow into adults, we gather from our experiences many beliefs, philosophies, rules and judgments that define how we should act in the world, act towards each other and develop expectations that people will act in a certain way to us. We are rather like a pristine snowflake beginning its long trek down the hill to become the snowball gathering as it goes, litter, empty drink cans, cigarette butts, mud, weeds and other forms of discarded flotsam.
By the end of its journey, the snowflake no longer resembles the pure state it once was having harvested all this waste and junk. By the end, the snowflake is subsumed by the snowball and has forgotten its original uncorrupted form. The snowflake thus believes it is the snowball. Our waste and junk are our beliefs and our suppressed emotions.
I feel now that I am that snowball once again. This time though the tumble down the hill is causing a vastly different outcome. As I spin faster and faster, the flotsam and junk is spinning off rather than being collected. The rubbish is being thrown away, discarded, and finally for good. Left then, is the pristine snowflake, the real me. I cannot say whether this is the final push to find my real soul or whether another impulse is on the horizon yet unseen.
I spent years, probably decades, creating a protective shell, a crust that eventually became impenetrable to me as well as to everybody else. In this shell, I created a shield that grew into my defensive armour, layer upon layer. The person behind never stepped out from the shadows preferring to remain anonymous showing only the developed persona, a persona that eventually became a mill stone, yet another mask hiding the real me. Other people saw me as this transgendered individual so, in order not to disappoint them, I had to keep the generated persona alive.
Keeping this false persona alive required a lot of energy and this is why I experienced many times of illness and doctor visits. My body was crumbling under the weight of thinking and thought. I had to fulfil peoples’ opinions and ideas about me so I could maintain this facade, this assumed role. The eventual cost drove me into a deep depression. It was impossible to keep the real me and the persona alive in the same body.
Surface cracks started to appear in July 2011 and these grew deeper as the months drifted passed letting more and more debris fall away. No longer was I dressing as a woman as the need had subsided, the impetus lessening. It was as though the gender mask had begun to crumble away, my skin loosening every day, shedding to expose the rebirth of a new form. This though was not a new me but the real me finding its way through to the surface.
As 2011 was about the upheaval of the world stage, to bring into sharp focus the abuses of the many by the few, 2012 is about the individual’s transformation and evolution into something new. This is our journey and nothing to do with anyone else. We cannot expect anyone else to do this for us. The shell, the shield, the mask, the persona is what we created ourselves to protect us from the difficult emotions bombarding us from other people.
For me, and probably lots of people at this extraordinary moment in history, it is time to dismantle the masks, the disguises and the camouflage we have gone to great lengths to create. Only we can do this. It is not up to anyone else to do this for us.