Hindsight is, as they say, twenty-twenty. That’s a core part of the trans narrative, just as it is for so many narratives for minority identities. It’s usually expressed something like, “I’ve always known I was trans. I mean…I didn’t think I was trans growing up, I didn’t have the language, but looking back, there was this book I secretly read and I often fantasized about such and such, and it became much clearer later on.”
I’m certainly not exempt from this, in any way. When I came out as gay, I frequently justified that to myself by thinking, “you know, when I look back on my life, I can see all these signs of being gay.” Lucky me, though, I got to do the coming out thing twice (or three times, if you count furry, but the impact on self image surrounding furry identity versus sexual orientation or gender identity is so small that it didn’t have much of an impact on me).
As with coming out as gay, a lot of stuff made sense in retrospect through the long process of coming out as trans. Coming out has a lot of social implications, and is often used to describe the act of informing parents, friends, coworkers, or whomever that such an identity is the truth, but the process really starts much earlier, when one’s sense of identity surrounding something such as gender identity or sexual orientation starts to gel into something coherent enough to identify as a minority identity - most majority identities do not involve the same process of coming out.
For me, the coming out process began sometime around late 2005, early 2006. In order to get into this a little more deeply, however, I’ll need to take a brief detour into the land of furry.
Within the furry subculture, a significant portion of social interaction takes place online by necessity. A large part of many people’s membership in the furry subculture is interacting with others through a constructed character, an avatar that represents both an ideal self, as well as a combination of animal characteristics that one admires. This needn’t be something visual - much of the interaction within furry takes place in a purely text-based environment such as IRC or a MUCK - but the visual aspect does play a part in broadcast situations (that is, situations where one broadcasts a bit of information in a non-directed way for others to consume - or not - at will).
That said, starting around 2006, I began to shape my interactions within the furry subculture in a much different way. My initial reasoning was almost purely sexual. I won’t go into detail, of course, but needless to say, I created an alt (alternate character) who was female specifically for the purpose of interacting with others in the fandom as a female. I got art of her shortly after, and eventually wound up in a relationship with a very delightful person, T. Although both assigned male at birth, T and I’s relationship was primarily a heterosexual one, online. We both had grown comfortable with the idea of acting within that dynamic and, both question our gender to some extent (whether consciously or not), often ‘traded places’, as it were, to share the experience.
Fast forward to around 2011. T and I’s relationship had started to falter, mostly from my end as I began to struggle with serious depression and anxiety, and the former explorations of gender weren’t settling anything in terms of identity for me. My life was all wrong in ways that I couldn’t quite place my finger on. It wouldn’t be until sometime in mid-2012 that I started exploring gender identity seriously. By then I was in therapy for depression and anxiety with a psychiatrist and starting out with a therapist as well.
Certainly a shift in career helped my general state out a bit, as did becoming more financially stable, but coming out to myself so totally overwhelmed those others, that my therapist wrote in my WPATH letter earlier this month, “I have never before witnessed such a profound shift in mood as Madison’s movement from despair to hopefulness, from diagnosable depression to essentially normal health that has been sustained now for many months.”
When I started out actively exploring gender (rather than, say, fiddling around online as other sexes for funsies; not invalid, just more passive), I described dysphoria to my therapist as the intersection between gender identity and depression. He refined that to something more specific, that it’s more the intersection between gender identity and shame. It’s more directed than depression: there’s always a target. I’m so ashamed of my voice, my hair, my gait. It may be related to depression, but shame is at its core.
This dysphoria is what is left of the overwhelming depression that had claimed me before. The depression was unfocused, a malaise that completely enveloped me. Dysphoria remains, of course, that’s part of being trans, but now it’s simple shame over certain aspects that are out of my control, or at least currently out of reach. I often feel a secondary shame that goes along with them, a worry that I’m being somehow vain. I do my best to counteract that with the idea that its these very things that form the basis of how others decide just who we are, they’re part of our expression.
I feel it’s important for me to pull this story together into words, to maintain a sense of where I’ve come from as I explore where all I can go. I’ll end it with this: The therapy, the doctor’s visits, and the consults finally culminated in me receiving my WPATH letter, my visit at the Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center, and picking up my first prescription earlier this month, on the 14th. Here’s to who I’ve been, and to who I get to be.