Blurred Lines of Authentic Expression
I have a client who was biologically born female and changed into a male through hormone replacement and surgery in his early 20s. As he (from now on I will use a female pronoun to refer to the time period before he fully considered himself male, and the pronoun he after that took place) was growing up in a female form, she knew she was different from his peers for the simple reason that she was not attracted to men. She acknowledged her attraction to females in her early teens, was openly gay during high school, and had relationships with females. She continued to feel different, however, feeling she never fit in. She felt rejected at large from society, and even though her family said they accepted her as gay, she never truly felt accepted by them, or good enough. There was a general state of discomfort, of unease, experienced.
There is a lot to this story that is missing with regard to all the various factors that were involved in her decision to become male. For the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to fast-forward to current times, a few years after the transformation from female to male took place. When I met Tim he was seeking services for anxiety. I engaged in a number of different modalities with clients, and after discussing options with Tim, we decided on Living Inquiries, using the ‘anxiety inquiry’ along with the ‘unfindable inquiry’.
A lot of Tim’s anxiety was found in self-identification thoughts such as, I’m the one who is a freak, the one who is not good enough, the one who fears rejection, and the one who doesn’t fit in. Such thought patterns and deficiency stories are not unique to Tim— I’ve yet to meet a human on the planet who doesn’t have deficiency stories that they experience from time to time. However, sometimes these stories are very active, and the mind/body then references these stories constantly. These stories start to take a life of their own— as if they really are true— and it can seem to the holder of these thoughts that that they determine our lives and our experiences. The result of this can be anxiety, compulsions, addictions, depression, physical ailment, and so on.
Tim’s deficiency stories from his youth were still quite alive. His current issues were mainly about fitting in, or more accurately, not fitting in. He projected his anger and frustration about this out into the world, onto the various people in his lives— from family members, to people at work to friends/lovers, to large political groups. No matter where he turned, he felt excluded and rejected. And as was stated earlier, Tim had literally changed himself in the biggest way imaginable—his gender. He did this through procedures very painful, in part because he hoped to finally feel accepted, loved, and comfortable in his body. And yet everywhere he turned he was still met with challenging and painful situations that conveyed to him that he was not loved, not accepted, and didn’t fit in.
This is not to say that Tim’s decision to go from female to male was wrong, inappropriate or at all pointless. I want to be very clear about that. There were many factors involved, and I am not suggesting that his decision was made because of deficiency stories. Yet deficiency stories clearly were a significant part of his life. And I couldn’t help think, “what if.” What if we were given the opportunity and support to feel our feelings as we were growing up, going through big life changes such as puberty and adulthood? What if we were safe to question our bodies? Our hormones? Our biological changes and inclinations? What if we got to fully explore our insecurities? What if we got the support to really feel the sensations behind thoughts such as “I don’t fit in!” or “I’m not good enough” or “I feel so alone and unloved.” What if we had support to question the status quo’s expectations of us—all the way from gender related expectations/expression to sexual orientation? (See this awesome chart, which takes a look at these four factors: Gender expression, biological sex, gender identity, and attracted to http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/03/the-genderbread-person-v2-0/ )
I asked a friend of mine to read over this blog post, as she’s experienced a life of gender identification struggles. “The questions around the “what ifs” are deep ones for us all,” she said, “and bring us back to the universalities of identity and how we are raised to view and interpret ourselves and our genders.” Then she shared part of her journey with me.
I started the coming out process in ’97. But I’d been doing research since I left for college in ’93. I didn’t even really know what intersex (then pseudo-hermaphroditism) was. Transsexual was close enough, transgender was some weird thing that was just popping up in forums. We were all still sideshow freaks.
The biggest change for me came when I gave myself permission to be a toddler again and just be myself stumbling through the identity that was stifled since I was 3 or 4 and learned that I was not who I knew I was, was not going to be who I assumed I was going to be, and that I had better change or else. That little preschooler me understood that it wasn’t okay to be herself, so she learned to give everyone what they wanted. I remember spending nights going over the way I talked, the way I walked, how I sat, practicing to get the part right for everyone. But more than anything else, I had given up on allowing myself out of that prison. At 7 I was spending hours at night telling G-d he didn’t exist and begging to die in my sleep. By jr. high, I figured that I had to be insane and was just waiting until I was on my own to do what G-d wouldn’t. I didn’t know about transition, I didn’t know I could insist on living authentically. As far as I knew, I was a unique mistake.
Go, go, higher education to give me some perspective! Even when I knew that I was free of the bonds I had allowed myself to be kept in, I had no idea what to do as a 22 year old toddler. I all of a sudden had to give myself permission to be myself. The chains were gone, but the scars and memory of their constant weight were still felt.
That was/is my journey. Others, in the infinite different situations we develop in, with our unique minds, will need something else. I hope others can reach that point where they feel they are living the most authentic life they can. There’s a lot of stuff people never “should” have had to go through, and a lot of experiences people miss out on. Ultimately, there is no one way to be a man (or woman), and peace has to be made with that, eventually.
Like my friend above, my hope (and my entire healing practice’s focus and purpose) is also that people can live their lives in the most authentic ways possible. In many ways, Tim is being invited back to toddlerhood as we journey together, to explore the stories of his youth. We do this as we explore his deficiency stories, not in a way to necessarily understand or explain or give credence to his journey from female to male, but as a way to see through the various identities he’s created over the course of his life as he was experiencing difficulties growing up. This is not a cognitive approach, but a fully somatic and embodied experience, where he gets to *feel* all the identities/stories he’s created in his mind that are linked to his body’s experience of anxiety and anger and other emotions. In viscerally experiencing the stories of “I don’t fit in” or “I’m not good enough” or “I’m unlovable”, the stories lose “truth”, his experiences of anxiety decrease, and his experiences of satisfaction out in the world and with himself increase. I believe Tim’s story is quite possibly everyone’s story, just change the content a little, and the deficiency stories are found. And I believe living authentically is possible for every one of us.