A Life in Transition
“To be yourself
in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is
the greatest accomplishment.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Try to google search the definition of “gender”. You will likely come back to this page more confused than before you asked. Depending on your search result settings, on the first page of the search you will find ten distinctly different answers.
For the sake of clarity, we will begin by separating and defining a few important terms:
Gender Binary- the idea that there are only two genders and that each of the two genders is congruent with sexual anatomy at birth.
Anatomical Sex- referring to the biological anatomy of the individual. Anatomical sex has three categories for defining genitalia: hermaphrodite/ intersex/ ambiguous, female, and male.
Gender- how an individual personally identifies in relation to their body and sexual orientation. The possibilities for gender are as varied and unique as all life on Earth. Some of these subcategories include transgender, gender-neutral, non-binary, agender, pangender, genderqueer, two-spirit, third gender, and all, none, or a combination of these.
Sexual Orientation- the terminology used to describe sexual preferences in relation to their anatomical sex, and gender. The possibilities for sexual orientation are as endless as they are for gender.
For anyone who meets these terms, or individuals who identify with these terms with adversity, skepticism, or judgment please consider this: compassion is the result of education and comprehension.
Sexual orientation, and gender education are an integral part of our humanity, our self-awareness, and our ability for self-love.
It means finding space for all the wonderful ways humans can be humans. Learning about the full spectrum of possibilities in humanity is imperative to creating a better world for everyone.
I am deeply grateful to my dear friend, Ryan Hains for agreeing to this interview to help me help others understand what it’s like in someone else’s shoes. There are so many questions that I feel would help others in understanding how to be a better person to our fellow humans. Every person deserves to feel comfortable in their own skin.
When did you first realize that your gender anatomy did not fit with who you are?
I’ve known from a very young age that something was different about me. In preschool I identified as male, even though I was born with a female body. I lacked the vocabulary to understand and express how I felt. I was also battling against the stigma surrounding body image, and the absence of education for parents of transgender youth. Education, and awareness for LGBTQ issues really were not prevalent back in the ’80s when I was growing up. It wasn’t until I was 34 years old that I was finally able to identify as transgender and explain what I was feeling.
How did you feel when you looked at your body in the mirror, pre-corrective surgery?
My body started to have severe implications on my mental health when I started to go through puberty. I avoided looking at myself naked. I refused to explore my female parts. I felt completely alienated from my body, which led to hopelessness in being able to “fix” myself. I also had a monthly reminder that I was made wrong and a daily reminder of the weight on my chest. It was suffocating. I was disgusted with my body for a long time.
How has going through the process of corrective surgery helped you?
From the time I was 13 years old, I suffered from depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, and self-harm. I always had issues socializing and interacting with peers.
Since transitioning, I no longer suffer from depression, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts. I have a better attitude towards life and am generally a happier person. I still deal with anxiety, but I am better able to deal with the anxiety, without the extra baggage of depression. I knew that transitioning was not going to fix all my problems, but now, I’m better equipped mentally to cope with my anxiety disorder.
How does it feel when someone asks you questions like, “Are you sure you’re not just confused?”
Honestly, it makes me angry. The people in my life were more confused than I was. I was 100% certain I was male. I told people that from the time I was able to talk about it. I was met with disbelief. People tried to convince me it was just my anatomy that defined my gender, regardless of what I knew to be true, because of this I was in a perpetual state of depression, and severe anxiety for thirty years.
How does it feel when people mistake your pronouns?
Since I transitioned, it doesn’t happen very often anymore with strangers, just family members because they have known me my whole life. I present as male, so folks who don’t know me have no idea that I’m transgender, but when it does happen, I still find it very annoying, and disrespectful.
How does it feel when people ask your birth name?
It’s embarrassing! Always has been. Since I was a kid I insisted on being called by my nickname which was masculine. Everything about me was masculine, my hair, my clothes, and my behaviors. I did not acknowledge anything feminine about me.
How does it feel when people ask you your “real” name in reference to the name given to you at birth?
It feels like another person like I wasn’t really me like I was living in another person’s body. It was like that episode of Buffy when Faith switched bodies with Buffy. It was an epic. I just don’t identify with the name I was given at birth.
How does it feel when people use your birth name, instead of your real name?
It feels like a total lack of respect, it makes me feel like less of a person as if I don’t deserve basic human respect, kindness, and decency. It’s as if someone is saying, “You are not you, you are whom I say you are.”
How was your mental health pre-corrective surgery? What was it like to be in a body that did not fit with your spirit?
It was a horrific roller coaster through hell. I attempted suicide nine times because I felt like there was no cure for my condition like there was no other escape from the mental torture. I often had panic attacks, and zero self-esteem. It made interacting with my peers/friends extremely difficult. I was not an enjoyable person to be around. I was always sad and did not feel like my life had value. My peers had very little respect for me because I never felt anything for myself. I was very confused and did not have the support to figure things out.
What has your experience been with the medical world?
My experience has been excellent. My GP is part of a Community Health Center where all of my physical and mental health needs are met. At the time, my GP didn’t know much about transitioning, but was open to learning and listening to what I needed. I started my transition in 2014. At that time I was required to do eight months of therapy (this was before transgender individuals were granted the game-changing, life-altering authority to self-identify in the medical world.) This was the only barrier I had on my journey to becoming my true self. Since then, the protocol has been changed and trans folks are no longer required to prove to a therapist that they are in fact trans. I consider myself very lucky to be transgender in Canada where gender-confirming surgeries are covered by insurance. This is not the case with many other countries where folks still have to pay for their surgeries, and hormone therapy. I would not have been able to afford this on my own, and I would have ended up dead or in a mental institution. I am very grateful to the Canadian healthcare system.
What has been your experience in the working world while going through gender transition? How have these experiences affected your sense of self and your mental health?
I didn’t spend much time working when I decided to medically transition. I have quite a few medical conditions that prevent me from working. The time I did spend working was very difficult, and stressful. Gender biases were strong at my workplace, and I found it very difficult, and frustrating to try to be accepted by the males when they first knew me as female. People were not generally rude to my face, but I felt like they were talking and teasing behind my back. I definitely did not feel like I was part of the team. My mental and physical health has affected me so much that I can no longer work. Since I moved out on my own, before I transitioned, I struggled to find a workplace where I really felt included, where I felt I belonged, because of the toll this took on my mental health, I was unable to continue working and relied on social assistance, and government programs to survive and meet my basic needs.
What do you wish more people knew about what it is like to have to live in a body that does not feel like it belongs to you?
I wish people understood how incredibly difficult it is, and that it affects every part of your life.
What do you wish more people knew about the transgender community?
I wish people knew how hurtful and harmful it is to misgender folks or use their dead name. I still get called she by people who have known me for a long time and it is very upsetting. I have had to go through so much to feel ok in my own skin, and mislabeling me, or using the wrong pronouns diminishes my existence and my struggles. I wish more people knew how awesome trans folks are, and those transgender persons and all minority groups are instrumental in bettering our society.
What can people do to make the world a more compassionate place for the transgender community?
Stop judging people by their differences because our differences are what make us extraordinary!
Do you feel you are now your true self?
I feel more comfortable in the body I was born with due to having chest surgery and hormone replacement therapy, but no I do not feel like I am my true self. In order to feel like my true self I would need to have been born with male anatomy. For me, Gender Reassignment Surgery is a process to make us feel more comfortable but does not cure the root cause of the problem which is being born into the wrong gender/body. Our sex organs don’t function the same way post-surgery, and procreation is difficult. Transitioning was a way for me to deal with life, and survive the rest of my life.
This is just a part of one person’s story. Now, take the time to consider that there are seven billion humans on this Earth, and counting. This story is far from uncommon. Let’s make the lack of understanding, social support, and education on gender and sexuality issue a thing of the past. We can make this world a kinder, more hospitable, compassionate, accepting place for everyone. We can make a difference. It starts with educating ourselves. It starts with listening to others. It begins with us. Not you, not them, but all of us in the human world.
Ryan, thank you, so many times over, for having the courage to share your journey with us.
An Interview by jcArt,
First Published 12/3/2019