As a child, I did not have many friends. My childhood was very much about survival: both at home and at school. In my current career as a school secretary, I have come to understand school as a place where children need to feel safe and have the space to grow without institutionalized barriers. In practice, I know this to not always be the case - especially in my own history. The power of friendship is incredibly important to breaking down so many of those barriers.
The ratio of intense bullying against very few friends was noticeable, at the very least. I had few people to stand up for me. Certainly, my femininity as a young boy made me a target in a socially conservative Catholic school in the 1980s and 1990s. I tried very hard to throw myself into my academics, as a way to bolster my resolve. Unfortunately, I did not do very well, as the bullying inside and outside the classroom was incessant and undying.
Because of the pressures of my experience at school and a difficult home life, I had to learn to be independent. I had to learn to move through life and its problems on my own. I never thought of this as a hindrance to my own growth as a person. I trusted so very few people. This is how I was conditioned.
It was only when I came out as a gay man at 16 that I began to feel wanted by people other than my mother and sister, namely men. It was a completely different social experiment.
I remember very definitely my first trip to Church Street. I was in my high school uniform, which probably left me carrying a proverbial illuminated sign over my head. I leaned against a brick wall, while all of these attractive men passed by me. Some of them looked at me. My reaction was very different than when the schoolyard bullies glanced my way. The men peered at me with curiosity, not disgust. I blushed. This became a form of validation.
"I had become accustomed to laying down my own personal issues at the feet of those I was romantically involved with. Evidence of this was in the pet name I had for my first love: I called him my angel."
To be wanted by a man quickly became intoxicating, especially since I had so many unresolved issues. I still was not doing well in school and I was unknowingly living with an undiagnosed mental illness. This affected my behaviour, which in turn also affected the intricacies of my interpersonal relationships. I had become accustomed to laying down my own personal issues at the feet of those I was romantically involved with. Evidence of this was in the pet name I had for my first love: I called him my angel.
I lost my independence as I became dependent on the love of a man to battle my inner demons. It was not all doom and gloom. I definitely had wonderful times with many of my past love interests. However, this pattern had become so cyclical that I had forgotten how to be alone.
That leaves the question: how did I break the cycle? I believe our thinking changes after we change our actions. Firstly, I made a conscious choice (after I decided to go begin gender reassignment) to be alone, romantically. It would take a lot to invite someone into this process and I am on a path of incredible self-discovery. In a previous post, I discussed the importance of self-care. To protect one’s heart as they go through significant change is very much a part of that.
Secondly, I have mended the fences that my actions in the past have left broken (in part). I believe that if two people are able to love each other genuinely for a period of time, then the possibility of true friendship is of benefit to each party. I have seen the positive effects of this, especially with my ex-husband and a recent ex-boyfriend: both of whom are my closest allies. I have not always had success in this arena. However, it is worth trying.
Finally, I have made a considerable effort to be comfortable on my own and not be the centre of attention. I do not regard this as isolation. In my youth, the allure of romance was substituted for my own resilience. My therapist recently remarked that I have, in the past, become lost when in a relationship. I did not disagree with him. The validation I seek has to come from inside, as I exist in a world where trans folk are told constantly that they do not have a right to be who they are.
I am moving through a delicate process: personal growth matched with strength of character, while also knowing when to reach out. Because of my actions while my mental illness was quite active, I am also living in a time when many have chosen to distance themselves from me. I do not fault them for that. They have chosen to safeguard themselves. In essence, they have given me the boost I needed to understand that I was not on the right path.
They helped me learn that I had to take care of myself.
I would by lying if I said that being trans and resilient is not a lonely existence. It certainly can be, some of the time. It is important to differentiate between momentary loneliness and pervasive isolation. I was very much guilty of the latter after I found out I was HIV-positive. I found solace in excessive drinking and drug use, which only created more chaos. I was pushing those closest to me away. The former allows me to tackle what may come in a way that builds awareness.
Everything sticks. I absorb my lessons.
I sometimes think about that young Catholic schoolboy, tormented by ‘his’ peers - only wanting to be accepted and find somewhere to belong. As a transgender woman, I continue to search for my place in society. It has been made easier by my love for myself and by those who have chosen to stick around.