The first time I really, seriously thought I was trans was almost exactly two years ago, the night of April 22nd, 2011. I’d known what “transgender” meant for a while, and I’d also known that I had gender issues for a while, but every time I asked myself if I might be trans, the answer was always no. Until that night.
At that point, I was in the middle of a rough breakup. My girlfriend had gone on a self-discovery trip to Spain and one of the first things she discovered was that she needed to be single. So we split up and I was heartbroken. I felt stupid for being so heartbroken. I felt weak and needy. I knew I was “supposed” to be tougher than that. I knew I was supposed to be chill when she needed space and not be “crying like a little girl” over it. But I was devastated. My therapist got worried about me and asked if I wanted to have an emergency session that evening. I took her up on it even though I didn’t quite realize how badly I needed it.
Before long I was sobbing on her couch. I was in bad enough shape that she sat down next to me and hugged me and told me I was going to be OK. She told me there was nothing wrong with me loving as deeply as I do and being as sentimental as I am. She told me she’s the same way, and that if she calls her boyfriend and he doesn’t answer, then she calls him back 11 more times. I was surprised. She seemed so together and so emotionally healthy, and I thought caring that much about someone and wanting that kind of connection with them must mean there was something wrong with you. I thought it meant there was something wrong with me. That I wasn’t strong enough. But my therapist said feeling that way about someone didn’t mean you were co-dependent, it just meant you had a big heart.
I’d been seeing this therapist long enough to trust her judgement quite a bit, so I took her word for it. She convinced me it was OK for me to be as heartbroken as I was, and to want as much connection in my relationships as I did. That felt like a revelation to me. It was so shocking to think those emotions might be OK. That night, after therapy, I sat in my car and thought, just digesting the session. One of the things that floated through my head was “If it’s OK for me to have those emotions, then it’s OK for me to be a girl.” I was totally caught off guard by the thought. I had no idea where it came from or what to do with it, so I just let it drop.
I was supposed to run an errand and then meet up with a friend that night, so on my way to the errand, I called my friend to make a plan for the evening. When she asked me what I wanted to do, the first thing that popped into my head was clothes shopping. She laughed and asked me who I was and what I’d done with the person she knew. She knew I hated clothes and clothes shopping. She knew I always felt stressed and uncomfortable about clothes. For years I had skipped weddings and funerals because I couldn’t handle wearing a suit. I didn’t know why, I just knew it felt awkward and bad. I also never went to costume parties and I never went to any event with any kind of dress code. I would cancel as soon as I found out I had to wear something specific. I intentionally dressed to be as plain and comfortable and aesthetically invisible as possible. Clothes felt like a lie to me in a way I didn’t know how to explain. But that night was different.
When my friend pointed out that it was too late and the clothes stores would all be closed, my next thought was that I wanted to stay in and take a bath and have a beer and shave my legs. I didn’t know why but every now and then when I’d had a particularly stressful day, shaving my legs would make me relax and feel better. I often shaved my legs after a tough day at work to help me unwind. My friend thought the leg shaving plan was almost as funny as me wanting to go clothes shopping, and finally we agreed we’d just hang out and chat at her place.
So I quickly ran my errand and then, before heading over to my friend’s place, I sat in the car for a few minutes thinking about the breakup and the therapy session. I was emotionally raw and ripped open and I was also reeling from the surprisingly self-compassionate perspective my therapist had offered me. While I was feeling all of that, I started down a train of thought I’d had many times before. For years, I’d known I had gender issues and every now and then I would picture a girl in my head and ask myself, “Is that what I am?” In the past the answer had always come back as: “No. I’m not that.” That night sitting in the car, I went through my regular routine and pictured a girl and asked myself if that’s what I was. But this time, without a moment of hesitation, the answer came back as: “No, that’s a straight girl. You’re a dyke.”
I was dumbfounded. I just sort of sat there in shock, but as I looked at it from different angles it made sense. As unbelievable as it was, I knew it was true. Or at least that there was something very, very true about it. And it felt wonderful. I got so excited. When I went to my friend’s house, I told her and her husband all about the experience and while I was telling them, I felt more comfortable in my body than I remembered ever feeling before. Usually I was tense and a little stiff and checked-out of my physical experience. My friends have always been big cuddlers and I was always the one who sat on the other side of the room while they would lay around in a big puppy pile. That night, though, I curled right up with them and felt totally at ease. I was a dyke. Everything made sense.
It was at least a few days before I started to ask myself what the hell I was thinking with the whole trans/dyke thing, and that’s when my gender identity crisis really kicked into high gear.