A topic that inevitably comes up when people grapple with understanding transsexuals is the “decision” to transition from one sex to the other. That word – decision – is quite a hot button for transsexuals. It’s often even a hot button among transsexuals.
Because, you see, there is a strong belief among many transsexuals that we didn’t decide anything. We were born with a condition not of our choosing. It wasn’t any kind of decision to be who we are. Transition, for many of us, wasn’t so much a decision as it was a coping mechanism trying to make life bearable after it had become intolerable to live as a person we knew we were not.
I fear I’ve previously been a bit flip about this issue. The most directly I have spoken about this in the past has been to say, “I didn’t decide to transition. I decided not to kill myself. Transition was simply the result of that choice.” I’ve said that more than once.
While that statement is true, I now recognize that characterization as a kind of evasion. It’s a truth that fails to enlighten, and that latter part is not accidental.
At the age of 37 I suffered a total breakdown. I was barely able to leave the house, and when I did I was either drunk or severely hungover. This was not an event. It was my life. And it was getting worse. No end in sight. And I didn’t care.
Here is a comment I placed in response to a nearly identical question on the (incidentally excellent) blog Is This Me?
(in response to the question: “What exactly was the problem you had with being a man?”)
“It wasn’t any one thing, in the end it was everything. I literally couldn’t function anymore. Total breakdown. Psychological, emotional, and physical.
At the time I didn’t attribute this to “being a man,” I attributed it to my life not being worth living. Being a man just seemed like a reality I had to accept, like I accepted that I had to breathe and eat and sleep.
And I did accept it. And also I didn’t want to live any more. It didn’t occur to me until lots of therapy later that these two things were related.
It was through therapy that I came to see that this one embarrassing secret – the thing that turned out to have the name “transsexual” – was at the root of all the rest. I knew I had weird emotional baggage around gender issues, but I was still not my therapist’s most easily convinced patient on the topic. I didn’t tell her I wanted to transition. I insisted it was impossible, so what else could she offer?
But gradually I made baby steps toward transition – purely mental ones at first. Allowing myself to believe hypothetically that such and such was possible, and such and such was true. What would that mean? And I realized that if those things were true I would actually want to live. So that told me those things were pretty important.
It STILL took a lot more convincing to believe those hypotheticals could be possible in reality, but that was the nature of my decision process leading to transition.
So for all of that, I leave it to those who read this to decide for themselves what exactly it was I “decided.”
Edit: p.s. If you want more detail – mine and others – there’s more good stuff in the comments section at the blog I linked above.