There has been a lot of sharing and discussion about trans narratives in the blog world lately. I’d like to focus on one particular element common to many of them. I’m calling it “the wall.”
The wall is the moment in a transsexual’s life when he/she realizes – usually very suddenly – that it’s not possible to go on with the charade of a wrong-gendered life. There are almost always early warning signs that this moment is coming. And in some of the happier narratives, the warnings are heeded leading to transition. But in most narratives the transsexual deals with those warnings by repressing them. “I can handle it,” or “This will eventually go away,” or “I’ll find a way to cure myself,” are just a few common rationalizations delaying corrective action.
And then one day – SMACK – they hit the wall. The time for rationalization has passed. Now this thing needs to be dealt with one way or another, right now! I have yet to find a trans narrative where the transsexual was prepared to deal with this moment when it hit them. It jolts us like a bolt of lightning and makes a mess of our lives almost instantly. Many of us (perhaps even most?) don’t survive our encounter with the wall.
The period before hitting the wall involves an attempt to avoid gender transition by living life some other way… and finding that it’s becoming ever more difficult. There’s no single age and no single kind of life that seems to be a predictor for hitting this impending wall. I’ve heard narratives from those who transitioned as early as their teens which described hitting the wall every bit as clearly as narratives where the transition came very late in life. But generally the longer one puts off transition the more likely one is to smash into the wall.
And when you think about why someone would transition late rather than early, this makes sense. This is a group of people who obviously had some motive for repressing their gender identity up to this point in their lives. Something important to them – job, family, friends, finances, social acceptance – was deemed at least as important, and usually more important, than their personal happiness. These are generally people who have made a conscious choice to NOT transition.
But the thing that distinguishes “the wall” from earlier moments is an impact smashing rationalizations and coping mechanisms to pieces. The earlier rationalizations don’t work any more. Repression has become impossible. An emotional time-bomb has been ticking for a long time. This is the moment it explodes.
I’ll describe my own experience of that moment to provide a single illustration of what it’s like.
I awoke one morning sitting at the table at which I’d passed out from the previous night’s drinking binge. I woke up this way more than half the time these days – the other half I made some attempt to get from the table to my bed before I passed out. For the past few weeks I’d been trying to think of different ways I might kill myself but still allow my family to collect on my life insurance. I needed to leave them enough money to get by for… oh, about a year I figured. By that time my spouse could find a good job of her own, so my income wouldn’t really be needed anymore, removing the final reason I had left to live. I hadn’t quite come up with the plan yet, and hadn’t truly decided to carry through with it even if I did. It was just an option I was kicking around because I seemed to be on a downward spiral, and maybe it would be better to end it all rather than wait to hit bottom. I was about 50/50 when it came to any suicide decision, like I was about most decisions any more. I had almost entirely lost the ability to care about anything. No option seemed especially better or worse than any other. Life or death. Pleasure or pain. I was running on pure momentum. My life had become senseless routine devoid of any purpose. All the days seemed identically grey. I reacted to the needs and demands of others as little as necessary, and the rest of the time retreated into isolation where I could escape from reality while I shut down my brain with alcohol.
None of that stuff above is what I’m calling “the wall” mind you. This was just the final phase of what I should have recognized as “early warning signs.”
I hit the wall that morning as I roused myself. I looked around the room and in a stunning moment my grey world splashed back into color. At that same moment a realization hit me with pure clarity and rock-solid certainty: I was going to die. Soon. This wasn’t some psychic premonition. This was a simple fact. I knew it like I know that if I drop a heavy object, it will fall. Pure reality. This is just how the world works, and it doesn’t matter if I understand why. I was about to die. My opinion on the matter made no difference. This life was about to end. Period.
Then came my second thought… maybe I wouldn’t have to actually die when this life ended. I realized that I had exactly two options. I could end my life by accepting my impending death, or I could end my life by dramatically changing it … leaving the current life behind and creating another one. However this wasn’t exactly an easy escape. I knew the fundamental transformation required went far beyond simply “stop drinking.” It meant THE change I had always tried to avoid. The change I had in fact promised my spouse I would never do. The change I had promised myself I would never do.
I wasn’t certain I could survive an attempt to make this change either. I thought I might already be too late. I might have waited too long. The end of this life was the certain thing. My ability to change quickly enough to avoid loss of life itself seemed only a faint possibility. To adopt an American football metaphor, my life was down to the last few seconds of the game clock, and the only possibility of avoiding a loss was to call a hail mary pass on my final play.
For reasons I don’t understand, the momentary recession of my grey state of consciousness allowed me to care again. Once that was restored I realized I wanted to live. I needed to take my single chance and try it… even though I had very little hope it could ever succeed.
I spent most of that day researching mental health specialists who treated gender identity issues. And the rest… well the rest is the story of my transition. You can read about that in plenty of other posts here. In short, it has gone well. Better than I could ever have believed when I decided to give it a try as my last chance for life.
The old life did, in fact, end. When people ask me if I could ever “change back,” I just smile and shake my head no. There is no life to return to now. That life is over. That person no longer exists. I couldn’t “go back” if I wanted to. Neither my intentions nor my opinions can change this. It’s simple reality.
I think about this a lot when I talk to younger people who are experiencing the first notions that they might actually be transsexual, and even more when I talk to older people who seem to know they are transsexual but have decided to never transition anyway. In both cases I’m torn about the advice to give, and mystified why I feel so compelled to give it. I suppose it’s because others are out there giving advice who have no experience with “the wall,” or are skeptical about how common such a thing could be.
I have heard more than one person offer the advice to “do as little as you must” to relieve gender dysphoria. Among other things, this means that if you don’t feel like you must transition, then don’t. That’s terrific advice… presuming you know they’ll never hit the wall. It’s damned cruel advice if you know they will hit the wall. And it’s irresponsible advice if you have no idea.
Because my own experience followed that very advice right into the wall. Then it was “transition or die.” And “die” seemed by far the more likely outcome by that point. I would NEVER advise anyone else to do the same.
But I would also never advise any kind of “pre-emptive transition,” just to be safe from hitting the wall. If you’re not transsexual, transition is going to kill you as surely as not transitioning would have killed me. And you won’t know for certain that you’re transsexual until you either hit the wall or sort out your mind well enough ahead of that point.
The WPATH Standards of Care begin with psychiatric evaluation for an important reason – when transition is on the table you’re putting your life on the line. Those who don’t understand “the wall” see the danger if you DO transition. But those of us who once hit “the wall” know very well there’s just as much danger if you don’t.
So my advice to anyone who is pondering transitioning OR not transitioning while battling with their gender identity is to seek professional help. Seeking therapy does NOT automatically put you on the road to transition. The purpose is to help you figure out what is the right path for yourself before it’s too late.
Transition radically transforms your life, your relationships, and the lives of those closest to you. That’s major stuff and should be never be undertaken for the wrong reasons.
But looking back I now see that the most damage I did to myself, my relationships, and my family came during the period where I was avoiding getting the help I needed. That was so close to being the final chapter of the life.
The wall is not a benevolent moment of clarity saving you from the risk of transitioning for the wrong reasons. It’s a crushing encounter with reality that may kill you all by itself. It’s not something to look forward to meeting. Once you hit it is your final, not your best, chance to fix your life before you lose it.
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