A lot of people describe the time when they realized they were transgender as a sort of lightbulb moment, a defined point in time where everything about their life changed. I had a very different experience. I can’t say with certainty when exactly I ‘figured things out’, or even that I currently have figured everything out. As humans we are constantly undergoing change, but change is slow and takes time, and we often only realize its significance in hindsight.
As such there’s not much I feel I can say about how I came to realize I was transgender. I know that I never considered myself to be a girl, and in elementary school that was fine, since puberty hadn’t set in yet and the divisions between groups of people that start in junior high had just barely begun to form. I remember starting grade 7 and feeling the pressure to conform to the girls at the school, especially with being forced to use public change rooms for gym class. At first, I thought that maybe if I just tried to fit in, I would feel better. I got clothes that hugged my figure, I tried to hang out with only girls, and I felt terrible. It was truly the worst year in my life. It wasn’t that I simply didn’t like being girly, but it was that any time I felt I had to ‘be a girl’ (anything from hanging out with girls to simply being introduced as ‘she’), it felt like I was having to act as a completely different person, that I had to put on a façade and act differently, even though there was no real reason for this.
I couldn’t connect what others (and myself) could see when looking at me to really being me. When looking in the mirror, it was someone else’s body, somebody else’s figure and face. It wasn’t that I didn’t like how I looked, or that there were things I wanted to change, but that I couldn’t connect what I was seeing to actually being myself. When I would catch a glimpse of my reflection when walking past a window, it was someone else I was seeing. My mind couldn’t accept that there was any way that could be me.
I kept feeling worse and worse, and couldn’t see any reason to get up in the mornings or stay awake after eating supper. I felt like I was distancing myself from my own life in a desperate attempt to be able to continue it; intentionally detaching myself from the events of day-to-day life was the only way I could bear it. I didn’t have any real interests in anything, didn’t really feel like I was ‘feeling’ anything a lot of the time. I just ‘was’ – existing, but nothing more. By the end of that year, I knew that there was absolutely no way I would be able to continue like this. So, in the following years I tried to change things so that I could feel better.
The first thing I knew I had to change was the clothes – the tight ones that showed off the shape of my body were distressing me, so I started dressing in things that I could feel comfortable in, things I could just wear and go about life in rather than be thinking about constantly. So, I started phasing out the clothes I had thought would help but now hated (luckily I was also growing), and I started hanging out around people who I could genuinely laugh and have a good time with rather than those to whom I felt obligated, and things started looking up. I was beginning to feel better about myself, more comfortable. At some point around when I was 14, I stumbled across the idea of being transgender. Like I said, it wasn’t a lightbulb moment, but I gradually realized that this was the thing that best described who I was, and who I was most comfortable with being.
I told my parents that I knew I was transgender around the time I turned fifteen. I had told only one of my friends sometime prior to this, and it had taken a lot of thought before coming out to my parents. We’ve never been the type to share deep thoughts or bounce ideas off each other, and I’ve never really (and still haven’t) opened up to them about much. It didn’t go over very well, which deterred me from coming out to other people for fear of similar rejection. They felt that they ‘didn’t see it coming’, that there ‘weren’t any signs’ when I was little. I beg to differ, but memory is always skewed so that’s something we have to agree to disagree on. I do know that my favourite books growing up were about girls who disguised themselves as boys for various reasons, and that in every case ( I believe there were three such series I enjoyed), shortly after the main character had been ‘found out’ and resumed living as a girl I lost interest, preferring to reread the parts of the stories before this point rather than search out the rest of the series.
In the couple of years following coming out to my parents, I found myself stuck in a bad place. I wanted so badly to transition, but I was too scared/depressed/passive to actually go out and work towards it. I found myself avoiding any sort of social interactions – school situations, getting a job, any social interaction outside the people I already had met – that would require me to introduce myself, since I didn’t want to use my birth name but didn’t have enough confidence to use a new one because I didn’t feel that I ‘looked the part’. In a way it was like the conundrum of “need experience to get a job, need a job to get experience”, but with feeling the need to ‘pass’ in order to progress in life.
One reason I feel that this happened was from seeing and reading too many stories of other transgender people at various steps in their transitions. I would watch, and hope that the same would magically have happened to me when I woke up the next morning. Inevitably I would fall into a complete feeling of hopelessness when I realized how much more put together their lives were than mine – how much further ahead in their transitions they were, despite many of them being the same age as me or younger. This led to a lot of me observing my life passing me by passively, and at times things didn’t feel real. It was like I was watching someone else’s life unfolding and not living it myself.
Eventually I started to notice this unhealthy pattern and slowly began to work my way out of it. I came out in a couple of safe places: to the pride club at school, to a couple groups of very close friends. Each time was through typed words rather than in person, and each time was spur-of-the-moment. I may have thought about doing it for months or years, and started typing what I wanted to say multiple times, but when I finally did it was right then and there, words written in the span of 15 minutes or so and sent before I could think about it too much. This helped, and the encouragement I received and the knowledge that people would accept me for me even if I still didn’t think I ‘passed’ helped me to eventually figure out that my previous pattern of feeling completely hopeless due to not being ‘as far along’ as other people my age was detrimental to me, and that my life would be a waste if I continued like this any further.
Finally, I started working towards actively becoming a better version of me, a version I could be happy about. After finishing high school, I took a year off with my goal for it to be a year of “work and self-improvement”. At all three of the jobs I had, I introduced myself by my preferred name, Dylan. This required me to come out multiple times to higher-up people at these companies, largely due to tax/pay reasons where legal names are concerned, and I found everyone accepting, caring more about whether I could do the job at hand than my pronouns. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that many of my coworkers who couldn’t figure out my gender approached me in private to ask how to best address me. They usually started with something along the lines of “so this is an awkward question but…” which, while understandably awkward, was a huge relief and it was astonishing to me how many people honestly don’t mind and just want to make sure everyone is comfortable.
So I had the ‘work’ part down, now for the ‘self-improvement’. I finally talked to my doctor about being transgender and my wishes to start down the path to hormones and possibly surgery. While I’m currently stuck in waiting lines in order to be assessed (and while I often kick myself for not starting sooner with how long it’s taking) it’s a relief to be able to look forward to something that I genuinely believe is the best course of action in order for me to live the best life I possibly can. I also wanted (and still want) to improve my overall physical fitness, so I began going to the parkour gym in town more frequently, and I started training in martial arts. At both places I was up-front about being trans, and both were accepting and happy to know that I was happy (or at least on my way). Overall I would consider the year I took off to be a huge success; it made me more outgoing, I became more confident, and I began to improve myself and feel better about who I am in every way.
That brings me to now. I’m working towards finishing my first year of university as a theatre tech major. I want to find a job working backstage for theatre, or film, or a travelling show – any of those would be amazing. I’d also love to do stunt work, but I need to further my physical fitness in order to do so. I’ve started rock climbing, and sword fighting, and training in different styles of martial arts. I actively work towards doing things that make me feel happy and are fulfilling, and towards reducing or removing things that don’t. I still don’t have myself fully figured out; for example I have no clue what my sexuality is, but I don’t really care. I’ve accepted that I’ll figure it out at some point – or never – and it doesn’t bother me to not know.
There’s a quote I heard once and I try to live by it: “I still don’t like who I am, but when I look back on who I used to be I’m my favourite self I’ve been so far.” As long as the things I do and the steps I take lead me down a path where I can look back and say that this is better than I was, that this me is the best version to date, I will continue down that path. And if I can’t say that about myself, then I will look for what’s missing or what needs to be changed. It is so easy to get sucked into dark places, but “even darkness must pass”, and I truly believe that the darkness has passed for me. The world lies ahead, and I plan to live the best life possible in it.