I have a little sun room in my house where I like to sit in the morning, sipping coffee while reading or writing on my laptop. I remember sitting there five years ago feeling desperate, alone, misunderstood, unloved, depressed, tears streaming down my face as I struggled to decide whether to start moving towards transition or not. My relationship was near ruin and on the brink of breaking apart. We had just built a beautiful new home that I dearly loved and all I could see was that if I moved forward towards living as male I would lose everything I had built over the past 15 years, including my partner and my pets. My business was struggling too because I had been ignoring it for the past couple of years due to a vast depressive period I had gone through. My life was falling apart. I had escaped into an alternate reality to escape my life and now it was all coming to a head and there was no avoiding reality any longer.
I had to do something.
But I felt boxed in. Every direction I looked all I saw was loss. All of my options were lose-lose. Where was the win in any of this? I couldn’t see any. My partner had made it plainly clear that if I transitioned than we were done. And if I transitioned I’d be alone, poor, probably living on a cot in my shop and eating instant mac and cheese if I could even afford that. And how would I even attempt to transition without any money or health insurance? This was my rock bottom and it was pretty awful.
I look back at that time now and I’m overwhelmed by how far I’ve come. How far my family and friends have come. How far my relationship and my business have come. I still have my partner, my pets, my home and my business. All are thriving. And me? I’m living as a man. Sure, my partner still calls me she, but we’re working on that. Or we will be soon.
How did I get here? Well, my partner and I separated for a few months and slowly started “dating” each other again. I started seeing a gender therapist who sent me to an endocrinologist for hormones who also checked other things and found that my thyroid levels were very low. So I started taking thyroid pills two weeks before I started taking a low dose of T (androgel). Remarkably, the thyroid pills made me feel better immediately. My mood lifted significantly from that alone. And then I added the T in and my outlook on life shifted 180 degrees. In my darkest hours, alone, separated from my family, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was all going to work out somehow. I had no idea how, but I was 100% convinced that it would.
And the rest, as they say, is history. My partner and I slowly rebuilt trust and our life together again. I came out to some close friends. I changed my name. I had a hysterectomy and top surgery. I went from a low dose to a full dose of T (about 2 years ago). And now, I get called sir at drive-thrus and can walk into the men’s room without anyone batting an eye. It’s amazing!
But before I got to this point I had to go through what, for me, was the second hardest part of transitioning (first being the initial decision to begin). And that was being in the muddy middle ground between male and female and nobody, including myself, knowing whether I was a girl or a boy. I struggled hard with my identity at this point. I didn’t know who I was anymore. Every day I could feel my old, female self slipping further and further away and this new, more masculine, awkward person emerging. I wanted to go hide in a cave until it was over. It was hard to leave my house and go to work, see people, interact with people I have known a long time. I felt so naked and self conscious. Vulnerable. Raw. Exposed. My mask was slipping off and I couldn’t hide it anymore. My deeper voice and receding hairline were giving it away no matter what clothes I wore. There was no closet big enough for me to hide in. I couldn’t just stay home all of the time. This was not an option.
So, with the knowledge that the only way out was through I made a bold decision to just come out about it to as many people as I could as quickly as possible and stop hiding who Shawn is. I brought Shawn out into the light of day as boldly as I dared, despite my pounding heart and sweaty, shaking hands. I stood up naked for all to see and it was terrifying at first. But no one freaked out (well, maybe one person, but she’s better now) and the sky did not fall in on me. I still have my partner and home and business and pets. And now I have more friends that I’ve made through blogging and my connections in the trans community. I have more support than ever and my relationships are genuine and honest, completely honest, for the first time in my life. No hiding who I really am anymore. I’m strong enough now to honestly say to myself that if they don’t really like me enough to accept this about me than I don’t need them in my life. That, my friends, is a HUGE triumph! I’m so proud of myself for getting to this point that I feel like I could burst.
Last weekend, Candace’s mom had a commitment ceremony with her boyfriend at the annual family reunion. She asked me to stand up with Candace and her other daughter’s family with her at the ceremony. She asked me if I wanted to wear what the other men were going to wear. Yes! I was nervous. I’ve never been in a wedding type ceremony before and the whole family was there to watch and SEE who I am now. Candace reminded me that no one was going to pay attention to me since this wasn’t about me. Yeah, right! They noticed me. Anyway, I did it and a lot of people told me how great I look and no one made any negative comments to me or Candace. Were they talking about me in private? I have NO doubt that they were. And I’m ok with that.
Changing people’s perceptions of us takes a lot of time, effort and patience. This is a big ship to turn and it doesn’t happen overnight. Little by little, slowly, gradually, people start to acknowledge and appreciate who we have always known ourselves to be. The first step is always in accepting that yourself. Bringing that which has been hidden out into the light is both liberating and terrifying. But, just like with anything new and raw, with enough time, light and air, it starts to feel normal and healthy. Some of us are braver than others. I am by far not the bravest person in the world. Most of the time I’m wrought with anxiety, indecision and self doubt. Most of this process has been extremely slow and gradual. Excruciatingly slow and gradual. But that’s the way I had to do it for my own comfort. Every so often I put a little bit more of myself out there for the world to see and once I’m comfortable with that I add something else. Some things are bigger than others, like changing my name. But some things are as small as wearing a button down shirt instead of a polo to work one day. Or wearing a binder, or a packer. Will anyone notice? Will anyone say anything? It’s all about testing the waters and finding what’s right for me. And the process continues. I’ve been growing out my chin and mustache hair for the past month. I’m sure people have noticed but no one’s said anything to me. I’m just laying this on top of all the other coming out layers I’ve already set down in place. This is anything but methodical, but in a way it is. It’s about testing the waters and gaining confidence. Do a little thing and observe. Do another little thing and observe. Nothing bad happened so lets do another little thing. Layer upon layer upon layer upon layer. Thin, delicious slices like a Smith Island cake*.
Classic Smith Island Cake
Eventually you get something that looks like your true self. Which is continually evolving and changing anyway, so there’s always new layers being added onto the base of what you previously built. Cake upon cake.
Transition, for me, has been more like a death and a rebirth than a transition. Dawn was already dying when this all began five years ago. Shawn emerged from the fire of burning down what was left of her. I’m a better and much improved version of myself now. Everyone who knows me can see this. It’s not only about how I look but how much more open and authentic I am now. I’m still learning to let my guard down, but I’m a lot less guarded and shielded than I’ve ever been before. My walls had to come down in order to traverse this path. I’m more at peace with myself and with life now. I’m less angry. I’m more patient. My anxiety and depression is better. Life is all about evolving and learning as far as I’m concerned. Staying stuck and stagnant is certain death for me and that’s where I was five years ago. I’m so thankful that I woke up when I did and had the courage to move forward into a new, uncertain future in spite of all that I seemingly had to lose to get here. The journey has been incredible and in some ways, it’s just beginning.
*Note: If you’re curious about the Smith Island cake or Smith Island itself, here are a few links of interest: