I read an article recently on trans.cafe that I found to be very thought provoking. The article is called PTSD and the Act of Transitioning by Zane Tyler. Zane tells a story of how his mom outed him to a playmate when he was young by using his birth name. The playmate had thought Zane was a boy, like him, and got angry.
“I would liken this feeling of being separated from oneself—society’s refusal to acknowledge who we really are—to a baby who does not get held. We know what happens without touch. I would suggest that a person who can’t hold themselves up, and who instead lives in a split, and forced performance, is experiencing a slow accumulation of real and pronounced trauma.”
“..a slow accumulation of real and pronounced trauma.” That statement really hit me in the gut. Yes. Being denied the ability to self actualize as a child is traumatic and every incident of being forced to perform as someone we’re not splits us from who we actually are. It is a slow accumulation and the trauma is devastating to our psyche, creating a split in a lot of cases. I know it did for me. I’ve talked before about feeling like I was leading a double and even a triple life at times. There was the whole straight/gay split and then there’s the ‘I feel like a boy, not a girl’ split. So you walk around the ‘real world’ looking like a girl and presumed to be straight/heterosexual while in other circles of the ‘real world’ you are presumed to be a lesbian because you appear to be a female you is attracted to other females but the whole time in both situations you really see yourself as male.
BOOM! Is that a total mind blower?? I know it makes my head spin.
How can that not be damaging to a person, especially a young person?
Zane goes on to say,”Recently, I was diagnosed with PTSD—post traumatic stress disorder. I’m a textbook case: flashbacks, hyper-awareness, an inability to trust people. I believe my PTSD went unacknowledged, unchecked for years, because of the lack of understanding of what it means to be trans, the core separation from self that is experienced when you are forbidden by society to be who you really are. I’m still re-experiencing what I went through in order to get here, which has impacted my ability to enjoy what I now have.”
You do not have to be a combat veteran to experience PTSD, however, I would say that what we experienced as children growing up trans in a world that didn’t understand us is more likely to be classified as Complex-PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrom). The difference is based in the cause of the trauma as well as the duration.
According to Out of the Fog, “Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape, such as in cases of:
- domestic emotional, physical or sexual abuse
- childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse
- entrapment or kidnapping.
- slavery or enforced labor.
- long term imprisonment and torture
- repeated violations of personal boundaries.
- long-term objectification.
- exposure to gaslighting & false accusations
- long-term exposure to inconsistent, push-pull,splitting or alternating raging & hooveringbehaviors.
- long-term taking care of mentally ill or chronically sick family members.
- long term exposure to crisis conditions.”
Out of the Fog goes on to say, “C-PTSD results more from chronic repetitive stress from which there is little chance of escape. PTSD can result from single events, or short term exposure to extreme stress or trauma.”
It’s not at all a stretch of the imagination to see that being forced to live as someone you aren’t is abuse. Abuse like that over a lifetime is a real game changer for most of us. I didn’t realize I was actually trans until I was 47 years old. That’s FORTY-SEVEN years of forcing myself to live as a woman, as a lesbian, and denying who I really knew myself to be. Forty-seven years of being told that I was wrong for wanting to just be myself. Forty-seven years of living a lie. And forty-seven years of not even really understanding who I was because my family and society had so brainwashed me that I believed they were right and I was wrong.
How does this kind of long term abuse effect a person? Well, speaking from my own personal experience, I have struggled with the following issues my entire life:
- Anxiety/Panic Disorder
- Lack of confidence
- Fear of conflict
- Social anxiety
- Low self esteem
- Chronic anger/rage
- Chronic irritability
- Social dysphoria
- Physical dysphoria
- Chronic lying to cover up and hide my split worlds and to try and hide who I was
- Inability to connect emotionally to others
- A tendency to be a loner
- Extreme introversion
How has this effected me? It’s beyond my understanding all of the ways this has impacted my life. I would go as far as to say that it has impacted every moment and every aspect of my life. I’ve lived a lot of my life in a fantasy world to help me cope with reality. While my symptoms have seriously held me back and stunted my ability to thrive in the world, I feel fortunate that I didn’t have other, more severe symptoms such as self harming or suicidal ideations, eating disorders, or substance abuse. I can honestly say that I’ve never considered any of those options as a coping mechanism. But many folks do. And many don’t make it to the age of forty-seven.
Physically transitioning does help to alleviate some of the symptoms, like physical and social dysphoria, but it does not always help with the mental split from the abuse of being forced to live a false life. There really is no cure for PTSD other than to get out of the situation that caused it (transition), acknowledge the trauma, and mourn what has been lost. Along with all that, it’s a matter of managing the symptoms with meditation, mindfulness, exercise, yoga, being around supportive people, therapy, and sometimes anxiety and/or depression medications.
At the beginning of my transition I used to say that understanding all of this was like peeling away the layers of an onion. After all of those years I no longer knew what was really me and what parts had been socially forced on me. Separating all of that to get to the heart of who I really am has taken years and many tears and I’m still discovering hidden layers to myself. While the trauma was intense and destructive on many levels, it has afforded me the opportunity to understand myself and the world I live in in a much deeper and thoughtful way than most people ever take the time to understand. That is the hidden gift in all of this, in my opinion. In the end, we understand ourselves and know ourselves at a level that most never dream. There is value in that, but it’s also time consuming and takes away from pursuing a fruitful and enjoyable life. I feel stunted from all of these years of naval gazing and anguishing over my gender. I feel like I’m behind because of it in some ways. But I’m also far, far ahead in others.
With understanding comes great responsibility. We can no longer use “I didn’t know” or “I didn’t understand” as an excuse to live a blind life like so many others do. Now that I know, I can’t un-know. Now that I know, I have a responsibility to myself to make it right to the best of my ability. My transition has been a journey of understanding and making things right for myself. This can be an epic journey or a holy hell and sometimes both. The world thinks nothing of forcing its abuse on us in the name of cultural norms. The trans youth of today give me great hope that as we continue to evolve there will be less and less of us dealing with the symptoms of a lifetime of societal abuse. I dream of a world where children are allowed to express themselves and grow up exactly as they are and that being trans is of no more concern than being born with any other minor issue. Being trans should not have to define a person’s whole life. Until we get to a point where being trans, or gay, or queer is considered as normal as having brown hair we have a lot of work left to do.