Beyond Shame: 4 Things I Learned About Life after Coming Out
Shame is the power we give others over our lives, and lately, there’s a lot of it being flung at everyone. Who’s your candidate? Be ashamed. What’s your stance on this or that controversial issue? Be ashamed. In the title of my last post, I mentioned a Meme War, and I’m not kidding. We throw memes around on Facebook, Twitter, and even in our blogs without a single thought for who we may or may not be affecting, because it seems to mesh with our opinions at the time. Well, I’ve chosen a side in this War, finally. Hope. True, on occasion I post concerning controversy, and I’m not perfect, but with every Share, I now spend at least a moment hovered over that button. If there is controversy, I’ll mention it in my own words with the post itself.
Aside from that, I post Hope. I post Encouragement. There’s enough Shame and Doubt and Hate to go around, and yes, I’m looking at both sides of the “political spectrum.” We look at things in such black and white terms, and we feel so safe behind our computer screens; safe to stab others that may be invisible to us with words that scorch the very fabric of their souls. I know my words are harsh, and it’s because for several weeks, I lived it. People whose feeds I’d come to rely on for a dose of goodness or an uplifting thought got right into the trenches for or against toilets. Toilets, people. We have bigger problems. In the mean time, I’ll get to my point. Here are the X things I’ve learned so far after coming out to my local community (which happens to be somewhere between 95% and 98% LDS, by the way.)
1. Help comes where least expected.
I’m LDS – Mormon, as I mentioned before – so I had this idea that as soon as I told my bishop I was trans, I’d be disfellowshiped or worse. After all, Mormons hate anyone that’s part of the LGBT community, right? Anything to get us out of the Church. We don’t fit. We’re different. We can’t live up to the Church’s expectations. I’m sure you’ve all heard it before. So I had this image of all my connections and goals for continuing membership evaporating.
That didn’t happen. My bishop simply acknowledged that he would likely never understand exactly how being transgender feels, or how it affects my life, and extended the aid of Church resources in obtaining mental health care I had no way of paying for in order to pull me out of the suicidal pit that I was in. Those resources have been extended twice, and I am grateful such that words cannot express for it. Add to that my choice of a social transition led to my Relief Society President of the time helping pick out my now favorite blazer and black dress shirt, and I have difficulty seeing where this narrative of the Church hating outliers comes in.
In contrast, I lost a few friends throughout the process, one a part of the LGBT community, in fact. I don’t care to share details, but because I’ve continued to hold fast to my LDS Christian belief system through everything, we disagreed on quite a bit, and words like bigot and sexist became involved. I’ll leave it at that. Additionally, I joined at least one support group geared toward transgender members of the Church, and found myself in a heavy and negative environment that only hurt my well-being rather than helping.
I realize my experience is not the same as that of everyone in my position, but it is one that needs to be shared.
2. Impossible is an imagined limit.
At the risk of proving my darling husband right, and outing myself as a closet country fan…
I promised myself in high school that I would marry an LDS man in an LDS Temple. It’s kind of a thing for someone raised as a young woman in the Church. Even after uni, when I realized I really love looking at women, I decided that only changed one thing. I just wouldn’t necessarily be physically attracted to the man I married. A good thing, too, since he’s not generally attracted to the female physique. Even then, though, I never imagined I’d be going by masculine pronouns within a year of our marriage and looking into the paperwork for adding to my legal name. In fact, my first thought when I admitted that the word transgender fit my experiences was, “He’s going to leave. He’s fought so hard to live up to the standards of the LDS Church, and wants so badly to marry a woman, that he’s going to leave, and go find one.” We had been engaged just over four months when I finally told him. And he simply said the one thing I’d thought impossible. We’ll figure it out. And we have been.
3. Memes hurt. A lot.
Imagine for a moment everything about you was parsed down to two opposing points on a line. Both points defined strictly by one aspect of yourself. Let’s say it’s the color of your eyes, or the length of your pinky finger. Sound ridiculous? Sound like an absolute load of tripe? I promise, it is. That is also exactly what a meme is. Really. So in the words of a general authority of my faith, if a meme does any of the following, please apply this advice.
I ask this because I spent about two weeks ready to defenestrate my notebook computer after every visit to Facebook. My very existence had been reduced to nothing more than memes either for or against the use of a toilet. A TOILET! If that’s not full of —- I don’t know what is. Frankly, this whole toilet thing is a smoke-screen for larger political issues anyway. Hasn’t anyone ever seen the Hunchback of Notre Dame? Who started throwing rotten food and humiliating him? THE GUARDS. The authority figures in charge. Speaking of.
4. The Media doesn’t help. We won’t “understand” each other’s experiences.
Here’s what I mean by that. I’ve never in my life looked in a mirror and with confidence proclaimed, “I am a woman!” I know now this likely will not happen while I’m a mortal human being. On the other hand, ~99% of the population of at least this country has never in their lives looked in a mirror and wondered, “Why are those pieces there, those bits missing, and why doesn’t anyone realize they’ve got the wrong gender?” Not going to happen, really. So media tries to “help” and throws around words. Transgender. Gender Dysphoria. Respect the pronouns. Yet no one ever bothers defining these terms because, “It’s not my responsibility to educate you.”
Come on, people, we’re all in this thing called life together, and no one’s getting out alive. Let’s try to give each other a little hope for living in the mean time, and let’s help each other live in a way that doesn’t perpetuate a culture of shame. Stop shaming people for being different, and stop shaming people for not understanding differences. We don’t need that kind of negativity. At the end of the day, words are powerful, and simple.
Transgender – the experience of being a gender other than that of your physiology. Like I said in my previous post, I couldn’t understand why no one saw that I was a boy.
Gender Dysphoria – (Yes, they are different) – The mental and sometimes physical symptoms accompanying the stress of being transgender. In my case, the worst of it feels like I’m wearing a full body unitard made of the itchiest wool possible. It’s also damp, full of sand, (or fiberglass, depending on the day) and two sizes too small. It’s all I’m wearing, and there’s no way to take it off. Close your eyes and picture it for a moment. Other symptoms include episodes of depression and major anxiety.
Many of us choose a social or physical transition due to the severity of our Dysphoria symptoms, as they bring us the relief that allows us to live functional and productive lives. It’s not easy, but it’s not any easier to live in the abyss of a suicidal depression, wondering if you’ll still be alive for the love of your life to come home to or not.
Bottom line is, trans or not, we all need to stop living for the ideas of others. Stop letting shame rule us and govern our thoughts and our purpose. All that does is bring us deeper into the pits of fear that cripple our lives and ourselves, and stop us from living in such a way as to build up those around us and leave our own positive mark on the world, however small. And if you’re already in that pit, and you don’t see a way out? Take my friend Maria’s advice, and Do It Afraid. Sometimes, that’s what it takes. In fact, the greatest minds of this world had no idea they would land in the history books. They just did what they knew they had to do.
Now it’s time for me to stop rambling and let you share your wisdom. What have you learned from the most terrifying choices in your life? When have you stepped out afraid? Was there a time shame tried to stop you and you refused to let it? Share your strength in the comments, and together, we can strengthen each other.