Projected Reflection

Stories of vulnerability and exploration

I gripped it tightly, that cold stone. Empty eyes staring back, unmoving wool between its paws. Fixed to its pedestal, ears ever-alert. No colour, just bare rock chiselled to that small creature. There was no doubt – this was my “precious item”. But I couldn’t do it. The walk out the door, across the roads to university, the walk up the stairs... My cat was a fragile creature, too close to my heart and equally fragile state of mind.

“The bracelet will do.” I thought it a symbol of trust at the time; an item close to another’s defining moments, given to me in the trust that it would return as I did. I couldn’t see it for the icon of my entrapment that it truly was. Not then, at least. It, too, was an icon of loss.

We sat in a circle, that small band. Some ready to profess the deeper meaning behind their objects, others ready to share only the minimum needed – private depths not ready for being thrust into the open. About halfway round. My turn. I fumbled a little. Then a lot. I changed my mind, simply telling people that this object’s story was not mine to tell. It was not my loss to share, and its value was lost without it. I set to describing that cat. That little statue, a final gift from my granddad. The last piece of him I physically held. But the words left my mouth confused and unresolved, making just a little too much straightforward sense. Two years. Why was he still here? Why did I still cling to him, never allowing him to move? Why couldn’t I move?

-

Loss is something that we all experience at some time; an inevitability of our limited time and the fragility of life. But all too often losses other than death are forgotten, downplayed, pushed aside. We acknowledge them as losses, but all too often expect to simply continue – we do not acknowledge or respect the grieving process of these “other” losses. They are viewed as lesser, not a “true grief”.

In what has now been almost two years I have had to confront my losses, and my grief, in ways that I never really expected that I would have to. Or perhaps in more specific terms, if looking at this from the perspective of Kübler-Ross’ famous five stages of grief: I finally moved past long-held denial. An abundance of refusal to acknowledge that which I have lost or may lose or will lose in simply being as I am.

I would have been 11 when I first started questioning my gender. My behaviour became increasingly out of place, becoming more and more “deserving” of ridicule. I became more and more shut out as the confusion and tension built. I didn’t have the words or understanding at the time. It was too big and complex to contextualise in terms of my past; I had only that moment in the present.

My questions continued to grow, and my mind constantly screamed louder and louder to be anything else – anything other than the change that I was seeing in others and that I knew was coming for me. I felt increasingly more inhuman as the social and physical changes constricted more and more, threatening constantly to tear my mind from my body.

I eventually came to find a community, an old website clad in a hideous black and orange. For all it’s alarmingly clashing design, and the horrible way that it scaled on my phone when I slid the landscape keyboard out, it began to feel like home. A space to know that I wasn’t alone in feeling out of place. I absorbed the words and experiences of others, and sharing my own. They all had their own words. I wasn’t certain what mine were.

The questioning amounted to “gay”. I wasn’t ready for the existential threat posed by the truth. And so there lay bargaining. Still different, but something less earth-shattering. There were too many stories of abuse, homelessness, assault, isolation, excommunication, exclusion...

And so questioning became denial.

It was never long before questions resurfaced. Sometimes I would quietly play with a less threatening label, sometimes I simply sat with thoughts, sometimes I made plans – to come out, to go to my doctor in secret, to go to my doctor when I move out, to change my presentation subtly in hopes that only few would notice...

But understanding, too, became denial.

And so this was the cycle I became stuck in. Forever questioning and accepting and shutting away with traumatic force.

What I didn’t understand is that this wasn’t just simple fear. Fear played its part but – more than anything else – it was mourning.

The denial was there, that much is plain to see. To say that I was angry would be an understatement, lashing out and rejecting everyone around me; sometimes a perceived threat to my safety, other times representative of my internal struggle regardless of those outside of me. Bargaining was evident in my search for labels that felt non-committal or less threatening. And depression? Practically boundless, seeping into every other stage, and only ever worsening as time moved further and further on without my input.

But for what was all this grief? What exactly did I lose?

Perhaps the most obvious losses are those of security, of friends, of family, of the easy life it was assumed I would always have. And notably: safety.

These were all things that I was reasonably assured of at a basic level growing up. Certainly not guaranteed, by any stretch of the imagination, but enough to have confidence and faith in those. But transition represented a loss of all of that. There were so many stories of rejecting families, so many stories of being unable to make and keep friends for noticeable queerness. Tragedy seemed to engulf every facet of the lives of trans people; all I heard was homelessness, and assault, and rejection, and unemployment, and hatred, and isolation, and poverty, and hiding.

Why wouldn’t one mourn the loss of a life perceived to be relatively free of all that?

Then there are the losses that most people don’t recognise. Things that others can express confusion at, having never understood or experienced my mind and my expectations.

Certainly at the point I started to struggle with my gender, there was a deep feeling of being stripped of bodily autonomy. I became more disgusted and more sickened by ever-notable change. Change that I never asked for, never consented to. Change that I logically know would be coming, but I was never going to be emotionally prepared for even if you gave me all the time in the world. Change that I resent even now, all these years later. Change that could have been halted, were it not for the paradox of my grief causing my grief.

So I grieve for the adolescence I never really got to live; too much time spent battling with the immense struggles with mental health that came as a result of this unrelenting change and growing disgust. I grieve for the childhood that came before it, largely forgotten to me and with so few shards remaining that these memories may as well belong to somebody else. I grieve for the early life that this struggle against myself has denied me.

But there is one significant grief that stands out among all societally unacknowledged grief. One that is perhaps only understood by other trans people; it always seems bizarre and illogical to those that don’t have trans experience themselves.

There was a time as a teenager that, as with most of my experiences between 12 and 16, I can’t exactly temporally pinpont which always stands out. I would spend nights desperately muffling my cries, praying that my brother wouldn’t hear, until I passed out from the exhaustion. At that point my physical reality caught up with me: I would never carry my own child.

How can one grieve for what they could never have expected? Logically I must have known. And that’s true; I did know. But what I logically knew and what I emotionally expected were two completely different things, and it took many years for my emotional expectations to align with that physical knowledge. Emotion and longing are not things that operate on concrete physical knowledge; but the “loss” that comes with the development of emotional alignment to the known fact can hurt as much as a physically observable loss.

Despite it having been a long time since then – I still struggle. I may not be crying to the point of exhaustion, I may not feel that grief so often and so keenly as those earlier years . But there are days it still creeps up to surprise me.

The true difficulty of this “irrational” grief is that there’s very little support or sympathy available. Those who have lost a pet might know the feeling; people spend time diminishing the significance and importance of that loss. What I find here is the more potent and aggressive forms – the denial that there is any grief to be experienced at all. “It’s just an animal” replaced with aggressive accusations of “stupidity”, or “attention-seeking”, or reassuring me that I couldn’t possibly be upset over something that could never rationally happen.

Unfortunately, I’m well aware that this response is far from unique to trans people. Although one would hope that it’s generally considered absolutely vile to direct these kinds sentiments towards cisgender women who discover they may be infertile, or to gay individuals – it still happens: “You can always adopt.”

Certainly, that’s true. And adoption is a wonderful thing, offering people a chance at raising a child where they may not otherwise be capable and providing a child with the opportunity to spend at least some portion of their childhood in a (hopefully) loving home.

But adoption simply isn’t the same thing. I’m glad for it to be an option, as are many, but the experience is something different. There is a certain image in society that comes with the experience of raising a child that is of your own making – the images and narratives of pregnancy, and birth, and those first few weeks. That is what many of us grieve for – those early moments that we are denied.

As much as I could expand on all the different forms of grief I have experienced, and may continue to, there is another loss that has significantly impacted my life as a trans person – and one that may perhaps be more familiar to those who are not of trans experience themselves.

That cat that I so deeply valued held more meaning than I had acknowledged for a long while. It was more than memories of him, more than just a final show of thoughtfulness from him. It’s a symbol also of the desperation and shame that I have overcome.

Those secret plans of mine were not just fantasies – they had flesh and meat to them, full of unrealistically meticulous detail that would never have held up in practice. They may have been developed from a place of ignorance about the difficulty and reality of transition, but they were no less significant for it.

My last year of college represented the most “final” of my plans. I had spent the past two years (very) subtlety shifting my presentation; speech, posture, trying to take more control of my body...

At times I recognised it as the necessary relief from gender dysphoria it was. At other times denial crept in – I was just a young man embracing his feminine side. I had found some semblance of acceptance, but it came with a great deal of shame.

Regardless of the meandering path, the end of that year left me with acceptance. I felt ready. I would be going to university. I would be free of the dependency that left me feeling so caged. I would go immediately to my doctor, and begin my journey in hushed whispers.

Or so I thought.

That was the Summer my granddad passed away after a battle with cancer. Although not my first bereavement, it was the first time I’d been particularly close to a death. It was the first I’d seen somebody at that lowest point.

Yet something felt strangely familiar about those feelings; I felt capable in moving forward through my significant upset. What affected me far more was how others were handling the loss. Seeing the grief of others was far more painful than my own.

That familiarity didn’t hold much meaning to me at the time, but if it did perhaps I may have acted differently. Although the situation was significantly different, the process is the same one that I’d spent a huge portion of my life already going through, albeit to a different end.

Regardless of the hypothetical actions I might have taken , there was a genuine response that significantly shaped my life in a way that I believe to be for the worst. I took the grief that I saw in my father and related it to those stories I’d read and heard growing up – the ones of parents bereft and enraged by their children coming out; to act as if their child had literally died. It only heightened my shame – how could I do that to him?

Then I took that shame and transposed it onto my lost grandfather: “he would be disgusted and ashamed were he alive.”

Did either of them do anything to deserve such a suggestion? Did either of them express anything that would suggest a truth to my thoughts? No.

In that heightened emotional state I dived further and further into irrationality and projecting my own emotions onto those around me; filling them with my shame and disgust for me.

They came to embody my antagonistic relationship with myself, entirely without their knowledge, consent or input. They became my excuse for denial once again.

I never made it to the doctor.

It would take a profound snap several years later for me to take that leap. Until then, a granddad who never had the chance to judge me constantly looked over my shoulder, scrutinising and filling every crack that would appear.

From all this it would seem that my experience has been all shame and grief and suffering, and that this is all just something that’s worth it. But I think I’ve been giving grief a bad reputation. Grief and loss make for excellent companions through such significant change. There’s such a broad spectrum of emotion contained within. It didn’t halt me where I was – the way I chose to respond to it did.

Working through denial gave me certainty. I may not know every last facet of myself, or even the very basics – I spent so long in that shell that I’ve little idea what’s on the outside. But for all my other faults – I am certain of one simple fact: I am trans. Anger prepared me, readied me for the constant battles that I’ll likely face for the rest of my life. I found ways to channel that ever-constant rage to the betterment of so many others in my position. I hope that one day it serves to deliver the change we so desperately need. Bargaining offered me a chance to explore before I was ready to commit. I found ways of somehow managing to move forwards under mounting pressure and perpetually increasing hurt. Depression is perhaps the hardest of all to justify. Perhaps I stretch here; perhaps this one small part is nothing but menace and cannot be redeemed. But part of me would like to think the depression forced me to slow down, to take some genuine time to respond to myself, and to acknowledge both my suffering of that and others. Sometimes it went far to far, causing me to stop entirely. Sometimes that stopping induced a desire to simply finish. But sometimes it gave me rare insight into emotion, and into others. It let me see more.

And all of that, no matter how painful, was necessary to find the acceptance I find now. I could harp on about all the ways in which I failed. I could continually bash at the regrets I have over missed opportunities – over teenage years never lived, and a university experience wasted. And those feelings are certainly there.

But there’s this common narrative among trans people – that if we could go back in time to our younger selves and explain all then we would. In doing that, we would change our lives. A body better fitting, and a life more aligned with our desires and our feelings of what should be and should have been. In my month writing this, I’ve come to realise I disagree. I wouldn’t do that.

I’d love for a younger me to have made a start and live the life I want. But I don’t believe I’d listen. My experiences of grief signalled a fundamental unreadiness.

At that time, I simply wasn’t strong enough. Even if I had believed some grand sign dropped in front of me: who’s to say I would have acted on it? Perhaps having that path laid out for me, absolutely undeniable, would simply have been too much to bear.

What if I did act, but was dismissed? What if I couldn’t face being more ostracised than I already was? How much doubt would I have in my control over my own life if I did everything I could, but all remained out of my hands? Would I have been able to suffer through such immense difficulty at that age, knowing that would be what remained throughout my life? Would I simply feel the same about a wasted early childhood – just refocusing my grief to what was there to grieve for?

As much as it hurts, I argue going through that process has been good for me.

I’ve a sensitivity and understanding that I’d not otherwise have; those experiences have significantly shaped the person I am today.

Transitioning as an adult carries a unique set of difficulties that don’t apply to younger people – just as the inverse is also true. But for me personally, knowing the places I’ve always struggled, these adult-specific challenges are the only ones that could have given me the strength I have today.

Without the challenges of perception, of justifying myself against traditional narratives, of fighting for others, of learning about myself and my community only at the point most people would believe that one should be somehow “whole” or “complete”, I may never have become the outspoken person that I am now.

Grief didn’t hurt me.

It forced me to become unashamed.

“You really are the gayest person I’ve ever met.”

I shot him a quizzical look as I set my bag down.

“The way you walked up just then – I’ve never seen a guy sway so much.”

I knew what he was talking about. It certainly wasn’t the actuality of what I projected to be my sexuality at the time. It was a punch directly at my feminine behaviours – just wrapped up in a neat covering of casual homophobia.

I shrugged it off.

This wasn’t something I wasn’t used to hearing. Nor was it something I was ashamed of. I’m just a guy in touch with his feminine side, right?

I hated sports, always got on better with the other girls, despised the boisterousness that I was expected to perform, never really understood the excessive competition in everything, nor did I understand the draw to the “boyish pursuits” (not that I could have then, nor now, actually tell you what those are). I refused to allow expectation to define me.

And boy was I familiar with expectation.

It was the daft trends that were the worst; “check your nails!” followed by a large thump in the chest for doing it “like a girl”. Or obsessing over the way I naturally crossed my legs or any other number of other things that I didn’t perform the way I was supposed to. I couldn’t help my instinct. And nor did I want to. I was perfectly happy with my natural inclinations.

So eventually I stopped playing along. I refused to let them try to condition me into anything else. I hated the direction I was being pushed in. I’d never go there. Not for anyone.

But I yearned for something. A hole being left by my rejection. I wanted somebody, anybody, to show me another way. But it never came.

I shrugged it off.

I refused to let expectation define me.

-

As a child I’d always experienced a distinct and unsettling feeling of disconnect. Firstly from others, lacking any feeling of belonging as categories became more and more socially significant in determining my mixing, and later from myself as I hit double digits.

By now we all know the story: I accept that I’m trans, cut my hair, change my name, beat my endocrine system into submission and live happily ever after. But as ever those absolute narratives of certainty never applied. There never was any grand ascension or revelation that I “really know” nor was a switch flipped that left me truly comfortable.

And I know there never will be.

Whilst I absolutely feel more connected with myself, and slowly moving towards bodily comfort, I know there’s never going to be a perfect overlap. The conditions necessary for me to experience the comfort so often sold to me just aren’t possible. Not anymore. I left far too much too late; allowed fear to rule my life and my body to rule itself against my will. That environment, the course of actions that it prompted, ensured that my body will always be, act, look and feel unexpected. Or so I believe. So I think. So I can’t confirm.

My experience, my growth, the things I have become accustomed to and the anxieties surrounding the formerly forbidden significantly shape my present self-concept. How far do these all penetrate my existence? How deeply embedded in my mind? Must it extend to my body, or am I fabricating an extension of a mentality that I know to be true?

There very distinct and real possibility that I could be have been different. Not that I wouldn’t have been trans – that’s always been there whether I understood and acknowledged it or not. What I am saying is that identity is but a seed of truth that is fed and watered by upbringing and environment; my shape bent to the movement of the sun and the wind and words around me in a kind of sociotropism. My environment was the product of a physicality my mind rejected, and so I rejected that environment to. For everyone’s attempts at it: I was never raised a man. I wanted nothing to do what I was fed. Although I never rejected the label – even embraced it at times – I was forever pushing against what that label brought me: the lessons, the expectations, the roles. None of them felt right. They weren’t mine, and I had no place nor desire to claim them.

Yet nothing was ever offered to replace it. Perhaps my rejection wasn’t noticed, or perhaps there was a push to force me to submit to it. But I was left without stereotypical masculinity, without stereotypical femininity. A void in pace of socialisation. That which I yearned for was never on the table.

I learned to fear femininity. It was a threat: ostracism, ridicule, violence. Never spoken. But ever-present. And credible. And actioned for far lesser infractions than expressing what I felt and trying to fit where at least some part of me knew I belonged.

I sat with that emptiness, and grew ruled by my rejection of what lay outside, and fear of what the outside threatened for that rejection.

How could such a thing not influence me? To grow in such a way, incubated in a bath of hostility and isolation?

All of this compounds to a very simple, yet wildly abstract message: I was not raised a man, I was not raised a woman. I am a woman, but I’ll not try to become one.

Although my new box is welcomed with open arms, I still carry an immense desire to have this one flattened and thrown away as I did the last. I don’t, but much is for convenience's sake. Whilst this box comes with much comfort, and at least vaguely describes my experience, it still remains just a box. To fit requires me to be broken down, bent and contorted into bizarre and unfamiliar shapes. My lack of socialisation left me without interests and knowledge that I should hold. My constant rejection of the outside in pursuit of deep internal truths leaves me disinterested and disengaged with that which I supposedly lack. I am as I say I am, regardless of expectations.

“But wait, how can you be transitioning and not be trying to become a woman?” Because womanhood is rooted in those expectations. In things imparted at a far younger age than when I finally realised I couldn’t put transition off forever.

My transition presented me with a choice: I could seek to fill those deficits in my socialisation, or I could simply walk another path entirely.

At first the choice was obvious: become like everyone else, keep my head down, blend in, shut up and just live a perfectly safe and quiet life. After all, that’s what we’re told we’re supposed to do. Keep transitioning until you’re the only person who knows you’re trans. Forget your horrible and shameful past.

But I soon realised that blending in was hard. It takes time, it takes money and resources I don’t have, it takes hiding myself away out of people's way when – for the first time in my life – I just wanted to get out there and live.

It didn’t take long for me to realise that this narrative of secrecy was not one that we’d written for ourselves. Society had imposed it through danger, assumptions about us, and endless medical gatekeeping. The reality was that there were thousands upon thousands upon thousands of us that were choosing to live openly and visibly, for whom the end goal was not to look like everybody else but to simply feel comfortable.

As I became more and more disillusioned with the things I supposedly “had” to do and enjoy and understand and intuit to have my femininity validated I did something radical: I chose the other path that so many before me had also chosen.

My womanhood is not something to be proven by superficial looks at my interests. Why should I have to subject myself to things that so deeply terrify me because of my treatment in the past? Why not embrace that fear and allow myself to become something that was genuine and authentic to my experiences? Why not simply revel in the fact that my socialisation was largely a vacuum, but for the occasional look over the shoulders of the other women in my life?

Which leads me back to where I started – where is that comfort I’m seeking? What does it look and feel like? What does that make me?

Do I genuinely want something for my body that’s unattainable solely down to the order of the two puberties it’s gone (or more accurately gone and going) through? Or is that nothing but a thought experiment derived from naught but social unease and deviance? Perhaps I truly would have found comfort had I been assigned female at birth, or had I transitioned as a teenager – rather than this convoluted process of wondering if I’d have aimed for subtle masculinisation in such cases? Perhaps having a body that ensured the “correct” socialisation may have led me to feel a deep and genuine comfort? Or Perhaps it’s simply a desire to ensure that even theoretical, but impossible, experiences match the life and experience and person that I am now?

Truthfully, I’ve no way of knowing. I can’t change my past. I can’t change the circumstances of my birth. I can’t undo the things my body was forced through.

But for all this, there is one thing of which I’m certain: I am moving in the right direction for the life I’m living now. Having my body go through all these feminising processes, revisiting puberty in my twenties and countering the masculinisation that happened to me regardless of my consent to it – that’s what’s right for me. I know where my dysphoria is rooted. Some I can change, some I can’t. But all that I can change I feel must change. Not for the rest of the world. Not for some grand narrative. Not to convince the doctors and psychiatrists and panellists and people who I’m supposed to believe know me better than I myself. But for me. My comfort in my form.

But I don’t see it how I used to. I’m not at war against a body I should have, to claim it as my own, but with the body I do have. At some point my body and I will find compromise, call a truce. Understand that there’s no further we can go. That we can embrace the variance that’s left. But that time hasn’t come yet. And I rather expect it to be a long time before that day arrives.

Regardless of my past, my present and my future – I know that I find my comfort in being recognised as the woman I feel I am and should be – both by myself and by others.

Yet for all that I wonder if non-binary might be a label that’s mine? Something to describe the absence of gendered experience and desire even despite my yearning for a decidedly binary perception? And can I truly call myself by that when I feel that it’s generated by the circumstance of my experience than by some inherent internal truth – shaped by the environment rather than whatever I might be as a blank slate? A quiet acknowledgement to the things that don’t quite, and may never, fit. But other women need not define themselves by their perceived deficits. But perhaps I truly am missing some absolute foundational “thing” that sets me apart? Perhaps I overthink. Perhaps I underthink. Perhaps feeling that a piece of the puzzle is somehow missing and being unable to even imagine what that last piece may look like is simply part of being trans in a society that so heavily centres gendered socialisation from birth? Or maybe it’s even something to be expected from growing into my transition largely in the shadow of the colossus that is the COVID-19 pandemic? Does the exactness of descriptors used even matter when the thematic truth of my experience as a trans woman remains unchanged by those extra words?

It’s yet another question I don’t have an answer to. And yet again I may never possess that answer. And so there remains only a handful of certainties:

I am Hannah.

The girl I was meant to be.

She who always will be.

He stood at the door, a heavy-looking, intimidating thing. It carried the weight of all he had to say. A part of the city he didn’t want to be seen in; simply being here could have given away everything – at least to his terrified and contorted mind.

But he’d come too late. There was nobody available. Tomorrow. That’s when he’d come.

He’d get his hair cut – try something different – then he’d talk. And so he made an appointment ahead, to avoid the disappointment of facing the same again.

He sat in a small park round the corner. Waiting for the clock to tick over, hardly noticing the new breeze past his ears. Trying to avoid making eye contact with passers-by. Pretending he was taking immense interest in that bee sculpture. Anything to avoid confronting the reality that he was hurtling towards in all his stillness.

And the time came.

He rode the lift. Shuffled quietly into reception, a bright space not befitting his terror, his shame, his disgust, his sickness, his broken and fracturing sense of self. Perhaps he expected a darkness to match his own. Or just something less... insensitive.

And so he was led upstairs, greeted by a small man who understood his position, had openly declared his shared experience.

A volcano of fear erupts, boiling words pouring endlessly and relentlessly from his mouth, forcing out what had been kept in for so long – something compressed to the point that it could now only explode, leaving the same consuming absence in his mind as a star on its death.

And yet it was laced with doubt – could this stress itself be a response to stress? Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear is all that tumbled through such a simple statement; hardly even a question left to ponder.

“You sound like somebody with genuine difficulty around their gender.”

And that one sentence – the one he'd so long needed to hear – may have killed him dead.

And she took action.

-

It’s a common narrative that someone who comes out will be the same person that they always were. And on the surface that’s true; nobody could possibly be anyone else.

It’s not a story for those coming out – it’s one to calm and reassure those on the receiving end; those having a new part of someone shared with them. A way to compress the attendant emotions; the common grief; the anger, the denial, the fear, into something smaller. Something manageable.

But this comes with a price: pressure to remain. You hold the weight of a perceived loss on your shoulders. An expectation that you haven’t, that you won’t change, can spiral and compound. A new, swirling narrative of absolute truth in resolute stagnation.

It’s not my story. It’s not a lot of people’s.

I originally thought here to break down and dissect who it was that I used to be, to tear myself to shreds for the sake of who I came to allow myself to be.

But I can’t. Because it is monumentally unfair and ridiculous to attack myself – and who I used to be – in that fashion. And it goes beyond that. How can I attack somebody that never truly lived? Whose defining feature was being so undefined, and isolating to avoid creating more self to be seen?

I desperately tried to distance myself from what was; from those actions that he – that I – took, views held, hurt caused. There simply was no way that was fair to the people that I hurt that also allowed me to divorce myself from him. I constructed that person, no matter how I might feel they weren’t me now. The fact will always remain that, for a time, he and I were as the same. I could have constructed him differently, have changed him . But I never chose that path.

And even then – what of the gaps? The breaks in the wall that were supposed to be me? Could I be simultaneously myself and not myself? There simply was no way to frame it that doesn’t appear to be an abdication of responsibility, an avoidance of accountability. And it misrepresents the truth. Just because I, now, in the present do no recognise him as being something that I am, or could ever be, capable of does not make it not so.

I can say that I was a different person, and in the abstract that is true, but he is still the person that I emerged from – somebody that I had to dispose of and challenge in order to exist myself. And he had good points too, for all his horrific faults – points that I like to hold as more genuine truths to the abstract concept that is me. Something like shards of truth that I had allowed myself in that cold shell of mine. It was the distance between rejection of a more aggressive, more avoidant, less accepting me whilst also wanting to accept and embody those few traits that I recognise as “good”, holding those as absolute truths. In that I realised: how could that be anything other than avoiding responsibility for my own actions?

Perhaps this all got rather sidetracked, but the point is this: The person that I have become would not be recognised by him – my past – as me. He was so fundamentally different at his core, saw the world from such a different perspective and angle, that my mere existence today would feel like a direct attack to him. He would find nothing but hatred and contempt for me back in his worst moments of denial and arrogance. He would consider me mad, false, shallow; strangely, all the things that I now consider him to be.

Yet underneath all that anger and frustration there is another, more threatening feeling. I know he would feel a strangely conflicted admiration for me. The two of us were constantly smothered in fear and anxiety, neither particularly willing to take action where needed should it be possible to cause too much disruption or upset. But the key difference now is that, despite my best efforts to avoid rocking the boat, I visibly disrupt and challenge in every waking moment. I might try to avoid or shy away from it at times, but it’s simply impossible to do in full. Hiding simply isn’t an option. Even if it were, do I not – as penance for my past actions – have a responsibility to make noise, to attempt to fight some of the very harms that I myself perpetuated to ensure that none like he – like I – have the power to inflict such harms again? To strip the validity from such aggression?

The key thing that defined him was his denial of me, that his life could ever fall outside the expectations that others had of him. Of the life that he was told he was to lead despite never being able to place himself in that – or any other socially feasible life, for that matter.

Outside of denial he was still searching for a way to fit. Some other identity that didn’t carry the level of commitment that others would expect of who I am now. There was a threat in others expecting permanence and performance, regardless of how permanently and absolutely he may have wished I might emerge from him.

When you place so much value on keeping up appearances, on being pleasing to and for others, your own internal sense of self becomes devalued. The question can never be “What do I want?” because what I want is explicitly what I don’t want, when all my desire is to take shape and form in a way that unifies and harmonises.

The form we found neither unified nor harmonised. When all that was culturally threatening became more forward in identity it became a threat to the stability of his presentation – the only thing that determined in any significant way how we were perceived both as a human being and as a socially acceptable entity.

He’d worked me out from an early age, but couldn’t do the all-important job of placing himself – myself – socially. And as I sunk ever further away he needed to push the responsibility for making that decision further and further away from himself.

So what did he do? He waited until a moment of pure, painful desperation. He outsourced his decision. He made his way to the LGBT Foundation, and later to his therapist, to social groups. And he made, through his anxiety and through his questions, one very clear statement: “You need to make me transition, or force me to make it go away.”

The harsh reality that he had to face?

Nobody will ever do that.

Sometimes, I have to cause frustration.

Maybe I can’t always abdicate responsibility for my desires.

It was a classroom like any other. There would have been a decent view of the city skyline, if not for the windows being too high and narrow. But otherwise? Unremarkable. Maybe I'd been in there for a seminar before. It was a forgettable sort of room, I was hardly likely to remember such a thing. Despite my mundane surroundings the occassion felt momentous at the time. “The Counselling Workshop”. There I was. The moment I was waiting for. The reason I was there. It was all about to begin.

My minute of wonder was immediately crushed. The Forbidden Words were spoken: “ice breaker”. My head played through all the possible questions, trying to formulate responses to each that were so vague as to say literally nothing about me at all. Just something to fill the space and satisfy the conditions of the task. The spotlight would fall away and I could breathe again. But none of those came. This was going to be one of those longer ones. The kind that involved some kind of activity. The kind of “draw and discuss” that I somehow loathed even more than just talking about myself. “Draw a crest, a coat of arms...” Great. Creativity. I don't have any of that. What kind of nightmare is this? “...that represents you childhood.” My... what?

I was frozen. My head was throbbing. Half the alloted time passed. I had nothing. Not a solitary dot. I finally decided it would not be too deep a disclosure to slap a treble clef into the middle of the page. But what of the rest? It was visibly distressed. I had people making suggestions, asking if I was okay or why I was unable to think of anything. I was barely holding myself together – I had to for the sacred First Impression. But I could have cried in that moment. I could have burst. My slumped body and my dropped head could have convulsed in agony and horror. How could something so basic, so simple, be so insurmountable and impossible to me? How did seemingly everybody else seem so able and capable? Did nobody else struggle in the same way that I did? For all their complaints of “I can't draw” or “I'm not creative” or “I can't think of anything to put” they still ended on something. Meanwhile I'm not sure I ever did. Or maybe I found something somewhere. The moment is little more to me than a panicked blur.

The problem wasn't that I couldn't bring myself to put anything. It's that I literally couldn't think of anything. My head was blank. All that I could remember was my affinity for technology and my aptitude with the flute – and purely because I brought those with me into my adulthood. There was a lot of empty space prior to my teenage years, but it wasn't entirely that. There was a little colour in there at least; People, Places, Perhaps even the odd small event. But I was absent in myself. My memories consistently lacked me. I couldn't place me in my own life.

As I move forward into my teenage years things get a bit clearer, which is slightly ironic given that I had a deeply fractured sense of self in the earlier years. Despite my being able to recall and place myself in my own memories of that period there is something not quite right – I have a personal timeline that's splintered in all kinds of directions. I can't even begin to construct the 'when'. I don't know what came first or second or third. I only know that they happened. All too often I'll find myself in conversations with my friends about things that have happened – only for them to step in: “No Hannah, that was years before.” “It was literally the next day.” “It had to be later than that.” Despite my ability to place myself in my memories, I'm only placing an imagined self in to fit whatever time I felt things happened at. But the reality for me is that I simply have no sense of personal chronology. I've done my life backwards and forwards and probably even diagonally.

How does one even end up in this state? Being constantly confused and desperately scraping at one's own mind to find even the tiniest morsel of coherent history? I think I'm settled on that now. I attribute it to denial, simple and obvious though that may seem. I spent so many of my teenage years horrified by my own physical existence, terrified by my lack of social place and riddled with anxiety over my confused sense of self. I spent so much of that time questioning my identity. I found places and communities that echoed what was going on in my own head. I fantasised about what my life could have been were I only like them, or had I only been more courageous. But I couldn't be or have any of that; it's something that happens to other people. Besides, I'd only find hardship and rejection down that road. It led to a constant dance both repetitive and uninspiring. Rhythmically moving between questioning and denial. Waltzing between self-knowledge and self-rejection. Denial being the beast that it was confused things. I tried to put out of my mind entirely those periods of time where I became confident and certain of my transness, or where I simply did so much as question my gender. But I'd burned forests to rid myself of weeds. As for my childhood memories? Those that I managed to recover and scrap together? There were so many clues there – the social circles that never made much sense with everything you're told about children, the constant reminders from other kids that I always did things “like a girl.” The little things that I insisted on that my family gently mocked me for. I couldn't have those. So I'd disposed of those too.

I feel that since that day of nonexistent on-the-spot introspection that I have made something of a recovery. I certainly remember more than I used to (that being almost nothing). But there's still a lot missing. Still a lot that's confused and uncertain. The timeline is still all over the place. There's a lot to be done. Or perhaps there's nothing. Perhaps this is as good as I'll get – perhaps the damage was too great. Regardless of the truth I find comfort in all of this. I know what I did. It serves as a reminder that my transition is absolutely the right thing for me to do – I'd not have agonised over this so much were there no reason for it. Denying myself, denying me and my expression and the place I felt I should take hurt me. Although I'll still do it from time-to-time, it's difficult to look at a wound like that and say that there was nothing wrong. It may scar, but that's not going to prevent me from cleansing and treating it.