I’m not one of those who can easily hide
– Elton John, "Your Song"
I spent decades trying to understand those feelings inside of me. Whenever I came close to finding the words to describe them, to own them, I would push them back into hiding, as I was so scared of what it would mean. No matter how hard I pushed them down, they always pushed their way back up to the surface of my being, seeking to be free and open in their truth. They would not easily hide — no not easily at all!
In my early sixties, I finally was able to say the word transsexual and claim it as one of my many identities. However I also knew that there were still so many feelings inside that I could not find the right words to articulate. I knew I was female. It was my sense of being, perhaps my soul. I know I am female! I still am not quite certain how to put this in words. It has taken me the past few years to accept that I may never have the words to explain, to describe, to articulate this feeling inside and realize that it does not in any way diminish my sense of self.
However, when I transitioned, it was different. I had a few expectations — actually it would be better to describe them as dreams and wishes. I knew it would be challenging for my (adult) kids, and my co-workers. I knew that I would need to discover myself — my style, my clothes, my makeup and really had no idea what it would be like getting up each day and just getting dressed rather than "dressing up." The fact is that this all took some time to figure out. For me, returning to work gave me the classic — and somewhat surreal fifteen minutes of fame, as I was the topic du jour before things settled down. I was fascinated to watch people’s reactions over time, and see which of my co-workers would come closer, drift off into the distance or keep the relationship pretty much the same.
Like many of us who transition, I had hoped that nothing much would change. However, my journey did not quite work out that way. Even the relationships that appeared not to change, in many ways did, and what was most surprising, was recognizing the slow changes in myself. I was learning how to "be" for a second time. It took me a while to learn that this work was mine, and mine alone. I did not expect this back then, but I did learn so much from it. Perhaps changing gender was the easy part of my transition — learning how to "be" the real me, has proved to be the ongoing journey of my life.
A friend who has recently transitioned has been sharing some of her journey and appears to be going through the common stage of asking herself — and all her friends — what defines one as a woman. I remember when I went through that part of my journey and found it challenging to move from being externally validated to become internally validated and learn to fully accept that I am happy being me and comfortable in my own skin.
I know I am not the first person to recognize that each person’s journey is unique, and how hard it is to describe our "feelings inside." It has been so hard for me to recognize that I may never have the words to describe my own internal feelings, yet I have talked with so many people who find themselves in desperate need for the words to help them navigate their journey. I consider myself lucky that I was able to let go of that need but recognize that others may not be able to.
I am pretty sure that each of us, whether trans or not, have our dreams, our expectations of what our lives will be like. For some, the dreams come true, for others the journey may take a different path.
Your path is yours alone, and I would never tell you what you "should" do, however I can share what I have learned on my journey as someone who has made a major life change late in life and is now embracing change, adventure and learning to let go of expectations:
I subscribe that we have only this moment in time, to make choices to be the best person (note — no gender marker here) we can be. I am female (totally internally validated) and that sense of my self is sufficient for me.
I do not have to be a certain way to meet any cultural expectations. I do recognize that the internal war that went on for so long was necessary to make me who I am NOW.
My history and my experiences, if I am lucky, may have helped me gain wisdom, but most of all has enabled me to now be willing to learn something new.
All women ask the same questions. This is not an issue just for trans women. I recently went to a weekend retreat with 40+ women seeking to find their own version of what it means to be a woman.
You can define your own version of what it is to be the woman that you uniquely are. From a feminist perspective, you can choose to be any version of woman that you want.
Enjoy your journey.
Grace Stevens is a transgender woman who transitioned at the age of 64 and holds a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a father of three, grandparent of two, athlete, advocate and author of No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, an intimate memoir of her personal struggle to transition and live her true life authentically as a woman. Grace is available for speaking about authentic living with Living on-TRACK, and Gender Variance Education and Training. Visit her website at: http://www.graceannestevens.com/. Follow Grace on Twitter: www.twitter.com/graceonboard .
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