After my daughter died, I took a kind of inventory of my life to see what was left, what remained of my old self. Who was I? What was my purpose now? No one seemed to understand the pain I was going through. I was alone, searching for my self, my true barebones self.
Sometimes you need to redefine who you are in the world. You don’t know how things will end up but you know they will have to change if you are to survive. Shaking out old identities does not come easily. It does not always come with the support of those around you. You’re a different person now, I’ve been told. Maybe my friend Ray has heard this too.
Ray was born Rachel. Through medical intervention, he altered his appearance to match the gender he has long identified with. Trans man, he wrote. Female-to-male. I asked him, What is it like to be a transgender man?
“Liberating, painful, …rewarding,” he told me. “It’s liberating to see hormones completely change my body. It’s painful in two ways: emotionally and physically. Emotionally because, while hormones give you a lower voice, facial hair, change the shape of your face and muscles, when stepping out of the shower, there are still pieces of me that don’t belong, which is sad and disappointing. Physically it’s painful because I still have breasts, which means I spend 12-14 hours a day wearing a very tight binder that compresses my chest to make it look like I’m flat chested. If binding is done incorrectly, it can crack ribs or cause bruising and trouble breathing. It’s been a long road of self-discovery. Rewarding … changing from one identity that was given to me at birth, to becoming someone else with an identity I’ve created for myself.”
What did you lose? I asked.
“I never really lost Rachel. Rachel is incorporated into my life as Ray. The key has been turning the parts of the old me into the person that I am today, with no shame or guilt. I lost an old name, but I gained a new one.”
“What did I find? I found true self-love and happiness. I found someone who has so much to offer the old me who thought there was no self worth. Now I carry myself with pride, with joy, with new eyes. I feel free.”
Finally, I asked, What do you want people to know?
“I want people to know that I am human and I am worthy. I want people to know that being transgender isn’t a punishment, or a burden, it is a process, like a moth becoming a butterfly. I want people to know that kindness and acceptance goes a LONG way.”
Ray didn’t care about having his image camouflaged. But I wanted to experiment with the idea of binders. Binders being shed, maybe. To let loose pain, shame, or whatever keeps us from being our best selves.
What changes have you or a loved one made to be your most authentic self?