It is a drum I have repeatedly banged for over a year now as both Toby and I share his, and our family's, journey with him. We wanted to put a face on the word. And for all the years I have been writing the Don't Get Me Started blog, countless people from around the globe have watched my children grow up. With Toby they have always seen the amazing artist, talented athlete, big hearted friend, champion of the underdog, and major league smartass. Depending on what was going on, and what I decided to share, people laughed at his antics, cheered his achievements, marveled at his artistry, and were humbled at someone so young constantly proving more mature than many of the grown-ups to whom his athletic career exposed him.
Toby now, Carson then, was a real person to people who had never met him. And he was a person they often expressed a wish to someday meet.
Stepping into the light a little over a year ago and introducing Toby to the world had some amazing results. People who had preconceived and wrongheaded notions about the word transgender experienced that beautiful, awful cognitive dissonance when something you think you know bumps up against actual reality. Instantly, they realized they "knew" someone who is transgender, and this person was not anything that they have been led to believe, anything hideous factions in society claim them to be. Not a pervert, pedophile, or monster - Toby's bravery in stepping forward publicly, immediately HUMANIZED the word.
Through the past year we have emphasized that, sharing the journey, the emotions, hurdles, excitements, fears. Opening eyes as people realized that emotions are universal. We all cry. We all laugh. We all know fear. We all have dark days, and all have days so bright we need 24/7 shades.
Our willingness to share, especially Toby's candor in answering questions, has brought many new people into our lives. Young people who are transgender. Their parents who are steadfast in their love for their child and grateful for the breadcrumbs we are leaving for them to follow. It has also brought many adult transgender people into our lives. Their stories are, quite simply, amazing, heartbreaking, uplifting, and sometimes soul crushing. As I have repeated before, every transition is singular, every journey different, and so very many do not have the benefit of the unconditional love and support our son knows.
Which brings me to Cara.
Cara and I found one another through a transgender support page on Facebook. And we simply clicked. Comments on threads led to long heart to hearts in the privacy of our message boxes. I was, and still am, struck by the things I see in her that she cannot yet see in herself. The huge heart, a truly beautiful human being, and a level of bravery I have yet to see matched in my 51 years.
You see, Cara is 53. And Cara has carried her true self inside for decades. I was so struck by finding out how long she had lived knowing but hiding. DECADES. I now know that Toby carried his struggle for almost four years before coming to me, and it pains me to know that he struggled alone - confused, uncertain, angry, desperate - for those years. I simply cannot begin to fathom Toby pretending, living in the margins, living a half-life for over half his life.
Yesterday I was honored when Cara asked me to read a letter she had spent time writing to friends and family. A letter to try to help them understand her better, to see the years and how she survived them, sometimes barely. As I read it through tears, one thing kept sounding in my head: HUMANIZE. With her permission I am posting her letter here. I ask you to invest the time in another human being. Someone whose life experience may be dramatically different than yours, but whose emotions are as raw and relateable - because every emotion is not that of a cis person or a transgender person - they are the emotions of a HUMAN BEING.
Thank you, Cara, for your candor, your honesty, your bravery - and for wandering into my life.
A LETTER… CARA’S STORY
It has been nearly 18 months now. I'm not sure I've ever really articulated much about the reasons behind my transition. Those of you who are NOT transgender cannot really appreciate these reasons now, and they may never make much sense to you. Just give this little (but long) letter a read and I'll try to make them less ambiguous and easier to grasp.
Being transgender/transsexual (same terms for me only) means that my brain is wired differently than my body. Like when glancing in the mirror, and not feeling connected to the reflection I saw there. What I saw in the mirror, felt alien, or like it was actually someone else looking back at me, copying every move I made. In my head I would just start imagining I am someone else, or experiencing something sci-fi, almost anything to get past the experience. So, I would stop thinking and just use my imagination to get through it. I would just start repeating an imaginary mantra in my head like “If only I was her…”, or “What would it feel like to be them?” I’d liked to pick TV stars or imaginary beings like Superman or Wonder Woman when I was little; there were far too few female characters though, go figure, right? Anyway, I have been doing this since I could remember, since I was very young. I’ve even brought it up to others thinking that they did it too. That was a bad idea.
Here’s a quote I found from an interview with Susan Sarandon about a character she played in the movie Cloud Atlas, where she was made up as a man. She said:
“I loved being the man, because when I looked in the mirror I couldn’t even see myself, which was really the first time that’s ever happened, despite all the various things I’ve done to myself on film, I’ve never looked in the mirror and actually thought “Is that Chris Walken’s cousin or something? Who is this person, what’s going on here?” And that was just a startling experience, you know, to not recognize yourself at all.”
This is mostly what I’m trying to say, however the novelty of being someone different wore off when I was in kindergarten I think. This plagued me when I was young, because I didn’t know what these feelings were, and nobody could explain them to me. It never really made any sense to me until many years later. All of this is called GENDER DYSPHORIA. Here are a couple of quotes I found on reddit.com that say something similar:
“Like looking in the mirror and not seeing yourself. You see a body, and it mirrors your movements. You logically know that is you, but that is not you. It can't be. When you close your eyes and see yourself, you look nothing like that. Sound nothing like that person does. But everyone else sees you as you are in the mirror. It feels like you can't escape that person in the mirror. Like the differences between what you look like and what they look like are weighing down on your body. Before HRT, I could actually feel the lack of weight on my chest sometimes. I could see where my curves weren't. It feels like genuine confusion every time I see facial hair, even though I know it's going to be there.” By emanekaf00
“Best way I've heard it described is that it's like being homesick for a place you've never been…”.” By uber33t
It IS difficult to explain to someone that has not had these feelings exactly what it feels like. In my head and my very soul, I FEEL like I should be seen as female in my looks and actions, but I know, or well, it was beaten into me at a young age, that this isn’t true. It took me until high school before I could learn to fake it well enough to fit in somewhat. Mind you, I didn't know why I had such a hard time, so I was just completely screwed up back then. Plus, puberty killed me! I hated the effects! The body hair, the muscles, the erections... But I had to pretend I liked them to fit in.
I was so jealous of my sister, I thought, “Hey, she has it made! Why can’t I be like that?” It just felt there should have been other things, other feelings, I guess, I just couldn’t explain them; I couldn’t even explain them to myself. I didn’t understand why I got bullied and beat-up; I just had to do everything I could not to.
So, I did…
So, I swallowed it up, put on a face most people didn't stare at and became very shallow so I got along with as many folks as I could. A couple of you knew me in high school, I'm betting you couldn't tell I had this struggle, but you had to notice I was bullied a lot, and I never really had any girlfriends. I only had maybe 4 close friends, and I fell for one girl pretty hard. Not much to say about four years is it...
After graduation I was kicked out of my house and lost track of those few friends I had made. I was nearly homeless when I met Barry, who talked me into moving to Florida. Thinking it was a chance to become more normal, or to just start over, we drove the whole way. He left me there two weeks later at 18 years old, knowing only a few people, and went back to California thinking God told him to do it. I made the best of it for nearly 3 years. There were many different jobs, but I always seemed to just be holding on by a thread. Like there was something out there for me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I ended up working at a bar as a bouncer. It was easy as my size alone intimidated most drunks and I rarely had to show any skill (I had none to show!). Then, after nearly being killed in a bar fight, I was out of work. Unable to pay my rent, I found myself homeless for a couple days. Sleeping in a park in Ft. Lauderdale while trying to heal from the bar fight. Then one night while wandering the streets, I met a trans-woman sex worker. She seemed nice so I paid her $40 for the night. We spent that night in a Denny’s talking; nothing else happened (No, no sex, you pervs!)! Anyway, our talk opened my eyes wide. Made me confront myself, and I finally realized why I saw someone in the mirror that really wasn’t me. It dawned on me for the first time why in 6th grade I was teased, bullied and beaten for “walking like a girl”, or “acting like a girl”. It was a REAL eyeopener!
Yet, I was basically alone there with only one or two friends, and was, at the time, without a job and nursing a new injury that made me look like I had on a permanent smile. Life really hadn’t gotten any better than when I first left California, and now it seemed worse. Three years of spinning my wheels, of getting nowhere, and now I figured I was completely screwed.
I knew then I was transgender, I was 21, and I joined the Army the very next day. I tried for the next 31 years to cure myself. I knew immediately that I would never look feminine enough to fit into society, and up until this point, I had made it my life’s mission to fit in. Mostly to keep from being beaten up a lot, but also because I thought that other people wouldn’t want me around. At the time I was a member of a VERY conservative church group who I knew would alienate me right away, and I had only one other friend in all of Florida at the time. I was already homeless, I had 168 stiches in my face from breaking up the bar fight, so I couldn’t really work then. I didn’t see another way… I’ll leave out the years of details because they are pretty typical, and there aren’t any specific events that changed my goal. To sum it up: I tried to be the man I was born; to fit in and be accepted. And it worked! (On the outside) I was accepted by everyone, as a man at least, and nobody treated me differently, or bullied me for being too feminine anymore. I thought I was cured, that I wasn’t transgender anymore. I developed a trade skill in electronics, and I got married and had children. Yet I always had a cloud hanging over my happiness, I got angry easily, and was always so shallow. Being transgender was something I could make fun of in others, or wonder at privately, but I never, ever brought it up about myself. The cure seemed to have worked; I wasn’t transgender anymore, and life was going okay for the most part.
Except there was a couple side effects I couldn't control. One, I handled okay. When I would see any woman wander by, in a magazine, on the television, etc., my eyes would be glued to her for a few seconds longer than appropriate. Apparently, this seems to be normal male behavior, thankfully.
Only thing was that I didn’t want to be ‘with’ them like a ‘normal man’, instead, I wanted to ‘be’ them.
The parts of their bodies that I felt should be part of mine, not that they didn’t deserve them, no, just the things I felt should be part of my body, too. Envy in its purest state, I guess. I knew deep down that my body wasn’t right, and though I tried, I never could come to terms with it. The second one wasn’t handled quite as well; in fact it was pretty much out of control. A couple times a year, I would suffer these severe depressions and they lasted a month or two or even four. During them I couldn't function well. I would eat a lot, smoke a lot, and sit at a computer for hours and play games or chat on a BBS or on AOL (just glad I didn’t like alcohol much). There was little ambition to do anything but light another cigarette, eat and sit. I often thought about ending it, but I was mostly a coward and couldn't go through with it. That got worse as the years passed, though. High stress would bring it on more often. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and the doctors (three different ones) tried 4 different drugs on me that only made me more depressed. This was adding up to be the end of me...
Most people never even knew I had these problems; I guess I hid them well.
Early on I found the transsexual chat rooms in AOL (circa 1995) and tried chatting in there. It started as merely a curiosity; maybe to see what could have been or something. When I explained to someone about my depression she told me to try estrogen. I figured, why not, what is there to lose, right? So, I went to Mexico and bought some Premarin® from a Pharmacia in TJ. I lied at the border and said I had been partying there at the beach all day. She had told me the dose (one pill every 8 hrs.) and the next depression, I tried it. VOILA! The depression was gone in a couple days. A miracle drug! The chat rooms literally saved me a lot of suffering, yet they most likely prolonged my eventual transition (double-edged sword??).
The estrogen pills would run out once in a while, and I was scared to get caught buying them, so I would put off buying more for years at a time. My secret would be known by all! Maybe I would be caught with them crossing the border and have to explain (even though the amount I bought was legal to bring back), or someone would find them in my house. I finally started ordering them online. This was much less risky, but I had to buy larger amounts, so I had to hide the money from my wife (more guilt).Well some of my episodes were getting pretty bad and were starting to last longer. The computer games were not enough either, I started watching more and more free computer porn (I actually lost a job over that). I was thinking of suicide more and more, and I couldn't control it; I just felt that those around me would be far better off if I was gone. In Oct 2016, I had knee surgery to fix a torn meniscus.
Not a big deal, but the recovery triggered the worst ever episode of depression I can remember. I found myself with a gun, locked and loaded, with safety off, in my mouth. I figured it would be so easy, like, who fucking cares about the mess, I won't have to clean it up. Then, again, I am a coward at heart, and I chickened out. I thought that there had to be another answer, another cure. I didn’t know what to do. The estrogen pills were out again, so I decided to buy injectable estrogen (Estradiol Valerate 20mg/ml in oil), and just keep taking it for the rest of my life. I couldn't take the chance of losing control again. If estrogen was a miracle drug, then I was just going to have to keep taking it.
This of course would mean that there would be some changes happening to hide from people, yet the other option was worse. I knew there was a link between me being transgender and the estrogen curing my depression. So, I found a gender therapist and promised myself I would tell someone else about this for the first time in my life. I found one online and made an appointment for early Jan 2016. I begged her for a cure that would NOT include me becoming a woman. I cried about losing my family, my friends, my job, and becoming the outcast I was so scared of being. She smiled, and was very nice, but told me there is no cure like that. My problem is similar to a birth defect in that my body and brain developed slightly differently in the womb. Apparently, there is no other cure save transition, lobotomy, or suicide. Well, I can't give myself a lobotomy, and I was too big a coward to suicide, so my only choice was to become that outcast. Way back when I was only 21, I avoided transition because I would always be seen as a “guy in a dress”, a freak if you will, so few trans-women actually become passable, and I knew I never would. Coming to terms with the fact that I will not ever be seen by a stranger as a woman, is probably the hardest thing for me to deal with. There is some regret about waiting this long as well. The decision to actually do this was not easy, it is opposite to everything my life has stood for; there is no way I could ever fit in now. You see, my choices kind of sucked though. It was either do my best to be this long buried female person who has never been allowed out, or die...
I didn't choose this!
I don't want this!
I don't know how to do this!
I know I will never REALLY be her!
I don’t want to hurt anybody!
And I'm so, so scared that this isn’t going to work!
Well, the good news is: the depressions are gone! But there is a new pain, though not an all-encompassing one like with depression. This one is just gut-wrenching sadness that I feel when I see in people's eyes that I am a freak, or I stand out too much. Or when I feel the stares from those around me, or when everyone still refers to me as a guy even though I have "C" cup breasts, and I'm wearing a dress. The looks I get when I’m just using a restroom, or looking at clothes in Wal-Mart, or shopping for food, or, well, anywhere people don’t already know me. I've tried so hard all my life to fit in, to be accepted, and now I have to do the exact opposite to stay alive. This is killer hard to do, so, please bear with me. It’s not something I expect anyone to understand, hell, I hardly understand it myself. I’m just glad that I feel better inside. I’m able to keep going, not stop and sit, and play on the computer with days going by while on auto-pilot. I have better control, even though I am still sad, this sadness isn’t automatic, it always has a source that I can identify. Therefore, it’s NOT depression, just sadness, normal sadness.
There is such a long way for me to go still. I know that I will never get past all the stares, or the bigots. I know that I will forever have a new label (tranny, she-male, freak, sinner, faggot, etc…) hurled at me from every angle. I think I can deal with this, though. It’s nice to be able to actually let myself feel. I don’t need to be so shallow anymore. So, I’m trying to be the person inside, she is not perfect, she is VERY inexperienced, and she has a lot to learn, but well, what did you expect? I will give it my best and as morbid as it sounds, I still can change my mind later, the other options are still there though distasteful. There really is nothing for me to lose, and a whole shitload to be gained! I want to be the best person I can be; I want to give ‘me’ a chance for the first time in my life. Even though the road is long, full of bumps, twists and forks, I am hoping it will pay off in the end.
While writing this letter, I have found that I have a lot to learn. For all of the years I spent acting like I thought I had to in order to fit in with the crowd. Those years of being shallow and afraid to let anyone in; the years of only having maybe one or two close friends at a time. I never learned how to treat real friends, and I feel I am doing a poor job of that now. Since freeing up my emotions from being locked away, and from always living behind a brick wall, I have made so many new friends. All my life I was very friendly, but nearly all of my friends were just glorified acquaintances that I would joke around with, or just hang out and talk about nothing. There were no deep meaningful friendships. I never learned how to be a good friend to anyone else. Now that I have made all of these new friends, I am finding it hard to cope, I am quite overwhelmed, and I just don’t know what to do. Learning how to treat my new friends is not easy, it’s truly hard to teach old cats new tricks. Hopefully, my new friends will understand; I am not sure how to tell them, or if I even should. If you read this and consider yourself my friend, please be nice, please help me learn this before I find myself friendless again? This is one more thing I need to learn that they don’t teach you in college, or the Army, or, well, it’s something that is not taught anywhere at my age.
So, I thought I would just explain things a bit more for those that don’t mind reading short stories.
Hopefully, the boredom didn’t cause any lasting effects. This is my story in a nutshell; there’s sure to be some things left out, but these are the ones that lead me to this place in life.
Apologies are offered to some who think that this whole ‘transgender’ thing is not real; I promise that I don’t like it either, and it won’t hurt you in the least. And for those of you that can understand this, THANK YOU! for your support, your love, and if you need me to explain anything, please just ask. Most trans-women in the world don’t know the love and support I have received, and I don’t know why I am so lucky, but it has made my life possible. There would be no ME without it.
There are no more secrets, and I would love the opportunity to educate anyone about the transgender experience and advocate for societal acceptance whenever I can. Even though I may not say this to you, I value your friendship, love and support more than I can express in words! More of a story than an explanation, but it took me a few weeks to write, and I put a lot of effort into making this coherent, true, and with minimal exaggerations or embellishments at the same time.
Thanx for reading,