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The Terror…Or What Trans Call Life Before Transition


Have you ever noticed that any time you read a trans persons personal account of the time of their life prior to transition, the word ‘terrified’ pops up again and again? Yeah, me too, which stands to reason since I’m writing about it now. While I’m sure they exist, and that we will no doubt hear from them below, I have yet to talk to anyone who identifies as trans who doesn’t describe soul crushing, pants wetting, nightmarish cold sweat style fear regarding their condition. Let’s talk about that.

I’ll raise my hand and go first here, since I brought it up and everything. I was terrified about the very idea of someone suspecting I was different in the way I actually was, much less being caught. Yeah, the idea of being caught really took the cake as worry numero uno. Something like that would be smoking gun evidence of my innate femininity. Any excuse would be immediately burned though under the intense light of razor honed interrogation. I would be undone and probably die, or worse. Actually in that instance dying would have been the preferred outcome to being paraded through the streets in a torn dress while weathering the onslaught of spoiled vegetables hurled by disgusted Buffalonians. OK, fine, I had a little streak of drama, but I was pretty sure if it wasn’t that specifically, it would be just as heinous.

Nearly every nightmare I ever had pre-transition that wasn’t some tragedy befalling a loved one featured me being discovered. Spiders, monsters, aliens, serial killers, dread diseases, being lost, fired, deported, ha! None of these had any teeth as far as I was concerned. Keep ‘em coming so long as I don’t have that one again where I’m at church with my parents and suddenly realize I’m wearing a skirt and make up. I’d awaken with a scream of terror, bathed in sweat. “Sounds like you were having some bad dreams last night?” “Uh… yeah, someone was holding me down and sawing my legs off before making me eat them.” “Oh you poor thing! That must have been horrible!” Ha, I should be so lucky.

The funny thing is that now I’m living what used to be my darkest, most terrifying nightmare and it’s pretty freaking great. In the past I had highly realistic dreams about coming to work dressed, going to the mall, having my friends and family find out, and even being stared at like some kind of freak. What used to have me hyperventilating, clawing for a belt of Nyquil just to get back to sleep I now call any given Tuesday. So why? Why do so many, if not all, of us have this exact same story?

For one, I think it’s bred in the bone and bound in the flesh to have a desire to conform to our surroundings. True, many people rebel against this at some point, which explains the once proud proliferation of Hot Topic locations, allowing teens to both rebel and enrich a suit and tie corporate entity at the same time. I think it comes down to when we begin to discover ourselves. For those like me who understood we were different at age 4, the idea of rebelling was inconceivable. I said that in the Wallace Shawn ‘Princess Bride’ way, just so you know. Our “rebellion” was inherent to our nature, competing against our conformity urges while still in a stage of absolute powerlessness and dependence. I think this is bound to breed strong survival instincts for repression and deception while producing the terror and nightmares such an internal conflict is bound to foster.

The terror lasts long after there is any rational reason for it simply because it was instilled so early. Eventually, however, it has to be faced in some capacity; no one can live like that indefinitely. Many poor souls simply cannot take it and end things the most expedient way possible. Most of the rest of us finally come to the conclusion that we want to live, and to do so must face the terror head on and allow that any and all of the things we are most afraid of really may happen. For some they do, and others, only some of it. In the end though, we are far better off having left it behind.

I think the best thing we can do, those of us who have crossed the line and living more comfortably on the other side, is give our support to those who aren’t there yet. Much like the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign, telling our stories and validating that the terror is a real and prevalent thing, while highlighting not only the possibility of abandoning it with our childhoods, but how good it feels to be free and alive. To ironically quote malevolent bastard President Snow from ‘The Hunger Games’, “The only thing stronger than fear, is hope”.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

8 responses »

  1. I had many various nightmares as a very young child. Like Diane I would go to bed thinking about presenting as a woman. Later I had one recurring dream not entirely a nightmare but not pleasant either. The specifics of the dream would change but the theme was always the same. It recurred at odd moments for many years. Surprisingly It’s not recurred since I accepted being trans. My therapist said the dream represented the real me trying to surface and having no outlet. I was in very active suppression mode at the time the dreams occurred. There must have been some truth to the matter as they stopped when I finally acknowledged being trans and making way for it.

    Thanks for your posts Michelle.

    Anita H

    • Thank you Anita! I totally agree with your therapist. I think no matter what mechanisms we have in place to lock ourselves down with, the truth finds times of weakness, like sleep, to push itself to the surface.

  2. I can not say that it ever occurred to me to fear who I was. I was knocked silly by my mom at age 6 because I told her I was a girl and ridiculed for most of my life. I was rejected by my family by age 14 and what few friends I had left by age 21. I have lived my life predominately as a woman for most of the 36 years I have been alive, except for a 6 year stint as a man which I really hated. All I can say is don’t let anyone tell you who you are or who you can be because you will regret it the entire time and feel as though you have deceived yourself. I found out only recently that I could actually become a woman, genitalia and all and have been able to embrace my femininity all the more. I also realized that when you accept who you are in its fullness, only then will you start drawing those people around you that can accept you too. Just this last few years since I started the transition process, I have met so many people that are surprised it took me so long to go through with it even after living so long as a woman. Some laws prevent me from being able to do things in public that wouldn’t be prohibited if I was a full woman, but I found that in embracing my self identity and being the real me, I am happier than I ever could be otherwise. To thine own self be true. (Shakespeare)

  3. Jessica McIntosh

    My story is very, very different. About 8 months ago. a bit before my 34th birthday, I figured out I am trans. I had no idea before. I was never a “guy” and eventually embraced that and tried not to be a typical guy. I never occurred to me I might, as I joked at times, really be a girl inside. When I figured it out it felt amazing. I had worries for a while like makeup showing at work or walking into the women’s room when presenting male. None of them were bad and I freely admitted I was trans to most people. Now my only fears are accidentally using the women’s room at work (HR won’t let me, yet) and getting beaten up by some nitwit. I can’t remember any terror in this short time, other than telling my wife which went surprisingly good. Being tormented all through grade school taught me to embrace my strangeness and use it to ward people off. The worst dreams I had while transitioning were the ones where I was either a cis woman or was transitioning at puberty.

  4. Very true report (they are not stories) this week Michelle. I’m sure we’ve all shared similar dreams or nightmares during our younger years and I’m no different.
    Till late puberty I would often have the same occurring nightmare, one that was so realistic that one night while asleep in my bed my nightmare began, I yelled and screamed for help till my dad came to my bedside, with my eyes wide open and pointing, pointing with my finger at the monster sized black ball that was coming at me and trying to role over me, following me down a long, narrow and endless hallway with only one door at the very end of the hall.
    I ran as fast as I could but it never seemed to be fast enough, the ball was closing in on me and the doorway at the end of the hall always remained out of reach.I can still remember so clearly to this date seeing the shadow on my shoulder of that monster sized black ball closing in on me.
    That same nightmare has probably re-occurred 50 times before the age of 17.
    Later my psychiatrist gave me his theory of my nightmare that being, the black ball as representing my dad and society coming after me and the long endless attempt to get away, only to find that the locked door prevented me from getting out and exploring my new world.
    Maybe craziness does give me an edge on the other girls.
    Mooooah have a lovely day.

  5. Ah the dreams… Yes, I used to have the discovery dreams. Usually the story was going along just fine, I was pleasantly out at a restaurant or some other public place and I would suddenly realize I was “dressed”, or I had left makeup on or had women’s shoes on. Funny though, most often I would catch it just in time and manage to hide it, but I still woke up deathly afraid.

    For as long as I can remember I would go to sleep thinking about presenting as/being a woman. I would just be doing errands or walking somewhere. It calmed me. People would interact with me and it was all totally fine. I did this every night for many many years. My safety valve…

    If I knew that fate was going to be granting me a few days alone and I was going to be able to get dressed nicely and hide somewhere, alone, where no one could see, except me? Well then the dreams would redouble. The nodding off fantasies became detailed strategy sessions. The fearful dreams became night sweat terrors. I would border just at the edge of anxiety attacks.

    Now I’ve transitioned, so what do I think of as I fall asleep? My day, the weather, something funny that the dogs did. What are my night dreams? Reliving some silly thing that happened, perhaps inflating some odd glance that I got into a full fledged stare and feeling uncomfortable, until I decide to not bother.

    I have had one fear dream based on a scarey real experience though. I dream that I’m on the street and it is very windy. A gust whips around a building and hits me full in the face and my hair slides back on my head as my wig does a slow motion inside out flip.

    New discovery dreams? I freshly dream that I am pleasantly out at a restaurant or some other public place and I suddenly realize I have my sweater tucked in the back of my jeans, or I forgot my makeup or I have a man’s shoes on. And I wake up laughing.

    Yes sister, thanks for the affirmation that there are other souls out in the world who are nibbling away at the same blocks of frustration.

  6. this is one reason that i am glad ziona will always be living outloud, she has for four years now, and she’s only 10 years old…
    that fear, that terror of someone finding out who you really are must be all-consuming…i can’t wrap my mind around such a feeling.
    my friends who transitioned as adults share similar feelings. being cis-gendered i can only imagine.
    thanks for all you share in your blog…so enlightening.

    of course, i have reblogged it

  7. Pingback: The Terror…Or What Trans Call Life Before Transition | Pasupatidasi's Blog

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