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”.