Tuesday, September 20, 2016
There's a song that goes:
I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend. You could, cut ties with all the lies, that you've been living in.
This song is one of the things that first drew me to Laura. We both loved the band. I could play just 8 notes from the hook, but it was enough to fool her into thinking I was musically gifted.
It's also a thing I think most of us can relate to. Living a lie at some point in our lives.
So, have I been living a lie? Not exactly. For years I've been... ok. Not bad. Pretty good. Bringing kids into the world with her was amazing, and they are guaranteed to light up my life every moment I see them. Even outside that, I didn't have any excuses to be down.
There's been quite a bit of controversy lately about the label "transgender". Pride, beliefs, policies, science. Are they other genders? Are they people born with the wrong gender? Are they mentally ill? Are they disturbed or more likely to be criminals? Can they be fixed?
All those labels, controversies and supposed conclusions have basically zero to do with my experience. And that experience is all I can tell you about.
For years I've experienced the world as "Nick". By that I mean, I don't know what labels are me, I just know that I am me. How I see things.
For a long time I assumed that Nick fit into certain boxes -- boy. Mormon. Programmer. Man.
I don't think that tells the whole story for anyone. However, for me I really started to notice some problems. For what I thought represented "mormonism", there were in fact my own core beliefs, yet mormonism wasn't a great match for it. I didn't want to be "just" a programmer or a "just" a designer. I had a hard time convincing people I knew anything about both. I never felt like I became a "man" the way people saw it, or even saw me.
I tried to twist back into the boxes. I'd downplay my design talent and passion so that an interviewer would believe I was a real programmer. I kept trying to fit in at church. I tried all the masculine fashions I could think of to see which one felt like "me".
The problem was, I had no idea how to be things that made me a good "man". I'd look in the mirror and think "I guess other people might think this works?" Nearly everything I did was to fit someone else's model. And I felt a bit bummed every time I'd notice how far my passions, interests, traits, and behaviors were from the ideals and norms.
That's fine, still, that's what everybody experiences, right?
I began to notice that I was very often jealous of women. I knew exactly what kind of woman I would be. That's just what attraction is, right?
After all: science. XY Chromosomes. Bodies. Marriage. Fatherhood. Friends. Son, brother.
Here's where it will get difficult for me to explain.
The thing about experience is, you can never truly understand it unless you have it. That's why expertise takes time. There is no "The Matrix" download. That's why we aren't born knowing ourselves or the world. That's why people matter to us. Why we talk and listen. There is no formula for transferring a learned experience from one person to another. There has to be an effort by the giver to turn it into language, illustration, feeling, and the receiver to think, hear, question, experiment, and process from different perspectives.
I've been to hundreds of hours of therapy and spent thousands of hours thinking, studying. Planning. Unplanning. During that time, I realized that none of those things would teach me exactly where to go.
For almost a year I've been working to figure out what LIVED experiences actually do fit me the best. Those that are the "Nick" box and not just those I was handed when I was born. One that is perfectly "me-shaped". This was the line my therapist used just before I told her about my questions:
I had just described to her a scene that sounded completely perfect to me, and she said "So, it is completely 'you'-shaped?" I thought about the significance of that concept.
Suddenly it was clear. A box could be ME-shaped? Really?
At that moment I felt brave enough to start a journey that has brought more clarity and confusion, highs and lows, a hundred other extremes and changes that are impossible to overstate.
During that year this has involved me changing the way the world sees me, instead of just fitting into the world.
As I expressed myself more authentically, It was like one lightbulb after another turned on. My world has a brand new sense of visibility. So many new feelings, I didn't know I should or could feel.
I had no idea how rewarding the process would be. Despite my absolute terror in doing so, embracing what I want the world to see and just saying "Ok, world. This is me. Anyone there?" -- I finally was able to feel seen. I wasn't just a fly on the wall any more. I was a participant.
I recognized at the beginning of this year, that this would involve changes that would throw on its head how I was seen by everyone in my life. Through an enormous amount of compassion, my wife showed me she could hear me and I opened up to her. I hurt her. She hurt me. It became turbulence and chaos for both of us that we had no idea if or how we would get through. We are still trying to come through this, and we're now apart, but stronger as individuals, and as friends. I believe we are better parents, and though we are not the same family unit we thought we'd go to our graves as before, we are approaching this new phase with courage and integrity.
To be clear: I look different. I dress like a woman. I'd rather be seen as a woman. Yep. (Am I really? Don't get me started on labels again...) This is because part of recognizing what I really was inside me was about showing it to the world. Growth requires light.
I love my name. It means "victorious people". It's part of who I am. Which is why I've gone with Nicole. It was always a beautiful name to me. And it turns out that, inside, I feel this is much more closely shaped to me than a "Nick/him"-shaped box was.
Femininity is a beautiful, wondrous world to me. So much I don't know, and so much I have always known. I have no idea why we have gender on top of our sexes. I don't know how it works. All I know is that when I get to show the world the femininity inside of me, I feel confident, courageous, beautiful, peaceful, happy, excited, generous, loving, kind, passionate, alive.
Laura wrote this beautiful, heartbreakingly perfect poem about this experience for her:
The poem is about him. The him I'm not.
As she says "I know you must have always been around from the start, at least in whatever way you could be."
Sometimes, I was there. In moments, sometimes captured in an authentic smile on film, with my kids. In a moment of sheer hilarity. Those times Laura and I shared that no other two people will ever understand.
But out in the world, I mostly wasn't there. I was too scared. I didn't know myself.
I don't hate "him". There are lots of "him" things that are truly me. The way I showed myself as him to the world was the best I could do at the time.
But now I can smile. Really smile. Really laugh. Cry, dance, and love. Freely.
There is an amazing song by a band I truly love, Hive Riot. It's called Undercover:
There's a prisoner of war.
Knocking at your door.
Open up and you will see
The face is yours.
Step out from behind the shadows.
Shake your shame and all your sorrow.
Take your place and dance out in the sun.
No one should live undercover. No one is above the other. Freedom is a gift for everyone.
I love the beauty of that video I posted a few days ago, and the accompanying quote:
"We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infintesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is."
This is my "present". I am all at once my past, present and future self. I am not locked into what I have been, and I have no guarantees about what I will be, but they are all me -- here I am, world!