Saturday, November 9, 2013

Change and Invisibility

 Personal Essay

   Throughout my lifetime, whenever the subject has come up about a person's orientation or gender, I have heard people say, "I don't know what the big deal is all about because all they have to do is choose not to be that way.  It's easy." That statement and others like it still amaze me.                                                                                   

  In today's society with the vast amount of  testimony given by the psychiatric, medical and social services communities that a person's orientation or their gender identity is not something that is chosen but is the way a person is born, I find it difficult to fathom how that fact can still be ignored.

     On a number of occasions I have responded with: "Being as it is so easy and a choice, why don't you become a man/woman for a day?"

     Of course, they reply with "But I don't want to change."

     So I've asked, "But could you if you wanted to?" That usually gets a variety of looks. Some look puzzled; others seem confused; while others huff or sigh and remark that I'm just being foolish.

     Some have even expressed, "No, I can't just change like that. Besides, I wasn't born that way."
     Now you would think that with such a definitive answer as that, the light would go on and they would realize and understand the import of their words, yet for some strange reason, they don't. Even when I have commented and said, "So if you can't do it because you were born the way you are, what makes you think others can?"
     I won't waste your time by writing the numerous or offbeat answers I've gotten by that question. For those of you who are transgender or personally know a transgender person I would believe it to be a safe guess you have heard some or all of these things as well.
     For those of you who are just visiting my blog and are not familiar with transgenderism, I hope this posting will at least give you food for thought to be open and accepting of other people's way of life. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what a transgender person can go through, I will share some of the things from my life.
     Imagine yourself being invisible and no one can see you or hear you and no matter how much you cry out, no one knows you are there. Imagine those people you love looking right at you but never seeing you for who you really are.  This is what it was like for me growing up. And I'm not the only one.  Many transgender people have experienced the same thing, including Lana Wachowski, famed film producer -- notably the "Matrix" trilogy.
     From the time I was five years old and told my parents I was a girl and got a whack for being so stubborn about it and told never to mention it again, I was essentially invisible to them, because they had refused to see the real person in front of them, I felt isolated and disconnected from their love. I knew they loved me but I never felt their love embraced the whole me. Thankfully, the only things that helped me to get along without feeling totally dejected was my not understanding what I was feeling or why.
      The problem I faced with the inner confusion only worsened as I advanced into my teens. I still had no idea why I felt as I did and it became increasingly difficult to overcome the feeling that I was a freak. It wasn't until my friend Michael on his sixteenth birthday showed up dressed as a girl and told everyone that from that point on he wanted to be called Michelle. When the guys on the corner spit at her, called her every derogatory name there was and threatened to beat her up, I kept my mouth shut for fear that they would do the same to me. Inasmuch as I could relate to what she was going through, I refrained from having contact with her for months afterwards. I so much wanted to be in touch with her but was having a hard time trying to deal with my own ambiguous feelings. We finally did work things out which I will share at another time, but I brought this up because it reflects on the one aspect of the problems I and many others faced and continue to face--that is, bigotry and discrimination.
     One of the most difficult things a transgender person can go through is the isolation; the feeling like being on an island and disconnected from everyone and everything. This includes family and close friends because it is so difficult to tell them about how you really feel and how you want your life to be. In a sense, it is like asking them to accept the death of the familiar you and accept this new you. What most people do not realize is that when a person announces he/she is transgender, every single relationship they have changes, even if it is only the dynamics of the relationship. Every single relationship is put into jeopardy. Because of that fear of losing those relationships, many transgender people keep it quiet until it cannot be contained any longer. It is not a choice. We cannot change. We are who we are.
     In fact, many transgender people who, in an attempt to fit into society's "norm”, get married and have children. Many get married in an effort to quell the feelings that rage inside of them in hopes they will decrease and fade away. For most, the opposite is true. The desire and need to live as the opposite gender from which they were born becomes increasingly stronger with time. It is such a compelling need to be fulfilled, to be complete that some have breakdowns and others have committed suicide because they just couldn't face rejection. Everyone wants to be accepted.  For many, the fear of rejection, especially from family and close friends, can become so overwhelming that they see no hope of living happily or peacefully and thus resort to drastic measures.
     From those early days of childhood, well into my teens, I felt the deep hurt of being invisible. Every time I wanted to tell someone how I felt I would cringe inside at the thought of the outcome that such exposure would cause. For the longest time, I couldn't tell anyone because I didn't know what it was that I was feeling or going through and therefore couldn't explain or defend my feelings. That is a frustration that haunted me day and night.  I was never at peace with myself. There were conflicts inside of me that I neither understood nor was able to resolve; conflicts that multiplied and amplified with each passing day until I couldn't tell if I was going crazy or was already crazy.
     There were two times during my teenage years that I was visible. One of them was a positive reality when I was fifteen and the other was something I believed to be because of a purely negative experience that happened when I was fourteen years old. The negative incident at fourteen was when I was raped by three older teens. I honestly believed it happened because I had been visible to them; that somehow they knew I was really a female -- the "weaker sex".  That caused me to hate myself for many years afterwards and, as much as I wanted to be visible, I did the opposite and went way out of my way to hide my true self.
The other incident occurred when I was fifteen. It happened on the night Michael came out as Michelle. That night was the beginning and after three months of shunning her, I finally revealed myself to her and thus was visible. From that moment on, I craved to be visible to the world. I needed to be me. I needed to be free. I needed to be seen and loved for the real me. I still do and until that day comes when I can be complete, I will be still somewhat invisible.
This is a sampling on what it is like to be transgender for me. Of course, my being transgender encompasses so much more but it is my sincerest hope that these words will give you food for thought and help you to understand and be compassionate to those of us who suffer from GID – Gender Identity Disorder. Thanks for allowing me to share this with you.
   Chelle Munroe©
   November 9, 2013


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