These drafts have seen the inside of my trash bin so many times that I started to wonder if I would ever finish this article to my satisfaction. Every time I think it’s finished, something new happens or changes and I have to rework my thoughts. So, instead of finishing, I will give you a draft that’s good enough. Isn’t that the best any of us can do?
A few days ago, a commenter in my surgery group asked for my advice: could a trans person ever be happy, or was it just misery all the way down? Her child had come out as trans, and she needed clarity that transition could actually help. Several weeks ago, I read an obituary from a young trans girl who felt hopeless about whether this world would ever allow her to live as herself. Now that I’m in the place I’m in, more and more I am faced with people asking me if the life I have is even possible.
I couldn’t say. I think the answer is yes. Most days I’m happy and the general trend line of my life is towards happiness, wholeness, and healing. Yet, there are forces outside of my control that factor into whether that’s true for anyone, including me.
As Captain Picard once famously said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.” It is possible to do everything right in transition, to say all the right words and do all the right things for yourself, and still not have the life or results you deserve. It would be wrong and unethical of me to say otherwise definitively.
I’ve long likened my transition to a rebirth, an exploration, or a gamble. To transition is to put everything on the table, to risk all those connections and bonds and securities and loves and assurances that the scripts of normativity provide for the hope that you get to walk away from the table with something. That gamble is to die, in a way. You have to kill the image of you in the eyes of everyone who’s ever met you, including yourself, to find out who you are. You have to have the bravery to face the terrain you’ve found yourself in and explore it with new eyes and perspectives. And on the other side of that gamble is a new life, an afterlife, a story of you that *you* get to draft.
That’s where I find myself these days. It’s funny, as a person who transitioned as an adult, I look back on the beginning where an older me made the decision to take that gamble and sacrifice her existence so the me that gets to write these words could exist. From her perspective, I’m everything she could have dreamed of. I model. I teach. I live every day as myself. I can’t remember the last time I was misgendered out of anything less than malice. I even feel beautiful most days. From her perspective, my existence is gilded and my afterlife is full of warmth and song.
In some ways, she’s right. Where my future was once a black void, I see a bright expanse of limitless possibilities ahead of me — a fresh start. This year I’ve twice returned to my home state of West Virginia and both times I did so with confidence and security that I’ve never had before. Since my transition, I’ve been bolder, louder, happier, and just *more* in every way I could ever have cared about. My life has been that, too. I have more loves and more friends. I have more genuine connections with people than I’ve ever had in my entire life because we all see the real me. When they love me, they’re loving the real me.
If you asked me to do my entire transition over again, with all the pain and the misery and loss that it brought into my life, I wouldn’t hesitate. Was it worth it? I have no other answer than “yes.” Yes, I would do it again. Yes, it was worth it. Every single morning I wake up without the weight of a role I was never meant to play on my chest is a day my first waking thought is, “yes.”
That yes doesn’t come easily every day. Sometimes I meekly utter that yes. Sometimes I have to find the strength between sobs. But that yes: to me, to the opportunity, and to acknowledging my worth, has proved itself priceless time and again.
Which is good, because even in all the “success” of accomplishing the goals and dreams I set for myself I am struggling to find out who I did all of this for and I’m finding so many of the stories that were told to me or that I told myself about what this would be like have been hopeful at best and dishonest at worst.
When I began my transition, I didn’t have a trans identity. The pink, blue, and white flag had no place in my life and I had no pride to offer. I found that part of me because I needed the trans community in order to transition: without the guidance, teaching, and information offered by other trans women and men and nonbinary folks, I would never have had the ability to navigate my own transition. They had a firehose of information to give me, much of it incorrect but it was a place to start. It didn’t come free, though. When I began my transition, I wanted to know how to be a woman. The communities taught me primarily about how to be trans.
They taught me a vision of transness rooted in struggle, oppression, violence, and endurance. They taught me that to be trans was to survive a dangerous world and protect the song of myself from being drowned out by the cacophonous jingle of normalization. There’s a running joke in the communities about how just wanting tits winds up with you becoming a cat-ear-wearing leftist in thigh-high stockings. It’s funny, looking back on my transition I found myself running a gauntlet of black and white thinking: the ever-present threat of cis normative binaries coupled with the ever-present gravity of trans spaces that would insist that my primary identity must be trans.
I sailed between these dueling gravities, sometimes only narrowly being consumed by either at different points in my journey, and I’ve reached the other side. It’s lonely. These two dueling forces lure people in with the certainty that conflict provides. Sometimes I yearn for the simplicity either side of that discussion would have offered me: the clarity about who I am and who I should be. Such is the burden of being the one who writes their own story, though.
This is where the afterlife is just so different than I thought it would be. It’s so different than what anyone promised me it would be. I was shown a constant horror show of misery and anger and told “this is trans existence.” That same narrative is what young trans kids see — and their parents. I was given visions of constant mockery and harassment by cis people who do everything they can to protect the simplicity and clarity of the stories they were given. I was enticed to change myself and my plans for myself, to give up my afterlife in service to this narrative or another.
The truth is a swirling grey sky: I am happier than I have ever been; I am whole as I will ever be; I am still a woman starting the first complete year of her life as herself at 34 years old. I find myself overwhelmed by storms of lost opportunities, anger, and grief coming from a past that doesn’t belong to me and doesn’t want to let me move on. I had the happiest set of holidays with my family that I’ve ever had in my entire life, and still the ghost of genders past haunted me: family photos, old stories, and rituals. At 33 years old, I am forging the bonds with my own family that should have been formed when I was a child. I am painfully aware every day of how many people hold part of my story for themselves and have grown up around it.
I find the communities that taught me and planted a trans identity in me watching me with scorn and envy. They greet my happiness less as a success story than a cruel taunt. People I trusted and loved have instead try to take my story into their own hands and force me to play the villain in their narrative. I’ve been racking my brain for months and years even, what does it mean to be trans outside of that? What does life look like for someone who is enthusiastically and openly trans as I am, but holds that identity as part of her womanhood while not overshadowing it?What is life for a woman who transitioned not to be a trans person but to finally, prominently, center her womanhood? I’m still learning that.
What does it mean to be happy and trans? I’m still learning that. We tend to confuse happiness with ease: it’s sunshine and rainbows and skipping through a field with your children. It’s an almost emotionally pornographic level of unattainable.
Earlier today, I received news that a family member had died. I’m not proud of the reaction I had. I felt another grain of sand fall through the hourglass. One less opportunity for me to get to know someone who’s been in my life from the beginning. One less hope for building memories with blood relatives who knew my name. I began to collapse: what kind of life could I hope to live without a past that belonged to me? What kind of mom could I be if I didn’t have a childhood to share with my kids? Was this person even mine to grieve? I felt, in that moment, that every step forward I took for myself, to claim myself, was being cosmically balanced out by opportunities to get *something* back off of that gambling table closing. I sobbed and paced around my room. I am a grown tree with young roots and moments like this one jostle me.
My roots are young, but I have other supports. My wife was right there in the room with me. Just as they’ve done for the past few years, they held me and talked to me and cared about me. But I wasn’t alone. I cried and I wasn’t alone. I felt terror and I wasn’t alone. I tell people that I didn’t transition to be trans, I transitioned because I’m a woman. I think the more I get into my Happily Ever Afterlife the more I realize the reason I transitioned was because I needed for people to connect with me, and I with them, genuinely and wholly. Because I transitioned, I was able to have a life partner who could fully and completely see me and be there for me. Because I transitioned, I wasn’t alone.
Happiness, to me, is knowing that I’m done suffering alone and that my days of only experiencing joys that weren’t meant for me are over. It wasn’t easy, and I will grieve my losses until I die, I suspect. There will never be a day I don’t mourn the 33 years that came before. And when I mourn, I know I’ll be supported by people who love and care about me.
My transition wasn’t a guarantee, though. And I can’t promise to anyone else that it can be like this for them. A year ago, I’d have told you that estrogen was magical and helped me be happy. This year, I’d have said that surgeries were transformative and helped me be happy. I could have done everything on my checklist and still wound up alone, though. The medical bits were essential for me to give me the confidence, security, and clarity I needed to work on me and cultivate a life of people who saw me, cared about me, and loved me.
Yes, I’m happy. I’m so happy. I’m happy that no matter what happens from now on, that I have the support of all these bonds that hold me up when my roots aren’t deep enough for the struggles the world gives me. I think anyone *can* have this life, regardless of medicines or surgeries or hormones or name changes, but we are all responsible for giving others’ the right to reconcile the parts of their lives that we hold. We are all interconnected, my identity doesn’t just exist in me it is in the people who see me and say my name. Until I have an ecosystem that mostly agrees on who I am, that ecosystem cannot support me. Happiness is attainable for any trans person, but not alone. Instead of worrying if the trans people in your life can be happy, nourish their growth and healing. Let them help you to see the real them, and be grateful to them for the effort that takes them to do.
So, ultimately, the question isn’t even for me of whether or not this life is possible for others. It’s for you. You tell me. Are you willing to make it possible?