Human nature is an odd beast, isn’t it? It never fails to surprise me how it’s possible to know and understand some of the patterns that we exhibit, and yet still fail to predict or properly account for them. For example, I know myself well enough by now to realise that I’ll leap on any excuse to undermine or think less of myself, and that this tendency makes me particularly vulnerable and sensitive – but despite knowing that, I still fall prey to the cycle of self-doubt, over and over again.
One of the most profound and radical changes I’ve undergone has really been the establishment of my identity, which is a multi-part process. Firstly, it meant getting to know myself, and by that I mean the “real me”, including all those parts that I used to have to suppress for fear of the consequences had I not. And then, allowing those qualities to grow, develop and flourish, and building the confidence necessary to embrace and express them.
I’ve made great strides in that regard. In simple terms, I’ve learned to “give fewer shits”, I suppose. There’s a degree to which I’ve learned to accept that I cannot necessarily change or affect how people see me, and I’m a lot more okay with that than I was before. An example to illustrate – I’ve learned that if someone misgenders me, it says much more about them than it does about me. The ways I express myself have changed, and I’ve altogether become less apologetic and less acutely concerned with the impressions I make – as long as the way I act is sincere and has integrity, I’m more or less at ease.
It doesn’t mean that the insecurities are no longer there, of course – they’re just a little bit less noticeable. A little bit better managed, I suppose. But the weak spots and the vulnerabilities are still very much present. Mostly, though, they’re related to my character. Because I do put so much stock in behaving ethically, kindly, compassionately, and sensitively towards others, I find it sometimes very difficult not to get upset when my intentions or principles are called into question. It happens to all of us, of course, and I know this – there are people out there who exist to bring others down, usually driven by their own insecurities.
One of the most difficult things for me to come to terms with is the reality that I’m perceived as threatening by some people. It’s a pattern that has repeated itself throughout my life, which is evident in retrospect – though at the time, this realisation has always been challenging and confusing. Even recognising the pattern, it remains so. I’m the first to admit that I don’t get things right all the time; I’m always trying to be more mindful and aware, to grow, to do better. And I’m sure that my intentions are always good and I don’t ever direct my actions from a place of malice. But despite that, over the years people have thought some awful things about me. And I’m sure they continue to.
It’s not a problem, until I start to wonder if those things are true. What if, in fact, no matter how good my intentions are, and no matter how hard I try, I’m just destined to be a giant fuck-up who makes the life of everyone she meets worse? What if I do bring out the worst in people? What if I really am awful and horrible, and irredeemably so? What if it’s hard-wired into me to just be a bad person?
Some would say that even being concerned about things like that precludes such possibilities. That if you were, at your core, an asshole of the highest order, then it wouldn’t even worry you in the first instance – so the fact that it does proves that you aren’t. I don’t know if I buy that, though. Human nature, that odd beast, is so difficult to understand. What is predestined and immutable, and what do we have control over? I really like to believe that we take responsibility for the choices we make. That although there might be factors that predispose us to certain paths, at the end of the day, we are the ones with agency over the decisions we take. But even if that agency is real… what if the decisions just aren’t capable of working out? What if all of this is just an extended Kobayashi Maru test?
I have a lot of days where I feel like I just can’t get anything right, no matter how hard I try. And that if something does seem to be progressing favourably, that it’s just an elaborate set-up for future disappointment. And invariably, I get upset at myself for being reeled in and believing in the possibility in the first instance. When it all crumbles in front of me, I chastise myself – “Did you really think this was going to work out for you? You should know better. You silly, stupid girl, you deserve this!”
Last year was a good example of this phenomenon in action. For a while, it seemed like everything was on track. I’d come out of a bad depression, my identity documents were nearing finalisation, I had some exciting opportunities on the horizon with my book, romance was in the air, among a whole host of other things. 2016 was going to be my year. And as each prospect or opportunity was stripped from me, it became difficult not to be bitter. I felt like I’d been played. Like I’d just fallen headfirst for all the schemes and plots, and I was paying the price. The ID that never materialised, brutal heartbreak, lost opportunities and shattered dreams – they were objectively bad things that happened to me, but I still internalised a good portion of the responsibility for them. Because that was the only way to make sense of it all. The only way to regain some semblance of control or agency. Bad things happened to me because I was bad. Doesn’t it just make perfect sense?
Even this response has been conditioned. Over decades of my life. My recourse has always been to blame myself, objectivity be damned. Every outburst that my father had, everything that went wrong at home or at school, or during university or internship. Every failed relationship. I know better, intellectually. But these are my weak spots. My vulnerabilities. And they’re waiting to be exploited, either by others, or by my own self-destructive tendencies.
I had another crisis of confidence last week, triggered by some trivial stimulus. It shocked me to realise that even a callous remark from someone who doesn’t know me, and who clearly has their own massive insecurity to deal with, could send me into a spiral of despair. Along with, of course, all of the deleterious coping strategies and self-destructive behaviours that are attendant to such a crisis.
Even that forms part of the cycle – because you find yourself doing things that are “wrong”, and you think “Well shouldn’t I be better than this by now?”
Especially if you’re recovering and you’ve been “clean”.
“Clean”. “Better”. “Wrong”. It’s all laden in guilt and shame and value judgments, and it’s a self-perpetuating cycle.
Those negative judgments are always much louder and much more prominent than sentiments of encouragement, or support, or compassion. This is a sad fact of the world we live in. I’ve known it for a long time, though the effects have been far more noticeable since I came out. Backlash and transphobia, for example, is always very public, whereas messages of solidarity are often delivered quietly in private, if at all.
I think you know this already, but this is why I make a point of my openness. Whether it be about trans identity, or my transition, or my queerness, or mental health, or self-harm, or eating disorders, or whatever it is. To borrow a quote, I contain multitudes. As do we all. Recognising that and embracing that is important to me. Insisting on speaking openly about things that are commonly shamed is important to me. I’ve suffered so much because of the stigma; I want to do my small part to break it.
It’s not easy for me, but because it’s a principle, it’s something I will not allow myself room to compromise.
I said before that the hate is louder than the love. And although this is true, that is not to say that there hasn’t been love. I do get messages, comments and emails from people to say that I’ve helped them develop some understanding, or that some of my experiences resonate, or that my vulnerability and openness has given them strength. I get the “me toos”.
There’s no question that I find some validation in that – that being reminded that I’m making a difference gives me some armour against the often relentless assault of self-doubt. But there’s so much more to it than that, and this is really the point that I so desperately want to express with this post. I’m sure I have you convinced by now that I don’t really have a handle on this. That I am still very much fighting my own demons – I don’t have it all figured out. Maybe I never will. I do speak about it, because I want to give others something to hang on to, but there is a part of my motivation that is much more selfish than that. Talking about it is a means for me to fight my own battles. To take these abstract concepts, the insecurity and the self-doubt, and try to make them that little bit more tangible. To try to even the playing field. To find some liberation and empowerment in dragging them out into the open.
But despite that, I still feel very alone sometimes. Very broken even. So, every time that someone says “me too”, it bolsters me. It combats my fears and insecurities and doubts. It helps to dispel the loneliness.
And I think this is the true power in sharing. It’s symbiotic. Giving and receiving coexist, simultaneously. It’s not a matter of “one or the other”. And it’s not about selfishness or altruism – the support is mutual, the compassion shared.
So to each and every one of you “me toos” out there, whether you’ve said it out loud, typed it, or even just thought it, I really just want to thank you, sincerely and intimately. To everyone who reaches out, who finds that little bit of inner hope or strength, or just “togetherness”… I don’t know if you realise just how much you’ve given me through that, and how grateful I am.
I know I’ll keep on telling my story. It’s all that I can really do. And I hope that it will do some good. But even more than that, I hope that you will keep sharing yours. Because I see the value in that, and trust me on this – it is immeasurable.