Archive for March, 2011

What Success Looks Like

An apartment in the city and a cabin

in the south of France.

A loft shared with my Great Dane Marmalady.

A king size bed and

an espresso coffee-maker

that goes ding in the morning

when my toast is ready.

A view of the city and a balcony

where I can feel the wind

blowing across my cheek.

Travel to Laos, Brazil, Colombia,

maybe even Antartica. A job

that pays me to travel or

lets me work at home

when I feel like it.

An entertainment room with

a movie projector. Inviting

friends over to watch obscure

films and discuss hot topics.

A superior stereo system and

an extensive vinyl collection

that includes everything

from Billie Holiday to Bach.

Driving an electric car. Going

camping in the Rocky Mountains.

Friends to go with me.

A partner in crime, and

who knows, maybe even a child

(or two). Giving them a stable, loving,

supportive home.

A life free of fear. Stepping out

into the world with confidence and purpose.

 

March 30, 2011 at 5:18 am Leave a comment

One person’s success

Recently, I was speaking with someone who told me that he worked over 100 hours a week during his twenties, and 70 hours a week in his 30s, 40s and 50s. That gave me pause, as I struggle to work the mandatory 8 hours I’m expected to each day. The difference, of course, may be that he is passionate about what he does, whereas me, well, I consider it a means to an end. I don’t hate my job, but I certainly don’t dream about it.

We each have a different measure of success, that goes without saying. The person in question is wealthy and well respected in his industry. For him, success is creating value in society. And creating wealth. But is that how I define success for myself?

To me success is stability, doing meaningful work, creating a legacy, enjoying the company of family and friends, earning enough wealth to do the things I want to do, and creating value. My happiness is directly correlated with how much my life is aligned with these goals. Currently I’m facing obstacles in my path to achieving success: for one, I don’t feel the work I do at my job is terribly meaningful; and while I have friends, I have not yet been able to create a family of my own; and I do not feel that I earn enough to live the way I would like to. It’s clear I have some work to do.

But knowing what I need is half the battle. It allows me to set my intention, to focus on finding ways to satisfy the needs I’ve identified for myself. It’s so easy, for someone who is recovering from depression, to fall into rumination; to imagine everything that I have missed in my life. There have been opportunities that I was incapable or unprepared to take advantage of but my missing them is no reason for self-condemnation. Being mindful of my weaknesses serves to remind me the next time I see opportunity to not hold back, to take the leap into the unknown and be willing to spread my wings. That can be hard when you’re used to a life-time of limping. Like a muscle achieving success requires exercise.

As I grow stronger, I realize how truly devastating a disease depression can be. For many, many years I held myself responsible for my own incapacity to function. Even though I came from a family of doctors, of psychiatrists even, I didn’t understand that my depression wasn’t my fault. I blamed myself needlessly. It has taken me to my 30s to really acknowledge that there is a life possible outside of depression. And I am proud to say that I have achieved this point without the help of psychotropic drugs. Let me be clear: I am not anti-psychiatry or anti-drugs. But I do believe that drugs are grossly overprescribed. What I have found helpful along my journey to wellness is mindfulness, meditation, making time for friends, taking just a half hour to go for a walk each day, speaking occasionally with a counsellor and making an effort to write regularly. None of these elements on their own is enough to heal me, but together they have created a safety blanket, a space in which I can feel nurtured and cared for.

I consider my rise out of depression nothing short of a miracle, considering it has accompanied me from my early teens and hit its peak in my early twenties. My liberation from this deadly disease may or may not last but while it does, I intend to enjoy the life I have. I am alive, I have survived some pretty dark nights of the soul, and I feel I have something to contribute to the world. That’s a pretty special feeling. To me, that’s the first step toward success.

March 17, 2011 at 4:33 am Leave a comment

Transsexualism: Identity or process

When it comes to defining who we are, we each have to choose which tribes we belong to. I, for instance, identify as human, Canadian, South African, immigrant, queer, and trans. These are only a few labels that apply to me. Deciding which label is primary can be challenging and can have long-lasting repercussions.

Transgenderism is a term that gets bandied about to describe  many different takes on gender. Some to whom the label is applied, insist that they are neither man nor woman, or that they are a bit of both. Some identify as a third gender, separate from man or woman altogether. Transsexualism, on the other hand, is normally applied to a very specific kind of transgender person: someone who was born one gender (e.g. female) and chooses to live out their lives as another (e.g. male). Many transsexuals do not see their condition as a primary identity. Someone who has cancer, for instance, does not all of a sudden become a cancer sufferer first and human second. They are men and women with a serious medical condition. And, if they are lucky, their cancer can be successfully treated. If that happens they can move on from that identity. They become survivors of cancer.

Transsexualism can be seen in a similar light. It is a condition that carries with it many complications. It often requires medical intervention. But it does not trump the person’s humanity. To be transsexual does not automatically make you less than human, less worthy of respect or dignity, and it certainly does not deserve to be a life sentence of humiliation and lack of rights. Many transition successfully and leave behind the transsexual label as they integrate socially as the gender they perceive themselves to be. Perhaps that is healthy. However, those of us who are transsexual will always carry some reminder with us of our past life, be it photos or friends or legal documentation to remind us that our path was different from the majority’s. For some, this is problematic: they seek only to forget the past. For others, including me, I do not want to erase who I was because it forms a crucial piece of who I am today. How I came to be a man has shaped the kind of man I am.

I did not always identify as transsexual. My journey took me through many different diagnoses and labels and I continue to refine my understanding of who I am, who I want to be. There was a time I believed that maybe I was crazy. My father, a psychiatrist, labeled me as borderline personality – a mental illness that carries with it a stigma of its own. Sufferers also often struggle with issues of gender identity. I no longer believe the label to be accurate. Instead I see it as my family’s attempt to make sense of behaviour that they could not understand or accept. When I began hormone treatments, my family felt concerned that I was injecting drugs into my body to feel normal, and yet they had raised no such qualms about the many psychotropic drugs I had previously been taking for depression and anxiety, some of which my father himself had provided me.

All this to say that transsexualism is a condition that I will carry with me until the day I die. The label is not so much an identity as an experience that has helped shape the person I am. Who I am is a human being, a believer in the rights of everyone to be treated with dignity and respect. For that reason I do not shy away from the label. It is a badge of honour I carry with me — a reminder of the suffering I went through to be where (and what) I am today.

March 13, 2011 at 4:58 am Leave a comment

Finding your path

Lately I’ve been struggling with what I want to do with my life. I have a job, health benefits, and a great group of co-workers. But I realize more and more that I’m not happy where I am. I recently asked a former teacher of mine what he thought I should do. He asked me what I wanted to do. I thought about it and realized that the only thing i really care about is writing. It’s hard making a go of it as a writer. You have to find a market for your work and people who value you enough to pay you for your labour. No easy task. My teacher told me that if I was serious about it, I needed to write a minimum of 4 to 5 hours a day. That’s commitment alright. I told him to stuff it; I already work full-time and hardly have enough hours in the day to run errands and visit with friends. But he’s right in a way. If I’m not willing to make that commitment, then I must not be ready to really embrace my destiny as a writer.

A lot of times it’s so easy to wait and wait for that special something to nudge you to your path. But what if that something never comes along? Do I really want to wake up 5 years from now without a career to speak of and still nursing a dream that I never attempted to realize? So many people in my life have encouraged me to write — and I’ve kept on telling myself the myriad reasons why it’s not a valid option. What’s not valid is continuing on with the life I’m currently living. I’m not happy, and only I can change that.

So, this is the challenge I set for myself: to write a book. From beginning to end. And then to sell it. What holds me back most when even imagining this possibility is that writing is such a solitary activity. It’s hard to feel that anyone cares what you’re doing when you’re ramming your head into the keyboard and the ideas just won’t come. It’s so easy, at that point to want to give up. No one cares anyway, you tell yourself. But I think the benefit of pushing through will make it worth it.

I already know what I want to write about. I’ve had a rich life, a peculiar life. Whether it’s getting dragged down into depression, to watching friends slip away, or losing my family because of my transgender identity. Often when I’m with friends socially I find myself at a loss for words. I get worried that if I tell them about my life, they won’t want anything to do with me and my strange tale, so instead I silence myself, in effect guaranteeing that the friendship we have will never move beyond superficial. Living life hiding oneself, is not much fun. It’s kind of like settling for that comfortable job with the good benefits. It may be OK, but it’s not great. And life is too short not to be great.

 

March 9, 2011 at 7:14 am Leave a comment

self-hate and the transsexual

A common belief holds that transsexuals hate themselves. That is why we subject ourselves to years of medical intervention including surgery and hormones. I would be lying if I claimed that I loved myself before I transitioned. It’s hard to imagine why anyone who loved themselves would sign up for the often grueling journey that transition can be. But there is a difference between transitioning because you hate yourself and transitioning to learn to love yourself.

Every parent, I should hope, wants their child to love themselves. Part of the transsexual experience, however, is to feel disconnected from the body that you were born into. It might be this very characteristic that makes transsexualism a disease rather than just another social phenomenon. When I was in my early teens I believed that by limiting my nutritional intake I could somehow make myself “healthy”. I was skinny to begin with, but as I sought to limit my food-intake, I soon began to lose even more weight. In my case, I did this not because  I wanted to look like the anorexic super-models that inhabited glossy magazines. I had never really cared much for the social pressures that drove girls to dress or groom in certain ways. My eating disorder came from a different place: a desire to stem the descent into puberty. My body was changing and I noticed myself becoming less like the person I felt myself to be.

At that age I didn’t have the vocabulary to know what was happening to me but looking back I understand that what I was experiencing was the development of gender dysphoria. Before puberty hits, girls and boys are less distinct from one another, less pressured with fitting specifically gendered moulds. As we feel our bodies, change, however, and hormones kick in, the roles become increasingly disparate. In my case, the role didn’t match my inner sense of self.

Transsexuals treat their gender dysphoria differently depending on its intensity. Some do not feel the need to transition entirely. Others will not rest until they’ve crossed the great gender divide. In my case, I proceeded gradually. At first I hoped simply acknowledging my condition would be enough. I dressed androgynously and tried to love my body for what it was. But it wasn’t enough. I knew that being a woman was simply not an option for me. I love women but in their company I felt myself invisible, unseen.

Hormones allowed me to masculinize — and it was a truly wonderful feeling. Hair sprouted across my face and body. My voice deepened. My body mass shifted. I looked into the mirror and began to see myself as I had thought I’d never be – a man. It was both frightening and exhilarating. The self-loathing was dissipating.Of course, not all was perfect. My breasts grew flatter and seemed incongruous with the rest of me. Surgery would help me lessen that incongruity. As I told myself: I wasn’t born with breasts; there was nothing natural about them.

Today I find myself finally learning to love my strangeness, my body, my road map through space and time. It carries with it remnants of my past life as a woman but I now cherish these reminders. They are badges of honour along the path to masculinity. Self-hate no longer shapes the way I see myself. Of course there are times that I wish that I could simply have grown into my maleness without the need for outside intervention, but my experience has enriched my life and made me much more compassionate, I think, towards others and towards myself.

We each must play the hand we’re given. I, for one, am playing the hand I have.

March 7, 2011 at 7:20 am 1 comment


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