I would like to introduce you to Clara.
I very much hope that you accept her. Or at least feel towards her similarly to how you have felt towards me (however that may be…lol…).
You see, you’re already friends with her, if we are friends, and for as long as you have known me, you have known her. She went by Dan, or, if you were part of my D&D crew in high school, you knew her as Clarion, where she pretended to be the hot-wife-sidekick of Galen, my “real character”.
I’ve thought about that a lot, as I’ve settled, over the past year, into embracing the fact that I am trans. And then further, wrapping my mind around the fact that I have always been trans. It’s like….whoa….that’s a lot to process over a half-century of life.
But realizing that I am trans makes sense of my life in a way that nothing else did: no amount of analysis, therapy, living life as best I could, having a career, ‘growing up’, even being a father and raising wonderful, wonderful children. I feel so enriched by the life I’ve had and the many amazing people I have known in my life, including you in all probability if you’re reading this; but somehow, despite these blessings, I was always “a little off”. I could never just settle into being “me”. It was always, and incomprehensibly, a struggle to exist.
It’s incontrovertible, and makes so much sense now, to understand that I grew up as a trans girl, in a sociocultural environment that never allowed her the possibility of being herself. Instead of the organic story of my own natural authenticity, I learned the institutional story of Tradition, paving over my own wild realness, with the straight and narrow story of “Who I Am Supposed To Be”.
But, mainstream society’s beliefs, and parents’ insistences on things, do not the truth make. I know for sure, from my second-earliest memory of life at about age 2 ½, that I have always been trans. I’m not saying it’s that way for every trans person, of course. People can come to their awareness of being trans at any age.
One of the things Psychology is great for, is helping you understand how people live in a kind of personal “Matrix”, a constructed reality, a narrative, a story. And we all construct that story out of the building blocks and tools we can find in our environment.
In the case of a trans girl, growing up on the outskirts of a small, generally conservative town, with conservative-leaning parents, in a Christian-religious household, etc., gave me certain “narratives” about who I was. So, as we all do, I tried to make sense of myself in the only ways I knew how.
I literally did not know that “trans person” was something that exists in this universe, when I was growing up. It was a concept I do not remember hearing about, probably until university, when studying Psychology and, lo and behold, “discovered” that trans people exist. And even then, it seemed like trans people were different from me. I mean, I was just “a normal guy”, right?
In my childhood home, trans existence was never acknowledged. My household was pretty narrow in its views of human nature: good guys and bad guys, Right and Wrong, the rich work hard and the poor are lazy, criminals are bad people so lock them up and throw away the key, and it’s Jesus’ way or…burning in Hell for eternity.
If you are old enough to remember the character, Archie Bunker, you will appreciate that in my childhood home, there was no recognition that Archie was actually the joke. My dad literally thought the show was about how Archie saw things with “common sense”, and everyone else was an idiot.
Appreciating parody was perhaps not his strongest point.
Of course, I knew peripherally about gender issues as a kind of “thing happening in our culture”. You know, you’d hear about “the gays” in San Francisco. (And…presumably other places in the world?? Not in Huntsville though, right?) But mostly, this was never discussed. When we conversed, it was generally to argue about race and crime and capitalism….wheeee….
So yes, wow, when I finally had my Realization, decades later, and I looked in the mirror for the first time and said, out loud, “I am a trans woman”, and looked right into my eyes, it was like my Entire Life clicked into place, all the pieces of the puzzle of confusion finally coming together in a cascade of epiphanies. I always kind of hoped that I’d have some movie-montage-moment where like, a light from heaven shone on me and the veil was lifted and cool shit like that happened and suddenly Everything Made Sense.
And then, it happened! No lights from heaven. But, yeah, the rest pretty much. And it was even awesomer (that is now a word…I dub it thus) than I expected.
There were several days, maybe even two weeks, of being in a daze, walking around in a state of both shock and fascination. Even many months later, these mini-epiphanies are still happening, all these little details and memories coming back and making sense in new ways. It’s like I found my personal Rosetta Stone, and now there’s a whole life to understand and appreciate differently.
And of course, a whole future to walk into, for which I am incredibly grateful. I can embrace my life now as who I am. This could have happened 10 or 20 MORE years from now. It could have been never. I may never have been able to actually MEET myself.
I cannot describe what a gift that is. It really is (pun intended), transformative.
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So did I “know” when I was a kid, that I was trans? No, because I didn’t know it was possible for me to be a trans person.
But did I “wish” that I was a girl? Would I have pressed the magic button to turn into a girl, if the fairy godmother visited me one night?
Seriously? Is that even a question? Who WOULDN’T push that button????
(Of course, yes, yes, now I understand things better; not everyone wants to be a girl, etc…. I really don’t know why, but sure, whatever, I can accept that; to each their own….) 😉
But oh yes, definitely I would have jumped on that goddamn button before the fairy godmother even stopped explaining what might happen. I’d be like, “Whatever dude, you had me at ‘girl’.”
Although it can be difficult for people to understand the shift in your consciousness when you embrace your true gender, it was extremely not-difficult to recognize the shift, when it happened. Like those 3-D pictures, where you have to make your eyes all squinty and blurry and stuff in order to “see”, once I realized my deal and had the right perspective, my very Self came into focus, all at once.
The Need for Acceptance
I have to acknowledge here that, even with the overwhelmingly self-validating nature of the experience, I still didn’t accept it right away. It’s a huge swirl of Chaos in your mind, trying to adjust to what feels like radically new information.
People who are in transition, or who are questioning their gender and trying to figure themselves out, really need acceptance, because let me tell you, the more that your social world threatens to reject you, the WAY harder this ends up being for the person. They need to accept themselves, because it’s Who They Are. And it sure is a lot harder to accept and love yourself, if the people around you don’t.
(And like Taylor Swift sings, “Shade never made anybody less gay.”)
All it does, when people reject or doubt you, is make it harder to stay rooted in yourself, and instead, you slip back into your whole lifetime’s worth of patterns of struggle.
In short, it sucks. And you spend even more of your life in disconnection and isolation, instead of joy. After 50 years (well, 51 now!), even one more day is a loss I’m not willing to incur. Life is far, far too beautiful to live disconnected from yourself.
It can be difficult for people who are well-aligned with the gender they were assigned at birth, to understand just WHY “this whole gender thing” is such a big deal. It’s like, “Just get over yourself. You can’t just make up that you’re a girl, if God made you a boy.” (or vice versa) “You just have to accept yourself and take responsibility for your life…” Etc.
In Buddhism, the word dukkha is often used to mean suffering in its various forms. But the original meaning of dukkha is more specific than just “suffering”, and this added layer of nuance is super, super-cool.
Dukkha originally meant a misaligned axle.
Think about it.
A misaligned axle, attached to a wagon wheel, is going to wobble, right?
As it wobbles, it creates friction at the joint. It’s going to be under constant “stress”, and therefore, the joint is going to break more easily and wear out more quickly.
But even worse! The whole wagon is going to wobble! As the axle wobbles, and the wheel wobbles, and the wagon wobbles, every connection between everything is put under wobbly-stress. Instead of the stress merely happening at the source of the misaligned axle, the stress ends up spreading through the entire wagon.
Now imagine the wagon-driver, trying to make a living, feed his family, navigate the bumpy roads of the world, but his goddamn wagon keeps driving him nuts!! It breaks down all the time. It lurches along and crashes his wares together. It’s hard to steer. It’s just…a pain in the ass. He spends so much time fixing the wagon, nailing new support boards into it to tighten it up, or sitting on the side of the road, broken down, cursing his existence. Fucking wagon. Fuck being a delivery driver. This sucks. I hate my life….
Now imagine that for whatever reason, he never realizes that it’s the axle that’s the root of the whole problem. He would love being a wagon driver, he’d have a great wagon, he’d make his runs on time, his life would be so much better, if only he aligned that axle.
This — is dukkha.
Resistance is an Opportunity to Confront the Challenge of Complexity
I have realized, in working through my own layers of resistance, that the fact that some people will struggle with accepting me as a trans person, or may simply refuse to do so, is a real opportunity. For anyone who is interested, here is a chance to examine your assumptions about people, to examine whether your beliefs are based on reality, or whether you have warped reality to fit with your beliefs.
(NOTE: I must highlight, my experience of coming out to people has been 99% wonderful so far. The people most closely in my life right now — my kids, my family, a few close friends, and several people in my local community who know — have been so lovely. I experience now this reminder on a near-daily basis, that most people are pretty awesome, most of the time, and kindness is the default if people are not stuck in fear.)
One of the things you certainly do learn (or at least, can learn), as you get older, is that humanity is anything but simple. Although it might feel nice and secure to live in a categorical world where everything fits neatly into one box or another, Nature just ain’t that way. Nature’s engine is Chaos, and sure, Order does tidy up that Chaos, somewhat. But never fully. Life is just not like that.
Integrating the Persona and Shadow
Similarly, how people present on the surface is not necessarily who they are. (Obviously.) In fact, it’s pretty much never who they are.
We present our publicly-acceptable personas, as best we can, in the ongoing attempt to adapt to our social milieu. Thus, other people see and interact with and get to know our personas, not our full selves. If you have ever been in an intimate relationship with anyone, you have experienced this directly, as you have quite suddenly gotten to know things about them that weren’t evident on the surface.
Also, we, ourselves, may only be dimly aware of our “true selves”, especially if social pressures cause us to suppress, repress, deny or sublimate ourselves into something more “socially acceptable”. Probably every person who is part of the LGBTQ2S+ communities has experienced this at least in part.
THIS implicit schism in people’s psyche is the root of dysfunction, writ large. This is why healing and wellness and personal growth have always been understood in terms of integration, bringing disconnected parts of the Self together.
In classic psych for example, Carl Jung emphasized the importance of integrating the Persona & Shadow, and more generally integrating the archetypes so that one experiences the “individuation” and “transcendence” processes of personal maturation, as they become led by the integrated Self. I think it is obvious how this relates to people resolving gender dysphoria, and learning to inhabit “who they really are”.
For me personally, the difference in moving from denial to acceptance has been an incredible delight. Honestly, it’s just wild.
I mean, it’s not like suddenly my whole life is perfect or whatever. Of course not; life is complicated, and being trans has created a whole new set of challenges!
But, from pretty much the first moment I wake up, there is a different “vibe” to my awareness, a different energy to my day. That first feeling of “mmmrrrpphhh….is it morning already? Oh god I’m tired…ok….another day….”, has become “ahhhh, mmmmm, another day!”
It’s like I was wearing glasses for all these years that were the wrong prescription, and as a result, everything was always blurry and confusing. And I got headaches all the time and was kind of miserable, and felt shitty about that because what did I have to complain about anyway?
And now, the right prescription and – poof – Clarity.
It’s like going out into the countryside, far from the lights of cities, and looking up at the Milky Way in all its splendor. All this time, all this beauty has been there; you just can’t usually see it.
And so, if it’s a challenge for anyone to understand the reality of “being trans”, then I’d like to offer it more like a gift, a little anthropological opportunity to peek into the diversity of the human experience and understand just how wildly, beautifully different humans can be.
Cuz let me tell you, being trans is pretty wild. Experiencing the shifts in your consciousness, as you also experience shifts in your way of living in the world, and as you may also experience shifts in your physical body — the whole thing is incredible.
You can choose to see Nature as beautiful or scary. But if it’s not about to eat you, why not see it as beautiful?
Clarion and Clara
So, the universe works in mysterious ways.
When I was about 14 and created my two main D&D characters, I made up a male and female, both Elves (of course! Lol….). I chose Clarion as the girl character’s name. Why Clarion? I honestly have no idea. I just thought it sounded cool, and when I was imagining her name, Clarion was just The Name. And I liked the allusion to “clarion call”. I didn’t know why, at the time.
This is hilarious to me now. I spent all those years playing a character whose very name is an imperative “call to action” that musn’t be ignored.
So all those years, Clarion called, but I wasn’t able to hear her properly. I didn’t understand that being her, was not just a fantasy wish; it was a disallowed reality that therefore subverted into my unconscious, in a whole slew of ways.
This is the reality of so many trans people who “know” at some level, that their axle isn’t aligned, that they are not embodying themselves authentically, but without gender-affirming care, without support in exploring and discovering themselves, without acceptance in their families and schools, they will likely go on to “do their best” while living lives of confusion and disconnection from their True Self.
Or they may fully know who they are, but in a rejecting and literally dangerous society, they may suppress that and, essentially, play a role their whole lives.
Imagine how sad that is, over the years, playing a role, with everybody, not because you want to but because everything FEELS like a role and you don’t actually know who you are.
Even the people who love you don’t actually love “you”, because they’ve never really met you. They’ve only met the role. And it’s not like you’re lying. It’s more like you’re trying. You’re trying your goddamnedest to BE what the world sees you as.
But when it doesn’t fit, when the axle is not aligned, then – dukkha. Life is a struggle. And you don’t even know why.
What a loss for humanity, all these lives that could be lived so beautifully, and instead pass in darkness and shame and “feeling like you don’t belong.”
When I came out to my oldest daughter, she said she wasn’t surprised. I couldn’t believe it. “Daddy” becoming “a trans woman” would most certainly have surprised me when I was a kid.
Her explanation: “I always knew that Clarion was your real character, and Galen was your persona.”
I was flabbergasted. “What??!!! How could you tell?”
“How you talk about them. When you talk about Galen in your stories, he’s like nice, and has cool powers and everything. But with Clarion, you’re excited. It was just always clear that she was you.”
So…that’s good enough for me. Of course, Clarion will always remain my Elfin Rogue, master of stealth and bad-assery.
But for myself? “Dan” got the first 50 years. And thanks Dan; that was rad.
For the next 50, I’m going to be Clara.
(After 100….probably Queen Zylarr or something like that…we’ll see.) 😉
Why Clara? Again, I really don’t know. It’s like Clarion; there is no other name that is The Name. It’s just right.
Interestingly, long after deciding on this, I did look it up. Turns out Clara, from the original Latin clarus, means clear, bright, plainly evident. How about that eh?
And oh my god, I’ve never been happier.
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Thanks for reading my “coming out” story. Much love. 💖