By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist-
Last we convened here dear readers; I was living in Northampton for the first time around and speaking to you of my search for myself. Eventually however, I was driven out of Northampton by my innate wanderlust, my need for adventure (as well as one too many lectures on the word “history”) and the fact that the woman I was deeply in love with was moving to Boston to attend Emerson College.
I moved around quite a bit after that and travelled pretty extensively. I also began to find more information about transsexual and transgender people – media representations beyond “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” I read “Gender Outlaw” by Kate Bornstein and even saw her perform.
More and more though, I became convinced that if I was going to make it as an actor, I was going to have to commit to this “man” I had become, this character I had created to get by in the world. I retreated back into the closet. I was still pretty open about my gender flexibility, but I was going out less and getting dressed up alone more.
In Chicago I got married to a woman who was pretty accepting of my dressing up. But not so thrilled about the idea that I might like to actually “become” a woman myself. An idea I was only just beginning to admit to. That eventually ended for a number of reasons. Not least of which was that I was not the best husband in the world. I was patently not dealing with my gender issues and they were leaking out all over the place!
And, so finally I moved to LA. I threw out all my girl clothes and did the big “Purge” for the first time in my life. I was going to be a “straight man” (doing comedy!) if it killed me. And it nearly did.
I would still talk about my gender issues if you asked me, or I got drunk enough. But mostly I tried to pretend they were a thing of the past.
And that was just about the moment when this guy I had become started to die. By now there was plenty of info to find on the internet if I could wade through all the porn. But I had stuffed that long-ago-little-girl down deep inside of me.
Much of the rest, you know already if you’re a regular reader of this column. Like an alcoholic, I hit the rock bottom of gender. I was depressed and self-destructive.
Then, at the bottom, I finally said, “F-k it!” I had come to understand after all these years what “transsexual” was. I had an inkling of what “transgender” meant. And I knew that was what I was. I was a woman. A transsexual woman. And I was prepared to do whatever I had to let myself be the woman I always had been.
So, the question my friends, is not so much one of identities, but of our own understanding of ourselves.
This is why to outsiders it may appear that we are “switching” identities. Why Chaz Bono, if I may make such a presumption about someone else, seemed to “identify” as lesbian and then “switch” to “identify” as transgender. For myself, as well as for Chaz, there was never any “switching” there was simply the search for self-understanding.
As for the risk that we may “switch” back? Yes, that does happen. Usually the reason for someone deciding to de-transition has more to do with the extreme difficulties and outrageous prejudice transpeople encounter on an often daily basis; than it does with any crisis of “identity.”
A particularly well-known example would be Christine/Mike Penner, who was a sports writer for the LA Times. When Christine/Mike decided to transition, she came out pretty publicly with a column in the LA Times entitled, “Old Mike, new Christine.” I won’t re-hash the very public details of Christine’s story, except to say that a little over a year after she announced her transition and changed her byline to Christine, she decided to de-transition and her byline changed back to Mike. Shortly thereafter, she took her own life.
I had the pleasure once of actually meeting Christine. She seemed to me a pretty, smart and confident woman. In fact she was quite inspiring to meet at that point in the very early stages of my transition. But despite the public face, she was apparently quite haunted. Transition is difficult enough, but to do it so publicly must have been magnitudes more difficult.
I have known others as well who simply couldn’t do it and so went back to living in their old genders. We all too often find that transition can leave us disastrously unemployed, destitute and lonely. Our friends desert us. Our families won’t speak to us. We are left alone and hungry, surrounded by storm clouds on all sides.
So sometimes transpeople choose to go back to being miserable, but employed. Repressed but welcomed.
And sometimes still, they simply choose to keep exploring.
So you ask how to be proactive about this question?
This is how. We tell our stories. We work for change. We educate and agitate.
So that just perhaps, some little kid getting all dressed up alone in their Mom’s room can open up Google and five minutes later, be reading this. And maybe it won’t take them 30 years to find out who they are.
And that kid won’t have to worry about “switching back” because it will be okay for them to simply be themselves.
*Lorelei Erisis, former Miss Trans New England, can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.