As a young boy I lived in fear. Fear of the dark, fear of spiders, fear of the monsters conjured from the depths of my imagination but most of all the fear that I was not enough, not enough to be loved or even liked. This fear was the basis for all others and the only fear I knew to be true.
Childhood was tough. Rejection fed my isolation, isolation fed my tough persona and the lie that I needed no-one, nor cared for anyone. Sensitivity and tenderness became locked away behind a door that only the feminine within me could access. The boy that I was could not afford to be soft or gentle or kind, feeling was weakness, yielding was weakness, aggression and violence kept the world at bay.
Feminine and masculine became separated within me, girls were soft and boys were hard. This coping mechanism caused a greater sense of isolation. Rejecting the world protected me from further pain, yet prevented the boy who thought he was not enough, from ever growing up.
The pain of my childhood robbed me of kindness and instilled within me the language I used to communicate with the world for the next forty years. As children do, I blamed myself. For most of my life I knew one thing, unarticulated, yet woven into the fabric of my being, defining my relationship with the world. The knowledge that I was worthless, no good, a horrible, wretched child, who in every second of my life, in every breath I took, felt the need to apologise for my own existence.
As a young man, seeking belonging and self worth in status and objects simply fed the black hole within me. Any satisfaction was short lived . Deep inside, I felt broken, somehow wrong, this sense of wrongness justified my anger and violence that when not turned outward was directed inwards against myself. What horrors I perpetrated as I sought to confirm that I was bad to my core. There is only so long a person can handle the weight of such pain.
In my thirties, night after night my own screams would wake me from dreams so terrifying the light provided little respite. Just as I did as a child, I filled the darkness with monsters. Those monsters now had a definite form. That black shape that terrified me so when I was a small boy. My pain had taken the form of a spider. In my nightmares and waking life I was visited time and time again by this creature conjured from my shadow.
As a child I was the kid that stank, with greasy hair and black finger nails. I remember looking at my feet and thinking that the dirt caked on my instep and toes made them look charred and burned black. Our ancient bathroom was outside the back door, next to the coal shed. Moist with condensation, flaky cream paint peeled from the walls, cracked and filthy, the bath was tiny even for me. Spiders webs hung in the corners of the room, around the cistern and the back of the broken loo seat. Within these mysterious funnels black bodies lurked, still and silent. Gripped with fear I would peer in to see the dusty matte of their ebony shapes, the down turned v of their legs just visible through the webs. A bare light bulb illuminated the horror of this room for me. I was terrified to enter and so rarely did. Instead I washed in the attic sink that doubled as my toilet.
Much later in my healing process, confronting the past I faced these spiders and knew them for what they were. Imagining myself as a little boy standing in a limitless space of darkness, lighted only by a single incandescent bulb above my head. Surrounding me are forms, their huge black bodies only partially visible. Their mandibles and thorax face me, their abdomens fade into the darkness behind them. In the middle of the room I stand, a seven year old boy with greasy hair and dirty feet. Without fear I look up into their eyes. Caressing their cheeks, I stroke their lustrous thick black hair, then on tip toe, one by one, with tenderness I kiss them on their mandibles. Looking deeply into their blood red eyes I tell them that I love them. For they are my guilt and my shame, my fear and my rage, my wounds, if I love them then surely I love me too.
Transitioning to live as a woman stripped away the armour I had held onto so very tightly. Revealed was a world of feeling that since early childhood had been unavailable to me. This was the beginning of my journey to healing and integration.
Surgery was easy, hormones, not so easy, they took time to get use to. After years of masculine stoicism, learning to cope with the ocean of feeling now available was very difficult. Truthfully, it took years of living as a woman before I felt in touch with femininity in a meaningful way. The physical changes were quick, two years and half a dozen operations, followed by another two years to recover but really and truly, transitioning was a very slow process, often painful, sometimes joyous but always revealing, always deepening and always spiralling inward to the truth of who I am.
The ” woman ” I gradually matured into was able to embody a kindness and compassion that was unavailable to me as a young man. Searching inwards to find the source of my inherited pain, there I found the little boy so damaged and alone. I acknowledged him and gave him a voice. With it he cried an animal cry of pain. His presence took some effort to bare, so much so that there were times I thought I wouldn’t make it. How can I explain how it feels as an adult of forty seven to experience the pure emotional outpouring of grief and loneliness from the child I had been, the child I had carried locked inside me. Ever so gradually I brought him out of the shadow and gave him contact with the world. Many times I’ve travelled back to visit him and in the worst of those times, to hold him. Brushing the matted hair from his face, I gently lifted his head and placed a kiss upon each burning eyelid stinging with the salt of tears. My lips against his cheek, softly I whisper, “ you are loved, you are loved, you are loved by me, you will be ok, you will get through this, you will survive. ”
Accepting the boy that I was and the man I became, released the fear and desperate anguish that had defined his existence, my existence. I am the boy and the woman, the feminine and masculine, the violence and tenderness, the rage and love.
Claiming womanhood has never been something important or even necessary for me. I have always been comfortable with my choice and have never felt the need to delude myself into believing that I was actually female. Yet after years of thinking that I would always only ever be an approximation, a limited expression of my feminine side, I now feel able to access that ocean of feeling that once was too much to bare. Is this the femininity I yearned to embody, in part, no doubt. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that what I feel is simply wholeness, both masculine and feminine existing in balance. No longer in conflict, no longer denied, each acknowledged without judgement.
Much as I may have thought that transitioning was a pathway to finding myself, I had no idea just how profoundly life changing that pathway would be. For many years I felt that transitioning was a painful compromise. To feel more feminine I had endured so much, sacrificed so much and thought I’d gained so little. Comfort within the body is just as limiting as it is rewarding. In a way it is a dead end, a trap that you must find a way out of. This was the gift, the puzzle hidden within the search for meaning in form. Perhaps I saw being a woman as an escape from the boy that I was, the boy that even I had rejected. Now I see how fortunate I have been to walk this path and to suffer so. Any insight and wisdom that is available to me now has emerged from that suffering. That search for wholeness in my body forced me to go beyond the external and instead go inward, deconstructing and examining each and every layer of persona, to look deeply into my shadow and pain and finally to accept myself. Maya was my pathway to finding the self that dwells within. That self does not fear to look at any memory or emotion, that self is no longer silenced by rage against an unfair world. The world I once feared so much is now my Father, my Mother, my Teacher. The painful memories are clearer than ever before but now are a doorway onto compassion.
Along the way I found something out. It is the knowledge that I am good and I am worthy of life. I know this now.
I know other things too. Like what it means to live in darkness and shadow, of the terrible consequences of isolation and neglect, the torture of the unworthy and unloved. I know the scream of rage inside you that tears you apart until there is nothing left but that scream. I have felt these things many times. The accident of my birth and the isolation of my childhood provided me with both the recipe for my suffering and the unflinching will to survive it. Transition to live as a woman allowed me to become the nurturing presence that the child needed to heal and the young man who had become the monster in the shadows that he feared so much, to forgive himself.
Several months into my healing process, while sitting at our kitchen window lost in no particular thought, looking up at a tree that stands tall near a ruin above our croft. There was a change in the air, behind me I felt a presence, vast, gentle and loving. Moving to surround me, it gently but firmly held me within itself. I became aware of an overwhelming feeling, the presence wanted me to know that I was loved and that I always had been and always will be. It wanted nothing more for me than to know this and to flourish and grow in this knowledge. There was nothing to fear, there never had been.
The presence stayed with me for a few minutes then left as gently as it had arrived. Its message was delivered.
I know it and feel it now.
As I travelled back in my imagination to visit myself in those dark days of pain and oblivion, I believe that this presence was also myself come to welcome me into the world of the living and to the next part of my journey.