Originally published on https://ftmmagazine.com/ (HERE) on 10 April 2017, the link is no longer active, so I am posting my article here:
It was never a choice. I did not one day decide to be a boy. One day I simply allowed my true self to come into being. | Erik Garkain
My body is scarred.
From my shoulders to fingertips, under my clothes, over my chest, my stomach and my legs – all support a tracery of scars inflicted through deliberate self-harm. Self-harm had been a way for me to release emotional pain and stress: the only way I could feel in control of my life. It made me feel alive. It made me feel something, not just so disturbingly numb.
If you could see under my shirt, you’d see other scars too: surgical scars that helped salvage this life. I have two identical scars curving from my armpits to my sternum – double bilateral mastectomy with chest reconstruction; and, a horizontal 20cm scar underneath my belly, just above my pubic line – total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.
Ten years ago I was living a completely different life. I was bordering on my 21st birthday, working with the elderly in an aged care hostel, and, at the beginning of what would become a five year relationship of relative heteronormativity.
I was also a girl. I often wonder if my self-harm was a consequence of my latent gender dysphoria?
I was male on the inside. It was a feeling I hadn’t come to accept, or believe could be fact. I was carrying a weight that I’m sure rings familiar with anyone who has borne the confines of a closet. My ‘closet’ was an identity I had been taught, not one that was true. The hormones were wrong, my body was wrong; it had bits I couldn’t associate with, it did things that terrified and disgusted me.
Coming out was a challenge. I have always been shy. I don’t often speak up, even if I have something worthwhile to contribute, so, to come forward to the people in my life with something so personal, was a terrifying prospect. When you come out as trans, it immediately cultivates all sorts of unwanted and personal intrusions: Is it a sexual thing? Does that mean you’re gay, or straight? Do you like boys or girls now? Are you pre-op or post-op? What have you got ‘downstairs’? And my favourite: If you don’t have a penis, you’ll never be a ‘real’ guy. But I shouldn’t have worried. My family have always been supportive, my sisters – amazing. I don’t often give people a chance to be anything else. If they want me in their life, they will respect my choices.
Strangers are harder. Historically gays have been persecuted by just as much misunderstanding and judgment as the transgender community, but a lot of trans people feel ostracised in queer safe spaces, as if we don’t belong. A lot of the discrimination I have had has come directly from the gay community: My choosing to be male didn’t make it so because I would never have a penis.
It was never a choice. I did not one day decide to be a boy. One day I simply allowed my true self to come into being. I would never choose to become a second class citizen; to open myself to discrimination and hate with possible abandonment and rejection from family and friends; to jeopardise my job security; to lose the right to marry; or, risk ever finding a partner who could accept me… None of this is anything I would willingly choose. It was simply the next step of my existence, and it was always going to happen.
Looking back this past decade, to the start of my transition, the doubts were strong. But now I can see what I have achieved. Physically and mentally I am in the happiest place I have been. As each day passes, my confidence grows, and with it, strength to be who I really am, and that is a wonderful feeling. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change my journey, because changing that would change the essence of who I am. But perhaps some words of solace for the darkest of nights: You’re not weird, you’re not crazy, and these feelings, they won’t go away. Don’t listen to the people in your life that want to make you feel worthless. Don’t listen to the people who want to tell you who you should be. Listen to yourself. Only you know how you truly feel. And yes, at times it will be tough – out on that ledge, exposed to the world – but you need to be yourself. That is where your happiness is. You are better than you think you are. You are great, and people love you, for you.