Monday, December 2, 2013

My Story

I’m 19, and struggle with Gender Dysphoria.

So first, I recognize this story is long and somewhat serious. It's intention was to describe how I've come to my understanding of Gender Dysphoria, and where I’m going from here, and that just kinda exploded. So my thanks goes to you, dear reader, if you make it to the end, and I hope it can in some way help bring greater insight and empathy for you towards those that struggle with such an often misunderstood issue. Or I just hope I can provide a time-wasting story with juicy details, whatever melts your cake.

To first give a background, I grew up in a very LDS community, and was born into the Church within a faithful LDS family. As a 90's kid, besides being a little sensitive I wasn't that different from most other boys my age: I liked biking and rollerblading, traded Pokémon cards, played board or video games with friends and siblings, and was into soccer and even tee-ball for a time (until I ran to third base first).

I was also sometimes depressed as a kid though – my mom tells me there were times (when I was like 5 or 6) that I’d come home and be so tired that all I wanted to do was play Nintendo. If given an option I always chose the female characters – it just felt better – but I never really thought much more into that. It’s not like I was anti-social or anything either, I spent almost all my time either with my younger siblings or my friends across the street. That aspect of depression was just there, I think, and in my family history as well (my parents both struggle with depression and I have a few blood relatives with bipolar disorder).

Once I got into 6th grade, I started getting really introspective and even more depressed. I had a close school friend move away and a few other stressful events like friends not getting along with each other, but nothing more than what I’d imagine many people go through at this time, and nothing particularly tragic. I started to recognize there was something different about me from other boys my age too, but couldn't point out what it was, just something felt off. I eventually recognized that, for some reason, when I thought of myself as a female, either randomly in a tall hallway, or looking in the mirror and thinking my female self was looking back at me, or just imagining myself going throughout life as female, a feeling of strong self-understanding began to emerge. I began to realize that the thought that I could actually be a female and then just go about my normal life as one brought one of the most powerfully relieving, natural, and right feelings I’d ever felt in my life. And the thought of me continuing to live as male brought quite the opposite.

As would be expected, this brought a world of confusion. On one hand, I realized there was this extremely strong internal identification as a girl, an extremely strong desire to begin presenting in a manner consistent with this – feelings I didn’t understand and didn't want, but were there nonetheless. On the other hand, I remember asking as a little kid (when my mom was pregnant with my lil’ sis) how they knew if the baby was a boy or a girl, and she explained genitalia to me, explaining that I was a boy. Obviously I had a few other things (my life) reinforcing that idea that I was male as well. Being the obedient kid I was, I accepted and tried to follow this, tried to figure out how to be the best male I could be.

I went back and forth here for a time, but eventually decided in 7th grade (the beginning of middle school for me) that that was enough of these feelings. I was biologically male, so I needed to accept that. I told myself “I’m male, I’m male, I’m male” over and over in my head, thinking that would somehow solve things.

Instead, I became suicidal. The emotional pain of trying to accept my own male gender, something it seemed like everyone else could do so easily, became too much to bear. It’s a pain that’s hard to describe, but I think was partially depression and stress from the typical 7th grade awkwardness, and mostly some strange internal dissonance between feeling female and experiencing life as male. A pain I don’t wish on anyone, a pain based around something so fundamental as identity. It also didn’t help that my body seemed to be betraying me, I felt helpless as I developed facial hair, my voice lowered, and my bone structure became more firm and blocky. Looking very much like a male, even an attractive one as some say. I tried drowning myself in the bathtub, and contemplated having myself be run over or stabbing myself with a kitchen knife. Luckily I wasn’t successful, and eventually “stopped” being suicidal through the hope of someday getting over these feelings of feeling female and someday accepting myself as male, realizing the challenges my suicide would cause for those I love, and having a hope that I could potentially help others in the future through my career and otherwise, partially after hearing a story about a kid that was befriended that was going to commit suicide and ended up doing really well later in high school and such.

Unfortunately, my lack of success also meant nobody really knew I was going through this, so I didn’t get any professional help. I think my parents just thought I was struggling with some self-confidence issues (as most kids do at that age), and I had a good friend that could tell I was going through something and asked me often about it, but I was too afraid to tell what I deemed as my “dark secret”.

So the cycle went on. I treated this identification as female and the associated pain from reminders that I was physically presenting as male and didn’t want to present as that anymore as we’re told to treat all “bad thoughts,” trying to suppress them by saying no, or by singing a hymn in my head or saying a prayer or by focusing on something else. I read my scriptures intently daily, did my best to pray morning and night, and participated actively in seminary and church, hoping my righteousness would somehow “cure” me of this. Sometimes when it got especially bad I would go and sit in a private place and fold my arms and pray my heart out, hoping to be cured and not think of gender related stuff anymore, even though saying I hoped for that was even more painful. I also engulfed myself in school, including extra circular activities like band and debate. I found programming as a side hobby that I enjoyed, something I could do freely as male that could take my mind sorta off of this.

But none of this fixed the problem, indeed, the dysphoric pain (as this gender based pain is formally called) got worse. By the end of my last grade of middle school, I was so upset I still hadn’t got over these feelings that I missed a week of school from being “sick,” really being depressed that they were still there. This resulted in bad grades that last term, which for me was like a C- in one class and B’s or A’s in others, but still I would have liked to do better. The same happened my senior year of High School, and to some extent at the beginning and end of every grade. I made friends, had academic and extra-circular success, even dated some throughout those years, but this issue just kept being there. It was on and off, but on a mostly weekly basis, and the downsides were rather severe.

Eventually, I got to college, and being a young’un I had a year before my mission which I figured I’d use to finally put this behind me. It was a new environment with new people, and hopefully a new life away from gender dysphoria. Instead, after a week or two of putting off these feelings, they came rushing back as painful as ever. I was distraught to say the least, and eventually decided to go explain them to my bishop. To be clear I’d explained them once before to my bishop in 8th grade, but I don’t think my understanding of this at that point was enough for him to feel I should go to therapy, and instead I received some answers that helped for a time, but also led to me thinking I was over this and putting it more in the back of my mind, a state of being that doesn’t help in the long run.

Long story short, my Bishop in the college ward was amazing, just listening sincerely to me through many meetings and showing me tons of compassion, that he cared, even if he didn’t understand this issue (which neither of us did). He eventually thought it would be best to refer me to therapy, where I worked with an LDS therapist (they transferred me from LDS family services to him) for about six months to help me understand that these feelings weren’t wrong, and instead just a perfectly okay trial that I have to deal with.

Unfortunately, during this time I started to associate feeling the spirit with a reminder that I was supposed to accept myself as male, after praying to understand my eternal “spirit gender” and thinking it was probably male. This meant that reading the scriptures or going to church brought more of the painful feelings that I was so frustrated of at this point, so I stopped reading the scriptures for 2 weeks out of fear, something completely foreign to me after reading almost consistently since I was 14 or so. I got so worried about this I came to my Bishop again, and, first confused, he followed the spirit and helped me understand how the world has imperfect labels of, say male and female, but the gospel is about all of us being equal under Christ. That Christ is the perfect example of every characteristic, including being sensitive, compassionate, empathetic, etc. My Bishop’s explanation – that who I am now is perfectly okay and just as important as who I want to become (like Christ) – helped me recognize that the spirit is really just something testifying to me that I’m okay as I am (this was later reinforced after going to the temple and feeling this powerful feeling of okayness with myself feeling female internally), and helping me understand things I can improve on. So I began to read the scriptures again and be active in listening and participating church, which was good.

All of this increased understanding and decreased shame over this issue (since it was a perfectly okay relatively normal struggle I had that other people struggled with too, not sinful bad feelings unique to me) was immensely relieving at first since I wasn’t beating myself up all the time anymore, and I became the most outgoing and friendly I’ve been in my entire life. I began to finally discover and accept myself, instead of hiding and feeling ashamed about me, even though I wasn’t really out about this, I was out to myself, which was the first step. This lasted for a few months, but then I started to realize something odd: Even though I no longer felt as much internal shame from these feelings (because they were just an okay part of me), I still felt pain because I wasn’t presenting as female, what I identified with internally. The same kind of pain I experienced before, something that can best I guess be described as a depression/cognitive dissonance, returned. The thought of praying to have it be relieved was so painful and scary and never seemed to get anywhere that I even tried praying just asking to be turned into a girl, often for hours. It didn’t get me anywhere though, obviously, so I became pretty depressed again.

About this same time I also learned that, well going back a little for much of my teenage life I had this ideal girl in my mind that I told myself someday I’d be attracted to and marry, and just was hoping to find her. I had had some attractions towards my male friends, but just told myself “this is what I’d feel like if I was gay, which I’m not, instead these feelings are just me trying to understand what gay people would feel like so I can empathize with them but yea I’m not actually gay” and that was that.

But one day while riding back from therapy to college I realized that about 1/3 of the guys I met or knew were more attractive (in terms of personality and temperament more than appearance, really, appearance is like 13 on my list of important qualities) to me to be more attractive than any girl I’ve ever met. That I’ve never been attracted to any girl I’ve ever met, and was certainly attracted to guys. Essentially that I dealt with SSA, something I had been ignoring for a very long time, which just compounded my frustration over everything. Even saying “Why is my life so messed up” kinds of things, just being really distressed. Though Gender Identity stuff still came first, even if I could hypothetically marry my dream guy in the temple and have biological kids, I’d be extremely uncomfortable in that relationship unless I felt like he saw me as female. Again I still don’t quite understand why I feel this way; it’s just how I feel.

I mean I still have sort of an attraction to females in that I just really want to be like some females that I identify with, and the fact that I want kids and that’s only technically possible with most females or adoption, but these attractions are a very negative, almost jealousy type feelings, not the positive more “normal” attractions I feel towards men that I imagine is like the attractions most people feel.

Also, more recently in being around females that I’m out to around this, I’ve been able to develop rather close emotional connections in a way, but no attractions more than an emotional connection ever came up, attractions that I’ve experienced and just haven’t acted on with men. Also the thought of any physical intimacy with a female, even just including say holding hands romantically or kissing is appalling to me, and almost makes me nauseous, for whatever reason. Specifically what I mean is that, for some reason, right now when I see indications that some girl I know is attracted to my male self that I’m presenting as, it’s one of the most triggering and painful experiences I’ve found, something that I’ve heard similarly from some people that struggle with SSA. Going so far that to function well on dates (which I had some fun dates, don’t get me wrong), I had to continually remind myself internally that we were “just friends” having a fun time together, which was probably mostly accurate anyway, but also took out some of the meaning and purpose of dating for myself and especially the girls I dated I imagine. Because anything more than “just friends” hurt. So I wish I was bisexual, and am still trying to have an open mind to it, but everything so far points to that I’m probably not.

I also learned that, I asked myself if I do many times, and I don’t feel bigender/genderqueer/neuter/questioning/other. I know many feel that they don’t necessarily identify as either male or female, or identify as one sometimes and another other times, or identify as neither, or just aren’t sure, and that’s fine, I just rather strictly identify as female. This being my own personal experience that doesn’t reflect at all on anyone else’s feelings or how they should go about addressing and understanding and accepting their own self, it’s just what I’ve found about me, to be clear. I recognize that there are male and female parts of me too, and that gender and social stereotypes are rather socially constructed, but also that I feel my rather tomboy like personality is best represented through a female medium. That I would be very comfortable, okay with, and enjoy presenting as female in our society with its current social expectations (if possible) and that a male presentation for me is never something I find even relatively natural or acceptable. Not even a slightly more feminine male (since there’s feminine guys and masculine girls) that has all the personality traits and character as me, I’ve tried that. There are times I can deal with being male, times it’s convenient, and times it’s horribly painful, but never times I’ve found that I actually enjoy being male and it feels like me. If all that makes sense.

Long story short, I feel like a straight female internally, for whatever reason.

My therapist also informed me that, in terms of changeability, gender identity (as this is known) is more difficult to change than sexual identity, to the point that change efforts (unlike SSA which the debate goes both ways) are deemed unethical because of the immense psychological harm they’ve caused to many already suicidal patients. Unfortunately this had the opposite effect for me, my hopes of getting over these gender issues were gone, and without that hope, I began feeling very suicidal again. It was important to have realistic expectations too, I realize that. So this worried me, but at the same time, I learned that some people were able to, through hormones, voice therapy, electrolysis, and other procedures, essentially turn themselves into females for the most part (or males for FtM transgender people), what’s known as “transition.” This got me hugely excited, as there was a possibility that someday I could be presenting as female, living the life I’ve dreamed of (figuratively and literally) as me, actually me. So this hope replaced my hope of getting over these feelings: A hope of being female.

Then lots of nothing happened. College was over for the year (I did great somehow, even getting a 4.0 my second semester studying Engineering despite all this), and I started working during the summer, meeting with my therapist more and still being depressed because I was scared to transition. I had explained my gender issues as best I understood them to my parents too, and though they were as loving and supportive as they could reasonably be, they were also opposed to me transitioning because they didn’t feel it was right, nor did they feel it would be helpful to me due to the social consequences and potential discrimination I might face. I didn’t necessarily agree with this (because I felt like those potential consequences were so much less than the pain I’ve experienced so far and have continued to go through), but could see where they were coming from. So it had been 6 months since I explained this to my Bishop and begun therapy, and I felt like I had made a lot of progress self-discovery wise and mental health wise, but felt like to move any more forward I need to do something specifically related to gender dysphoria.

This gets me to where I am today. It is now more than a year from when I explained this to my Bishop, and I still don’t feel like I’ve made much progress. Specifically now:

I’ve come to understand the concept of spirit gender (as outlined in The Family, A Proclamation to the World) and feel it is best for now to assume my spirit gender is male. I also have a male sex, with normal male chromosomes, and as far as I understand a female gender identity (coming from something in my brain).

Thus I still feel it would be okay for me to potentially present as female as a temporary thing for this life, as a necessary treatment for a medical issue. I haven’t seen anything doctrinally against this either, as far as I can tell. I don’t know how marriage would work though, and most answers I get on the church standpoint are “probably not but it’s a case by case basis” kind of thing, so I’m not sure what to think there. If I were to transition though, I would want it to be a purely social/hormonal thing, as SRS (Sexual Reassignment Surgery) may cause church discipline and will strictly bar me from entering the temple or holding the priesthood, and genitalia isn’t as much of an issue for me as is the social and I’ve learned now also some physical aspects. Basically, the way my identification works is I feel most (if not all) the gender-based pain wouldn’t be there if I was seen as female socially, and after being out (about Gender Dysphoria) in some supportive situations I’ve learned that being out isn’t enough even if they are accepting of me, that I feel I need to look mostly female to really feel I am being authentic to myself as accurately portraying who I feel I am internally, to prevent dysphoric pain. As best as I can, again, explain these feelings I don’t understand but are there nonetheless and have helped me become who I am today.

I’ve come out to a few friends, my sister and her spouse, and a cousin, and they’ve been wonderfully supportive of whatever I decide to do with this. I haven’t been more out though, it being an irreversible thing that I’m postponing until it feels the right time to do so, when I have a more solid understanding of where I want to go with this.

I also tried three anti-depressants (to help treat the depression to help me be better functioning while we address Gender Dyphoria), and the first gave me mania (bipolar disorder), the second made me emotionally flat lined, and the third gave me anxiety/panic attacks where I was violently shaking daily, and made either my legs or arms shake a little from anxiety constantly. The first two we decided against, but the third I have been taking for three and a half weeks now and the side effects aren’t as severe as they prescribed an non-addictive anti-anxiety pill alongside it. None of this has really seemed to help yet though.

Before all this transition stuff, I know that hormones are known to treat this issue well for people that don’t want to transition (such as those that are married), if feasible not transitioning being something I see as ideal for myself as well. Thus, I’d like to start on hormones to hopefully help me get to a point that I can function well as male (and if not transition to presenting as female from there), but I’ve gone through 6 therapists right now, 5 of which didn’t feel comfortable recommending hormones (as a therapist’s recommendation is required after a 3-month consultation to work with an endocrinologist) because they didn’t feel experienced enough about the side-effects of hormones and don’t feel experienced enough with Gender Dysphoria to make such a recommendation. The one that would feel comfortable making such a recommendation after 3 months my parents were concerned her values weren’t LDS, and pushing too much for transition, so they didn’t feel comfortable helping pay for therapy, and I can’t afford it right now with her.

My doctor was able to prescribe Anti-Androgens (in the not causing permanent infertility range) to help as a temporary thing to keep me from further masculinizing until I figure more stuff out here of exactly what I want to do, giving a psychological benefit of less anxiety and urgency but not much more than that. He’s not comfortable prescribing any more than that, which makes sense.

So unfortunately I still haven’t found a therapist to recommend hormones, and will most likely need to wait three more months (minimum) to even begin taking hormones, after the cost and time (another month) of banking sperm if possible. I have seizure like panic/anxiety attacks rather often, have trouble getting to sleep at night, then once I finally do I wake up multiple times during the night full of the pain of this, then oversleep in the morning because I’m terrified to get up and have another day with Gender Dysphoria. There are so many things throughout my day that trigger a feeling of deep emotional pain related to this issue for some reason now, that I often almost burst out crying in class or have an anxiety attack there (but I’m able to withhold it until I get to a private place, and just can never get the tears to come out anymore for some reason) and I’m having a real difficult time just functioning in school. I can hardly focus on anything, lack motivation for most things. I’ve now missed quite a bit of school too, just having days I feel too overwhelmed to even get out of bed, sickness I think tying into all of this with a weakened immune system due to stress. Also sometimes my lack of desire to live as male overpowers my desire to live as female, and I do feel very suicidal.

I was hospitalized 3 weeks ago for a week in a psych ward because I didn’t feel safe (feeling very suicidal), and partially to begin trying that third anti-depressant to help me get to a little better position mentally. But that simply got me to where I’m at today, wanting to transition, but wanting to try hormones first, and not having the ability to try them, so being stuck in a very depressive state of continually waiting while searching for a therapist. And still having no idea if marriage and a family in the future, something I want so much, would even be possible or right, as a male or female. Honestly I would prefer to go on a mission as male and marry in the temple and raise kids in a loving family and have a hopefully successful career, but instead I’m stuck with dysphoria. It’s frustrating, to say the least, but in the spirit of thanksgiving I will say I’m thankful for Gender Dysphoria: I wouldn’t have such a strong testimony and be as understanding and empathetic of others without it, as a few examples of the many blessings I’ve received from it that have made me the person I am today. I’d just like to be moving forward somehow too.

Finally, if you are struggling with Gender Dysphoria (AKA are transgender or bigender or questioning or ...) yourself, please know I love you and care about you. Anyone can feel free to message me (or post below) if they have further questions (though I'm only semiscient), concerns, comments, or favorite flavors of cheese. Thank you for reading, it means a lot to me.

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