I'll begin by telling you that I'm not a big risk taker, for fear of my worst fears becoming reality. I have feared rejection, ridicule, humiliation, losing friends, being the object of mockery, not blending in, being different, hurting or embarrassing loved ones, and as a self-employed person, I have feared losing clients.
I need to take the risk of sharing something about myself with you -- secrecy is no longer an option and I have come to realize that disclosing to you is the only way our relationship can continue, if it is to have integrity.
About ten years ago, after a lifetime of guilt and confusion, I was diagnosed as having Gender Dysphoria at Vancouver General Hospital's Gender Clinic -- a condition commonly referred to as being transgender. This diagnosis was simultaneously a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because it provided and explanation of my past and a signal of hope for something that might end the guilt, confusion and shame, but it was a curse because the options and choices offered to me not only had a hefty personal price tag, they also confirmed that there were no magic cures that could make me "normal." While I accepted the diagnosis, I concluded that I could not possibly begin down the prescribed path, which would potentially end with gender reassignment surgery.
I left there not knowing what to do. I needed time to sort things out. At the time, I was not willing or able to pay the social, economic and emotional price that would be involved, not to mention the incredible impact this would have on my wife and our three sons.
The big part of my ongoing struggle is that I've always felt at odds with my body. But these confusing feelings were always kept private. Growing up, I sought to be what most defined as "normal," even as I struggled with my own gender identity. As early as the age of four, I remember becoming aware of this dynamic, I also remember sensing that I had to keep these thoughts to myself. As a child, I would often pray that I could wake up with a new body. Then, as I got older, I prayed for God to correct my brain. What research I did on my own just left me more depressed, confused and totally defeated. I begged God to make me normal, one way or another.
It wasn't until I was almost 40 that I finally sought professional help. Seeing a psychiatrist for the first time in my life was not easy. However, he skillfully helped me to verbalize my conflicting thoughts. He also offered to refer me to the Gender Clinic, but I refused. "Hell, no!" was my response. It would take me almost ten years to finally accept his recommendation and ask my GP to refer me to the clinic. Perhaps they now had a cure -- that was my hope for going.
Why am I sharing all of this, and why now?
My hope is that by sharing honestly with you, you will be able to understand that it is time for me to face life honestly and allow the hidden person inside me to emerge. Like a butterfly? Maybe not quite that, but a metamorphosis to be sure. And the new person will need to inhabit the place that has been vacated by the person you thought you knew.
As to why now, that is a harder question to answer. You can imagine the struggle I have had in reconciling this to myself and to my family. I just know that I cannot live the rest of my life attempting to maintain the shaky facade I have had to erect all my life. I trained myself to behave and act in certain ways for more than five decades, not only for the sake of others, but as a way to survive. So there is need for a time of restructuring. Fortunately, caring professionals are helping me to navigate these intimidating waters.
I cannot fully express how I felt when I first shared this letter. On one hand, I had never been so scared and felt as vulnerable. On the other, I felt a very large burden finally lift from my shoulders as I began the process of disclosing. The most difficult of these, second only to disclosing to my wife more than 25 years ago (before I understood my condition), was disclosing to my parents and to each of our sons. This finally took place in the spring of 2008. I had already shared with my sisters and brother and their respective spouses a few months earlier. Though each person has accepted the news in his or her own way, I am grateful that I have not been rejected and ostracized. The complete opposite is true. I have never felt as loved and accepted.
I have also shared with close friends and clients, and that circle has been growing gradually. At first, each disclosure was emotionally exhausting. That helped to slow down the pace, though at times I wished I could have shouted it from the rooftops and gotten it over with -- once and for all! Now I find that forwarding this letter to people as the need arises has made the process easier on all. It gives people a chance to absorb things at their own pace, and I am spared from having to retell things over and over again.
All of this has been very difficult for my wife, who feels as if she has lost her husband. I have felt at times that I defrauded her when I married her. My only defense is that I honestly believed that marriage was the answer to prayers for a normal gender identity. When this uninvited inner person resurfaced, I then prayed and hoped that being a father would finally do the trick. What more proof would I need? On and on, my hopes and prayers were always based on yet another milestone of manhood. In all honesty, it is really to her credit and God's grace that we have remained together since I first revealed my gender dysphoria to her.
I am eternally grateful that three sons resulted from our union. Had I been brave enough to come out sooner and not married, I may have avoided years of struggle, but then these three wonderful lives would not be here today, and I would not have known the love that I have experienced from my dear wife and our sons. This I cannot deny and I would not trade the past -- even if it were possible to do so.
I am alive today because my faith enabled me to live a life that is one thing on the outside, and a very different thing on the inside -- but I felt as if I had simply become a master of disguise. More importantly, my faith protected me and kept me from harmful and self-destructive behavior, which is not uncommon for individuals saddled with my condition.
I am aware that not everyone will accept my transgenderism as a genuine medical condition -- as something I was born with -- but rather as a lifestyle choice. I spiritualized it and tried to deal with it as though it was a matter of the will and something that could be eliminated by the retraining of my mind, by perseverance and dying to myself daily. This is what I desperately prayed for and tried to do as I struggled to reconcile my identity with my beliefs.
After all these years I have finally come to peace about my diagnosis. As my pastor put it, this is not a moral issue anymore than being born with a physical disability or any other medical condition. But I am guilty of a sin, and that 'sin' has been my reliance on the secrecy that has underscored my adult life. It is not that I have been living a lie -- but rather living without acknowledging the full truth about myself.
In July of 2008 I started living fulltime as a female. Until then, coping had been possible by a gradual discovery of what allowed me to be at peace with my body. Dressing in an attempt to present realistically as female was a learning experience, yet there were changes I had to make before I felt confident enough to be in public. For example, I have endured and will continue to endure countless hours of electrolysis to remove my entire beard, which is almost gone. I also needed to lose weight and was able to come close to the weight of an average female of my age and height. Finally, there was the issue of an age-appropriate wardrobe that would allow me to fly under the radar without drawing attention.
Though my physical appearance has gradually changed since I transitioned, I am still the same person inside, but I am no longer a dual person. I am no longer cloaked in silence and motivated by fear and a sense of shame from not being truthful about myself. What is new for me is that now when I am asked how I am doing, I give an honest answer and not one that is complicit with a cover-up. You don't know what a joy it is for me to now be able to answer that question honestly and to be transparent! I have nothing else to hide.
The final step in the long process of transformation took place on March 30, 2010. I underwent gender reassignment surgery in Montreal. Friends asked me before the surgery if I was excited or nervous. The truth is that I was neither. What I felt was relief since I would no longer be straddling the gender divide. There is a sense of calmness that I have felt ever since and it is most welcomed.
In closing, I don't know how much you may already know or understand about transsexualism. There are many professional resources on the Internet that I can provide links to. Others continue to explain transsexualism and its ramifications better than I possibly could, but if you have questions of me, please feel free to ask. Let me know if you would like me to forward links to you because simply doing a search on the web can be quite disturbing. Unfortunately, there is much pornography based on this issue.
I have shared with you because I felt it was safe and important to do so. I apologize for not having shared with you directly and for relying on what amounts to be a "form letter." Because I value friendships, I was compelled to include you so that we can continue journeying together in complete openness.
Yours with all sincerity,