Sometimes we never fully appreciate the dysfunctionality of our families until we are much older. By then, many years and decades of our lives have passed and we come to look back at our childhood with eyes anew, as if we were looking upon our lives as a different person than we were. My very wise 17 year old nephew once said to me that we each live multiple lives over the course of our lifetime. As we grow to learn about ourselves, we grow internally, both spiritually and intellectually. Our desires, goals and perspectives evolve as we become ever more aware and self conscious of the lives we have lived, the lives around us we have touched or that have touched us in some way, and as we evolve within ourselves.
In looking back on my own childhood, I can sense it all anew from the perspective of having lived through it and grown into a person who has become self-aware of her own identity and the world around her. I can eerily look back upon my youth and truly feel detached from the person I was, yet fully knowing I lived through what could only be termed as very dark days. The darkness which pervaded the shadowy world that was my life did not seem so at the time, but then again, it has been said that we often do not see the forest for the trees. For those who know only darkness, the concept of light is as foreign and alien a thing as any. Having stepped into the light which age and wisdom have brought me over the years, I can look back now and realize just how dark those times were.
I grew up with an immediate family consisting of a mother, a father and a sister. My mother was my best friend in the early years of my life and was always the one to provide me with the encouragement and support to go farther in my life and to strive for more. She was the one who took the time to read every paper I wrote, type every paper I penned and to be an ally and confidant when I needed simply to talk. My father was much more the authoritarian. While a good provider, he was a micromanager and layed out the law of the household. While he worked a full time job, my mom was expected to work her part time job, take care of me after school, take care of the housework and ensure that dinner was ready when my father would arrive home.
My father's temper was the most fearsome thing and his arrogance and anger would oft show themselves for such simple things as dinner not being prepared on time to chores not having been completed by my mother. Although I loved my parents, I grew to have a love/hate/fear relationship with my father. His temper would often culminate in verbal assaults and occasionally physical ones involving my witnessing my mother being struck. I would often hide in one of the lower cabinets in the den where the louvered slats allowed me to peer out while safe inside with the linens and towels. Many of the physically abusive visual acts witnessed were ones I mentally blocked for years and decades, It was only recently that I began to recount those memories as I first started to consciously document my life.
My sister was hardly ever around in my life. She was 13 years the senior to me and by the time I was 5 years old, she was 18, graduating high school, entering college and out of the house. I always wondered for many years why she used a different last name from that of our family's but was not to find out until many years later the true reason why. When I questioned my mother as to why her name was different, the answer was always the same... that she was the rebel of the family and wanted to be unique. There was nothing that could be farther from the truth.
It was decades later that I came to find out the true nature of my sister's variant last name. Although I imagined in my mind that she may have been adopted, it turned out that she was the offspring of my mother in an earlier marriage which was hidden from me by them for many, many years. My mother had married young, becoming involved with a man who was a tyrant and a wife beater. Together they bore my sister and very shortly after her birth, she filed for divorce and left him. Being fearful of her life and her safety, she fled to live with her sister out of state and took her daughter (my sister) with her.
Eventually my mom and my sister returned to Massachusetts where they settled in with my mother's mother. While there, my mom started dating my father and because she so desperately wanted to have a family and a home life for my sister, they quickly married. My father's mother, who lived next door to where my dad lived, was appalled that my father would marry someone who was a vagabond and a tramp because she had a daughter from a previous marriage. She feared the neighborhood, family and relatives would find out and that it would reflect back poorly on her son.... my father. She argued with my dad to send my sister to live with my mother's sister yet again so that this little "dirty secret" would be hidden from all. My dad, surprisingly, and because he always wished to please his mother first, agreed.... and my sister was sent off to live with my mother's aunt out of state.
After about three months time, my sister, crying endlessly to come home, was finally allowed to come home to live with my mother and father. She was instructed to never call my mother and father as mom and dad but rather as aunt and uncle and to use their first names. Again, this was for the sake of my father's mother who maintained that it appeared shameful that her son married a woman who had a child from a prior marriage. Around me, my sister was only to use first names only and to not use aunt and uncle so as to confuse me as much so, although it was still confusing. My sister, feeling as if she was the black sheep of the family, and rightly so, was quick to try to leave the house when she was of age and to seek her own life, free from this ruling and the tyranny of my father.
I was dealing with my gender dysphoria from an early age, as early as I can remember, perhaps age four and definitely by age 5. Although I often looked to see if there was a correlation between the relationship which existed within the house between my mother and my father with me, I would come to find out later that it was not the triggering factor in who I would become. That is a story for another time and yet another complex and well hidden piece in the family puzzle.
Early years in school were not a problem for me as I immediately took to the little girls in class and they to me, as a girl. We talked, socialized and played together as little girls do. I just never realized until much later in life that I was acting and behaving as female and thought I was just being a little boy, yet somehow feeling different from them when I was around the boys. As the years passed and the girls and boys began to separate socially, I was no longer welcome in the girl's circle. Not feeling comfortable being in the boys circle I started to pull away into my own worlds and the darkness which pervaded in the often hostile and physically violent home life began to encroach further, pulling me deeper and further down.
By age 10 I was already crossdressing and this became even more an occurrence when puberty started to kick in. The more I was developing into a boy, the more I tried to be the girl I felt I was inside. By age 13 I was becoming very proficient in makeup and style and would dress whenever I could get a chance at home to do so while my parents were out. I hated living in a house where I feared my dad. I despised developing into the man I felt I was not while at the same time feeling guilty that I could not live up to the expectations of being the man my parents wished me to be. I despised God and cursed him each night for not allowing me to grow up as the person I knew I was inside and when that brought me nothing, asked him each night to take my life so that I would not have to wake up and live this nightmare any longer.
I found solace in my reading, in science fiction and fantasy where I could lose myself in realities of a world other than the tortuous one I lived my life in each day. I read and studied sciences and literature and immersed myself in books and learning as a means to stave off the social inadequacy I felt in the world around me. I became a loner and person who sought solitude and peace. Weekends were something I looked forward to when my mom and dad would take me away to a small summer cottage in the lakes region of New Hampshire. Here I could often be found taking long walks alone in the woods to lose myself for a few hours in the peaceful and non-judgmental world of nature and the outdoors.
By the time high school came around, I found myself having regular panic attacks that became violent enough to warrant medical attention. So self conscious was I of my living in the wrong gender that in social situations and around the girls, I would find myself catatonic at times, unable to speak, dizzy and in a cold sweat. Being called upon one time in English class caused me to have a racing heart and heart palpitations, a complete loss of feeling in my left arm and passing out on the floor in class. They were all the symptoms of a heart attack yet it was, in actuality, a severe panic attack of the highest order.
These panic attacks of high school would last until age 45. I managed to hide them from others by avoiding situations which would trigger them. For years I thought that it was agoraphobia (fear of people and crowded places) that plagued me, but the reality of the diagnosis was yet to come at that point. Meetings were affairs that I would avoid at work and if I had to attend, tried to find as low profile a position as was possible to achieve in such an intimate and closed situation. I avoided restaurants and cafeterias where I found I was so nervous that I could not even make it through eating lunch without breaking down in panic. Somehow I even hid this from my spouse, who did not even know I was dealing with this affliction all of these years. I hid it that well and used avoidance scenarios that well.
The panic attacks and fear of social situations which devastated so many decades of my then introverted life came to a sudden end the day I accepted myself as a woman. I remember the day well. On most weekends during my marriage, I would spend my Saturday evening getting dressed and doing up my makeup at home. My spouse might snap a few pictures as a keepsake reminder for me of the person I was able to materialize as fleetingly for these few hours each week. On one occasion in 2009, fully dressed as the woman I am today, I broke down while standing in our kitchen. With tears running down my cheeks, mascara and eye liner melting into the mess my face became, my spouse asked me what was wrong. It was then that I admitted to her what I was failing to admit to myself, that this was more than playing dress-up. In fact what I thought would satisfy my female energy simply by getting all decked out in female attire was doing nothing for me. I needed more. I didn't need or want to simply dress as female, I needed to live my life as the woman I am. It was on that fateful night that I vowed to move forward with exploring my life as a woman and in the fall of 2009, I stepped foot for the first time outside, after decades of trying to keep my female self at home, and ventured out into the greater world.
Interestingly, my social anxieties immediately faded away into a distant memory as I naturally fell into a life I knew I was meant to live. I knew I was the woman I had tried to deny simply through the realization of finding such ease with which I related to the world and socialized naturally as female. It was obvious to me as it was to everyone in the greater world who would come to know me for they all saw and felt me as being female in heart and essence. It was 2009 that I first found what it was really like to be happy inside. It was 2009 that I finally started to live a life I wanted to and to not live my life for what I was expected by others to do and to be. It was 2009 that I realized that for 44 years of my life I was miserable with a dark and dead soul and living in a state of low level omnipresent chronic depression and anxiety. It was 2009 that I finally found myself free.
And like in the story of the Grinch, whose heart grew three sizes on that day where he learned the true meaning of Christmas, so my own soul suddenly grew almost as suddenly in those weeks surrounding my meltdown and acceptance of who I am. My fears disappeared and I came to find that I was not the introverted, frightened, panic stricken and socially awkward person I thought for all these years that I was. I was suddenly manifesting the woman that all these years I knew deep inside I was. It was she who was finally free. SHE was the socialite who loved to mingle and converse, to share ideas and thoughts and conversation, who was the life of the party and who loved life and her friends. SHE found as great respect in getting to know others as they would come to find in her. SHE realized she was blessed with life and love and with friends who cared. SHE was no longer frightened to be in public settings but, instead, found that she actually sought them out. Her fears of public speaking were replaced with her wants to command an audience and to share her life and her stories with others. It was a transformation that she could not see until she stood where she stands now, illuminated and self-aware of where she is now because of where see she was so many years ago in those dark decades of her life before. Sometimes she wonders what life would have been like if she had not lived through so many dark years, but then she realizes that it was those dark years that allowed her to appreciate more fully the light which illuminates and encompasses her now. It is a light which shines clearly HER way forward; it is a light which is reflected back by the gift of those who love her as she loves them; it is a light which permeates her innermost soul and brings song to where there was once only silence; it is a light which is like no other, and which can barely with words be described, but for the first time in this woman's life, she is realizing happiness through contentment, and that is the best gift of all.