For the first time since I started writing, I've stolen another writer's idea wholesale, and I'm reconceptualizing it as my own. I'm also admitting whom and where I stole it from: a post written by Gail Caldwell, author of the memoir New Life, No Instructions, for The Huffington Post's OWN vertical. That seems like the perfect place for a transsexual woman to swipe an idea, but the real reason is that the post lends itself so perfectly to certain realities of life that I've been struggling with lately, less than two weeks after my 52nd birthday. So here's my list of things I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self:
I was just 22 when I encountered my first transgender person in 1984. I was living in Atlantic City, and he (or she; to this day I'm still not sure) was my pot dealer. I still wonder what my life would have been like if I'd dropped by his place one day without my straight friends in tow and asked to talk. I wanted to so badly, but I was still too scared, too deep in the closet. What would life be like today if I'd been able to come out 13 years earlier than I did? I'll never escape the feeling that I missed something, maybe a lot.
You can't cure it; you can only accept it.
I spent my young adulthood trying to run away from reality. Drugs and alcohol were just tools, just like my useless attempt to hypermasculinize myself. I only wish I'd spent that time learning to understand who I really am rather than wasting it trying to buttress a fiction that would eventually collapse under its own weight and nearly take me with it.
Don't believe it when you're told "no."
Yes, it takes a long time. Yes, others will get places you want to go before you do and then act like they paved the road behind them. Yes, it'll be a while before you're taken seriously, and even longer before you get the respect you think you deserve, but it will come.
Be who you are, right now.
Don't wait another second. You can recover from a lot of things -- a lost job, people in your life who react badly, discrimination, and much more -- but the one thing you can never get back is your youth. Spend it being who you are, not running away from it.
You are not alone. There are girls like you out there, but you have to find them. There is strength and comfort in unity and community. Find your trans sisters, and your brothers as well. They have so much to teach you, and there's so much you need to learn.
It's OK to be different.
I know how hard it is right now to imagine not wanting to be like your friends, but the truth is that you are different. It's they who will either have to accept you for who you are, on your terms, or exit your life. Some will leave, and some will stay, but the ones who stay are the ones you know you can trust with your heart.
Speak your truth.
The closet is no place to live. It's lonely, and very, very dark. Coming out will be one of the hardest and scariest things you ever do in this life, but it will also be one of the most rewarding. Coming out is quite literally the gifting to oneself of life and truth. As you get older, you will come to understand that it's the single greatest gift any queer person can give themselves.
Worry less about what other people will think than about what you require to live a happy and fulfilling life. It's OK to be selfish and want the best for yourself. You deserve it, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Many, both inside and outside the LGBT community, will try to convince you that you're less than you really are, especially if you're not like they are. Don't believe it. You know better, and one day they will too.
You're in for a world of hurt, girl. Understand that right now. You'll feel the hard edges of slurs thrown at you like stones, and you'll feel the pain of punches thrown in anger as you turn your back on one life for another.
Also understand, however, that there's great joy ahead for you as well. You'll cry tears of joy the first time you're called "Miss" at the McDonald's drive-through, and no words can describe what you'll feel the first time you catch a truck driver checking you out while driving down the highway.
You'll weather the loss of male privilege and all the other indignities, big and small, which are part and parcel of being a trans woman. You'll understand that as a trans woman, you have to work twice as hard and be twice as committed to be taken half as seriously as a cisgender woman, much less a cisgender man.
If you don't have it, go find it, no matter how far you have to go or what you have to do. Love matters. Be courageous here too. For every door that closes in your face, there's another one that just might open. Don't be afraid to take a few risks. That's how you find the keepers.
Most of all, I'd tell my younger self to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves, because some don't come around very often. Maybe it's that understanding, and the perspective that comes with it, that's the true difference between the scared and closeted trans girl I was and the out and proud trans woman I am.
If I'd only known then what I know now....