This is the second in my series “Memos to my Former Self”. The first was to my 7 year old self. This one is a letter to my teenage high school self. I plan on writing a third one to my older self, when I was 57 when I was just on the cusp of finding out my truth.
I recently read a book (“Letters For My Sisters, Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect. Published by Transgress Press”) compiled with stories that trans* people wrote to their younger selves. They were asked “what would you say to your former self” and “to what age”?
Steve: High School years
Heh Steve! Hold up a minute. Ya, I know you just finished ROTC drill team practice and need to get ready for the dance tonight. Kathy is a wonderful gal, you and her make a beautiful couple. I know you are going to have fun tonight!
Oh, I’ll get around to that – I think you will quickly figure out how I know these things. Let’s just say I’m not your average older woman and that we have everything in common …
Look, I know you are having a tough time right now. Yesterday you were downtown walking up main street. You looked a bit grim, very unusual for you huh? You really really want the next 5 years to pass by with the snap of your fingers. Guess what? I’m proud of you for wishing that! I know, seems strange that I would agree with you huh? But what you don’t see is what underlies all of that. Wishing this is your way of coping. The alternative – quitting life – is not something you would ever consider, right? Trust me, I very glad and proud of you for that.
This may seem like a strange thing to say, but I know that it is hard for you to be out in public, walking downtown or even the dance tonight. At least tonight it will be dark and only Kathy will be noticing you, or at least that is what you hope.
It’s been difficult growing up, right? Sort of conflicting a number of times. Part of you was glad you finally started to shave but another part, deep down, was horrified. Ya, I know you only felt the conflict and could not understand where it came from.
And Kathy – isn’t it wonderful to have a steady at last? It’s not like you don’t have girl friends. Seems like every single girl you meet is your friend. But none (except Kathy) ever see you as anything other than, well, another one of their girl friends. In fact, they would tell you things they would only tell their girl friends – and they would never ever tell a ‘boy’!
I know this made you feel very special. And it should. I also know that you have never doubted your maleness even in light of this. Or in light of seeing how much different all the other boys are from you. And it’s not just the normal differences between one individual and another. We are talking ‘all’ the boys. Not only that, you are disgusted with the attitudes of grown men, especially when it revolves around women. People you looked up to and thought were great men and even your role models have this distorted view – objectifying them, seeing them as second rate and sexualizing them. And oh my god, even priests (pun intended)!
Of course you don’t understand the men but do understand the women very well. You have a lot in common with them. That is why they come to you, as another one of their girl friends and also why they do not date you. Same sex dating is a pretty big no-no right? Yes, I know, you believe you are a man, but try to understand that from their perspective, you ‘know’ (and feel) to much.
Look, sorry, but I can not spill all the beans. I will give you some hints to try to help. You have had some trauma in your early childhood that resulted in your hiding a large piece of yourself very deeply. Sad to say, it is going to take almost the rest of your life to figure it out. But that is ok.
You have done so much already with your life. So many accomplishments – but everyone just writes those off and I know it seems like you even have to hide those or never talk about them for fear of ridicule or worse, being accused of the dreaded bragging. Your mother will brag about your other brothers and your sister, but only complains to others about you. This is so unfair – you are so much better – especially when you know what your brothers have done. Somehow they still are the apple of your mom’s eye.
Hang in there Steve – know inside that you are better than just ok – you are awesome – even though no one else will ever acknowledge that. I’ll give you a small hint: they are jealous. I’m sorry to tell you, but this will continue like that for the rest of your life with them. But trust me, later in life, not only will you confirm this, but others will tell you this too.
Steve: finally a happy face! You were always so serious.
You know how you always seem to need to accomplish things? Sort of always feeling like you have to prove yourself? Ya, I know, it’s a constant pressure. You are always so serious, even your pictures show that. Well, you know, all these things we just talked about contribute to this. They all add up and compound the pressure to perform. Unfortunately your deep dark secret is part of the cause of all of this.
That part about the girls seeing you as another girl friend? And how disgusted you are about not just some but all other other boys? Ya. This has instilled in you a powerful drive to prove yourself from the very core of your being.
I commend you for picking and choosing honorable ways of proving yourself: the sciences, academically (not talking grades here, I know you have picked the toughest courses, way beyond what is expected and you are keeping your head above water) and emotionally. Steve, you will find that it is very rare to combine feelings and sensitivities with both science and with being ‘manly’. Your future partners (sorry to say, but yes, that is plural) will see this in you and tell you that was one of the main attractions they had for you.
Steve, these are all pointers to your true self. Unfortunately, you will not figure this out for another 40 years. In a strange way perhaps it is fortunate. Right now, in the strict conservative society you live in, that society would destroy you, your life, your world would completely change and life would be very very tough indeed. You will need to trust me on this. Just keep these memories, these ‘pointers’. They will come in handy later on in life.
For now, trust that you are on the right path. Be the daring brave person you are. Get out there and climb those cliffs (I mean this both figuratively and literally – you are going to take huge risks in your life that you will succeed in and you are destined to be a technical mountain climber!).
You will start your own business, a high risk adventure that will last 8 years. You and everyone involved will wind up far ahead in life and business because of what you start and do. And you will get to fly a plane and almost get your private pilots license. Your friends will invite you to come along with them to climb the cliffs by devils lake. And that is before climbing hardware was used – you will learn how to tie ropes to form a safety belt and how to repeal with rope only! You will be very daring and adventurous. Some will say a bit too risky. But you have calculated those risks – these are well chosen, well within your abilities. You might not understand this, but you need to do these things. You need to prove yourself, you always have. It has to do with your feelings of not fitting in as a boy, a man.
Oh and Kathy – what a gal! You will have fond memories and attempt to find her later in life. Unfortunately, the most you will find out is 5th hand information: something about her living upstate, married, not very well off and not happy. Sorry about that. Your second love winds up as a medical doctor and lives in a very posh neighborhood, so I guess that balances things out. You find others, some will break your heart, but you pick up and move on, even though you felt for sure “she was the one”.
A married Steve, about 25yrs old
Yes, you will get married (twice). You will have two sons and you will have four wonderful grandsons. Unfortunately, after they have left the house on their own, your deep secret will start to manifest and this will cause them a great amount of grief. You will lose everything you had accomplished at that time: your marriage, your sons and their families, your job and your dream house on a northern lake, not to mention a lot of friends and other family. The sad thing is that you will not even know why until years after. That is when all the pieces will come together.
You will not be very happy with what you did to bring this on. I’m not going to judge that one way or another. It just is. You will need to accept that and push on.
And there is good news after that: you get married again, this time to another wonderful person and guess what? You move to Hawaii and get the most awesome perfect job for you. And even better, you finally figure out who and what you are, and you successfully change to be the authentic you.
Yes, you make it – in spades ….
Hang in there kiddo – those next 5 years you are wishing to pass will evaporate (maybe too fast).
… from your future self