Reflecting on my Isolation and Dysphoria

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my feelings of isolation and loneliness, and I’ve come to a realization that I wanted to share. Throughout high school I was really struggling to comprehend the feelings I was having towards my body and who I was as a person. I didn’t really express those issues to anyone close to me, and now that I’m a bit older I’m realizing that I started to isolate myself a lot earlier than I had ever considered. I thought I felt isolated living on my own in Victoria BC simply because I struggled to reach out and connect with others and because my family lived across the country. However, it goes a lot deeper than that. My dysphoria and the internalized shame that I was feeling towards myself when I was younger was a massive contributing factor to the loneliness, isolation, and depression that I currently experience as an adult, and it started as soon as I realized that something about me was different than other teenagers. Not different as in having obscure interests or having strange personality traits (though I also certainly did have many of those) but different in the sense that I did not feel comfortable and at home in my own body or with my sexuality and how I was unable to express who I was with others. So as soon as I became aware of the complexities of gender and sexuality (as early as puberty and my teenage years) I was starting to isolate myself. This is because I felt like it was necessary to hide who I was, because to be different in our society is to be deviant, and I felt an increasingly intense amount of internalized guilt and shame.

But really all I was doing was hiding from myself and denying those who I interacted with an authentic relationship with me based on who I actually am as a person. What I’ve realized is that I’ve been doing this for almost half my life, and as I’ve gotten older it’s started to take a massive toll on my mental health. I struggle with depression and anxiety among various other mental health issues. I have difficulties trusting and loving others because I struggle to trust and love myself. I was hiding my authentic being from the world and from my relationships, and I’ve come to the realization that I was actually running away from myself and how I feel about who I am as a person. Being trans is difficult in our society because we teach our children that being trans is wrong and that difference is something to be disdained, and to be honest I fed into that logic as a teen.

I’ve come to realize that the reason I moved away from my family and my friends to a province where I knew no one was because I wanted to distance myself. I wanted to be able to explore who I was without exposing anyone I cared about to that process, but I also think that I wanted to subconsciously run away from who I was. I think moving to this province gave me the opportunity to reflect on who I am as a person, and to be more honest with myself about my feelings and how I traverse the world, but now I face the issue of not knowing how all of that fits into my relationship with my family. I’ve started to navigate that more with those who are very close to me, like my mom and dad, but I also want to know where the authentic version of me fits into our larger family dynamic. I’m sure that it will be the same loving and supportive family that I have always known. Even more so now that I am able to develop authentic relationships with my loved ones based on who I actually am as a person, rather than as a performance of someone else.

I don’t want to feel so isolated and alone anymore. I don’t want to struggle to love and accept who I am. I want to be able to connect with others, love them authentically and never deny myself or others the opportunity to explore our relationships. Hiding myself was one of the most selfish things that I ever could have done, because I eliminated the possibility that I had to create relationships with others. I felt like I was lying to everyone that I ever met, and that only further contributed to my feelings of isolation. I realize that I did this for a number of reasons: internalized shame, ensuring a sense of security from others and myself, avoiding the situation altogether, and running away from who I am. I don’t want to deny myself an authentic life anymore. I’ve decided to embrace everything that makes me who I am, because I deserve to be loved and have authentic relationships. Because of this I want to reconnect with my family and move closer to them. This means that I will likely move all the way across the country to either Ottawa or Toronto once I finish my last year at university in Gender Studies. I want to know what it feels like to interact with my family and have them really know who I am, and for them to be able to see the authentic me with their own eyes and to connect with me based on that honesty.

Note: I’m not saying that trans people are being dishonest to their family members or to anyone else in society. There is a really sinister narrative in our society that says that trans people are deceptive, and I don’t mean to feed into that narrative here. What I am saying in this article is that I have found it difficult to be honest with myself about who I am as a person, and thus before I came out as trans I was dishonest about that both with myself and others. When I was still closeted I was pretending to be someone that I wasn’t, and through that dishonesty I isolated myself and struggled to connect with others. For me to  be able to say that I am transfeminine is for me to be honest about who I am as a person.

Have you ever?

Have you ever learned something
so profound, beautiful, and haunting
that it commandeers your lost soul
and guides you towards a new path?

Have you ever heard something
so tragic, honest, and visceral
that it tears at your fragile heart
and exposes you to new emotions?

Have you ever lost something
so precious, innocent, and pure
that it forces you to contemplate
who you are in this lonely world?

Something that challenges you
to deconstruct your experiences
and change how you understand
moments that have defined you?

Silencing the Demons

Fuck all the limited assumptions and labels
that encourage you to view this body as male
because I am a bad ass transfeminine tomboy.

No, I am not your stereotypical trans princess
and I do not exist to meet your toxic standards
so confident in my femininity and expression.

But there is always a voice that whispers to me
and it claims that my feminine is not authentic
so overcome with internalized hatred and doubt.

So when I tell people to go and fuck themselves
for trying to pigeonhole me to false conventions
sometimes I wonder who needs to hear that most.

Father

When you come to mind
it’s like a home invasion,
a trespass in my memories.

When you reach out to me
it’s like assault on my soul,
a reminder of the heartache.

When you hold me close
it’s like being held captive,
a prisoner of guilt and shame.

And a child should never
have to feel this hopeless
about someone they love.

“A Prisoner In My Own Vessel”

I’ve been thinking a lot about a line I wrote in a poem called “Desolate Lands” where I explained that sometimes I view myself as “a prisoner in my own vessel.” I wanted to deconstruct what emotions and thoughts I was processing in that moment. I was struggling with feelings about dysphoria and discomfort with my biological existence, though before I delve into the nuance of trans issues and the relationships we have with our bodies, I want to explain more about the methods I use when I write poetry. To me, the creation of authentic and visceral emotion in my writing requires me to allow my various thoughts to travel through me and my writing instrument to fill the page untethered with doubt for what I’m feeling in that precise moment. This means that I will often return to something I have written in the past and learn that my thoughts and feelings on the topic have dramatically changed. This is the reason that writing is so cathartic for me, because it helps me learn about who I am as a person, deconstruct complicated thoughts, and is as a catalyst for me to process emotion and trauma. Writing is a healing activity that allows me to move forward and understand my experiences.

I think we’ve all heard it before, the overtly common and limited narrative that suggests all trans people feel trapped in their own bodies, or as “prisoners in their own vessels” as I described in “Desolate Lands” no more than a day ago. I understand that there are many trans people who might feel this way about their bodies and that’s valid and real. In fact, I know that this is a feeling I sometimes have about my own body that comes from dysphoria, hence the inclusion of the line in my recent poem, and I’m not here to debate the reality of those experiences, quite the opposite. However, I do really want to emphasize that I don’t always feel this way about my body and that many trans people feel comfortable in their own bodies, and that doesn’t make them any less authentic.

There is a quote from Alok Vaid-Menon who explains that “[they were not] born in the wrong body, [they were] born in the wrong world.” This quote has always resonated with me as I’ve tried to come to understand my feelings towards my body. Alok draws attention to a toxic gender status quo and encourages us to move beyond a “Western colonial system that’s invested in categorizing everything about us.” I’ve realized since writing “Desolate Lands” that I don’t necessarily feel like a “prisoner in my own vessel” but rather lost in an ocean of stereotypes and false assumptions about my body and how this supposedly defines who I am or how I traverse the world. There is no monolithic trans narrative, and we all have unique relationships with our bodies. I agree with Janet Mock when she explains that the “trapped in the wrong body” narrative can inevitably function to “place [us] in the role of victim, and to those who take mainstream media depictions as truth [we are] seen as a human to be pitied because [we are] someone who needs to be saved, rather than a self-determined [human] with agency and choice and the ability to define who [we are] in this society and who [we] will become in spite of it.”

Desolate Lands

Invasive vines,
coiling around me,
bursting from the earth
that is my own flesh.

A deep and hollow rumble,
the vibration in my chest,
that feels like an earthquake
rather than my own voice.

A tumultuous flood,
rushing water over barren soil,
intrusive thoughts and emotions
the deluge of my own uncertainty.

A prisoner in my own vessel,
exiled to these desolate lands,
a constant struggle to feel at home
in the caverns of my own soul.

This might all sound hopeless,
but our eyes tell a different story
of a limitless and expansive galaxy
that is our own to explore.

The Dilemma

Complicated emotions wound tight like a noose around my neck.

The tense anxiety of existence that dominates every fiber of my being.

How else do I explain what it’s like to traverse this world as me?

Should I lie to you, the people I love most, and say it’s all going to be fine?

Or do I tell the truth and risk exposing myself to the chaos of your empathy?