I attended a workshop today on the LGBTQ population in Utah. The emphasis was on Transgender and Healthcare. It was an amazing experience to hear from a man who has transgendered - to hear his story, to see his passion for Pride, and to feel his dedication to making sure those who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, or Queer get proper medical care (including physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual).
As part of this too-short 2 hour conversation, he led the 20+ healthcare workers on a visualization journey.
I’d like you to imagine yourself in your home. It is a typical weekday morning and you are just waking up to your alarm clock. You stretch and yawn. But you stop in mid-yawn when you become keenly aware that something is not right. More specifically, you realize that something is not right with your body. It feels awkward and strange. You get up, throw on a bathrobe and stumble, still half asleep, to the bathroom and switch on the light. You are startled awake by the sight of a stranger standing in your bathroom. Who is this person and what could they want?
As your mind starts to make sense of what you are seeing, you realize that you are looking in your bathroom mirror. In the next instant, you realize that you are looking at a reflection of yourself. But the reflection you see is all wrong. Your body has somehow changed overnight and you are no longer who you know you are. You very tentatively lean closer to the mirror to get a better look. As you peer at your face, you see that the masculine and feminine features in your face have completely reversed themselves. The contours of your face are completely foreign to you.
If you identify as a woman, you now notice stubble on your chin and jaw and how it scratches your hand as you rub your face. The contours of your face are more severe and defined than you expect them to be.
If you identify as a man, you now notice how soft and delicate the skin on your face feels. The contours of your face are softer than they were yesterday and the features may even be smaller.
What is happening here? You look yourself in the eye and see a small spark of recognition, but everything else is dreadfully wrong.
You step back to get a fuller view of yourself. The first thing you notice is the significant change in the size and shape of your neck. You lift your hands to further explore your body and you are immediately struck by the change in the size and shape of your hands.
If you identify as a woman, your hands have been replaced with large and rough ones. You notice that the knuckles are more developed, your fingers are longer, and the backs of your hands have hair on them. You can’t imagine how you can manage such large and ungainly hands.
If you identify as a man, your hands have been replaced with smaller and more delicate ones. You rub them together and notice how foreign they feel to you.
You tentatively run your hands down your torso. Even through your robe, you notice immediate and drastic changes in your body.
If you identify as a woman, you notice your broad shoulders and your narrower waist. Your body seems more lumbering and huge and you notice more muscular development than you had before.
If you identify as a man, you are shocked by the new curves in your body. You feel the swelling of breasts and the curve of your hips.
You let your hands fall to your sides and you look at yourself in the face again. You know what you must do now, but it seems overwhelming. You close your eyes and untie your robe. You let it fall to the floor and you can feel the air against your naked body. You take a deep breath to calm your racing heart, and you slowly open your eyes.
What you see in the mirror is simply all wrong. There are no words to describe how wrong this is. As your gaze drifts down below your waist, it feels as if you are looking at someone else’s body. Although what you see is anatomically correct, you know it doesn’t belong to you. You experience an unusual sense of detachment as you explore yourself. You can feel the touch of your own hands, but you can’t escape the sensation that you are exploring someone else’s body. This just isn’t right. You wonder what kind of twist of fate is playing this cruel trick on you? How could something like this happen?
Still feeling somewhat detached from yourself, you pick up your robe, put it back on and slowly return to your room. You know you must get dressed. You open your closet door and notice that again something has changed. What you see hanging there is not what you want to wear. As you flip through the hangers, you realize that these clothes are designed to fit the new body you have. In frustration, you grab the first thing you see and throw it on. Yes, it fits but the only way to describe how you feel is that you are wearing a costume. The first thought you have is “I’m in drag and everyone is going to know it”.
So you begin your day and you resolve to make it through. It becomes apparent to you quickly that everyone around you is treating you differently. No one is recognizing you for who you really are. Because you now look like the opposite sex, people are treating you accordingly. Part of it is nice, and part of it definitely isn’t. Even your family and friends are treating you like the opposite sex. You feel that no one can possibly understand what you are experiencing. As you walk through your day, you are constantly and keenly aware of your body. You continue to feel strangely detached from yourself. You recognize that being constantly aware of your body takes huge amounts of energy. You just cannot seem to get comfortable in this new body.
You finally make it home at the end of the day, drained and exhausted. You feel the need to be alone, away from the world that is trying to tell you that you are something you are not. You lock yourself in the bathroom and take some deep breaths. But the comfort doesn’t come. You simply don’t fit in your body and you can’t escape it.
You finally drag yourself to bed and convince yourself that this Twilight Zone experience will be over in the morning. You drift off to sleep with a spark of hope that everything will be right when you wake.
You wake the next morning and stumble out of bed again. You switch on the bathroom light and immediately experience a feeling of defeat and hopelessness. You are still in the wrong body. It slowly dawns on you that this might be permanent. What is it going to be like for you to experience these feelings day after day? What is it going to be like to live life in a body that you know is completely wrong for you? How will you have the energy to do this? You wonder if there is any hope for ever feeling comfortable in your body again? What would it take to change your body back to the one you know is right for you? The options seem limited and overwhelming.
With a deep sigh, you turn off the light and face your day.
As straight as I am, this exercise was tough because of my own journey. While I didn't "open my eyes" to see a different gender, I did open my eyes to see a stranger standing in front of me - every morning for a year - and "With a deep sigh, I turned off the light and faced my day."
There are still days when I cannot draw a line connecting the 4 Ronda's of the past 4 years. The Ronda pre-cancer, Ronda cancer, Ronda post-cancer, and a 4th, Ronda post-post cancer, the Ronda today. I have been through many changes - forced into them, and now acknowledging them, healing, moving.
I changed my mantra from "Stronger" last year to "Strong" this year. And as I opened my eyes today when the exercise was finished, I realized that it is because of being forced to look into the mirror, so many many times these past years, forced to face my changes, that I am strong.
And - to a certain degree, I can relate. Perhaps that's a piece of my journey. Thanks Dayne.