For my first blog post from my website – I wanted to share a piece that I originally wrote back in 2005 when “The Gates” installation was in Central Park. Some of you who lived in and around New York City at the time may recall them. They received quite a bit of coverage in the media – both good and not-so-good. Nonetheless, for where I was at the time – eight months from my coming out at work and being one hundred percent “out” as my true and authentic self – their presence moved me on a very metaphorical and visceral level. They prompted this essay, which after reading it through for the first time in years, is just as relevant (if not more so) today then it was when it was written nearly nine years (what???!!!) ago. It is my Easter gift to you and I hope you enjoy reading it and, hopefully, taking a piece of it with you. . .
I came upon “The Gates” today, almost by accident. I had seen the grand unveiling on television a week or so before, and quitehonestly had forgotten all about them since. Although impressed by the sheer enormity of the physical display, I was even moved more than I could ever have imagined on a much deeper, more visceral, level. It’s as if Central Park has been bathed in a bright shade of saffron at every turn. As I entered the park at Columbus Circle the lunchtime crowd of business people and tourists overwhelmed the grounds at the foot of the Maine Monument, but I soon noticed that this teeming mass of humanity flowed easily up, down and across the park’s paths as they gazed, gawked and otherwise absorbed the sheer enormity of the spectacle before them. It was an unusually warm and pleasant winter day. You could actually feel the first hint of spring in the air, and everyone that I passed looked as if they had embraced this temporary break from an otherwise bleak winter season with refreshing joy. I thought that perhaps all of Manhattan had taken a collective deep breath, as if to purge the winter doldrums with one mighty blow.
It is against this rather festive backdrop that I find myself at peace for the first time in my life. No delusions, no self-convincing, but honest to goodness serenity. Imagine that! After what I had endured in the past year and half, well, it’s actually more like four decades and a half; I am finding it difficult to absorb the notion that I may actually be at a place of inner peace. Is this what my future holds? Can this long-elusive congruence truly be everlasting? Suddenly, a swirl of feelings coursed through my entire body. Pulses of energy jumped from vein to vein inside of me. I had to stop myself in mid-stroll and brace myself against one of the gates themselves. Is this what being “my true self” really feels like? I had read many an eloquently written account of this phenomenon by other transgender women whom I admire, but none of that could have properly prepared me for this moment. It was as exhilarating as it was overwhelming.
In an instant, this deeply personal and introspective moment captured the essence of a lifetime of self-imposed pain and anguish. The guilt, the shame, the denial, the lies and half-truths all came crashing together in one giant swell of emotion. As the intensity of my realization strengthened its grip I began to cry from behind my sunglasses. As my tears turned into sobs, my vision became blurred and I glanced all around to make sure I wasn’t making a complete spectacle of myself. It was then that I was stricken by the immense metaphor of my surroundings . . . The Gates . . . The Journey . . . My Journey. Must I pass through every gate to ultimately embrace that which I have always known myself to be? Are there rules for such things, or is this something you just feel? Could this be what I am feeling now? I quickly found a nearby bench so I could sit down and allow myself a few moments of composure to reflect upon the enormity of my epiphany.
If I truly accept the notion that it is my destiny to live my life as the woman that I believe God intended for me to be, am I prepared to deal with all that it changes in my life? For I have learned that being true to one’s self, in my case my womanhood, not only effects me but also those around me—my son, my siblings, my friends, my colleagues—just to name a few. The simple fact of the matter is that when a transgender person decides to transition, all of those people who are a part of his or her life are also being asked to transition as well.
As you might imagine, it is difficult–-in some cases next-to-impossible–-for them to grasp the fact that the person whom they have known for all these years will be fading away, never to be seen again. But is that really true? I owe a debt of gratitude to my former male self for helping me shape the woman I am today. I feel that there are many positive facets of my personality that have come from him – my wit, my sense of humor, my business acumen – just to name a few. It would be inappropriate of me to just blatantly toss them aside in my quest to become more female. Besides, women possess many of those same traits, don’t they? While my outward appearance has most certainly undergone a rather dramatic change, the fact remains that the essence of me remains unchanged.
Why does embracing one’s innate gender identity have to be so complicated – so controversial? I just want to be myself. What’s so wrong about that? My transexualism has never been a sideshow act of the sort one sees with disturbing regularity on Jerry Springer, but rather a deeply personal and introspective journey. One that is very different for each person that embarks on such an odyssey. But to be sure, the entire concept of gender is so engrained in our culture, so polar at its very core, that the slightest divergence or variation has many people running for the exits screaming this simply cannot be. Well, I’m here to tell you that it most certainly can. Think about it for a minute. At the moment of your birth the doctor slapped you on the butt, took a peek between your legs and – voila! – declared you either a girl or a boy . . . how tidy. . .
To be sure, I’ve had people say to me, “but you’re giving up your male privilege, doesn’t that bother you?” Maybe it’s just me, but I’d much rather have doors opened for me, be allowed to get on and off elevators first, and order first in restaurants. Frankly, much of the chest thumping, backslapping false bravado I encountered as a guy is simply not where my head is at anymore. Actually, it never really was there to begin with.
You know, all I ever really wanted was to be a member of the sorority—the sisterhood. As my own personal journey of transition progresses and I am out and about in the world as Stephanie, I can feel myself embracing the unique relationship that women have towards their surroundings, those they come in contact with, and each other. For example, many of the women I encounter on the streets of Manhattan always have a smile or a knowing glance for another while they are checking out the outfit you’re wearing! I have found this perspective to be vastly, and refreshingly (thank God!) different than that of men in our society. When I pass by a group of ladies outside a restaurant that have just finished their lunch together, it’s all about warm hugs goodbye and animated conversations all around. It’s so obvious that they truly embrace each other’s lives, and most importantly, their friendships – their connectedness – with one another.
I am truly blessed to have girlfriends such as these in my life– both transgender and genetic females. With all of them, especially my genetic female girlfriends, it has never been about my gender identity, but rather about the whole person that I am. They possess that perhaps all too rare combination of sensitivity and insight to see past the outer me and embrace the inner me. I am eternally grateful for their love, support, understanding, and acceptance.
I lived the first 40-plus years of my life as a man, with all the roles society places on men in our culture—husband, father, brother, manager, breadwinner, alpha male. But it was all a charade, a finely orchestrated act, because I was too petrified to confront my innermost feelings—feelings that I experienced each and every day of my life that kept saying in a not-so-subtle way that I was different. It became a constant drumbeat in my brain, day after day and night after night. I tried to run from it, to bury it and lock it away in a continuous series of macho endeavors—and I became good at it, really good at it. Step right up and receive this year’s lifetime achievement award for successfully pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. No one, and I mean no one, had a clue.
After all, this was what I was supposed to be doing at these various stages of my life anyway, right? This was what everyone was expecting of me. It didn’t much matter if I felt like the proverbial square peg in a round hole, feeling like a woman deep down inside wasn’t normal! So, I fought the good fight and kept up appearances because I didn’t think I had much choice. But one can only do that for so long before it begins to take a psychological – and physical – toll. I reached a point where that little Pandora’s box in the deepest, darkest recesses of my brain, the one where I had successfully compartmentalized my true self all those years, was about to fly open – never to be closed again.
Once it did I thought for sure I faced nothing less than total Armageddon . . . my life is over . . . everything is crumbling around me . . .there is no tomorrow. For a while I felt as if I was perched on the edge of an enormous cliff, so high that I could not see the canyon floor below. It is hard to put into words, but when one locks something away like that for so many years and further buries it with almost constant doses of shame, guilt and denial – and then lets the secret out – well, I think you get the idea. It calls to mind a lovely passage my therapist shared with me from noted author and diarist, the late Anais Nin:
“And the day came when the risk to remain
tight in a bud
was more painful
than the risk it took
Having sufficiently composed myself enough so that I could once again watch the passersby come and go, my mind continued to race trying to process the flood of my past, my struggles. I allowed myself to ponder the vision before my eyes—the multitude of gates that seemed to encircle the Sheep Meadow. Perhaps the gates do not represent where one is headed, but rather, where one has come from. A gate (actually three, to be precise) that represent my failed marriages. My valiant, yet ultimately unsuccessful attempt at trying to live a “normal” life and purge myself, once and for all, of what I believed at the time was a dreaded disease.
But the point is I have passed through them and continue to move forward – to becoming the woman I always knew I was. I feel as if I have finally mustered up the self-esteem and self-confidence to face the world, once-and-for-all, on my terms: as a parent, a friend, and a sister.
I have reached a place where I thank God each and every night before I go to sleep for making me the unique person that I am. I consider myself immensely fortunate to have been given the gift of a life in two genders. I pray that those who may take issue with who and what I am will one day recognize the rather obvious and compelling fact that I have felt all along – I am happy.
If you haven’t already figured it out by now, I consider myself a very spiritual person. I believe that one cannot embark upon a journey of this magnitude and not possess the belief that some sort of higher power guides their daily life. For me, it is exactly that spirituality and the daily presence of God in my life, which has everything to do with my progression as a woman. Their comforting and reassuring embrace has combined to create a perpetually burning flame within my soul that propels me forward on my journey to become my true self. It is that flame, that feeling emanating from the center of my being, which tells me this is where I must go, where my destiny lies.
Finally composed, I stood up and immediately felt a warm breeze blow back my hair and encircle me. The sunlight seemed to shine directly through the curtain of the gate I was under, as if to illuminate only me. I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled as if to let go-for the last time-the demons of self-doubt and anxiety that had taken up residence inside of me for far too long. Suddenly, a broad smile came across my face as I thought to myself, “it’s going to be okay, I will never be alone.”
As I turned and found my way past the Tavern on the Green and headed out of the park to face my future, I made certain not to re-trace my steps through any gate I had previously passed under. I will not go back from where I came. I will remember and not forget, but more importantly, I will learn . . . and grow.
Because after all, who really wants to live their life in a vacuum anyway?