It took Fran from Australia finding Peers to accept her for her authentic Self to enable her to be brave enough to love herSelf for who she truly is…and lots of coffee!
We love Fran’s inspiring story, and we hope that you find some inspiration in it to be KindaProud of yourSelf too…. ❤
My journey as a transgender woman really began at age 15 when I realised that my adult sexual identity did not match my body or the social identity I had grown up with. I grew up in a tiny very conservative rural community, bitterly divided by racial trauma and the history of colonisation. I experienced bullying, domestic violence and neglect as a child. I was very anxious growing up. I would escape into fantasy and imagination. I didn’t feel secure or loved for being myself.
My first instinct was to hide. I couldn’t tell anyone. I struggled with my feelings and identity alone. I had internalised so much stigma and blame and fear from those around me that I could not accept or care for myself. I split into two people as the only way I could handle having different feelings and identities that could not be reconciled. I had an internal identity and an external identity, they were distinct, they had different genders.
Gender and sexuality come from within, and are far more diverse and complex than traditionally understood. When social judgement and expectations conflict with the call to authenticity the result is suffering.
I lived this way for 20 years, experiencing bouts of sadness and lethargy, losing jobs, drifting from place to place. I didn’t seek help. I didn’t understand why I felt unhappy most of the time. I felt stuck, blocked, unable to make authentic relationships, unable to be an adult, or a real person at all, like I didn’t exist.
I was unhappy with my body. I hated to look at myself in the mirror. It wasn’t how I thought of myself, inside. I had terrible acne which didn’t help at all. I got very overweight. I felt shame and loathing. I lived online, creating female identities and roleplaying. I got very addicted to a virtual existence which gave me things I didn’t think I could have in real life. Things drifted out of control.
Eventually I was diagnosed with depression. I couldn’t work. I was tired all of the time. I started medication but nothing seemed to help. I started the long process of coming out. My family were not very accepting. I felt I had to move interstate to a place I could get help and be myself. It was disastrous, cutting myself off from everyone I knew. I got very unwell.
Gender transition was very, very hard. I experienced housing and employment discrimination, street harassment, social anxiety and paranoia. All at a time when I was at my lowest ebb, when my mental, emotional, social and financial resources were stretched beyond the breaking point.
Medical supports were not very helpful. The gender clinic psychiatrist said my mental distress was something other transwomen did not have, and it meant I was not suitable for gender reassignment. My peers advised me to lie. I refused. Saying that I didn’t want gender reassignment was the only way I could take back control of my own life and identity. Saying it made it true. For a long while. I got very angry.
My LGBT specific GP was very good. He was my only real medical support for a long time and never stopped trying to help me. But his office was a long away across town. I was too frightened and tired to risk going to a doctor who didn’t understand being trans – it’s not something you want to explain every time you visit a clinic with a cold. There were many times when I was too sick to get to my doctor. Living alone without any support is very hard.
I trace my recovery journey from discovering peer support groups. Peer support was there for me when I couldn’t afford professional help, when the volunteer counsellor said she didn’t understand what words meant when I used them. In peer support I felt that I’d found my crowd, we were all crazy but I was no crazier than anyone else.
Around this time I was diagnosed with type II diabetes. I went on medication, I tested my blood sugar daily. It was a struggle to take care of myself, sometimes I failed and things got out of control. Balancing physical illness and medication while struggling with depression on my own was very difficult.
Eventually I began volunteering and facilitating support group. I got a job answering the phones at the support group charity head office. One day I noticed I was no longer the most unwell person in the room. I was surprised.
I had been to a psychiatrist and been given a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. I rejected it angrily, I was convinced it prevent me from ever getting gender reassignment. I refused to go back… but I felt ambivalent about my rejection. What if he was right? It seemed like a way forward. Eventually I went back.
I started working on mindfulness. Being aware of what I was thinking and feeling. Putting a mindful pause between what happened to me and my reaction to it. Being able to observe myself, my thoughts and feeling. I began working on self care, my physical, financial and emotional needs.
I fought back with exercise and diet. I got my blood sugar under control and went off the diabetes medication. The psych meds weren’t helping me any more and I had been too mentally disorganised to take them regularly, which was disastrous for my mood and functioning. I slowly weaned off them. A key point came when my psychiatrist said that my distress was not caused by a chemical imbalance in my head.
This rocked me back on my heels some. If my problem wasn’t bio-chemical in nature then why was I taking the pills at all? With support from my psychiatrist and mental health nurse, and using coping skills and breathing techniques, and exercise and sleep hygiene I slowly weaned off the remaining pills. The only medications I use now are hormones and the occasional use of sleeping medication. Good sleep is important. I don’t reject medication. I think my mental health nurse said it best: you do whatever it takes to help you stay sane.
I call mine a coffee led recovery. When I was unwell and unemployed one of the hardest things was not being able to afford a cup of coffee. Being able to sit down, warm your hands, drink a cup of tea or coffee and relax and reflect on your day is refreshing and energising. It’s especially important when you’re feeling tired and unwell, and when you’re a long way from home and travelling by foot or public transport. Have you noticed how few warm places there are to sit down in our modern world if you have no money? I recommend public libraries.
These days I send out texts to all my friends on the weekend offering to meet for coffee. Someone always wants to! I’ll always offer to pay and let them get the next one. I don’t care when the next one is, I’m not counting. I try to live by my values and my values are friendship and coffee. It’s no surprise that I’m a well known regular at my favourite cafes.
People often talk about saving in terms of giving up the cup of coffee. I look at it differently. Small pleasures make life happier, and when you’re happy you’re less likely to impulse spend or make mistakes. Coffee is one of the last things I’d give up to save money.
I had always loved to draw since I was a small child. Growing up I learned to draw people and I became obsessed with drawing portraits. Through university and work I got through lectures and meetings drawing people, sketching and doodling. When I was unwell my drawing ebbed away to almost nothing. I saw a poster for a life drawing class in a local shop and went along. I found another community I could belong to, a new identity as an artist. I made new friends, a new identity.
Drawing nudes, both male and female, was a revelation of the beauty and honesty of the human form. I felt connected to something. Life models are wonderful, beautiful people. It is a privilege to draw them.. I began to wonder if I could model one day. What would people see if they drew my body? Would my body ever reflect who I am inside? Could I overcome my fear of being seen, or being intimate in that way?
I became a peer support worker. I trained, I began working with people in crisis. I began to learn more about mental health , about what it takes to become well. I started to look at my own life and wonder if I dared to admit what I wanted, if I dared to become well, if I dared to become whole. I was challenged by changing attitudes. If my friends could accept me, if my community could accept me, why couldn’t I learn to accept myself?
Gender dysphoria – the unhappiness of having an inner identity different to my outward gender made me feel blocked from many things. I felt frightened and incapable of intimacy or relationships. A friend asked me to go to an LGBT partner slow dance, I was frightened, but I wanted to. I had started to realise that acceptance comes from within – it’s about my heart, not about my body. I love dancing, being held, communicating through touch, feeling cared for. I wanted more.
I had some money, I saved more. I gave up having a car. I was disciplined. I knew what I wanted and I was prepared to be honest with myself. I had gender reassignment surgery last year. It was much physically harder than I expected, weeks of pain, weakness and recovery. I’d always been a robust basically health resilient person, I thought I would recover quickly. Instead I endured. Anxiety made it worse, and made the pain harder to bear. I survived.
I feel more at home with my body. It’s not perfect but I have no regrets. I did a life modelling workshop and learned the skills of being a model. I have modelled for my own community life drawing group, my own friends. I have seen the art people make from looking at my nude body. It helps me to feel good about myself. Being accepted by others helps me to accept myself. Having friends helps me be compassionate to myself. As illustrations of this story I have included some drawings of me by a friend in the my life drawing group.
This year I have become obsessed with dancing. I have found joy in moving to rhythm and music. I’ve found connection and intimacy – romance – in dancing with a partner. I love to dance Lindy Hop and Charleston to swung jazz music. I learned to dance both roles, lead and follow. Dancing is so emotional, so blissful, so frustrating, so frightening. I love to be held. I love the way my body moves. I love the way my body feels. I love to dance. Something has unlocked.
I remember when I was very young that I wanted to dance. I wanted to be a ballerina. Dancing is coming home. I dream about dancing sometimes. I love to dance. Through dancing, drawing and modelling I have found myself.
I think over the last 12 months I’ve tended to identify as practically asexual, more interested in romance and physical closeness than sex. That may change as time passes, or it may not. In one sense I’m nearly 50 years old, in another a little over 1. In a sense I think I’ve been about 15 for a long time. What I have mostly works well for now. Your horizon shrinks when you are in pain and distress, my horizon is now pushing out a little. I’m trying to learn to relax about it all.
Last year I participated in a scientific study that found some genetic influences on transgender identity in transwomen. The week I started to write this I was running all over town being interviewed by newspapers and TV being interviewed about what it feels like to be transgender and what this discovery means for people. I hope perhaps understanding of possible biological causes will lead to greater acceptance, particularly from family. Rejection by family is one of the most painful aspects of LGBT experience.
Greater acceptance is already happening. Last year here in Australia the community spoke decisively in favour of equal marriage. This year people are saying children and teachers deserve protection from discrimination on the basis of gender and sexuality at school. A key milestone in my experience was being challenged by greater community acceptance to start to find a way to accept myself. Your acceptance, your compassion matters – especially to those in your own family and community.
I hope that my story helps you to find yourself, to accept yourself, to learn how to care for yourself, to find your way home. Never give up hope.
Fran as her beautiful, natural Self, drawn by her friend Leonie ❤