Erasing the Person I Used to Be
It is something that I find myself constantly struggling with. The life I led in my former existence prior to my transition compared to the person who I am now. We all have a history. There are moments in our lives that we are proud of and also moments that we may regret. Being transgender adds an entirely different angle to it. We are often faced with the conundrum of having to balance our experiences as if we almost lived two entirely different lives. There is a reason that when you ask them if there is anything they would have done differently, so many transgender people say they wish they had started transitioning earlier in life.
It is with wonder and admiration that I look at other transgender people who are able to embrace both the person who they are today along with their past. People like Laura Jane Grace, who was able to continue her music career and even make it better going forward as her true self. Her history is part of the story and she builds upon that as herself today. Even Caitlyn Jenner is able to still embrace her former existence as a gold medal winning Olympian and TV personality while still moving forward as herself. In these cases however, their former lives were already well known and they transitioned in the public eye. They really didn’t have much of a choice.
Depending on what age we begin to transition, many of us have entire lifetimes of memories and experiences that we shared in our former existence. They not only belong to us, but the countless people we have encountered throughout our lives and shared these experiences with. This is where it all gets complicated for me.
> "LOOKING BACK ON MY LIFE, EVERY MOMENT I EXPERIENCED IN MY FORMER EXISTENCE NOW COMES ATTACHED WITH SOME SORT OF TAINT TO IT."
Looking back on my life, every moment I experienced in my former existence now comes attached with some sort of taint to it. I see an error there. It is a paradox where somehow the universe will explode if I try to comprehend it, or even embrace it. Though I know these moments may have value and meaning to the others who experienced them with me, I find myself not being able to enjoy them.
I started to struggle with this concept again recently with the passing of Aretha Franklin, one of the greatest signers of our generation. In my former life, I was a musician and I was fortunate enough to work on one of her recordings. With her passing, I wanted to say something about the experience I had and how it made my appreciation grow for how talented she truly was. As quickly as the thought entered my mind, I realized that by saying anything I would be essentially outing my past. I couldn’t share the name of the song, or show the liner notes of the record without deadnaming myself to the world. In my mind, the only thing I could do is erase this memory and not acknowledge it as if it had never existed.
Moments like these occur all the time. I couldn’t go celebrate the life of a colleague who had passed away because so many people would be attending the vigil who didn’t know I had transitioned. There have been moments when one of my songs came on the radio and I couldn’t say anything about it being me because the people I was with didn’t know I was transgender. I can’t watch my wedding video with my wife. When my family reminisces about old times, or when they look at old pictures, in my mind it is as if they are talking about someone else. The further along in my journey I get, the more the old pictures look like someone I don’t recognize.
> "I REALIZE THAT PHYSICALLY I HAD EXPERIENCED THESE MOMENTS OF THE PAST, BUT I WAS NEVER TRULY PRESENT FOR THEM."
It is strange. I realize that physically I had experienced these moments of the past, but I was never truly present for them. I also realize that some of these moments may mean a whole lot to the people I shared them with. I do not wish to take these memories away from them. But for me personally, I just see them as someone else’s life. I can no longer recognize myself in them.
I am not sure if other transgender people share this experience. It may just be my own thing that I am going through. The truth is that I find myself erasing these moments of my past. There are many bad things that occurred in my former life that I am more than happy to erase, but there were also good ones that I am unable to reconcile as who I am today. I know there are people out there who are able to embrace the duality of the before and after‘s of transition (even though we always were who we are) without a problem. I truly admire their ability to do so.
In my case I still see this “error” when I look back at it all. Yes there are many things that are still with me from my past that today I am eternally grateful for. My family is one example. But as it is with many things from my past, it was if I was watching these things happen instead of making them happen. I feel as though this disconnect I am feeling, this chasm between who I was then and who I am today will only grow wider as time goes on. Now don’t get me wrong, if given the choice I would still have transitioned a million times over. It is still all worth it, but there are strange parts to our journeys that we often find ourselves having to accept. This is certainly one of them. All I can do is focus on the short life ahead of me that I get to lead as my true self, and try to make as many new memories as I possibly can.
Read more stories by Mila Madison:
Whose Idea of Femininity Are We Talking About? - Transgender Universe
How a transgender woman discovers what it means to be a female on her own terms in “The Weekly Rant” with Mila Madison.