Learning to Live Within Oneself

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Clara Barnhurst

Living life perceived incorrectly is intolerable. Humans make countless changes to themselves to ensure they dont give an improper impression. From the way we dress to the company we keep to how we speak, were constantly making adjustments. Usually these things are simple for people to assimilate; automatic even. Perhaps major, but accepted. Gender is not one of those things.

To a person being perceived as a gender that is not theirs, they are left with an unsolvable riddle: there is no adjustment one can make. Or, if the option of transition is perceived (often it isnt), its seen as too disruptive, risky, or damaging to take. Its easy to enter a destructive spiral when there seems no way out. We devalue ourselves. However it happens, we find ways to escape and, in doing so, we diminish who we are.

Which is actually the whole point: we are something nobody sees. Or nobody wants to see it. We arent given any simple way to show ourselves, and were being told by example that what we are doesnt matter. If it mattered, this would be easier or possible. Told something enough over a long enough period of time, and you believe it.

Not living up to potential. The line that haunted me as a child in school reports and parent teacher conferences. Its a backhanded way of saying I was bright and capable, and I was. I didnt work as hard as they liked, so those qualities were twisted from an asset to a problem. My potential was a marker for what I should be rather than a thing to be proud about. I was bright and capable. And a failure.


That message reinforced another failure of mine: my failure to communicate my gender. My protests at my hair being cut, my desire to play with the other girls, my upset at being expected to do boy things. None of that worked. I never came out and said I wasnt a boy, but I didnt know how to say that I didnt know that. I communicated it in other ways.

I failed at lots of stuff in life, and those failures served to reinforce the central failure to make myself known. I even failed to allow myself to know it. I buried myself in failure.

This is important because if I am a failure to myself and all around me, I have no value. If I have no worth, then I can allow myself to not matter. If I dont matter, then the constant attack on my identity doesnt matter. Its OK to hurt a thing with no intrinsic worth; I dehumanised myself because I saw no other way to deal with being perceived as a thing I was not.

Having no self worth also meant I could cope with the central failure communicating my gender and focus outwards. I could make beauty, help others, create safe spaces and find solace in my environment. I could explore, enquire, and understand without the weight of the self; I could be passionate and live in a world where I was not. A void; a shell. A mind in a meaningless vessel that could seek meaning.

This whole way of living coexists quite comfortably with the idea that all humans have worth: I dont qualify as human. Objectively human, sure, but subjectively not. A failed human that is something else now. Dehumanising yourself is easy when everyone around you treats you in a way that makes you feel subhuman, even if youre not explicitly aware that its happening.

A girl that is consistently treated like a boy despite all attempts to communicate their feelings has to either accept theyre a boy or find a way to kill the part of them that hurts all the time. I was taught that we make ourselves, that our individuality makes us important, and that we had a right to be treated with dignity and respect. Being treated thoughtlessly like the boy I wasnt stripped me of my dignity and taught me I was unworthy of respect. It taught me that my individuality was an object of disgust. It taught me that no matter how hard I tried, I would never make myself

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These lessons were learned indirectly, like everything else in this tangle. None of this is explicit and it oversimplifies the problem to frame it in such explicit terms. I didnt wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and think that I was unworthy, inhuman and worthless. But I did get uncomfortable with compliments or praise. I became unable to tell why people wanted me around, or even that they wanted me around at all. I felt a need to prove myself while at the same time feeling I had nothing to prove. I took opportunities to highlight my shortcomings.


Seeing an option to end the pain of a misgendered life, taking that option and seeing how its changed the way the world treats me has taught me that I was wrong. I cant really admit to myself that I matter, but its clear that the space I take up is appreciated sometimes. Its also allowed me to take an interest in the self: my shell is acceptable. Mostly.

After a lifetime of focusing away from me to live, Im not sure how to live in myself. I dont know how to make meaning of me, and my instinct is to construct my meaning through the things and people around me. Of course, thats a mistake: some things just have to come from oneself. Ive jury rigged solutions to those things my whole life, and those fixes are still part of me. The machinery of my mind is working through redundant parts and the end result of the bypasses wont be good. Ive discovered there are direct pathways but I dont know how to use them.

There are no simple answers to how we escape our coping mechanisms pre transition. There is no kill switch for the patterns we establish to keep ourselves functioning. We just get to relearn how to live.

Comments (2)
No. 1-2

How fortunate are we, that the pain we feel inside ourselves can push us toward something magnificent, like peace? Peace to be something True, perhaps as so little of our neighboring Humanity may ever see it? I hear your story, and I feel at once a difficulty to breathe, because "Aren't you further along than I? I'm pre-everything, what comfort is there in knowing my old patterns from now will carry when I fully transition, if I'm able to. Well, then I get to follow that road, those sharp rocks, that tiring fog. Your challenges may one day b mine, and no gets to take that from me. We are apart of a beautiful, slow moving menagerie of humanity, moving desperately and with halting, silent steps, toward whatever small comforts and solaces toward the day when we are heard with equal measure to all of mankind. You say you often have trouble living focused within yourself? I say that you have been given the measure to further understand trans individuality. You and I will succeed, and we will share. Advance into joy, Clara!


OMG This is me, I could have written this. I have no idea how to be me. I cannot express who I am. People ask what do you want to do and I frustrate them with a 'whatever you want is fine'. What do you want to eat? 'I like almost everything, what are you in the mood for?'. I have left so much of myself behind when I get a chance to be me I don't know how. I hope you write a follow up or people post their strategies, how to enjoy the journey... I know we are all unique so it is really more of a wish to find a short cut to relearning.

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