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Clara Barnhurst

Self perception is a nightmare. Too often, I listen to someone discuss how they see themselves and want to shake them: they’re wrong. I wish I could make them see what I saw, but that’s not a thing one can do for another. It takes time for their brain to sync with their bodies. Or sometimes, our brains need to come to understand our bodies in a way they just don’t. Whatever the reason, there seems to be a process of catch-up.

It’s been a while since I saw the thing in the mirror, but it used to send me to a dark place in my mind. The thing wasn’t human. The thing was a shell I knew was meant to be me, but wasn’t me. People would recognise the thing as me, and that upset me. I wasn’t that thing. I didn’t know what I was, but the pretty shell staring back at me was something else.

I’m still not sure what that thing is, but I’ve seen it most of my life. Nobody else saw that thing. They saw Clara. They saw me with the first selfie I posted on Facebook. My friends and family said to me how my transformation was so obviously the right thing to do; they looked at pictures of the thing but didn’t see it. They saw me.

Before I came out and started dressing properly, it was clear that everyone saw a human being when they looked at me. Someone worthy of respect, love and care. Or contempt and disregard; you can’t get along with everyone in life. But a whom rather than an it. They all saw Clara by another name. Another wardrobe. They heard Clara with another voice. I wish I could have seen her. I saw the thing.


It took the best part of a year after coming out for the thing to mostly go away. Once in a while, I would see it and despair. The rush of seeing Clara, so gripping in the early days, was gone: it’s just me. Seeing the thing hurt more as I recognised myself. As the sightings became infrequent. I keep waiting to see it again, but it hasn’t come back. It’s been about six months.

My brain needed to find a way to catch up with the rest of me. It saw the thing. I wasn’t the thing, but it was used to seeing it and so it was what I wanted to see. We are creatures of habit.

So how long does it take? One friend mentioned three years before she saw a cute lady in the mirror, sometimes. Three years! It’s taken me almost two years to consistently see a human being, but I still flounder when trying to attribute that human being as worthy of love, respect and care. I can’t consider my own value. My brain thinks I have none. How long for my brain to believe what everyone tells me? Maybe never. We just get to find out.

By the same token, our bodies often have to catch up with our brains. Hormone therapies are the most obvious example of this, but it can be more subtle. More dangerous: we train our bodies to deal with our lives, whatever those lives are like.

Just as an example, I trained my body to survive on one small takeaway meal a day. ‘Cause reasons. Too many to get into here (another project for another time). Two months ago, I moved in with my fiancée and started cooking. I cooked stuff that was similar to the takeaway I was eating. Of course, what you cook at home has significantly fewer calories than what happens at a restaurant, especially takeaway places. I got dizzy. I had to leave work at one point because I couldn’t stand. I was eating what I was used to, but my body was trained to deal with more. Even if it was bad for me more. Even if actually, I could do with fewer calories than that. I was healthier, but the result was a body in shock from a loss of oil intake.


My brain moved to cooking at home quite happily; instantaneously. I was enjoying making meals for myself! But my body was having rather less of a time of it. This is a mild example, but on the extremes you have people suffering from eating disorders that have trained their bodies to not want food at all, or want more food only to purge it somehow. Even if your brain is ready for recovery and your brain wants to fix it, your body still demands the thing it’s trained to want. Your body will self destruct before accepting change, even if you want that change more than anything. Even if the change feels natural and effortless.

Eating is just one example. The one that’s on my mind. There are plenty of others, but the point is we are constantly trying to keep up with ourselves. Once we get to a space where our minds feel like they’re caught up with the body, our body finds itself running after the brain.

I keep asking myself when my body and brain will finally agree, but in my heart I know it never will. Even if they agree on the points I’m frustrated about now, they will find something else to row about. Maybe that’s what growth is: managing the cantankerous cluster of moving parts that is the self. Learning how they work well. Watching it fall to entropy and starting again. Syncing the brain and body never really ends, and neither does growing. And that gives me some hope that the disagreement isn’t so bad, after all.


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