I had a discussion recently about the pain in my life - perhaps even the pain of being transgender. My friend commented I hadn't really taken responsibility in my life.
At first, I became frantic, anxious, glancing around like a caged honey badger. How could my actions be so unclear? All I ever did in life was take responsibility. I gave so much; I was always empty. Even now, more than a year into gender transition - one of the few decisions I've made purely for myself - I feel empty. Or at the very least, I'm certainly not full.
Gender transition is - by its nature - selfish. We cannot transition for somebody else. We cannot transition to make others happy.
On the contrary, we typically choose not to transition because to do so will cause others to be unhappy. Perhaps we fear they will leave us. Perhaps we fear they will ridicule us, hate us, even go so far as to kill.
No...we do not transition with the expectation we will make life better or easier for those around us.
But that expectation - that it was ever possible for us to make life better or easier for those around us - is the true culprit. It is that responsibility we must not accept as our burden.
My violent life
My pre-transition life was characterized by extreme behavior. This appears to be a common thread among transgender people. Perhaps we believe extreme behavior proves our gender - we certainly need to prove it to ourselves. Perhaps we simply don't care enough about life to moderate ourselves - the suicide attempt rate among self-identified transgender people supports this hypothesis.
As a graduate student, I went days without eating, surviving instead on ephedrine, caffeine, and nicotine. When I drank alcohol, which was frequent, I drank violently. I committed violence against myself with a bottle of vodka until I passed out. I forced myself violently awake the next morning to care for my student responsibilities, covering up - if possible - any new wounds I inflicted during the night.
When I cleaned up - when I quit drinking, began running, and began meditating - I continued the violence toward myself. I needed to run farther and faster than my body is capable. I traded my addiction to dulling my senses with drugs and alcohol for dulling my senses with 80-hour work weeks.
But make no mistake - I would dull my senses so as not to consider my life and my pain and my ever-present background desire not to experience life any longer.
My pre-transition responsibilities
I have no justification for my drug use and alcohol dependence. I justified my work ethic with the burning need to provide. I had to ensure my son had peanut butter for sandwiches. I had to ensure my son had shoes on his feet. Why I focused on peanut butter and shoes in particular is unclear - maybe I had little of both as a child? I don't remember today.
One behavior remained through my drug-fueled graduate school and 25-year career in technology: I took responsibility. I was responsible to feed and clothe my son - a normal parenting choice.
But I was also responsible for every person in my work circle: people I managed and people I reported to. I was responsible for keeping them happy, no matter how ludicrous the demand on my time and sanity.
But most of all, I was responsible for duping everybody. I duped my family, my friends, my employer, my teams, and - most of all - myself. I was responsible for acting a part in which I would never choose to be cast. I had to fool us all into believing I could be happy living as a man.
No matter how well I cared financially for my family, no matter how pleased my employers were with my performance, I did a very poor job at convincing myself I was happy living as a man.
In that situation - the pre-transition situation - those responsibilities kept me alive. Absent the ability to prove to other people how much I engaged in life, I certainly would not have continued engaging in life.
The real responsibility
I became frantic and anxious during the conversation in the introduction because I needed to slam the door on the idea I could be irresponsible. To be irresponsible was to pronounce my death sentence. With effort, I understood the type of responsibility implied - being responsible for my own happiness.
Well...that wasn't wrong. If the story above shows nothing else, it shows my life has been lived for other people. I needed to assure other people I could be the person they wanted me to be. I never believed it possible to be the person I wanted to be.
I believe I - and many transgender people - live the way I did because we don't know the self we need to be. We don't have contact with a self, we have contact with a Reflection, and that reflection lies to us.
One of the most profound steps we take as transgender people is to accept we do have a self - one not embodied in the people we try to please. We have a responsibility to find who we are, to develop ourselves, and to live in a way that celebrates our life instead of obscures it.
But to do so is to thumb our noses at social norms, to subvert what many believe is the "normal" way humans are supposed to live.
This is an awful burden. For many of us, the burden of playing at being the man or woman society expects of us appears easier to bear.
Shouldering the burden
How I feel today is still open to debate. I let go of my pretensions of manhood to be met with hate, to lose friends, and still to question whether my gender is my genetics. I don't feel well. I don't feel adequate for the task of continuing on, even as the woman I knew myself to be.
That responsibility - to care for myself and to care about myself - is a whisper among society's scream to care more for its unwritten rules. Maybe it's just habit. Maybe I need to give things a bit more thought. Maybe I just need to to consult with society about what is right.
A quote - often misattributed to Albert Einstein - advises we cannot solve a problem with the same process of thought that gave rise to the problem. If there is one mistake to make in asserting our identity, it is to believe a consensus will ever be in our favor. This is true of transgender people as well as those who would choose us not to be transgender.
The truth lies inside. It can only ever lie inside. I cannot say who you are; you cannot say who I am. Each of us must face inward, peer into the darkness, strike a match, and converse with the monsters we find. It’s terrifying.
Unfortunately, facing inward also isn't foolproof. I realized long ago I could not live as a man. I realized recently I will never live as a female, regardless of living as a woman, and it is not a reality I am prepared to accept.
Perhaps I'll find enough purpose - not peanut butter or shoes or my employer's respect or admiration from those I admire - but something self-contained. Perhaps I'll find within myself the need to perpetuate the entity now named Amethysta. Perhaps I'll find I do care enough to see her successful. Perhaps I’ll recognize the extent to which I refer to myself - to her - in the third person.
Another common transgender trait is to resist integration of our masculine and feminine parts. We are forever impostors, forever disappointing those around us. We forever question our beauty, seek approval from others, and push away those who grant us too much approval.
As transgender people, we bear a responsibility others appear to shoulder effortlessly: the responsibility to speak the word "I" and to mean it completely.
Finding that "I" and loving it, choosing it, committing to it, feels futile at times. It is the one responsibility, however, we must accept as our burden, and carry it out in the open for all to observe.
It will never be possible for us to make life better or easier for those around us. We must abandon that quest and assume the responsibility to make life better and easier for ourselves.
Living our lives - as best we can - is the purpose we must find within.