I Am Rachael
I am Rachael. I came to terms with who I am, and accepted myself in January of 2021. I battled with myself for as long as I can remember on my identity, but there’s some key things that are not so obvious that I want to share. One thing is for sure, I am as certain as I have ever been about anything with this process of transitioning, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have “doubts”. These doubts are a result of my story, and I want to share this element of myself with the world in case you know someone who is following a path like my own.
Everyone’s journey is their own and I do not claim to speak on behalf of anyone but myself. My journey is atypical from what I have seen, but I haven’t met a lot of trans people. From the stories I have read, I feel my path is different than the “obvious” situations where someone is trans. It is this reason that I want to share, because it’s not a one size fits all thing. People in my situation who weren’t obvious would sooner stay silent than share because they’re scared, just like I was.
# Identity Crises
If I trace back throughout my life, I can see the million signs that were so obvious from my perspective now. The problem is that I didn’t know back then for a few reasons. I had no reference point, I thought I was stuck, and I grew up in a world where you had to “be the man” if you were born male. Men were not supposed to be “girly” in any way at all. You can imagine the distress that this causes someone who doesn’t want to be masculine.
My mother told me that when I was a kid, I used to get frustrated that I couldn’t join in when she would do my sisters’ nail polish but not mine. She compromised and gave me a clear coat. When I was young, I would want to wear girl’s clothing and have always been drawn to it. The first time I tried something on, I wore it for a day before I realized that my mother would find out. I knew that she would think differently of me if she found out I wore that. So I stuffed it inside my pants, and naturally she found it while washing my clothes. When my mother questioned me I was so embarrassed that I just wanted it to be done and over with. My sister Jada and I used to go digging through our mother’s dresser to try her clothes on as well. It was fun for us, but these were the first signs that showed themselves. I was 4-7 with the nail polish, and I was 7-8 with the clothing events. I knew then something was up but I didn’t know what it was.
An interesting side note:
I always found it rather irritating that my mother had 3 girls and 1 boy. I always thought it would just make more sense to have 4 girls.
Here’s the thing though: I wasn’t really interested in “girly” things by default. Even to this day I’m not a super femme person and I don’t want to be. It’s not who I am. I liked Lego, video games, super powers / heroes, computers, stuff like that. But then I liked shows like Sailor Moon, Zoboomafoo, etc, which most people would look at and think instantly that it was geared for little girls. I had no problems playing with dolls and barbies because the dolls would simply be a delegate for me. I would want to play out scenarios and be “older”, a desire that everyone who knew me as a child is very familiar with. Nothing really concrete that says “yes, something is up with this child”.
In my teens I asked my sister if I could try on her bra. “But you can’t tell anyone about this. I mean it, please don’t tell anyone. I’m just curious”. I called it a torture device, but it felt right to me. That was the first time I felt truly conflicted and frustrated because I felt like I should have these and have a reason for these. By this time I was familiar with all the homophobic / transphobic slurs. Tranny, she-man, faggot, homo, fudge packer, queer, the list goes on. I knew them, and I knew the pressure they caused. These words played in my head as I experienced my first real identity crisis. Jada didn’t see it, but taking that bra off hurt in a way I did not have words to describe. It felt like something mattered was being stolen from me, despite it not even being my bra.
Over the course of years I would experience repeated burning impulses to wear women’s clothing. I would resist as much as I could, but it would eat me alive before I inevitably failed. I couldn’t walk by clothing stores without having to look away, I couldn’t pass all those makeup and jewelry shops without feeling drawn to them, and I couldn’t see beautiful women without feeling a little jealous mixed with a lot of self loathing. I hated clothing shopping because I just didn’t want to buy men’s clothing at all. It was irritating to me, so I always wore jeans and a T-Shirt, maybe a hoodie when it was cold. I did this because it was the bare minimum I had to wear to not be naked, and it didn’t take any effort to think about. It also meant that I could hide myself. But every time I saw women’s clothing, that familiar sadness, sense of loss, and the phrases that kept me from being me would come alive in my head.
Phrases that I’ve heard over my life would play beyond the slurs. “If it has boy parts, it’s a boy”, “what are you, gay?”, and “I ain’t someone’s bitch” to name a few. Whenever I would struggle with my identity, these would play in my head. I would feel this intense conflict inside that I did not have the words to describe, a conflict which would not be accepted in the world I lived in. “Man up”, “only real men…”, “real men don’t…”, “be a man”, “man of the house”. These were the shackles I wore because I was terrified. I had already “lost” what felt like my entire family because of drugs, and I had already never been able to keep friends because I moved so much. I chose to suffer over choosing to make this feeling better because I couldn’t lose any more. I was 13.
In Jr. High, I started hanging around girls a lot. I preferred female or neutral company. The boys didn’t make any sense to me. I didn’t understand why they acted the way they did. I didn’t understand the “hunter” mentality of chasing after girls. I didn’t understand why girls couldn’t just ask guys out that they liked, and I certainly didn’t understand the teasing they all did of each other. The “bro” conversations, “bro code”, all that stuff made absolutely no sense to me and it was alienating. I didn’t identify with them at all, and I felt shame. I felt humiliated for simply being male.
On top of all the struggles I was facing with the aftermath of child protective services getting involved, I started hating every fiber of myself. I hated my reflection, I hated the body hair I grew, I hated my face, my height, my shape, my stature, my short hair, everything. Until recently I couldn’t even stand looking at my face in a mirror. I actually built up a habit to never look at my face in a mirror unless I was inspecting my imperfections. I hated pictures because I would have to see that face, and when people told me I looked good? I would feel a mixture of frustration and discomfort because it felt like a lie. I tried to fix the issues I could by shaving everything and growing my hair out, but it got to the point where dissociating from reality and existing in my head was easier than fighting a losing battle.
When I was the age of majority, I was immediately drawn to adult stores. I could not control it, and I couldn’t stop myself. Oh boy did I try, but it was no use. Every single inch, every fiber, every part of my body was screaming at me for days until I would cave. Nothing solved it, nothing stopped it, and nothing helped. I couldn’t make it go away. I was mostly out as bisexual, and I would remind myself of this every time I would go, but I was terrified of being in these stores. I knew what I wanted, and I couldn’t stop looking at it all from across the shop. I would muster up the courage to buy the toys I wanted, but my heart was pounding with fear the entire time. Even at 25 I still feel that same pressure, that fear, the racing heart, and the shame of being in there because of what I was there to buy.
This started a pattern that lasted years. I would feel restless, anxious, frustrated. The little voice in my head would start pushing me to go buy things to express and indulge in my femme side. I would fight and stress out for days, I would struggle to control my anger, I couldn’t think straight. It felt like an addiction, and for the longest time I thought it was. It was like a part of me was pounding on the walls at all hours of the day, screaming at the top of its lungs to “just do it” until I finally caved. I would get home, and it was like a binge. I’d try to get whatever I needed out of my system out, and then I’d feel ashamed. The next week or so would be a daily pattern of needing to express that side of me, followed by shame. Reminders of what addiction has done to my family would come up, the shame of “a man being like this”, and what people would think if they found out would tear me apart and I’d throw it all out. That part of me would die down and stay silent for a month or so before it repeated itself. I’ve literally thrown away thousands of dollars over the years because of this.
When I was ~18 I found something that hurt in a way I lacked the words to explain, and should’ve been the sign I needed to listen to myself. I was browsing the infamous 4chan one day when I saw this thing called “XChange”. It’s pornographic so don’t search it up unless you’re ready to see that sorta thing, but the concept is very very simple. It’s a pink or blue pill that biologically flips your sex either for a short time, a month, or permanently. When I found this out, I immediately started scouring the internet to see where I could buy some. I was desperate to find it, and I wanted it. When I found there were no traces of it anywhere, and that it was fake? I felt that same sense of loss all over again, and it killed that day for me. My hopes were raised and dashed in 10 minutes that I didn’t have a chance to be the person I secretly wanted to be.
That person I secretly wanted to be also meant that all my relationships with women over the years were a struggle. They hurt, they were confusing, and I felt like a failure as a human being because all romantic relationships had the same problem: me. My identity crisis would flare up, I stopped being able to connect with them, and the relationship whithered. It happened like clockwork, and it started showing its face with me burying myself in my work to distance myself from them. Even being intimate would lose all of its shine because there is nothing like trying to be intimate with someone and feeling deeply jealous that you can’t just be them. It’s a feeling I don’t wish upon anyone because it tarnishes something that’s supposed to be special and fun.
I lied to myself for years that nothing was wrong. I lied to everyone around me, passing off my behaviors as “eccentric”, as “I’m bisexual”, as “I’m just weird”. In truth it was the real me dying to get out, slipping out like a water droplet off a drippy pipe in every interaction I had with the world. These regular identity crises plagued me and consumed my life. They were one of many sources of depression, of self hatred, of struggle, and of shame. They are part of the reason I know who I am.
# My Catalyst
December 2020 rolled around. I had just quit my job in October because I burnt out, my girlfriend and I had split up, and I had plans to be back home for 2 weeks so I could see my family. My relationship failed because we were simply incompatible, despite her being one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. At the end of our relationship, that regular identity crisis started flaring up again making it really hard to connect with her. I know she suffered a bit from this, and that she could feel it. When it ended I felt relieved because a part of me knew I could explore my identity now and indulge again, despite it being painful that it ended at all.
Spending 2 weeks around my family, I was suppressing around the clock. I couldn’t show my father, or any of my family. My emotional suppression techniques were failing, and I started cracking under the pressure. I was on Tinder around this time, swiping all day trying to validate myself “as a man” through a successful hetero-normal relationship. It was desperate and never going to work. I hit the point where I had swiped on every single woman on Tinder in Calgary. Expanding the filters to the maximum “acceptable limits” (distance, age, etc) still showed nobody. I figured what the hell, I’ll turn the guys filter on. I’m bisexual and having no luck with women, so why not? The influx of likes and matches happened as it always had before. I got talking to one particular guy named Ajay. 6'2, soft features while still masculine, pretty attractive all around. He gave me one compliment that shattered everything, and left me feeling so conflicted. “You’re beautiful”.
That’s all he had to say, but it felt like my insides were falling out. It felt like my emotions were bursting out of every part of my body, and I couldn’t catch any of it. I felt confused, seen, accepted, uncomfortable, happy, and scared. Confused because “guys don’t get those compliments”, seen and accepted because it felt right and I didn’t know why. I was uncomfortable because my world came crashing down, happy because it felt like I could be the soft person I always felt I was, and scared because it meant that I was exposed now. This one crisis lasted the longest it ever did because all of my usual “coping mechanisms” to keep it at bay were entirely unavailable to me. By the time I left for home I was so wound up, frustrated, angry, and on edge that I just wanted to get home.
I started digging into the conflict on the plane when I finally got a moment to breathe, a moment of silence in my head to process everything. I didn’t have to guard my thoughts, I didn’t have to worry about losing my family by thinking about the wrong thing, and I could just ask myself questions. I asked myself “Fine, if you’re gonna think about this, what would you even call yourself if you were a woman?” That familiar little voice that always answers from my unconscious whispered back “Rachael”. I asked what my last name would be, and again “Dawn” was returned. Middle names? “Elizabeth”. Rachael Elizabeth Dawn was born that day, and now that I had a name for myself? I felt like I was waking up for the first time.
When I got home, I cried and I cried hard. Everything came flooding out at once. “No, I can’t. It’s not right, I’ll lose everything” ran through my head. I railed at the world, angry that I was like this. I cried harder, blaming my mother for bringing me in to this world just to be tortured alive like this. When the storm finally calmed, I felt I would try one last-ditch effort to suppress. One last hail mary to reclaim the “man” I was expected to be, and to prevent the risk of losing everything. I shaved my head to the scalp, first using clippers, then razers. It was the next day that I looked at myself in the mirror, the suppression technique having failed spectacularly. I asked myself one simple question.
“If you could take that little pink pill and permanently switch over, would you do it?” Not a moment’s hesitation and that little voice responded back “I would give anything”. My fate was sealed in that moment. The resolve, determination, and unwavering laser-focus that everyone who knows me is familiar with came alive that yes, I would become a woman because I’d rather be me with nothing than a lie with everything. I had suffered long enough, and it was high time it stopped.
# Coming Out
My coming out was remarkable from my perspective. It started on January 4th to myself, on the 7th to my psychiatrist, then slowly over the next couple weeks to everyone else. I had to cover my bases, with those closest to me being the first to know. I told the psychiatrist first because he would help me start my journey, and open the door for me. If I couldn’t tell a psychiatrist, was I really ready?
The first person I told was my best friend, who I had confided in when I was 20/21 and told her I am Gender Fluid. I knew if I at least had her, I would be fine. I could lose everything else, but at least I would have 1 person left. She responded exactly as I had hoped, and from there, I started letting everyone know bit by bit. My sisters, some friends, some family. Eventually I worked up the courage to tell my father, which took a lot because of all people, losing him would hurt the most. I couldn’t muster the courage to call him, and I couldn’t even say “I am trans” to him. I just told him that I am transitioning to female. Guess what? He’s just as accepting as my wildest hopes and dreams of him. Once my father knew, I let the world know. I came out on Facebook, then at work, and then I just let myself be me.
Almost 3 months later, and I still haven’t had a single person say anything negative to me. People slip up and call me by my dead name, or use “he / him / his” instead of the “she / her / hers” that I prefer, but you know what? That’s totally okay because it’s a transition and those are slip ups. I slip up sometimes, especially when recounting the past and referring to myself. I don’t actually understand what the “accurate” way to describe past me before I came out is, so I just use the one that makes the most sense: He / his since at the time, that’s what I thought I was (or had to be).
I’ve had 100% of my social network be accepting of me, and it is because of that I feel secure in sharing these deep, dark secrets. It is because I know that this information, despite having the capacity to be used as ammunition against me, could help people understand what it’s like to be trans just a little bit more. Maybe if I’m lucky, it can encourage someone who is still an egg to break out of it and become themselves.
# My doubts
My doubts are not so much doubts, as they are deeply seeded fears. I still feel those fears of judgment, of loss, and of rejection. They still flare up, and I battle them on the regular. They’re starting to fade, getting less intense as time goes on, but they still come up. Here’s what they sound like.
“What if I get the surgery and I regret it?” Yeah honestly, I might regret the surgery. It sure as hell won’t be because I tried to be more “me”, it’ll be because of complications that result in me having a totally botched surgery. It’ll be because when I look down, I see a monster from how wrong the surgery went. I’m learning to come to terms with this risk, and I accept it. The professionals who do this have done hundreds of trans women every single year. They’re the pros, and there’s one place in all of Canada that does this.
“What if this is all wrong, and I’m just sick?” When this comes up, I remember everything I just shared with you in this article / story. I remember that I was sick before, when looking into a mirror meant I’d see a stranger. I remember how happy I feel being able to put on the clothes I like, being on hormones, and hearing my name.
“What if this isn’t who I am meant to be?” This one, just like “what if this is all wrong”, is an extension of “I don’t want to be judged”, and “I am scared”. The moment I dig, the moment “I don’t want to lose everyone” comes back up and I reassure myself.
“What if this is all in my head?” This one only needs a reminder of what my life has been like so far, and how much it changed as soon as I accepted myself.
“What if it’s my ADHD meds making me happy, and not being out?” What if it is? I’m still happy, and knowing that I can me adds onto it. I don’t know how much either helps, but it doesn’t matter because I am happy.
I wrote this in part because I feel like half of the battle trans people experience is that we aren’t understood. We aren’t understood because there’s no information out there to understand, and the information that is out there is nearly impossible for the average person to stumble upon. We make up less than 1% of the population (estimated 0.6% in the USA), and because of that we are rare and unseen. It’s made even more difficult because most of us don’t want to be seen. We just want to be seen as the person we are, not as “a trans woman” or “a trans man”, but as a man or a woman.
“I can’t understand what you feel” or “I can’t understand what you face” is perfectly understandable, and it makes absolute sense to me. This is a sentiment shared by the majority of those whose generation comes before my own, and I can’t blame them because the world they grew up in would chew people like me up, spit them out, and kill them. Suicide risk factors for trans people are stupidly high, and I’d bet anything that a huge contributor is lack of acceptance stemming from lack of understanding. Trans people attempt suicide at all stages of transition and are 2x more likely to commit suicide with 22-44% having attempted it already. These are numbers coming from today’s day and age, not when things were less progressive.