Through the looking glass

Energy in depression and transition

I often like to talk about trans issues in the abstract. But particularly after last week’s discussion of suicide, I feel a need to address a very personal issue for me: depression.

Before I transitioned, I had no energy. I slept constantly. I had little interest in eating. And I couldn’t really muster enthusiasm about anything, even when I had strong opinions. I was depressed.

For some people, depression comes from certain life events. For others, depression has no clear cause at all – it might be a result of brain chemistry. For me, depression is a result of the inescapable fact that my internal body map is female while my body is not. My brain tells me that my body should be female, including all the parts, even though my eyes have always told me that I don’t have them.

When I first heard about phantom limbs, I couldn’t help but compare the phenomenon with my own experiences, since I’m missing body parts that my brain expects to be there. No matter how much I tried to tell myself that I was wrong, I couldn’t escape this reality.

Puberty was hell. I developed all the wrong secondary sex characteristics – hair all over the place, a prodigious beard, and a voice so low that I often sang the lowest bass notes in choirs. I also had to feel myself developing a male sex drive. That particular development was so distressing that I often imagined my life would be better without any sex drive at all.

Shortly after puberty started, I went online and learned about transsexuality. When I read about what transsexuality felt like, I knew instantly that the concept fit me – and that I would be much happier if I could make my body more like how I knew it should be. But then I thought about how other people might react – especially my parents – and I started developing rationalizations about how I wasn’t really trans. For example, my attraction to women and my lack of interest in female clothing helped me convince myself that I was “really” a man. I couldn’t escape into denial completely, though; every month, I had at least a couple days when I couldn’t do anything but confront the incongruence between my brain and my body.

This problem had gone unaddressed for so long that I didn’t even realize I was depressed – I had always felt the same way. Eventually, though, the situation reached a point where I could no longer be oblivious: to keep functioning, I had to address the issue.

When I went on hormones at the beginning of my transition, I felt an immediate sense of relief. That feeling has grown since then. However, I still have to deal with low energy moments. Whenever I present myself as a man in public, whenever someone takes me as male, I feel drained. For me, interacting socially as a man is essentially an act. I’ve learned the part passably, but that’s not who I actually am. I also still have trouble avoiding presenting myself as a man because some of my features, my voice and facial hair especially, unavoidably cue people into thinking that I’m male.

I’m not telling you about my experiences because I have a deep desire to talk about myself. In fact, I’d rather not relive my pre-transition years. I’m telling you this because we cannot just discuss depression, sex, or gender in the abstract. We need stories like mine to remind us that these issues are a part of real people’s lives.