Is There Hope for the Cliffhangers?

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Imagine a sheer, stony cliff next to the sea, being pounded by surf. At the foot of the cliff, someone clings to the rocks. Wave after wave slams into them, driving them against the cliff face, their skin torn and shredded by the jagged surface. There is no way for them to climb the slick face. Their only hope of escape would be to dive into the seething water and try to swim to safety. Or possibly to drown.

That, I imagine, is what it’s like to suffer from gender dysphoria under intense pressure from your own psyche to transition, while at the same time repeatedly reaching the conclusion that you are not interested in living as the opposite gender.

I know many people like this. Some of them seem relatively happy, but others live buffeted by the incessant noise of dysphoria, trying to keep it from destroying them. One friend has been repeatedly hospitalized for anxiety and depression. Another has spent years in therapy trying to deal with it. A third is addicted to alcohol and painkillers. Even those who seem able to cope don’t emerge unscathed.

We who have transitioned successfully are quick to advise following in our footsteps. Our lives improved immeasurably, and we want these gifts for others. But what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander. Transition benefited us, but everyone judges best what will work for them. We don’t stand in their shoes or see life through their eyes, and we are unqualified to make that decision for them.

The reasons people choose not to transition are as varied as the people themselves. Some would-be trans women forego transition for the sake of their careers, not wanting to jeopardize income or advancement. Family is important to many, and they rightly fear the effects of transition on their marriages, their relationships with their children, or the esteem of their parents, siblings, and other relatives. Still others relish their social standing as men and won’t risk threatening that.

Would-be transgender men perceptively see the pressures our culture places on men to conform to the narrow roles defined for them. For some, they’re unwilling to take on that sort of pressure, while others don’t see themselves up to the task. The disruption, difficulty, and uncertainty of the transition process deters many of all genders. And for those who do not identify as either of the two binary genders, the risk that they would be less comfortable in a new presentation than they are in their old can be forbidding.

Regardless of reason, the commonality seems to be a conclusion that rather than saving them, transition will rob them of what makes their current lives bearable.

We cannot tell them with any certainty that transition will leave them better off. However, medical and social science has nothing else to offer. Generations of doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors of all sorts have tried and completely failed to come up with ways for transgender people to be comfortable with the mismatch between their gender and their bodies and circumstances. We have no other helpful choice for them.

So they cling to the cliffs, hammered by wave after wave, each exacting a painful toll. Their story is seldom told amid news articles and documentaries about ecstatic transitioners. They try to endure, just hoping to hang onto the rocks for a little longer with no relief in sight, doing whatever they can to live an authentic and satisfying life. Many suffer in silence. Even their families and closest friends don’t know about the demon of gender dysphoria that plagues them. They are virtually alone in their private hell. Even contemporary research by the therapeutic community long since abandoned efforts to find better ways of comforting those who don’t choose to transition, focusing instead on smoothing the way for those who do.

I confess that I don’t know can be done for them either. I can hold their hand, tell them I understand, listen, and give accurate information. It isn’t much. Best it can do is buy them another day on the rocks, giving strength to endure being pummeled by punishing waves for a little longer.

And I can tell their story here. I can expose their plight to the light of day, while they hold their sorrows tightly to their chests. And I can make sure their question is asked, even if others will answer.

Is there hope for the cliffhangers?

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About Author

Suzi Chase writes about transgender issues through both fiction and non-fiction. She has had careers in teaching and software engineering and has raised two children.

4 Comments

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    Yep. My decision to transition all the way was never – NEVER – in doubt. Despite my ‘male’ up-bringing, I knew I am female and that part of me would eventually submit to the Sharon part of me. I endured great calamity. I lost family, friends, possessions, income and job status, social position to get where I am. But I may not have arrived here had I remained as my male predecessor. Either way, the fates assured me all that was ‘excess baggage’.

    I stand alone because I am all I have. One co-worker in a not-too-friendly attitude once sniped at me, ‘Who lives with you?’. Well, my quick, spontaneous reply was, ‘I live with my self’. Yep, I am my best friend when it all comes down. No one else has ever helpt me as much as my self.

    I refused to allow my circumstance to destroy me; I asserted my self during counselling; I refused to go down the path of substance abuse. Yes, in your cliff-side analogy, I am battered and bruised and water-logged – I made it through my storm.

    So, too, others on their cliff. We can all be of some assistance but only those stuck clinging to their cliff can reach for the lifelines we extend to them when they are ready.

    We build our lives upon those who preceded us. I do understand others who decide to not transition, or decide to limit transition, or decide to transition all the way. I make my effort to extend that life-rope down their cliff to help others wherever they are going as I become their foundation for them to become the foundation for the next. You know what, maybe someday we shall all overcome that cliff and wear it down same as time does to all things and a future may hold when no one bears the dangers of that cliff or the waters below. That cliff, as all others, will eventually wear down and become a comfortable, sandy beach.

    There is hope for those hanging tightly to their cliff – they decide how long it is worth holding on, when to grab their life-rope, or whether to endure until that cliff erodes..

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    Today is Saint Nicholas Day. I relegate my male predecessor Nick to my history, I do not shun him. My male predecessor is who I am in my past and I embrace him even though he is lost to my past and not, by name anyway, to my future as Sharon.

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  2. I think the cliffhanger analogy is pretty accurate. I’ve been hanging on to this rock face for 56 years, and I’m pretty sure I’ll die on this rock. I just can’t imagine losing the love and respect of my family and continuing to live. I am not the thick-skinned type; I am easily hurt by the painful words of others, most especially those of family. I don’t think I could survive for long if I lost their love and respect. There is more to life than gender, I know, but the desire to be free to express my true self is always there. The trouble is, as much as I wish to be completely female, I know that realistically I could never be seen as such by society. When dressed as myself, I will never be seen as a woman; I will always appear to be just an effeminate man in a dress. So rather than go full time as a woman and be gawked at by strangers and shunned by family, I’ll keep my true self under wraps. I suppose It must be so much easier to be either a masculine man or a feminine woman, but I’ll never know.

  3. Yes, a too accurate and understood analogy by those “on the rocks.” I am strengthened by the experiences of others and the diverse ways people mange this challenge. I lived in limbo so long I thought it was just my lot in life. I understand the many different dances we do to stay on the floor and I am grateful for those who have bravely and publicly come before us, paving the way. My once “shadow” girl self now lives free. It is well worth it for this one.

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    Khema:

    I feel your pain. I read many similar words in many threads here at this and at other boards. Yes, you must be the one who makes whatever decision you ultimately make. Do so with forethought, insight, and minimal regret other than doing better.

    Know that I am among the many who went through quite awkward ‘duck’ days, weeks, months, years during early transition and came out the other end as the beautifull ‘swan’. People mis-gendered me ‘female’ during my ‘male fail’ era and I took insufficient notice’; meanwhile, I surely heard every mis-gender comment once I went female full-time and felt as if the world was crashing down upon me. Neither extreme brought me to where I am today, but rather a measure of wavering self-confidence.

    I always held the female self-identification so my hurdle was not tripping over the berm that I once thought was an impenetrable barrier. I presented my self as who I am and people accepted me as I presented to them.

    It is so simple looking back. Take a browse at all of us who posted our awkward appearances on the ‘Before and After’ and ‘Pass’ threads. We gave it our best and we are here waiting for you when you are ready.

    Tessa:

    Yes. I recently came upon a gem of a find of a series of web sites of my mentor and what she built during the 1960s and 1970s for my generation. I joined with others during the 1970s and 1980s to build a foundation for you. You now built the foundation for the next generation. It will become easier with each successive generation. I thank you all for ‘lighting the torch’ before me and for ‘carrying the torch’ who follow me.

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