I was 15 years old when I came out as transgender (female to male) to a therapist I was seeing at my parents' request. The therapist told me I didn't know what I was talking about and ended the sessions. At the time I couldn't put a name to that terrible feeling, only that I felt shitty and ashamed for being me. That I was some kind of monster whose true nature had to be kept hidden lest I scare the townfolk.
Keep in mind I lived in a smallish northern town and statistically speaking the odds were good I was the ONLY one of my kind in the entire place. In the mid-80s there really wasn't much in terms of support for anyone gay or lesbian, let alone a “unicorn” like me.
I tried again with both parents when I was 17. My father, a prominent a mental health professional, at first seemed supportive, and promised to use his contacts in the industry to get me into treatment. About a week later he came back and told me it was “just a phase” and that I'd grow out of it.
That was one of the single most demoralizing events of my entire life and it's no exaggeration to say that's the day when any meaningful relationship I had with my father died. It was also the first time I'd ever seriously contemplated killing myself and I vividly recall sitting on the bathroom floor with the sharpest knife in the house trying to think of one single reason why I shouldn't do it.
What pulled me through it was rage. Rage at my father. Rage at whatever cosmic joke decided to make me into what I was.
My mother, although she didn't understand what I was going through, supported me as best she could. I managed to secure funding to fly both of us to the Toronto so I could be assessed by what was then called the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry. They did a ton of tests on me but did not offer anything meaningful in terms of support. I was instructed to return every six months for followup appointments with one of their psychiatrists and I did so for about three years before I figured out they were just studying me for their research papers and grants and had no intention of ever helping me to transition.
During my last appointment, I requested my files and was deeply offended to see that I had been (erroneously) diagnosed as being Kinsey Type VI (lesbian) and that the psychiatrist described me at one point as being “histrionic”. That these so-called medical professionals could so completely invalidate the very essence of my gender identity was a huge emotional injury to me.
I was attending college near Toronto when I finally cut ties with the Clarke Institute. Through a lot of research and networking I found out about The 519 on Church Street in Toronto. Even today it's the main drop in place for LGTBQ folks. There, for the first time in my life, I met other trans people. It was eye opening, validating, scary, and joyful all at the same time. One of my friends, a fellow FTM, put me on to a general practitioner who would prescribe hormones without the mandated psychiatric treatment and the one year “real life test” required at the time for all transgender people seeking to transition.
I saw the doctor when I was 20 and after the first appointment he prescribed the hormones I needed. I did not tell anyone in my family about this. I did not feel they had the right to know.
When I was 21 I moved to Alberta for school and it's here that I officially started living in my chosen gender role. In doing this, I left my old life behind, including all of my friends and my family. Emotionally it was a tough time for me. I was able to get my new doctor in Alberta to recommend a double mastectomy and I had the surgery when I was 22. To this day I have no idea how he made this happen but I'm certain he worked outside of the established protocols for treating transgender patients at the time.
It took nearly two years after this before I fully came out to my family. They were all pissed off at me for having surgery without telling them. I don't have any regrets about this. As far as I'm concerned, they blew their chance to help me when I was 17.
And although I worked outside of the standard medical path that most trans people take, more than 25 years later I have no regrets. I'm proud that I found the courage and resourcefulness to do the things I needed to do in order to be whole.
These days although I don't offer up this information about myself, at the same time I'm pretty open if the topic comes up. It helps that transgender issues have lately become so mainstream that I no longer feel like the only unicorn in the world.
The shame and anger from my childhood are still there, albeit to a much lesser degree. I'm not sure I'll ever really be free of them or even if I even want to, because the shame has given me a depth of compassion and empathy I would not otherwise have developed and the anger, appropriately directed, is a lot of what gets me through when the going gets rough.
Both of these things help me to help others and this is a large part of what gives meaning to my life.