Interview Eighteen: I’m Strong, Because I Deal With It
“I may feel like a terrible person, but I realize now that I’m strong. I’m still alive. I could have ended it. I’m here, because my life did get better. I’ve lived in Pittsburgh almost 10 years, I have a support network, I have amazing friends… and I would have never had them, and they would have never had me, if I had ended my life. You get better. It’s always a journey. It’s always a struggle… but I like my life. And I’m happy I made that journey. I’m strong, because I deal with it.”
[Content Warning: Child Abuse by a Parent, Suicidal Thoughts, Self-Harm, Fat-Shaming, Violent Bullying, Sexual Assault, Strong Language]
Reading Time – 17 minutes
In The Beginning
I was never a masculine child. I was born male, but I never really wanted to do what guys wanted to do… except for climbing trees, that’s fun! And swamp diving… (laughs) Except when your mom gets angry because you tracked mud, literally, all through the house. I was really into ballet. For a time, I was going to the best dance studio in Maryland. I dressed up… I played with dolls. For my fifth birthday, I wanted a Barbie doll, and nothing else. My brother would make fun of me, but only in a loving way. He always protected me.
I was born in California, and I only lived there for three years. I was always jealous of my brother, because he got to live there for eight years. My mom is amazing, but she’s… she didn’t exactly ignore me, but my brother was difficult and five years older than me.
I had to stop dancing around fifth grade, because my brother needed therapy, and my mom knew I was going to need therapy. My dad had been mentally abusive to me all of my life. He’s the reason I became anorexic. My mom knew this, but she didn’t know how to help. He was abusive to her as well. It was a cycle, and she knew it was happening. She didn’t know how severe though… I didn’t tell her until just recently.
In the divorce agreement, my brother and I had to spend every summer in California with my dad, and every other winter. I was always second best, which I think attributes to me being so… I put other people’s needs before mine. I think that’s really where it stems from. I never was my dad’s number one, ever. I was just “the child.” I was just there.
My dad would scream at me. Like, one time I caught my brother with a joint, and I had just taken DARE, so I told my dad. My brother got really angry and stormed out of the house, and my dad got mad at me for it! My brother was the golden child, and he could never do any wrong in my dad’s eyes… and I knew that hurt my brother too.
My dad would buy me stuff just to shut me up. I was completely ignored. I remember getting a cell phone that summer and calling my mom… 48 hours into a nine week stay in California… crying into the phone while my father was trying to beat down the bathroom door, where I was hiding.
He was never physically abusive… I was always scared to get hit, but I never got hit. I could hear the anger in his voice a lot. When he would scream, he would focus on me not being good enough… ever. I never made him proud. He did a lot of damage to me as a child. Like, a lot of damage… He’d always compare me to my brother. He’d just treat me like shit and ignore me a lot… like, my brother had his own room, but I had to share a bed with my dad for the longest time. I genuinely think that there was some sexual abuse… and I have been talking about it with my current therapist. There’s something there that wasn’t right… and I can never put a finger on it.
“Bullied, And The Teachers Did Nothing ”
When I got into fifth grade, I started getting bullied. And I mean bullied so bad… the reason I’m an anti-bully activist is because by 11, I was suicidal. I thought I was the worst person ever. I thought I would need to die to make the world a better place. I never ever once attempted suicide, but I always thought about it. It’s one of those things that… I have wanted to do it, but I have never had the “courage” to do that… or the ability to hurt my family in that way.
Everyone was making fun of me, and I lost all my friends… like, no one wanted to be my friend, because everyone was making fun of me. No one wanted to be the odd man out. I would get kicked into lockers. One time someone knocked all my books out of my hands, and when I went to pick them up, they kicked me again and slammed my face into the ground.
Teachers did nothing… absolutely nothing. I was held responsible for the bullying. It got so bad, so I did the one thing that I thought would help… I made a very big threat. I don’t feel comfortable sharing it, but I made a very, very big threat. I was not going to follow through with it, but I wanted them to shut up. I wanted them to stop making fun of me. I wanted them to think that I was dangerous, so that they’d stop hurting me. The whole seventh grade class would make fun of me, then I’d go home and my dad would treat me like shit… and my brother like a king.
I was nearly expelled after I made that threat. My mom went to the school, because I had gone to all the teachers and tried to tell them what was happening. I asked for so much help. I was in a special anti-bullying program at school, and I was even being bullied in that. No one was helping at all. My mom threatened to sue the school over it, so they didn’t expel me in the end.
Self-Harm as Punishment
I needed an outlet for these negative feelings, so that’s when the self-harm started. I would punch myself… hard. I thought I was bad and needed to be punished… and that I needed to punish myself. I had bruised muscles on my thighs. I’d punch my arms, my chest… I once threw myself down a flight of stairs. I’d throw myself into walls. I’d hit my head against brick. I hurt myself pretty bad. There was always scratches and bruises on me. I think one of my teachers thought my parents were abusing me… but it was actually me.
Triggering Three Eating Disorders
My dad called me fat… and he would make fun of me a lot. Stress eating was my first eating disorder. Any kind of food would make me feel better, because I lost the one thing that would really make me feel better… which was dancing. I don’t blame my mom for taking me out of it, because it was very expensive. We couldn’t afford it. She saw the signs, and she knew that I was gaining weight too.
I was almost 300 pounds… then my dad called me a fat fuck and told me to put down the fork and stop eating. So I did! I didn’t eat for two weeks, and he didn’t notice… at all… even though I was in his house. This is also the time when my dad married my stepmom, so I had to deal with her calling me fat too. That was the second eating disorder… before bulimia came a little bit later. I have all three… stress eating, anorexia, and bulimia. I lost maybe 100 pounds when I was anorexic. And bulimia just kinda came with it. I would eat just to satisfy people at school, then I would just throw it up.
In high school I started taking better care of myself. My friends knew that I wasn’t eating, because I would get lunch and just push it around… or I just wouldn’t buy anything and say that I didn’t have money. My friends would make sure I ate. They would make sure I ate in the morning… at lunch, even if it was something small. They wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom afterwards. Honestly if it wasn’t for my friends and my color guard, I probably would have killed myself in high school. Color guard helped me to lose weight in a healthy way, which made me feel great.
Coming out to my dad for the first time was terrifying… and he made me feel ashamed for it. There are podunk areas in California… not everywhere is super progressive. He had a house in one of those areas, and it was not very acceptable for a gay person to be there. He was worried about his image in the neighborhood, so I couldn’t be flamboyant about it. I also couldn’t express my religion… I couldn’t do anything really when I visited him. I’m Pagan, and I was at that time exploring Paganism. I had to put book covers on all of my Pagan books. I had to not have a rainbow flag, or not wear my rainbow bracelets… I had to feel shame about who I was… all around… because of his appearance in the neighborhood.
I tried really hard to maintain a positive attitude through all of this. I really did. It was difficult too, especially because until recently, my dad and I couldn’t spend 48 hours together without getting into a screaming match. Around that time my friends started helping me to find a voice, and I started to realize that what my dad was doing was wrong. That I shouldn’t be putting up with it. So I’d scream at him and tell him to stop it.
This one time… I think this was when my brother and I really got close. I was 17, and my dad was trying to sell his house, because he had just divorced his second wife. My dad is very anal-retentive about keeping the house clean. He’s the most anal-retentive stoner you’d ever meet. If there is a fork in the sink, the house is a mess.
It was 9pm, so I pulled out some games from the TV stand and didn’t put them back. I left a bottle on the table and a fork and dish in the sink. He came home after working the night shift and just started belting at me… waking up the whole neighborhood. Screaming about how I destroyed the whole house… how I’m awful and terrible… how I should feel bad about making the house so messy… how I’m the reason he’s not selling it…
My brother stepped in and screamed back at him, because I was curling into the fetal position, sobbing on the floor. My father had no idea he had been screaming at me. My brother pulled me out of the house, and said, “Let’s take a walk.” That was the last summer I had to legally spend in California… and that was the last summer I spent in California for quite a long time.
Something I Don’t Like To Talk About
Before I left for college, I was raped. I lost my virginity that way. Since then, I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve actually told my friends not to instigate things with my rapist, because it’s a very muddled situation there. I never pressed charges. I was a guy… this was before I began transitioning… and I was raped by a man.
It’s something that I don’t like to talk about. It was one of those situations… I didn’t say no, but I should have. To me, it was rape. To him, I don’t know what he thought. I never told him, so he doesn’t know how I feel. That’s why I don’t want to press charges… because I don’t want him to have his life messed up, because of something that I should have done. I do take that blame on myself. I’ve learned to cope with that situation.
When I told my friends, they wanted to go after him, but I wanted them to just let it be. It’s wasn’t any one thing, and people didn’t understand the situation. So I got help… I confided in my roommates, because they noticed that I started to not eat. My artwork was very dark. Most of the pages in my sketchbook were black… from me scribbling… because I needed to get anger out. I ended up telling them, while crying, that I was raped… that my dad was abusive to me… that I was self-harming again…
That’s when I got help. I went to see the therapist at the school, and she was very nice. We actually clicked very well. It was the first time I really clicked with a therapist. All the therapists I had growing up were not that good. She helped me come to terms with what happened. That things were okay, and that it wasn’t my fault. That I would be fine.
I still have some triggers from it… like, I am part of the kink community, and I am part of the bondage community. There are times when I will scream my safe word, because it will feel like I’m being violated. The people that I play with know this, and they all stop right there.
Making Progress Through Therapy
I am a much better person now because of therapy. I have severe social anxiety still, because I feel I’m not good enough for anybody. I think that’s where it stems from… I don’t think I’m good enough to have friends, so I think I don’t have friends. I deal with it. I deal with it a lot.
Therapy was amazing, because my therapist… she believed me. She just believed everything I said, and didn’t judge anything I said. I’ve had people judge my Paganism… reading tarot cards. I can see it in their body language, and she didn’t judge me at all. She actually let me do a tarot reading for her once. It was very nice for her, because my cards are very nice and read a lot in her life… that she didn’t know they could read. I was very happy with her.
She ended up leaving the school to get her doctorate, but at that time I was doing well. I was okay with being a gay male… I was okay with who I was… and I had finally stopped hitting myself. I’ve only had one relapse in the past six years, and it was only once. It’s a struggle though, because I deal with that compulsion a lot.
Therapists helped me so much in my life, I decided to go to school for psychology, because I wanted to help people too. That’s what I want to do. They helped me so much to be a person again. I work really hard at it. Sometimes I feel like I’m hitting a brick wall, because I’m a brick wall, but I still work really hard at it. I try really hard to not let it affect me.
Discovering and Repressing My Femininity
After that though… I ended up dating one of the worst mistakes I’ve ever made. He was a sweet guy, still is…. but he was very financially abusive. I was the only one who worked, and he never wanted to get a job. We got a place together, and I was the only one who paid rent. I was going to school full-time, working full-time until 11 or 12 at night then going home.
This was around the time I got into the music I’m into now… called visual kei. It a Japanese style of music where a lot of men dress in skirts… similar to glam rock from the 80s, very flamboyant. It’s like rock, and it’s really good. There were a lot of bands where the guys dressed like girls, and I had always been feminine. I never really thought that I could dress like a girl. I had never met a transgender person, so I didn’t even know I could be transgender. I never really explored it, because partially I think I was afraid to… and because it wasn’t prevalent when I was growing up, like it is now. I’m very thankful it’s prevalent now, because a lot of these young, trans girls and boys are able to get the help that they should get… before they hit puberty.
I started feeling more feminine… like, I feel right like this. But I was dating this guy, and he did not like feminine at all. At all. So I pushed that side of me down, because I really liked him, and I wanted to date him. We were in love for quite a while… we dated for two years. I am polyamorous, and I started experimenting with open relationships and polyamory with him… and that worked so well for my heart.
The reason we broke up is because he cheated on me. We had an open relationship, so sleeping around wasn’t an issue. But… when I was upstairs crying, stressing over tests and bills that needed paid… so unhappy, so physically in pain… he would continue to talk to someone else… someone I knew he had a crush on. To me, that’s cheating. I always felt like, if you can’t emotionally be with the person you want to be with, then you’re cheating on them. I broke up with him, because I knew he didn’t want to be with me anymore, but I was the only one strong enough to end it.
Transitioning and Finally Exploring My Femininity
Finally I was able to begin exploring my feminine side. Then, I met my first trans person ever. She was really nice, really adorable… even though I only met her in passing… I think we got high together. It opened my eyes. It finally clicked… I wasn’t a male, I was female! And I needed to figure out how to fix this.
I was always told boys did one thing, and girls did another. Growing up, I always acted like a girl, but I wasn’t developing like a girl… so I “must be a boy.” And I had to stop acting feminine. I tried to block it out of my brain and be masculine. I would look at girls and be very jealous. I didn’t know how to verbalize it, so I would hate my body. That’s where the body dysmorphia came in… I would hate who I was. I didn’t look the way I wanted to, so I would hate the things about me… and I’d stop eating, because I hated things about me and wanted them to change.
That person I met… she literally didn’t directly help me. I just met her and added her on Facebook. We don’t even talk, so I don’t think she realizes how instrumental she was in helping me.
I started transition about five years ago. It was one of the reasons I left college. I wasn’t fully okay with having to leave, but I accepted it. It’s expensive and very therapy intensive… I needed to focus on it.
The first years of transition were awful. I thought I had to wear dresses and only buy women’s clothing. Only this, and only that. Then I was finally like, “No. I like wearing jeans, and I like wearing t-shirts. Doesn’t make me less of a girl… I just like being comfortable!” Now I’ve really started becoming comfortable in my skin again. I am very happy that I’ve been on hormones for about… three years now. I’m happy with myself… starting to at least. I’m 27 now… it took 27 years to finally be happy with myself.
Nerds Weren’t Girls
The Internet helps a lot. It helps me to be social without having to be face-to-face with people. Like, I had to fight myself to come here to do this interview, because I was terrified. But I wanted to do it, so I dragged her along (points to friend, who was at the interview). Because she knows, if I want to do something she’ll push me to do it. Always.
We’re furries, so we go to furry conventions. We go to anime conventions… comics, video games… It’s something I’ve had to deal with, because growing up, nerds weren’t girls. But now they are! I’m a huge nerd! I’m a Trekkie to the extreme. I have seen Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise… and I’ve seen TOS… and I’ve seen TNG, so many times. TNG was my favorite, until Voyager. And I have a pop collection that makes my wallet cry. (laughs)
After transition, some men started to “test” my nerd knowledge. I am a huge tech nerd, and I know a lot about cellphones and computers. I actually just built a computer. And I’ve always been into video games. Before transition, it was never an issue. After transition, after I started passing as female 100% of the time, I started getting tested on my knowledge a lot. All the time! And I’d just be like, “No.” and list everything. They’ll just look at me like I’m insane, and I’m like, well, 1) I am… and 2) don’t test my knowledge! (laughs)
Constant Battle With Myself
The social anxiety and the eating disorders… they never go away. I developed them, and they’re always there. They always eat at me. In fact, I looked in the mirror today and thought I was hideous because of one spot on my face. One that I’m almost positive you can’t see… but it’s driving me up a wall. That’s body dysmorphic disorder for ya!
But, through therapy, I’ve discovered that it’s from being transgender. Because I would focus on things about my body that weren’t right, because I wasn’t developing the way I felt I should be developing. And now that I’m developing the way I want, it’s gotten less… but it’s still there. I’ll look at things and think, “Oh, they can tell I was a man because of this…” this thing on my face, or this thing on my chest. My stomach, or my arms, anything. It will be on my mind all day.
It’s hard to describe BDD to people, because they don’t… well, not a lot of people understand it unless they have it… how difficult it is to get that thing out of your mind. Feel like you have a face full of zits, and you’re looking in the mirror and you see that face full of zits… and everyone can see that face full of zits. But in reality, it’s only one. It’s only one zit, but to you, it’s your entire face. And everyone sees it that way. That’s what it’s like. And it’s constant. There are days when it doesn’t affect me, and I love those days. But some days, it’s like everyone can see this. I’m ugly, I’m hideous… I’m not even worth love because of this. It’s at the forefront of your mind all day. It does not leave your mind all day. It’s not fun.
There’s some people who don’t take binge eating seriously. It started when I was very sad… I would eat. When I’m stressed, I will eat. And I will eat candy… I won’t eat good things like salads. And I will just keep eating. In the past, I gained 50 pounds just from eating candy. Then, because I gained that weight, I would stop eating. That the worst part… it’s a cycle. You stop eating, because you gained the weight. But then you start eating again, because you’re anxious. But then you stop eating again, because the anxiety makes you feel fat. My brain is a constant battle with myself.
Coping Mechanisms and Advice
To try and not cycle… I breathe. Breathing is very underrated. It helps center me. There are times when I won’t listen, so my friends have to sit me down and remind me. I will also do reassurance and positive self talk. I will look at myself in the mirror and remind myself that this isn’t as big as it is. It may feel that way, but it’s not true. It doesn’t erase the thoughts, but it helps. I repeat the mantra, “I’m not terrible.” I repeat that mantra way more than I care to admit. I’m still working on it, and I will probably be working on it for the rest of my life.
If you’re dealing with anything, get help. I wouldn’t be here or who I am today if I didn’t get help. That’s the one thing I always tell people… if you’re dealing with something, it’s not going to get better unless you get help. I used to think it made me weak, but I realize now and I’m very happy I did, because without it, I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am now.
I may feel like a terrible person, but I realize now that I’m strong. I’m still alive. I could have ended it. I’m here, because my life did get better. I’ve lived in Pittsburgh almost 10 years, I have a support network, I have amazing friends… and I would have never had them, and they would have never had me, if I had ended my life. You get better. It’s always a journey. It’s always a struggle… but I like my life. And I’m happy I made that journey. I’m strong, because I deal with it. I’m jealous of the people who have healthy lives, aren’t you? (laughs)