Over the course of counselling, I have prepared or gathered my thoughts by sketching diagrams to relate all my possible feelings about something. I start with words on the page, positioned intuitively as blobs, then join them up as they seem most naturally to relate, and a picture emerges in a fresh, clearer way. I have one on emotions, for example, with a big black blob in the middle called ‘undermining self’ linked to ‘exclusion’, ‘anger’ dissonance’. Another is on love, with the sexy ‘excitement’ and ‘thrill’ bursting out the top, but this much bigger iceberg zone with ‘trust’, ‘commitment’, ‘bonding’, ‘togetherness’, ‘wholeness’ below the waterline. Then I have one centred around ‘core self-beliefs’, surrounded by ‘validation’, acceptance’, ‘connection’, ‘self-esteem’. These aren’t complete descriptions of the diagrams, but they are interesting to return to and ponder.
Then I came to the appreciation that the root of my emotional responses to not being loved as I thought I had been, was this whole business of permission, and the way I grew up as a child to understand it.
Now before I continue, some of you reading this will be thinking I am being unreasonable on the issue of not being loved as I thought. Yes, I was loved by my wife, and we looked after each other very well in our 32 years. We cared a lot, the sex was very comforting, if pretty vanilla. It was fulfilling in terms of bonding, if unadventurous. We supported each other through employment traumas, through illness, and loved each other in these ways faithfully the whole time. So I am not denying any of that, only that I now realise that the very fact I could not share my need for help, the very fact that I was frightened to disclose my problems, was because I knew there were limits to being accepted, and that I could exceed permissions by which that love was bounded. Had it been a worry about a congenital disease, or cancer, or mental health, I could have spoken. Impotence? We’d have coped with that. But this?
I was (and we all do this), living by permission. I can only do what the other allows. It’s not the same as ‘tie me but don’t spank me’ kind of permission, which is about respect (and no, I never was into BDSM in any way), or ‘booze with your pals so long as you come home quietly and don’t disturb me’ (I’ve never really been drunk). This is not about tolerance, but letting the other grow and live safely as themselves, as all they can be. It’s about not setting boundaries (even ‘don’t ask don’t tell’) where the other only feels loved for being and doing what the other approves of.
Tell me about your childhood
It is clear now that much derives from upbringing. I always knew I could never be good enough. Which is strange, given my performance at school.
Were we poor? I think probably we were, but our family values were a veneer of being a class above the reality. Others were honestly poor, we were respectable, and that meant hiding quite a lot, in retrospect. But a core value was that any pride or self-satisfaction, any celebration of achievement would lead to arrogance. Therefore, any sense of self-esteem being shared with another was bad. So I passed my 11 plus and went to grammar school? That was simply as it should be. So in my first year there, I had scarlet fever (curiously self-diagnosed correctly before seeing a doctor, and without the Internet). I was off school between the period of taking exams in every subject, and the results being given. I came top in just about every subject except Art. A great surprise to me, but this was simply as it should be. I did it again and again. If that was my natural place, it was just a natural place. I was a soloist with two instruments at school, and after a performance this was just as it should be. If this is what you can do, then without need of praise or pride, this is simply what you do. Nothing was special; nothing was good enough for reward. And so I found myself in 1980, surrounded by friends jumping up and down with delight for their 2:2 degrees, reporting simply on the phone that I had indeed received the only first in my subject. It was a very ordinary day. A simple thing. As it should be.
So having a successful marriage was not just unusual, it was nothing to celebrate. Being loved as I was, was not a recognition of anything about me. It was simply fitting. And so being rejected for being the wrong fit (see last blog) was, once more, not being able to be ever good enough to be wanted.
What a legacy! I can never be good enough to be truly loved.
In this setting, there is no permission to celebrate. I remember my wife saying in the past that I should celebrate more my achievements. That I should reward myself for good things and feel good about myself. When I reminded her of this regarding my feelings of achieving self-hood in terms of fulfilling my true gender, of course I was back to square one. ‘I can’t celebrate it, so don’t expect to celebrate it here.’ I spent far too many decades of my life living within the permission of others. Permission to have things, to give things, to think things, to celebrate being. How could I ever have believed that life should be so small as to live in fear that stepping over someone’s line of who I was allowed to be, was a requirement of love?
We give so much away, and reduce ourselves so much, all for the sake of acceptance and approval, without which our core beliefs seem challenged. Maybe we aren’t right whenever someone disagrees or won’t allow us simply to be? I still walk past things in Tesco telling myself I’m not allowed to have that. I still have things in my freezer that I tell myself I must save until I can share it with someone else. Why? I used to look in the fridge frequently, seeing something nice, believing it must be for the kids, or some special reason, never for me.
I have lived in self-denial in many ways, all my life. Layer that with the whole business of gender, and I feel a long way from the possibility of being loved for all that I am, and even believing that I ever could be, let alone that I ever have been.
One phrase I have often used in the past few months, is my response to the tentative enquiry: ‘Are you happy?’ The only thing I can say is ‘If I had known I was allowed to be this happy with myself, I’d have done this a very long time ago.’ Despite those closest to me rejecting me for being this. This is my permission to self, out-facing everyone else for the first time in my life.
My real transition at this rather late juncture, is not my gender presentation. I have always been what I am, but I didn’t know and I didn’t allow myself a higher permission. No, my transition is from living by permission to loving myself.
That’s a long journey from the day I wrote ‘I love me’ on a pencil case (everyone else was naming a girlfriend), and had it instantly obliterated by my mother because self-love was arrogance and forbidden.
I have transitioned from being what you need me to be, to who I am; from being loved providing I presented the right shape, to being who I am in the face of maybe never being the right shape for anyone ever again. I have transitioned from the conditional life, to freedom. It happens to involve moving from living as a man, to simply living. I am a woman, and I need no-one’s permission to say that.
What hasn’t changed is who and what I am. I am a lovely person. I have my faults, and I know that. I can be a bit too vocal, a bit overbearing at times. But I am one of the kindest, most loving, committing and considerate people you might wish for. I share and give freely, I help and support openly. I am intelligent without being arrogant, thoughtful without being obstructive (OK, most of the time!), I am intuitive, creative, expressive and honest. I have so much to give. I even want to discover generous sex as something I can receive, not just give. I know that the second half of my life is one that leads into growing old, but I want to share that experience with another. I want a lover, I want a companion, I want shared happiness. Not the avoidance of problems and life-tangles, but someone who can massage my knots away as I do theirs.
I love myself. And finally, I realise, I need no permission. Somewhere, they may be someone for me who has found the same. I do hope so.