They just seem to get a free pass - never having to bear witness to the faces of horror. Others? What they survive turns our stomachs. My journey was a little of both. Here I share insights regarding minimizing emotional scars from bad life experiences and moving forward. Tips for Surviving Social Isolation Without a doubt one of the worst aspects of a gender transition is the resulting isolation. Old friends pull away & new acquaintances are overwhelmed. We’re self-doubting & confused. We face the insecurity of a young teen female combined with the outcast nature of a queer culture persona.
One of the absolute worst aspects of this phase? No one holds or touches us without wanting something in return. Loving touch is such an important human condition. I forever recall during this phase when a dear friend reached over & held me as we walked through a shopping mall. The impact of that loving touch reduced me to tears. I forgot what it felt like to be touched without condition. Human touch is crucial. Only those who lived without such contact are acutely aware of its essential nature.
Years later, a dear friend and I did sleepovers that included simply holding one another throughout the night. It’s challenging finding a healthy “hug buddy” without complication or agenda but it’s one of the most healing & fulfilling friendships you can form.
Tips for Surviving a Gender Transition As transgender women, we’re forced to redevelop & redefine almost every relationship in our lives: from loved ones, co-workers - even casual acquaintances. I always tell people that “completing” transition is defined by when you eventually reestablish a quality of life comparable to that before transition. I’m not referring to the inner peace & happiness we usually enjoy by getting our bodies & presentation congruent with our heats & minds. Rather, I’m referring to reestablishing close relationships with life-long friends, a career path without major obstacles, adequate income opportunities to enjoy life, etc.
Alas, most improvements simply occur by the passage of time. When the front page story: “Did you hear Reynolds got a f**king sex change?” becomes old news buried on page 34 of section F - people eventually respond: “Yeah, and I hear she’s happy now”.
I include more detailed insights for overcoming the obstacles from a gender transition in my “Transition Guide”.
Tips for Surviving Homeliness Anyone who endured a horrid financial setback is all too aware the greatest challenge is simply surviving - and maintaining basic human needs: food, water & shelter. You’re often overwhelmed and become paralyzed dealing with problems. Notoriously, we choose to emotionally pretend such problems don’t exist & hope repercussions won’t occur. This comatose condition was a big reason I ended up homeless.
Anyone whose experienced homelessness is never quite the same after that experience. No matter what subsequent success you enjoy or resources you accumulate, there’s always a lingering fear you could end up back where you were. There remains a lingering recognition the world can suddenly change and you can once again struggle for basic survival. I’ll never get completely past that.
It’s strange how you suddenly take note of the large number of wayward souls around when you’re facing a similar plight. They’re easy to ignore otherwise. Likewise, you become more sensitive to those getting close to despair – can feel their stress – even without direct engagement.
My own predicament occurred long before the Great Recession - it was during the economic expansion. I personally felt even shoddier because it seemed almost everyone was gainfully employed and living their dream – sans me.
A “tranny fall” can be longer & deeper than many downward spirals. Most people that end up facing homelessness or destitution turn to family. Alas, many family’s want nothing to do with their transsexual “black sheep”. Also, homeless shelters often don’t accommodate pre operative TS women: few provide safe showering or quarters. Unlike homeless gay men or women, we can’t selectively hide our issue. The day you find yourself having to turn to a homeless shelter for survival is a very bad day. However, the day you get turned away from a homeless shelter because you’re trans? That day sucks beyond description!
The safety nets for trans people are almost non-existent & there’s few places to grab hold if you fall into the deep well of economic despair.
This situation is exasperated by the challenges & costs associated with “legally” becoming a female. It’s depressing to go to social services & constantly be referred to as “He” & “Mr.” in that process. Lots of girls choose not to receive such support because of that depressing obstacle.
To this day I don’t enjoy A&E’s hit TV show “Storage Wars”. They're opening preamble about storage units being “abandoned” is far from the usual truth. Most units put up for sale? They’re let go because its owner couldn’t afford to pay rent. It’s a horrible feeling to already be down on your luck & subsequently discover all that you “thought” you still owned was sold. In my case, I showed up with a belated payment to discover my belongings were long gone. However, I can state with conviction on that day I was lucky: the person that bought my locker was kind enough to return the contents of a special memorabilia chest of photos to the storage company. Thus, I was able to retain many childhood memories, etc. I’m forever thankful to that person for their kind gesture.
In fairness to friends & family, at this early point in our transition many of us are too unhealthy for family to embrace into their homes. Personally? I was a mess.
Learning how to survive when you’re homeless is a skill most people wish they never knew. I spent three weeks living from my car & a shelter before I “upgraded” to a weekly hotel rental & storage unit.
The most challenging aspect of overcoming being destitute? Remaining focused, persistent and patient. Even the most casual investments of money for gas, time with friends - becomes important trade-off decisions. Everyday conveniences are a thing of the past. You’re constantly concerned with protecting the few belongings you still hold: within your car or storage locker. Everything takes more time. All of this occurs while you congruently “beat yourself up” for getting so upside down in the first place. Tips for Surviving Utter Despair Know what I found to be the biggest challenge in overcoming despair? Blaming myself for getting into the bad situation plus not acting to get out of the mess.
If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Edge”: you might recall a profound statement by Anthony Hopkins regarding why most people die when lost in the wilderness: “They die of shame”. Based upon experience, I’m guessing such passing isn’t limited to the wild blue yonder.
As my life deteriorated: I froze. I couldn’t function. I was ashamed of people I hurt. I beat myself up over mistakes.
I almost died…of shame.
Faith & Prayer
I can’t begin to explain the power of prayer & a basis in spirituality. I lost my connection with organized religion after being out-and-proud as transgender…but I never lost my faith in prayers to God. I owe my mother for this healthy habit: she was a devout believer in prayer.
Manage What You Can
The trick to surviving complete chaos is to not look very far into the future & manage what you can now. At times, I my entire “future plans” included only the next two hours. If I looked beyond that juncture? I felt overwhelmed & depressed.
I wasn’t yet able to love myself - I’ll always struggle with feeling deserved of love. I did, however, learn to forgive myself for getting in such a bad situation. I certainly didn’t “try” to end up a mess. I promised myself I would make better decisions if I found my way clear of this labyrinth. I openly & vocally apologized to myself…and asked myself to forgive “me’. Alas, it worked.
What gifts did I receive from surviving complete financial devastation?
Perhaps the greatest gift from my devastation was an improved sense of self. It’s only after you lose everything that you discover what you “really” have…you have yourself!
Other important lessons, included:
I discovered I didn’t require a single penny to my name to be truly happy.
I also never feel compelled to “act out” as if I’m someone important or wealthy. Know that type of behavior? Nowadays, it never bothers me to proclaim “I can’t afford it” even when by other people’s standards - I could. I’m much more humble about what challenges I can face with life & admire humility in others.
• I realized I never “owned” anything - I simply had possessions. That is a powerful & important distinction as you consider adding possessions to your fold.
• I learned the true value of money. I saw every day what money can buy…and what it can’t. M0re than anything else? Money buys freedom. But…it doesn’t buy happiness.
• I discovered who my real friends & family are
• I no longer care what people think or say about my life. I can’t even begin to describe the number of friends that chose to exclude me, family that chose to ignore me, business associates that left me out, long-term lovers that were never able to tell their family we…were once we. I got used to that - even rationalized their behavior. Nowadays? Very little gets under my skin.
Long Term Impact
Ironically, I face a double edged sword whey it comes to how I view my financial future. On the one hand, I’m empowered knowing exactly how to survive in the worst of circumstances. On the other? Like a child of the depression, I often fear becoming broke again. I recently put to rest my greatest fear: the image of ending up old, destitute and trans. Having never had children & no more living immediate family - I totally feared the prospect of being alone without adequate resources in the years ahead. My retirement platform is now well organized & fully funded. That is a big relief to my soul. I’m much more interested in the sort of legacy I leave behind when I’m gone & dedicated to creating successes that actually improve people’s lives. Tips for Surviving a Psychopath Attack Perhaps the ugliest moment in my journey was when I was drugged, held against my will & sexually assaulted for almost three full days. I choose not to empower that f**khead by reliving that experience. Rather, I’m offering advice for others who find themselves in bad circumstances
Tips for Surviving Being Drugged If you ever begin to feel like you’ve just been drugged (feels like you’re about to faint: you’re quickly becoming very numb & dysfunctional) - you’ll have to force yourself to act VERY quickly to bring safety to your situation. Based upon my own experiences, you only have about sixty-seconds before you lose touch with functioning reality. If your friends are nearby? Reach out immediately. If a bartender is across from you? Tell them you feel like you’ve just been drugged and need help now. Call 911 or a friend: do so immediately. Don’t be concerned if you’re wrong & perhaps embarrassed by your wrong suspicions later. In my case? I felt the sensation coming over my mind & body and only stood there pondering: “Well, that’s interesting” - did nothing. My mistake - common amongst transgenders was too much faith in my underlying male physique. I stupidly assumed it would take a pretty tough fellow to get me - and I would see that coming. Alas, when you’re drugged or have a gun to your head? Doesn’t matter.
During the time your affected by a drug, there’s nothing you can do to improve your circumstances if you’re not safe. I was in & out of consciousness and lost total track of time. An hour passed by? Feels like it was only a few moments. I remained aware of bits of my surroundings - even dreamed about them years later. If you’re being assaulted, you’ll unfortunately be very aware it’s happening. After the drug wears off & you’re alert: you’ll probably have no idea exactly where you are, what day it is & you’ll feel lethargic (like a bad hangover). If you are not in a safe place when you first regain awareness, your first priority needs is safety: not spending time deducing what just happened. Regain Your Focus If you awaken & are being held against your will, its essential that you quickly try to regain your ability to focus. If you own a cell phone, try to turn it on since law enforcement can track your whereabouts - assuming anyone noticed you’re “missing”. You’ll need to do everything possible to maintain composure by not lashing out, but rather - bonding with your abductor. You’ll need to make note of as much of your surroundings as possible for subsequent law enforcement or street justice.
I can’t begin to explain the strength that’s required to find calm & focus in the face of horror. I’ve spoken with others that endured similar trials & come to appreciate the amazing survival instinct of humans. You're only path to regaining safety lies through your captor - either via establishing trust or compassion. You’ll be amazed what you can do when you have no choices. I survived…that’s all that matters.
Don’t Beg Having twice survived near-death encounters with wack jobs I came to one conclusion most find surprising: don’t ever beg for your life. It’s hard not to do that when you’re frightened but these guys seem to get off on control & humiliation. Take away their fun? They are more likely to move on. I survived a gun to my head by not begging - just food for thought! I could be wrong. ((hugs))
Pray To survive a total nightmare you need faith you can make it through. You need faith in order to calm down & think about how to get out of this trauma. You need faith to muster the strength & courage to fight for your life when that’s necessary. I remember thinking to myself while in the middle of my own ordeal that it wasn’t even real: everything changed so fast: it wasn’t possible. I cried when reality sank in.
I thought of my mother & how much I wanted to see her again. I survived because of faith. I give thanks for my survival and my faith each & every day since. Get professional help I suffered hyperactive fear from even the slightest star following my attack. It took years for that response to wane. I would have done much better if I had gotten professional help with trauma. Alas, I was ashamed and also wasn’t ready to explain what I was doing & where I was. ( I was a part-time & closeted cross dresser at that time). This is me praying you’re more courageous than yours truly. Tips for Living as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse Many people once assumed only young girls were victims of sexual predators. The recent publicity around the Penn State abuse scandal & all the disclosures from the catholic church shed light on reality. One in six males under the age of sixteens suffered sexual abuse at the hands of another male. Surprisingly, 60% of the abusers were members of his family or someone the family trusted. Sadly, I was part of this group.
The worst part?
Very few males come forward with details regarding their abuse. The shame associated with this experience is beyond compare. Personally? I was even more afraid of someone knowing about my childhood sexual abuse than I was the fact I was a closeted transgender. And believe me, I was really afraid of people knowing I cross dressed!
The scars from childhood sexual abuse run deep: anger, an inability to form healthy loving relationships, unhealthy sexual habits. Perhaps the worst scar from my own abuse was I never mourned the death of my sister - Valerie Reynolds - at the time of her suicide. Honestly? I was relieved she took her own life. She became emotionally unstable and I feared she was going to tell everyone what happened in years past. I was so very afraid of people knowing our ugly secret. Can you imagine feeling relief at the funeral of your 17-year-old sister? I sometimes dream I’m back in that moment: able to love & comfort her and make a difference in her outcome. Alas, it’s just a dream. Or is it a nightmare - never quite sure? It was only after I got help dealing with my childhood abuse that I took the time to properly mourn my sister’s passing. I also learned to forgive myself: I was just a kid!
I share my story to finalize my healing and honor the truth of my beautiful sister. I’m so very sorry it took me so long to be courageous like you, “Valerie”: I love & miss you!
Therapy helped repair much of the damage from this phase of my journey. I once couldn’t accept constructive criticism: now I yearn for it. I had a hair trigger temper: now it’s nearly impossible to raise my ire. I engaged in unhealthy sexual acts to re-live sensations mistaken for love. I now love, well.
Like with alcohol & drug rehab, the biggest key to success from therapy is how much you want to be fixed. We humans are such interesting creatures. We tend to develop comfort zones & implied truths about our lives and ourselves in order to survive abusive situations. Revisiting those founding edifices and reconstructing our beliefs as a grown adult is exhausting - and time consuming.
It’s also wonderful!
I wish you all the very best and please: never give up hope! My journey is a testament: you can survive - and flourish - no matter what happens.