It took decades of self-denial, and bargaining, and a good amount of self-hatred, before I understood the power of human authenticity. It took equally long to realize that my authenticity — what makes me, me — offered a do-over. Now I have a saying: “Human authenticity won’t leave you alone until you listen to it.”
We hear a great deal about transgender people these days. That wasn’t the case in the 1990s and early 2000s, when I wrestled with gender identity issues. Most of all, I wrestled with love. I had married my long-time sweetheart, Lydia. She was my soulmate: kind, thoughtful, supportive, and someone who adored me as much as I adored her. “We are one,” we used to say. “Joined at the hip for life.”
Yet I knew that if this “thing” inside me — the gut pulls and tugs that told me I wasn’t male but instead female — ever saw the light of day, I’d lose my soulmate, whom I began dating when I was a high school sophomore. She wasn’t at all interested in being married to a woman.
I was equally certain that such self-revelation would cause one of our two then-early-teen daughters to reject me, because having her father transition to womanhood would be too much loss for her to handle.
My mantra became, “How can you ever love yourself more than you love them?” Thus, I tried like hell to stay a man. I did therapy, drugs, alcohol, expensive toys, and workaholism to suppress my true gender identity, all to no avail.
Eventually, my mantra became: “You need to have your own life.” At first the mantra came to me once a week. By the time I ended my marriage — 32 years of love of another, transferred into love of me — I was silently yelling that mantra a thousand times a day.
Transitioning genders, particularly given that my maleness presented in the form of a junkyard-dog lawyer, wasn’t at all easy or pretty. Yet, I did it.
In doing so, I realized that, at heart, I’m kind and gentle — a soft human. Rather than “attack,” I now speak of the need for compassion for others and for one’s self. Instead of advancing the interests of soulless corporations, I’m now an unapologetic “hopeless idealist” seeking to change the world, particularly for those who lack voices of their own.
I got a do-over and I’ve been lucky enough to take full advantage of it.
Maybe you are one who also has your authenticity yelling at you. Maybe not because you are trans or queer, but because a marriage or relationship isn’t working for you. Or you are stuck in a job that is corrosive to your spirit Or you want to become an artist or writer or singer, but might be surrendering to wishes from others that you have a “real job.” The list of things that stifle or smother our authenticity is endless.
My experience is this: gut pangs about getting out, about changing our trajectory, will stick with us. It takes courage, grit, and a fair amount of luck to change one’s life to be consistent with authenticity. It takes bravery to listen to our gut and create a do-over.
If it was simple, there would be more happy people everywhere.
For me, considering the alternative — laying on my deathbed, wishing I had been more brave and lived who I truly am — made a do-over essential.