Agency

By , February 26, 2010 2:04 pm

Why do I continue and continue to beat myself up for not transitioning earlier? For not speaking up louder? For not being more insistent, more forceful? In the past week, I’ve been told by both my doctor and my therapist that I really couldn’t have transitioned much earlier. That, starting hormones at 22, I was pretty close to starting them as young as I possible could have. That very few people start hormones at 18, and that very very few doctors will prescribe hormones younger than that.

That, realistically, there’s a very slim chance I possibly could have transitioned earlier than I did.

And yet, I keep beating myself up about it. Regretting that I don’t live in the fantasy life I constructed for myself, of going to school as a girl, experiencing adolescence as a girl, growing up into a woman. And I realized it has a lot to do with my own sense of agency, or lack thereof.

I’m not religious. I’m spiritual, and hope that there’s something more to existence than what we can see, but would consider myself agnostic (if anything). But I don’t believe that there is any overarching ‘plan’ or that we all have a destiny. I think humanity has enough good in it (and evil) to have a sense of wonder about our existence without having a man behind the curtain, so to speak.

But that does mean it’s hard to reconcile or come to terms with bad things that do happen. If I blame myself for my pain and suffering, if I take that responsibility onto myself, it causes a lot of grief. I send myself into depressive patterns, and don’t end up any happier for it.

But it makes sense. I understand how the world works: I’m unhappy because of my own actions.

Conversely, lets examine what happens if I say, “I did everything I could. I transitioned as early as I possibly could, and it’s not my fault that being trans is inherently difficult and emotionally painful.” In that case, the world is capricious and unfathomable: I’m unhappy because I had the poor luck to be born trans. Most of the pain that followed was not my fault, it was simply how the world works. That doesn’t mean we can’t work to change the world, and make things easier for future trans kids, but there was nothing more I could have done to make my situation any better.

That’s really scary, because it totally removes my own sense of agency from my life. I don’t mean that this should be taken to an extreme, that nothing bad that’s happened to me is my own fault, but it means a good chunk of my life no longer makes sense; it didn’t happen because I lived my life well or poorly, it just happened because it happened.

It’s a moment where some religion would be nice. The idea that everything happens for a reason, any reason, is really seductive, even if I don’t believe it’s true.

I’m working on getting through this, though. On letting go of letting go of the blame I hold for myself, and focusing on my history as a great foundation to build a future, rather than a shitty past to drag me down. I have some posts brewing that I’m hoping will eventually make way for my next performance piece, focusing on just these issues. But it’s a hard process, and not one I’m hugely looking forward to. . .

17 Responses to “Agency”

  1. Jonah says:

    While on the one hand, I find it problematic to say that a person is unlikely to be able to transition younger than 18, both because hormones are quite availale illegally and because I would not agree that a transition doesn’t start until it’s hormonal, on the other hand the idea that it’s agency that’s bothering you makes a lot of sense to me.
    I take a lot of my understanding of why and how I’m trans from my understanding of disability and from reading a shitload of medical books and articles on peoples’ experiences and rationalizations, the possibilities of genetics, large population studies, etc.

    I need to say (and you need to know) that being trans is not your fault. You did not do anything to make your parents and society identify you as a boy. It was their mistake. You were not involved in making that mistake.

    It is sometimes hard to think of life as a place in which bad things happen for reasons not caused by humans- but we are not running the world. If you are not religious in a God sense, that is no reason to worship humans. Biology is a force to be reckoned with. It does things that aren’t fair all the time. But all of that is part of the process by which we exist.

    • Rebecca says:

      I need to say (and you need to know) that being trans is not your fault. You did not do anything to make your parents and society identify you as a boy. It was their mistake. You were not involved in making that mistake.

      Thanks. I know you’re right, intellectually, butI’m trying to really, deep down, believe that. I’m (obviously) having a tough time, though.

  2. Zoë Suzanna says:

    Well, as hard as it may be for you to start at 22… at least you get to start 20 years earlier than me. :)

    • Rebecca says:

      I think that, because I do know how many ways I am lucky, I’m having a hard time allowing myself to feel justified in being sad. I’m stuck in a place where I feel forbidden (by myself) to be sad about what was hard in my life because there was so much good. I’m trying to get to a place where I can acknowledge that much of my life has been filled with goodness, even while there were lots of things that were also hard.

  3. Timortinel says:

    I’m 18, and hopefully I’ll be able to start taking hormones this year, and I still wish that I had started transitioning earlier, I think it is a thing one might regret, regardless how young one are when starting. I know it is pointless thinking about it,one has to start from where one are, right here. I try to learn to cope with that feeling by thinking about the future and the years that hopefully lies ahead instead, when I’m finally able to be me.

    • Rebecca says:

      You’re right, there is a certain futility in regretting or obsessing over not transitioning earlier. At the same time, I do think that I need to find a way to get past that regret, rather than just continue to deny its validity. Because I can’t do anything to change it, so I need to find a way to come to terms with it rather than continue to pick at it like a scab that I won’t let heal.

  4. Rachel_in_WY says:

    Hm, I think the two are compatible. I think you can have a sense of agency and regret your own course of action while also seeing yourself as having been thrust into a really tough and heartbreaking situation. As a more confident and mature person it’s easy to look back and know what you should have done, and if you had been the person you are now back then, no doubt you would have done those things. But it’s unfair to your younger self to judge based on what you know and who you are now. So maybe you can have two kinds of regret at the same time – regret that you were born into such a tough situation, and regret that you didn’t have the social/emotional tools to handle it differently at the time. In that way acknowledging how shitty your situation was doesn’t amount to invalidating your regret over your actions – they’re both compatible, and an understanding of one sheds light on and gives a more accurate context for the other.

    • Rebecca says:

      But it’s unfair to your younger self to judge based on what you know and who you are now.

      That’s something I’m working on. I would never be as cruel or dismissive of an actual teenager as I am of my teenage self. Likewise, I hope I’d show more patience and provide provide better support to any of my friends than I do for myself. It helps for me to remember how unfair I’m being to myself, but it’s still a struggle. Thanks for the reminder, though.

  5. piny says:

    I’m a stranger on the internet, and I got a sex change I didn’t even want, so take this with a small hill of table salt. But:

    Maybe this is so difficult for you because you’re starting to realize that you did all you could? This doesn’t sound like regret over a decision you didn’t make on time. It sounds like grief for a loss beyond your control. No one transitions early enough to avoid the need to transition. There is nothing you could have done to prevent your assigned gender, or your childhood and adolescence.

    Once you started transition, you had a project to manage: concrete actions with concrete benefits. You’ve been making decision after decision for years now, weighing factors, seeking advice, locating resources. After decades in the wrong place, you found autonomy and you moved forward. Now that phase of your transition is slowing down, and it might be jarring. And maybe that’s part of why you’re thinking about getting a tattoo?

    Now you’re left with a different kind of problem. You’re coming to terms with the fact that you’ll always be someone who had to lose that time and make this journey. And it’s painful precisely because you can’t blame yourself for doing something wrong.

    • Rebecca says:

      It sounds like grief for a loss beyond your control. No one transitions early enough to avoid the need to transition. There is nothing you could have done to prevent your assigned gender, or your childhood and adolescence.

      Yes. A thousand times yes.

      After decades in the wrong place, you found autonomy and you moved forward. Now that phase of your transition is slowing down, and it might be jarring. And maybe that’s part of why you’re thinking about getting a tattoo?

      I think that’s pretty spot-on, too. I’ve thought of it sort of like the experience a lot of people have when graduating from college: through middle school, high school, and college, there are specific guidelines and steps and processes you follow to get from A to B to C. But after college, there’s this huge amount of freedom and (as you say) autonomy; much less of a set path.

      So doing something, like getting a tattoo or a new piercing, does seem like an active way to get back some of that sensation of movement or forward drive. And I do like having a “project to manage.” I’m good with set steps and finite goals. Less good with just ‘being’ or taking time for myself.

      So I need to figure out how to reconcile that. How to live with the history that I can’t change, and instead focus on the future that I can.

      But how do I do that?

      • piny says:

        There is one important difference between them and you. Most people experience life as a progression from A to B to C. At least genderwise, you’ve had no such advantage. The first two decades of your life were all frustration and helplessness. This progress is very new to you. If you’re feeling a bit frantic, it might be because you feel that earlier state–stasis–returning. You don’t recognize it as anything but sadness, and you don’t know how to reach happiness except by moving forward.

        I think the writing project sounds great. (I’m so jealous of the earlier show.) I think that talking with your mom and family also sound great. But maybe your task right now, if you need one, is to learn to sit still without worrying. Not to look backwards or forwards, but just to walk around as the woman you are. You’ve arrived. Now you can take off your shoes and relax. Go sightseeing, find a cafe, take a nap. You didn’t get all the way here just to leave again.

        • Rebecca says:

          I’m not very good at giving myself a break, but thank you for the reminder that I do deserve one.

          You don’t recognize it [stasis] as anything but sadness, and you don’t know how to reach happiness except by moving forward.

          I think that’s true. If I’m not “doing” something (whatever that is) I feel like I’m wasting time. Even though, as you say, it’s my time to do with what I will. And giving myself some time to get used to being here-and-now doesn’t seem like wasting it at all.

          • piny says:

            It’s the opposite of wasted time.

            To use an inexact metaphor, with apologies to you and Jennifer Finney Boylan: say you had just spent several years wishing and saving and planning for a trip to Paris. You finally made it to Paris. You eventually want to see the rest of France, and at some point you probably want to start looking for flatshares and jobs, because you like France, but for now you’re in Paris. And you just got to Paris.

            Spending time in Paris is not time out. Paris is not a distraction. Paris is the point. You do not have to get on a train to Bordeaux, and you definitely don’t have to beat yourself up over not being on a train to Bordeaux, because you are already in Paris. And it would be kind of silly, after all, to turn around and go right back to Gare du Nord to look at the timetables. Paris is not a stepping-stone or a graduate semester or a proving ground. Paris is where you are.

  6. r. says:

    Hmmm. Your WordPress layout ate the bottom of Piny’s response there, so I can’t respond to it directly, but this is, without a doubt, the single best bit of advice on this age old issue I’ve read in twenty-something years of life on the interthingy.

    Enjoy Paris, Rebecca.

  7. M says:

    FYI I haven’t read or skimmed the other comments. I just wanted to say that I agree with the general wondering if religion is something missing in your life. I have a very low opinion of religious institutions (and often the people that make up them) but sometimes do have that feeling of wondering if I’m missing out on something by not having that sort of reassurance and understanding.

Leave a Reply

Panorama Theme by Themocracy