The following is essentially an essay I wrote in order to come out to my family. I'd been estranged from them for years (other than my parents, whom I depend upon) due to my feelings of isolation. The whole ordeal was extremely distressing and I fell ill as a result; I could neither eat nor sleep, and really thought I was going to die. Then I finally got help, and got better... but it was only God Who carried me to that point.
Fair warning: I am a Christian, and so I sometimes speak in theological terms.
With that out of the way, here we go:
Hello everyone, I know it's been awhile. I have something to say. Will anyone hear me? It's big. Actually it's kind of earth-shattering. I don't mean to cause alarm, but I want everyone to be prepared. I would also ask that you keep an open mind, if you would. Before I begin, I want you all to know that I love you, and I'm sorry if I've disappointed you in any way. But sometimes, in life, we have to do what's best for ourselves, even if others don't understand. I don't expect everybody to understand, but in good faith I ask for your mercy and compassion. You guys are my family. And every family has its share of secrets, its own cache of skeletons in the closet. But, a long time ago, I made the decision to stop suffering in silence, and I will not go back to the hell I was living, that's for sure. So this skeleton's coming out.
I was dying inside. I showered rarely, I was eating like garbage, I got fatter than I'd ever been... I'd even stopped brushing my teeth. I just didn't care about anything anymore. Slowly but surely, I deteriorated. At my worst, I laid in bed so weak, so lifeless that I could scarcely lift a finger. Then God intervened. All along, I had desperately been seeking Him; I endeavored to completely and utterly saturate my mind with the hope and renewal of His Word, and it got me by day by day. But I was still suffering inside, almost constantly. I was so desperate for relief that I even sold many of my personal belongings (mostly old video games, a lot of them) and gave the money to my father's church. Not that giving to the church was a bad thing of itself. Faith in God got me through the pain, and gave me hope that no matter how bad it was, someday, somehow, things would get better. And they did, but first I had to learn forgiveness, and acceptance, and real, genuine love. Then I began to more fully understand myself, as well as others.
A pretty big "hint" that I didn't get for a long while was my strong aversion to transgender people. It got to the point where I stopped watching TV and didn't even want to go outside (much less on the Internet) because I was afraid I'd see someone like that, and spend days fighting off the persistent mental images. I was hypersensitive and also hypervigilant; no one could scarcely say a word to me about "current events" without hitting on my sore, agitated nerves. My perception of women in general (even children) was affected, and that was especially disturbing. The whole feminist/social justice movement was an ever-present reminder, and I couldn't stand it. For years, I lived under a rock in fear. But one day, I took a good long look in the mirror and I finally figured out why I was unhappy, why my life was at such an excruciating standstill. When I finally acknowledged it, all of that hate and insecurity vanished without a trace.
Rest assured, I took active steps to be educated. I did a lot of reading, I did a lot of thinking, I did a lot of soul-searching, going all the way back to the earliest memories from my childhood. I really re-examined myself and the whole of my life experience. But I wasn't alone; God was with me. And at one time in my life, I did conduct some original research into psychology. Not formally, but on my own terms, just because it fascinated me. So do not think that I am, or ever was ignorant of these mechanisms. For something to be classified as a disorder, it must "cause significant distress and cognitive impairment" according to the DSM; on the contrary, I've been positively beaming and more intellectually sharp than ever. I've found a sense of harmony in myself. Self-denial was eating me from the inside out. And, well, I'm just glad that's all sorted out now.
So please don't be angry, please don't be sad, but be happy for me. Because I'm happier than I've ever been in my life. When this came to light, I felt like I had been released from prison. I really did. I felt like there was no limit to what I could do. I felt more socially open and confident to express myself. I had been bound up. Remember that blow-up one Thanksgiving? Or the spectacle at that one summer outing? At one point or another, you all saw that I was dealing with something. Even I didn't know what it really was, because the concept was totally foreign to me. And maybe, just maybe this is the reason I was sheltered. But you can't hide the truth forever.
When I was born, the doctors were unable to determine my gender, and intended to perform operations to reassign me as a boy, instead of letting me remain how God formed me in the womb. God doesn't make mistakes, but people do. My parents terminated this process before they went too far, thankfully; they just wanted to let me be me. That was probably the best decision they ever made for my life. Not only would it have further occluded my psychological identification, but serious complications could have resulted, even years down the road. I was, however, subjected to numerous hormonal injections to alter my anatomy. These treatments also caused me to gain gross amounts of weight, which I retained for most of my life up to this point.
For the first week of my life, the hospital (Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore) ran tests, which were ultimately inconclusive. My parents were then actually asked if they wanted to raise me as a boy or a girl, so they could know what to write on my birth certificate. The older I got, the more obvious it became that I wasn't what they said I was. Multiple times throughout my life, people have either mistaken my gender or, under the assumption that I was male (due to the way I was dressed and/or wore my hair), presumed me to be much younger than I really was. As I've always been far more emotionally sensitive than I may have appeared, this sometimes led to people hurting me without knowing it. And it never felt quite right to be called a "dude" or a "man" to boot. For good reason, so it happens. Nevertheless, unmet needs and violated sensitivities were the least of my problems.
During my period of self-actualization, or internal coming-out, I remembered old photos and home movies, from when I was a child, that attested to my disposition; the way I smiled, talked and laughed, or posed in pictures. Even the way I moved my arms as I walked or ran. One time I was role-playing with a friend, you know, like kids do, and I wanted to use a female name for my character. "No, that's a girl's name," they said. I saw no reason why I couldn't still use it, but being fairly agreeable, didn't argue. My old writings gave me away, as well. It's difficult to describe without direct quotations, but the best way I could put it would be "effeminate exuberance". Most people would probably think it was exaggerated on purpose, but I was just innocently expressing myself, completely and utterly oblivious to the reality that there was anything unusual about me. This was around 11 years of age.
As a teenager, I became far more quiet, shy, and tense, keeping to myself for the most part and generally bereft of anything resembling social confidence. Granted, I had plenty to keep me busy creatively, and in fact creativity was my one and only refuge. I never drove, I never went out on my own, I didn't even shop for my own clothes. Even so, being intensively preoccupied with my creative endeavors, I wasn't terribly conscious of my low self-esteem. And I didn't share my early work with anyone, either; I kept it all to myself, so it could stay precious to me. I'm really glad I did. Not surprisingly, it ended up catching on with an audience that primarily consisted of middle-aged and older women, which baffled me. It was almost comical, as I'm frank to say I hadn't the faintest clue that demographic even existed. That's how "in the dark" I was. I once took one of those silly online quizzes that pegged me at a mental age of 60, describing me as a "mature, open and loving person". Now I get it.
It wasn't until after I finished and released my first game that I really became aware that I was not the same as others of my assigned gender; that my own ideas, feelings, opinions, and interests were completely different. That tormented me very badly for a very long time, and I didn't understand why. But, as I said, at some point it became clear. One negative experience after another drove me deeper and deeper into the closet, until I could only turn around and see it all right there in front of me. That was when my life finally started making sense. Because when it all came together, it formed a picture so pathetically stark, I could only marvel that I had been so in denial. I hated being a guy because I was not really a guy. I was trying too hard to be something I wasn't, and it showed. Now I know I don't have to. I don't have anything to prove anymore. I don't have to feel awkward about what I like, nor do I have to hold back any part of myself... and that made me happy.
Do you think I wasn't conflicted about this? It was fear of religious intolerance that caused me to suppress these feelings. At age 14, I thought I was gay, and put myself away in fear that I would be disowned by my parents. This included the suppression of my demeanor and manner of speech. Gradually, from there, my angst began to manifest as emotional instability, and only got worse as I got older. Between 2004 and 2005, I created a comic that satirized my internal conflict, deliberately depicting myself as flamboyantly as possible. The comic culminated in my parents kicking me out. I then wandered the cold dark streets all alone, drifting off into a world of fantasy to comfort myself.
Excerpt from the comic
Throughout childhood, I had also vicariously explored these sentiments in my art. No later than age 9 or 10, I even drew a little female character with a speech bubble saying she "felt like a man" (if I'd drawn a little boy saying he felt like a girl, it would've thrown a red flag for my parents; evidently I was smart enough to realize this). In retrospect, I'm amazed that I understood such things at that age. In a fifth-grade notebook, I drew male characters in ornate ball gowns, accompanied by the caption "I am beautiful". I also had dreams about it, conscious daydreams too, and those were even earlier; perhaps as early as 6-8 years of age, I fantasized about wearing dresses. Once in my adolescence, I doodled some feminized versions of video game characters. As I entered into adulthood, I had the distinct impression that I "didn't feel like a man," nor did I really consider myself such, but I didn't think about it often. In my late twenties, I began having dreams where I saw myself as a woman. They were not unpleasant.
Of course, my own series is the most powerful testament, although I was oblivious to it. It manifested in a number of ways, including overbearingly "cutesy" aesthetics, especial emphasis on the prolific female characters whom I clearly identified with, as well as many of the "male" characters being feminine or androgynous at best. Not to mention the emotionally-focused, deeply interpersonal aspects of the plot (that might sound generic, but I mean lots of warm, fuzzy, lovey-cuddly stuff). My crisis even caused a disconnect between me and my work, and God was so loving, so gracious as to mend that bitter rift.
I fought long and hard, but it was only when I stopped running from myself, looked back, and opened my eyes to the evidence that was there all along, that I could accept this and find peace and a sense of closure. Then, at last, my suffering ceased.
Pleading My Case
I've been estranged from you all for quite some time, in part because I was dealing with this. I wouldn't want to make anyone uncomfortable, and I certainly wouldn't want to confuse your children. But I love you, and I always will. Unfortunately, my self-expression was muddled by my inner struggle, and this manifested in the form of sporadic outbursts. I'm sorry for that. I needed time to search myself, and heal myself. No, God healed me. But I had to learn to let go, and let Him. He put forgiveness in my heart, which facilitated the outpouring of love, and understanding, and acceptance that was necessary for my emotional healing.
Medical science advances rapidly, significantly even in as little as five or ten years; so I'm sure the medical community has learned a lot about this in the past three decades. But what happened, happened. My life could've turned out either way. I do not begrudge Mom and Dad for choosing the path for me that they did, because I believe, and indeed have seen what good can come out of trials; not only for myself, but also for others. Growth can only be achieved through suffering. If you do not suffer, you do not grow. Everything has a purpose, and I'm just excited to see what it is! I'm sure it could help a lot of people in that, being who I am and having suffered the things I suffered, I was still able to do all that I've done. Because I couldn't have done it otherwise, frankly.
As for that one doctor, the one who was really responsible for all this, the one who responded to my mother's plea not to hurt me by saying "Jesus Christ, who do you think I am?" I forgave him. God helped me. At first the thought crossed my mind to look for other people he "worked on" (as that was all he did, and botched at least one other child to my knowledge) and, if they were like-minded, to build a case, if not against him (as he may no longer be living), then against the hospital itself. Although I wouldn't be at all surprised if such a thing already happened sometime over the years, and I simply "missed out" due to the fact that my sex reassignment was incomplete. While I'm sure it's not the most horrific case of medical malpractice in the book, it was inhumane to say the least.
But then my dad and I were out riding and I saw one of those billboards: "Real Christians love their enemies." I said, "Thank You, God." Because that was a big burden lifted from my heart. I don't want to be a warrior, only a peacemaker. That said, having lived my life, how can I be anything but an activist? Though it wouldn't have been worth the emotional toll of proving it in court, I know I could've been entitled to compensation for those unnecessary procedures, and not only that, but possibly also functional disability. There's your "cognitive impairment," but of course no one was around to see just how remarkably I pushed through it while chasing my dreams.
To be clear, I do not blame anything on God; He only helped me. No matter who you are or what you do, you will always be judged by someone. You can't get away from discrimination, and pretending to be something you're not will only make matters worse. Another thing I've learned through this is that the goal of life is not to be so inoffensive that you never cross anyone, but the exact opposite: to fully flesh out in who you are, shatter barriers and surpass everything that came before you. The fact is that no one who ever made a mark on history did so without first doing their time in the crucible. But that just makes it all worthwhile.
This doesn't have to be a sad day. It can be happy... because I'm happy. I'm happy because I was living in hell, and didn't know why, and when I figured it out I felt like all the weight in the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I'm sorry for being a coward and not coming out with this sooner. I guess I was afraid that you'd all gang up and throw me in a paddy wagon or try to stage an intervention or something. But nothing could have helped me except addressing the core of my issue - the fact that my outward persona and inner self were mismatched. Nobody could rightfully expect me to just stay in the closet forever. I am who I am, and I was desperate to move on. I was born who I am; I didn't choose to be who I am. I chose to stop suffering.
When I was 14, I thought my religion inhibited me from being myself, and that my parents wouldn't love me anymore because of it. Over the next 15-16 years, that bottled-up energy festered and slowly became twisted into something soul-destroying. When I finally acknowledged, accepted, and released it, I felt like a new person. And I was. I literally, physically felt the power in my release, a new sense of empowerment such as I never before experienced - like a dam opening or a volcanic eruption, even before any tangible changes had occurred. And that's because the first and greatest change of all had already occurred within my own mind: the enthusiastic acceptance of my real self, that had in fact been manifesting through my creative expression from the beginning. I was filled with an exuberant new passion, a desire to excel and make a name for myself like never before; to be an inspiration, an encouragement to others like me, where I couldn't be if I wasn't who I am.
What does the future hold? One thing is certain: God looks out for me. He always has. I love Him with all my heart, and I always will. In the darkest depths of my suffering, I felt like I had lost everything, and had nothing to lose by totally turning my life over to God. That was the point when things started getting better. It was God Who revealed the truth to me, piece by piece, all the while assuring me that He loves me just as I am; and believe me, I needed that assurance. It was nothing less than an act of divine mercy. The catalyst was forgiveness, and it was my mother who perceived my bitterness and said that I needed to forgive. I didn't even realize that was my problem. But a few days later (this was around November 2018), I felt unctioned and visualized the faces of every person who ever hurt me - whether they meant to or not - and absolved them one by one, verbally addressing them by name wherever possible. Immediately, I felt as though weight had been lifted from my heart. I suppose it's difficult for non-religious people (and probably even most religious people) to understand, but my worldview is God-centered and I hold to it.
I did not do this on my own. I had no forgiveness of myself. It was Jesus Who put the forgiveness in my heart when I let go and let Him. Where in subconscious self-denial I had thrown up walls in defense, God's mercy penetrated the stronghold in my mind and rescued my soul from death. His warm, radiant love melted my heart like snow. I read the Bible every day month after month where I hadn't before, focusing mainly on the Upper Room discourse in the Gospel of John and those epistles that focused mostly on love and kind acceptance, rather than judgment. Most notably, something from 2 Corinthians: "Consider this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: what diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourself... what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication!" I held that hope in my heart more dearly than anything, that God was working beneath the surface to bring renewal to fruition through my suffering, even if I couldn't see an end to it... because apart from God, I had no hope. By faith and perseverance, I saw its fulfillment when that old adage rang true: "The darkest night is just before the dawn." From there, a crescendo of intimate revelations led to the final epiphany that changed my life.
The course of my thinking has been reversed entirely; every aspect of my personality has been transformed in full. Now I thank God for this movement that's working to promote awareness and acceptance, instead of burying my head in the sand. There was a time when I just wanted to die and go to heaven; now I can't wait to see what God would have me do for the world. I have my own views and interpretations of scripture, philosophy and psychology, but in everything I strive to be a blessing to those who hear me. Because people need to be encouraged, they need to be uplifted, they need to be inspired. It's not a coincidence that I was born in this day and age, and that I possess the qualities that I do (for better or worse). My work touches people, I already know that. They've told me. It's touched me, too. I knew coming out would have repercussions, but I also know that it can make a positive impact.
This issue had its roots at the very beginning of my life. Who could have known that except for my own mother and father? I only thank God that they loved me enough to understand. Yes, they knew who I was the day I was born, but I took nothing for granted. I prayed that God would help them understand, and my prayer was answered. Through this, I've had the opportunity to experience their love for me in a way that wouldn't have been possible otherwise, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Moreover, I'm grateful for the way they protected my feelings for all those years. I'm sure that doctor did his best to intimidate them, and I also thank God that they stood up to him and prevented him from completely and utterly ruining my life.
My 30th birthday card, which emboldened me to confide in my parents a few weeks later
When I saw it all there in front of me, laying down my ego and letting go of the prejudices and presuppositions I had acquired as a result of my religious upbringing, that was when God set me free. And I stress that this was not an instantaneous occurrence, but a gradual process rooted in years of mental reprogramming - aided by self-help literature and the Bible - to condition my mind to a positive outlook that was conducive to acceptance and, most importantly, forgiveness.
I love you all, and thank you for understanding, if indeed you do.
Hugs and kisses,
~ Nikki :)
PS - If you're struggling with your identity, or struggling to reconcile your identity with your faith, here are a few articles that I found immensely encouraging:
"Jesus taught his disciples to be skeptical of the wealthy, the powerful and the religious of the day. He taught them, and us, to look beyond, to rethink our ideas of who belongs and to recognize, to truly see those on the margins. His radical challenge is for every generation, and transgender Christian leaders are increasingly able to be the ones who give voice to that vision."
"God did not reject me."
“However bad it got, however strange it got, I did really believe there was a God who cared about me, who knew me, and one day it would all be okay. That gave me the context I needed for my life.”
"I hope that we can make a powerful statement that we believe trans people are cherished and loved by God, who created them."
"The Rev Chris Newlands held an affirmation of baptismal vows for a transgender parishioner to introduce him to God with his new name and identity."
I hadn't attended church in many years, and when my father told his pastor about me, the first thing he said was, "What would she like us to call her?" I realize not everyone is privileged to have such a supportive environment, but the point is that you're not alone, that support exists, and you have friends even if you've never met them... because I'm one of them.