It Gets Better – even when it feels really bad

Bosch’s ‘Hell’ (from The Garden of Earthly Delights)

I have been rather quiet these last couple of months, except for on Facebook where I have been wittering my moods, thoughts and ideas, crazy and not-so-crazy, masking a period of turmoil and pain in my life. All this STUFF has been hard to even imagine writing about and I am acutely aware these days of the risk of self-disclosure – even though I am an ‘out’ trans man there are plenty of reasons to go stealth about many personal aspects. It is not just hard on me but it is also incredibly challenging for those I am around at times. My loved ones in many ways have their own self-identities themselves challenged by my gender transition. But it has been hard at times, for reasons that I will not go into detail about because I respect every single one of you and the process you yourselves are going through.

In many ways it feels like I have hit rock bottom again. I have not been fit to do my work now for four months or so and the result has been that I came to a mutual agreement with my previous employer that it was in both of our best interests that I leave in order that I could focus on getting back to fitness before returning to my counselling practice somewhere further down the line. It WAS a positive decision and I have no regrets about it at all and I had the full and positive support of my union Unison through negotiations. But the long and short of it is that I am now in the position of claiming benefits in the scary new Big Society of Cameregg & Co and attempting to sledgehammer my way through the NHS Gender Re-assignment funding and commissioning, grunting and venting in my pubescent way at every obstacle, as the entire public service network grinds to an almighty halt.
The process wasn’t made easier when the pharmaceutical supplier to my local chemist completely and untterly messed up my last T prescription and I went more than a week over for my last shot. Just as I had started to feel more stable I was plunged back into a hormonal chaos again (I use Nebido, a slow-release formulation over a three monthly cycle so I don’t have a problem with the usual spikes and dips every 2 or 3 weeks) which has put back my recovery a bit. Still, I have tapped myself into support that my GP has recommended and so far so good with that. It is possible I might also now get some help with housing too – which would also help me move on.
The absolute single biggest thing is that until I can get my chest surgery now I feel I cannot move on fully with my life. I am stuck. My dysphoria about my chest can be hideously bad at times. The more I have masculinised the harder it has become. Taking a bath has become a really painful experience at times and without my healing ritual thing I do with my shaman stone and the water, I think you could smell me from wherever you are reading this now! My back and chest under my binders are wounded and scarred by the worse case of acne/ezcema combo AND my OCD self-harmful picking and scratching.  Maybe this is what purgatory is supposed to feel like? But I’m not a Catholic and have no desire to convert now.
I want to tell you about a dream I had some 14 months ago. I am a bit wary of this, not only because my marxist comrades may think me self-indulgant and everso-slightly mad, but also because I feel it will make me somewhat vulnerable to questions about my mental health. I have noticed that for many other trans men, their transition is also a very personal spiritual journey. There is an ecstatic joy at discovering one’s core self and finally feeling free of shame in expressing it and sharing our new identities as we grow into them. These can be very special moments of interpersonal connection, even if via the internet, and it feels like I am no different to other trans men, or indeed anyone else for that matter, in that my consciousness and awareness can grow exponentially in a fraction of a second when I or someone else touches something new, raw or undiscovered. I love that life is full of surprises like that and it truly gives me hope for the future that human beings are eminently capable of lifting their consciousness and awareness and tapping into how we can cooperate to survive and succeed sustainably in the future. No matter what we have to get through to do it. The Chilean miners reminded the world’s workers of the values of solidarity, support, and faith in each other (and whatever belief structure that helped them personally get through the trauma).
The dream I want to tell you about was actually a nightmare. It freaked the living nightlights out of me as well as the daylights later. I had a fever that night and the dream occured while I was burning up. I actually had suspected swine flu following this fever – it was the early days of the summer 2009 outbreak – and for a while I thought this was what the dream was all about. But it has kept on coming back to me so I guess I just have to let you in on it now.
I was in some sort of school or community hall which had the buzz of an indoor market but no-one was selling anything. There were lots of people there, milling around chaotically, bumping into each other although keeping fairly calm. There were tables around with bags and stuff on them. On reflection it feels like it was some sort of community emergency shelter that I am in but it is not clear at all what is going on or why everyone is inside.
I walk towards a table in front of me. Underneath it in the semi-dark is a slow-worm glistening and writhing  in all its bronze and irridescent glory. Then the slow-worm begins to grow and grow, writhing like a snake on the spot until it grew dog-sized and grew a golden fur and it transformed into a dog. The poor dog was dragging her broken backlegs behind her – she reminded me of my old dog Thai (14 next month). Then the dog transformed into a completely mutilated an unidentifiable corpse which had no limbs, an unrecognisable face and with butchered cuts, wounds and sores all over the reddened carcass.
It was grotesque.
Suddenly everyone began to point and scream at this tormented creature in front of them. It was suddenly a demon, a horror story, a brutalised and bloody focus for everyone’s fear. A freak of anguished pitiful pain.
Then I noticed a tiny quivering over its skin and looked and saw tears in its eyes. I suddenly became aware that it was still alive and felt an overwhelming compassion and empathic connection to this tortured being. Looking into her or his eye I could not tell if this being was human or animal, perhaps a pig. But as I desperately tried to plead with bystanders that s/he was alive, no-one would help me. They just screamed and recoiled in terror. I woke up in a terrible state, stricken with feeling I had been unable to save this poor being, human or non-human, it didn’t matter.
Well there you have it. That’s my dream. It felt like my own personal hell that I dipped my toes into that night. I talked to my therapist about it at the time and she wondered if I had considered the creature as myself. She wasn’t a Gestalt therapist but I had previously done an exercise in Gestalt dream-work at college so it hit me immediately. Yes I had to face looking at the dream seeing me as the shapeshifting tortured creature. I needed to help my self and not rely on others to see what they could not connect to. I have only really been able to face that nightmare now.
The dream was in July/August 2009. I did plunge into a serious depression at that point as my life seemed to cave in around me. But then I had my epiphany moment in October when the transitions that were mirrored in my dream shoved through my unconscious and into my frontal cortex. My body was dying to change and I faced my own death in the eye and turned round towards life. As long as I was quivering and still breathing I was alive and there was hope. I can see that now. How many moments are defined on the twist of a coin? I was lucky – there was someone who entered my moment and connected with that nearly-mortally wounded freak of nature I was in my dream. That honest, genuine acceptance of me, her empathic connection to the enormity of what I was feeling and her unlimited human compassion meant I was seen for the very first time as myself.
It gets better”, a small voice says somewhere. Keep holding on to that. My breathing has calmed now and I’m aware that my neck is on the verge of being frozen. I begin to make slow circular neck stretches and arch my back into un-clicking semi-locked vertebrae down my spine. I have to get my energy moving again so I can rise out of this latest plunge into my inner obsidian hell.

I lose myself for a few minutes while I gather together again the fragments of me that just fell off in this latest nocturnal existential crisis. It DOES get better. The worst is over again for now and, shitty as I feel, I know deep inside that I cannot go there. Yet. I don’t want to give up, roll over and show my vulnerable belly to the world in submission like a cowering dog. I do that when I’m playing but when I feel under intense threat now my impulse is to defend myself and without much thinking beforehand. Everything has changed since T-day nearly six months ago in that regard.

This is hard. I mean really HARD.  Some things that happen in one’s life are not suitable for sharing publicly. Naturally I do not want to embarrass, distress or compromise my loved ones and I have been struggling to manage these sort of private/public boundary dilemmas that anyone writing a personal blog must deal with. I hope I am able to maintain a fundamental respect within all my personal relationships while being able to explore some of the deep and complex issues that arise when someone is transitioning gender and you love them. 

I have been really struggling with this overwhelming feeling of STUCKNESS. I feel so powerless in the face of NHS bureaucracy. So insignificant, as one anguished tormented soul in a sea of millions who must also be near-drowning not swimming this side of the dawn of the Condem Big Society. I hate myself for being so pathetic. What sort of man takes this shit without cracking? What man am I if I cannot rise up and demand to be treated with dignity and respect? What man lies his head on his desk and sobs with animal wails when he cannot express just how desperate he feels to those he needs to help him? The sort of man like me who is 6 months into his puberty, with broadening shoulders, a broken voice with a nice deep resonance, hairy legs, arms and needs a facial shave regularly. The sort of man who feels like a man, smells like a man, sounds and looks like a man but who has two enormous breasts that say otherwise.

 What do I have to do to be understood? I have flashes of incredible self-violence at times in the second-to-worst moments. In the worst moments I have flashes of suicidal ideation. I have to keep a faith, no matter how tenuous at times, that IT GETS BETTER.

 It’s a phrase that we know well in the trans community and in the wider LGBT world too. IT GETS BETTER is a mantra we repeat to ourselves as share our stories between us and will each other along knowing full well we are all in our private hells at different points along our journeys. The recent coverage of LGBT youth suicides in the USA has provided a much-needed empathic response from significant people, within and without, the LGBT communities. As an older trans man I feel, as have many hundreds, maybe thousands of others, that I want to show how, despite how hard life gets, that we can live lives with joy and with self-acceptance and respect from others. Sometimes it is moment to moment, but believe me, it really does get better on the turn of a sixpence sometimes.

Just as I finish this for now my dad has, for the first time in over a year, corrected himself about his pronouns with me without being prompted. It’s possible he overheard me earlier today when I was trying to keep it together on the phone so it may just have got through a bit about quite how it makes me feel. That’s one of those sixpence moments, coming out of the blue like the universe bungs you a spark of joy to keep you going when the light is fading fast.

They DO happen …

When I am feeling a little stronger I will post my own It Gets Better YouTube video. In the meantime here is a link to the other wonderful videos and messages of support from the campaign to raise awareness about LGBTQI youth suicides.


About Sam Feeney

I am a counsellor, trainer and LGBTQI community activist. I write about my journey through life as a someone who lives and breathes gender and sexual difference and who cares passionately about creating powerful and sustainable radical social and political change.
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2 Responses to It Gets Better – even when it feels really bad

  1. New Allie says:

    Dear Sam,
    I’m so sorry you are having such a difficult time. I see you, and all of you who so bravely press on honestly, relentlessly, despite ridicule, confusion and even abuse, as the bravest of the brave. Thank you for your brutal honesty and for baring the rawness of your truth. It is that sharing of pain I believe that can heal instantly. It bathes one in a comfort of understanding and unity that a million well wishes could not go near. I want it to get better for you. I know you are making it better for those that will follow you. You remain among the bravest of the brave.

    • Sam Feeney says:

      Dear Allie

      Thank you so much for that. I REALLY felt your heartfelt caring reading your message. I think you ‘get it’, what I’m trying to say, and it means the world to me that through my own story, others’ can draw strength, understanding and a sense of solidarity/community so none of us need to feel alone in all aspects of our lives. At least in the blogosphere and on social networking sites we can connect and communicate when we might be geographically very far apart.

      Many best wishes


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