The kids have all gone to school…

and I have wasted no time taking that deep dive into my soul. It’s like I need to be without them to really look inside. The second I felt myself look inward, I knew today was going to be one of those days. Something is sitting on the edge in there, wanting to get out and be seen.

I started with a tab on my computer that I searched yesterday. Enneagram 8. I clicked on a few things and learned a little more about myself, like I really need to be in control. That doesn’t necessarily jive with some issues I had a few years ago when I became very withdrawn and angry. I didn’t do well for a long time and let everyone else dictate my life to me. But when I look at my whole life, I am most definitely an 8.

Somehow that led me to the shadow self. I feel like I’ve heard of that before. Maybe a long time ago. I started reading more about it and that’s when I looked inside. I feel like all this therapy I’ve been doing for almost two years has helped me address so much of that shadow person. I have honored so much of those repressed feelings and traits. Some things have been harder to deal with. The one sitting on the edge today is one of those that pops out unexpectedly sometimes and just aches.

I only rarely admit this myself and sometimes I only want to talk about the practical part of what’s next, without thinking about what’s happening inside. For me to really address this, I think I need to start from the beginning…

I was born in a time when ultrasound before birth wasn’t common. My parents had no idea what my sex was. My mom had a miscarriage a few months before I was born and didn’t believe the doctor that it was good news and she was more likely to get pregnant again quickly. My paternal grandfather was really nasty and said that she blew her one chance to have a boy to carry on the family name.

When I was born, they assumed I was female. My parents dressed me in dresses and pink hats and as much girly stuff as they could find. I was in a wedding when I was 3 and I had long hair. Shortly after the wedding, they cut my hair short because it was so thick and I was a wild child with tons of tangles. It was too much work to keep it brushed with my extremely active lifestyle. I was too busy playing outside, in mud, on my tricycle, jumping off woodpiles, and getting really messy.

Most people thought I was a little boy once I dressed myself and chose my own clothes. I thought I was a little boy. I had a brother and I vaguely understood we had different anatomy, but I didn’t put it all together. I always thought of us as brothers. I remember one family trip to Niagara Falls, where I got blue wrist bands and head band and he got matching ones in red. We were muscular fighters in our imagination. It was so fun with him. When we played school with our stuffed animals, I was always a boy. Anything pretend we played, actually, I was always a boy. He never thought anything of it. At our babysitter’s, the older girl told me it was weird to want to be a boy, but she would give me an acceptable gender neutral name instead.

Around 9 years old, my mom told me I needed to start wearing a shirt outside all the time. I was so upset and I didn’t understand why. They did a very poor job of explaining it. I felt like I had done something wrong, or that there was something wrong with me. It was extremely upsetting. I was so, so sad. And I felt stifled. At school, I had a best friend who was awesome. I don’t remember her having any issues with me the way I was. I dressed mostly like a boy, with short hair, and we played outside at her house all the time. She had a brother that was a year younger than I was so we usually played with him too.

At 10 years old, I hurt my shoulder playing in the yard and my father took me to the doctor’s office. There was a new female doctor that I didn’t trust yet and she made me hate her that day. She felt around my shoulder and asked me a bunch of questions. Then she asked how I hurt myself. I told her that my brother and I were throwing wiffle ball bats into the tree to try to get something out of the tree. Her exact words that I will never forget-“You need to stop running around like a little boy. You are a girl and you need to calm down and act like one. Stop throwing things like that. Your muscles are changing and you will keep hurting yourself.” I wanted to punch her and I stomped out of the doctor’s office angry. I don’t remember if my father and I talked about it at all, but I still remember the stinging feeling in my heart and the hot tears running down my face. Why would she say that? And why would muscles change? I felt like my muscles had been getting bigger, actually, and so what she said made no sense. I brushed it off.

The following year, I found a lump on one side of my chest. I had experienced the insane body changes class the year before, but I didn’t put it all together. It was only on one side and as a naturally anxious child, I was pretty sure it was cancer. I had heard whispers in the past about my aunt having cancer in her chest, so I was sure I had it too. I told my parents and my dad felt the lump and got scared. He called the doctor and got me an immediate appointment with my favorite pediatrician. After this day, I also hated him. I had no shame in removing my shirt and he examined me. I will never forget the way he looked at me. Then he turned to my father and said “Yup, she’s developing. It’s common to start on just one side like that and it can be very painful. Tylenol can help the pain if she complains too much.” Then he looked back at me and said “Exciting times ahead for you!” I wanted to punch him. I wiped the tears away before anyone could see them. How could this actually be happening to me?? It was like I had heard all about it, asked my mom about periods, and still didn’t believe it was really going to happen.

Socially, things started to get weird too. I had been part of the boys club since school started. We ran around and played tag. I sometimes sat on the swings. It didn’t matter, as long as I didn’t get stuck under the play area with the girls gossiping in a huge cluster. I wanted to be anywhere but in there. I know some of the girls I sat on the swings with felt shunned and left out because they weren’t part of girls club. Didn’t matter one bit to me; that was the LAST place I wanted to be. But in 5th grade, boys club and girls club started mingling. The boys were interested in the girls and the girls were acting…bizarre. I wanted to play tag still. Run around. Jump off the swings. I didn’t understand what was happening. My best friend stopped talking to me and started talking to a girl she hated. I found out from that girl that my best friend wanted me to grow up and start liking boys. But I didn’t want to. I secretly liked this other girl in my class and I knew I wasn’t supposed to. So what was I to do?? How was I supposed to fit in? I figured out which boy everyone liked, and I said I liked him too. I picked a random celebrity (Mackenzie Astin) to like and claimed I was all about him. I wasn’t. But I needed to try harder to fit in.

And so little Zander was put away. That little boy who wanted to play tag and have friends and be busy was sent away to my shadow self to die. Little Zander was no longer welcome on the outside. I felt so much shame and sadness that I really just wanted to be a boy. That I was in love with a girl in my class. That I didn’t fit in and had to try so hard to barely fit in.

Sadness crept in during middle school. I was so awkward. Why do hands and feet grow before the body does? I tripped over my feet all the time. I dropped things because it was like my joints where made of jello. Everything hurt. I was gaining weight in a weird way (not actually weird, but in a typical female way that felt weird at the time) and I had to wear baggy shirts because I needed to cover the terrible thing happening to my chest. As I grew my final inches in 8th and 9th grade, my chest all but disappeared. THANK GOD. But I found that I could keep it away by not eating much. And so anorexia became part of my life for a few years. I hid it from my parents, but they could see how thin I had become. They threatened that I’d have to see a doctor all the time, but never followed through on it. I was cutting, crying, and not eating because not only did my chest disappear, but I could make my period go away too. I didn’t understand why I was so sad, until now. Little Zander was shaking at the walls of my consciousness, reminding me that parts of me were hidden, but still there. I briefly dated a very nice boy who didn’t yet know he was gay. It was a great match, really. My masculine girl self and his feminine boy self got along so well. He dumped me for his ex-girlfriend who was cheating with him on her current boyfriend. And then I moved away.

Little Zander was still tearing at me, along with years of abuse and trauma. I spent so much time pushing people away, pulling them close again, and then pushing them away even more. I couldn’t see what this thing inside me was, the thing that felt like an aching, gaping hole. But it was Little Zander, begging for me to see him, begging to be acknowledged.

I saw him once briefly in college. I was taking abnormal psychology and the professor was talking about transexualism. So much of it sounded familiar. Little Zander peeked out and said “Wait, is this a real thing? Am I really real?” I tearfully told my girlfriend at the time that it was scaring me. Although our professor said it’s REALLY easy to diagnose yourself with all the things, this was the only thing that I really thought I might have. She flipped out. Like flipped THE FUCK out. “What does that make me? How can you be a boy? I can’t be with a boy.” And I again sent Little Zander away. I cannot lose this relationship. I cannot be alone. But that discussion, that rejection of Little Zander set into motion a rage of fury in my soul. I became extremely angry with her and started treating her poorly. I started looking around at other girls. I started holding hands with other girls. I was emotionally cheating all the time and I didn’t care. I got caught once or twice, but I always got her to forgive me. I was abusive. I had become my complete shadow self, I think. I was fueled by hatred and anger.

Little Zander went away for a long time. I would next see him as a married adult with children. I was trying very hard to be feminine. It was not working. Being in the military gave me a great opportunity to be at least gender neutral at work, if not masculine. But on the outside, I was still trying so hard. I started watching a documentary on a trans woman. I read a book about a trans kid. And there was Little Zander again, more angry and fierce. I bought clothes that reminded me of college. I wore them at home, secretly. It felt wrong. I confessed this terrible secret to my now ex. He said it all made so much sense. The next day I backed away from all of it. Said I made it up. Little Zander went back into forced hiding for just a little longer.

Last year, 2021, Little Zander emerged again. Again it scared me. But the door closed behind him. There was no more hiding. He would not be forced back into the shadows. He would not leave me alone again. He would be honored or he (and me) would die trying. It was so much pain and so many tears. I did not want this. I wanted it to get away. I tried to be what I was supposed to be. Correction-I tried to be what the world told me to be. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t pretend. So I bravely stood up, put my arm around Little Zander and that little guy and I started to get to know each other.

There’s been a lot of bumps in this road since I stopped making Little Zander disappear. Sometimes I think I can’t do this. I want to just go back to the time when he was gone. But then I remember that I was cutting and not eating. Or crying all the time and feeling miserable. I sometimes feel like I will just be some kind of in-between freak, but then I tell myself that’s all internalized transphobia that helped me cope when Little Zander was in hiding. Other times I cannot wait to legally change my name and get top surgery. It feels like the waiting will never end. It feels like I will die before I can get all this done. I fear how some people will react, that they will reject me. I try to tell myself that the trash will simply take itself out. I think about my soccer team and if the parents won’t want me to coach their kids anymore. Or if I should just quit coaching at that point. Or take the kids to different soccer league. Or maybe wait until they are done playing soccer. I worry about the kids when I think about how I will have to change their school paperwork. I’m fuzzy about the title “mother” and prefer parent. But if I’m not their mother and not their father, what do I do on paperwork that only lists those options? I hate my given first name, like with a passion that existed long before Little Zander made himself known. I had thought about changing my name even before all of this came to the light again. But in a way, it will never be a deadname to me. I don’t feel weird about pronouns, but in general don’t like to be called she and her. But because so many people don’t know, that’s safest for now.

I guess the only thing I can do is take it day by day and keep loving on Little Zander because that does make me feel whole inside. And one day, when the timing is right, I will be Zander for real. And Little Zander can finally grow up and be completely out of the shadows.

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