Surviving the First Year of My Physical Transition
“I try to remind myself I’m only 10 months old and I try and ask for help as much as possible.”
All photos by Dan Mathieu.
Bonding over our common love for skating, art, fashion, and cool, weird shit, VICE and Vans partnered to launch Unbound—a series that enables emerging Canadian creatives to work on what they love.
I’ve always been the caretaker, because it meant I didn’t have to look at myself. For 27 years, I had developed a coping mechanism that insisted I cared for others rather then look inward. I was assigned “female” at birth, which I never aligned with, and the rejection of my socially-assigned femininity was a constant issue within my family. Until my late teens, my mother tried to force effeminate gendered clothes onto me, or expected me to act “like a woman” when the reality was I spent my early 20s skateboarding with guys. I spent my life listening to people tell me about my gender, the role it should play, and it never occurred to me that I had a say. I came out as trans to care for myself. I uncomfortably learnt to set boundaries with people, and take up space in the world to finally care for myself. After years of repressing who I truly was, I faced the years of resentment that had built up inside and turned into my default coping mechanism: anger.
“When the caretaker needs taken care of, who cares for them?” I repeated this question in therapy, and began learning that in life, especially at the margins, no space is given; I had to learn to take up more space. Working with the therapist, I learned my anger ran deep. Until the age of 27, I had been functioning off a model of scarcity, leaving me disenchanted and weary of the world. I learned to recognize that my rejection of community was a symptom of simply trying to survive; no one could help me, only I could help myself. I knew the way I moved in the world, as an androgynous person, was complex and often bordering on dangerous but nonetheless it took a lot for me to assert how I wanted to be gendered. My whole life I had felt neither here nor there in the binary structure of woman and man but it never occurred to me that not only was that an acceptable state to exist in, but that it could also be desirable.
The first six months after I came out as trans I went to therapy every week. I finally invested in myself, validated my lived experiences, shut off the useless chatter of others’ opinions of who I was, and sat with myself. When I began unpacking with the therapist I realized that a shift in how I had been living my life had lead me to these weekly visits; low and behold I had already begun paving the caring way for myself.
Two years ago, I stopped consuming alcohol and hard drugs—my first step in caretaking. I had recognized the ways in which alcohol made me a worse version of myself and how compulsive I was with mind altering substances. Ultimately, consuming alcohol made me hide from the hurt and anger I unconsciously felt from living in a world that represented trans people as dangerous, criminal, unemployable, killable, etc. I balled when I realized how mainstream media had impacted my sense of self; marginalized people have historically not had a say in the ways in which mainstream society represents them.
“The first year of transitioning is always the hardest,” is what I heard most when I started allowing myself to build community with other trans folk. I owe much of my survival to the friendships I have made within the community. It isn’t perfect in our marginalized world, systematic oppression and its many intersections can absolutely incite divisiveness. As a white-trans-masc presenting person I benefit from the patriarchal society we live in, but I had to learn that it didn’t mean I didn’t also get to exist. I’m building compassion through community because for once, I am sharing space with people who share a similar experience to mine. The anxiety of having to learn to put my foot down, to set boundaries with people I’ve known my whole life is enough to drive me to isolate myself but thankfully, my community helps ground me and validate that this process is anxiety-ridden. It’s not fun to advocate for yourself, to fight for part of your identity simply to survive, but it’s part of the process of learning that people shouldn’t have to simply survive, we all deserve to thrive.
In learning to care for myself, I’ve learned to care for others. I’ve learned that listening and believing people's lived experiences is the first step in caring for someone else’s experience you can’t share. I’ve learned that tactfulness goes a long way when I’m trying to get (mostly) cisgendered people to see how some of their questions, such as those pertaining to my genitals, are not only inappropriate but violent. I’ve learned that I can’t share my experience on social media because our lives have become so consumable, so branded, so capitalistic that people feel entitled to the knowledge I had to learn about gender. Trans people know so much about gender because we have had to unpack the fallacies that erased our existences for us to stand a chance at survival. I’ve learned that while I hope to be a teacher one day, and while I support the dissemination of knowledge as an antidote to classism, I can’t do the work for everyone and I have zero desire to, and that is OK.
In coming out as a trans, I began a long journey of unpacking the myriad ways society is structured to support and reward a certain form of existence. Some days the journey of coming out and transitioning is enough to push me to a suicidal edge, but I try to remind myself I’m only 10 months old and I try and ask for help as much as possible. Building compassion for everyone, especially those who don’t swim in the same experiential and ideological waters as me, is a strategy in self-care I’m developing as a way to encourage others to do the work they often impose on marginalized folks. Most importantly, 10 months into my physical transition I’m learning to allow myself to move slowly, to not be the go to educator on gender, and to get back to the things that, in their simplicity, bring me joy such as skateboarding, reading, and writing.
Miles Farrell is 29, yet simultaneously soon to be 11 months old. Skateboarding for over 15 years, Miles mostly spends their time in school studying cultural anthropology, writing, or reading. Miles mostly writes social commentary through lived experience, their writing is sometimes nuanced as to not give it all away.