I’m currently reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln. It’s a considerable volume; I’ve been reading non-stop for the last 3 hours, yet I’m only 3% of the way through the book, according to my kindle.
The book is currently covering Lincoln’s difficult chilhood and young adulthood. It compares the struggles and pain he faced to those faced by his political rivals, the other men considered more likely to get the Republican nomination for presidency. They all had different struggles, but Lincoln’s seem to have been the most insurmountable. Yet he did overcome them to become probably the most significant person in the 19th century.
I have not faced anywhere near the challenges Lincoln, or even his rivals, faced. I am 22 and have still not had to deal with death; I might struggle financially, but I can afford to eat a full breakfast and decent lunch most days of the week; I was able to receive a complete primary and collegial education without indebting myself.
Yet, everyone has something to struggle against, something to overcome, some difficulty in life that stands between them and happiness.
For me it was, obviously, my gender transition.
I grew up in a conservative religious home. I’m grateful about that, because it allowed me to understand religion and the Bible, but it was also a cause of suffering. The religious teachings I had drilled into me when I was young did nothing but cause me to feel shame about my burgeoning gender identity.
As I watched young girls develop through puberty in the opposite direction my body did, I not only had to deal with the grief of seeing the differences between other women and me increase day by day, but also with the recrimination and judgement from another part of myself mortified at that grief.
Puberty was difficult for me. I was a lonely kid; I looked awkward and gangly, and I was shy. I found it easier to sit in a corner and bury myself in a book than try to connect with other children. Sure, I made friends, but only a handful, and I had no true friends in school until my senior year of high school.
However, even when I was able to befriend someone, whether my childhood best friend, or one of the few friends I made in 12th grade, I could feel a wall that limited how much connection I felt to them. There was an insidious voice in my heart reminding me there was a big part of my identity they were not privy to, and that their friendship was to someone who didn’t exist exactly as they imagined.
It was painful, and it really harmed my friendships. I don’t know if my friends ever noticed, but I was always hesitant to trust or to care about them. Even after years of spending time together, I was still afraid to open myself to them. It made the friendships a lot less comforting than they would otherwise have been.
The only solution I saw was to just go through with it. To open myself up, to be honest with the world about who I was, and take the necessary steps to do so.
Easier said than done.
I had nearly no money, and I was sure my parents would reject my identity. I was unsure of which, if any, of my friends would continue to be there for me after coming out. I had to deal with long and complicated legal and medical processes to affirm my real gender. Then, even once I did, I would have to deal with discrimination and judgement from strangers for likely the rest of my life.
I gave up.
Multiple times I just grew too tired to go on, and gave up hope. Still I carried on, and as time passed I realised I had always ‘heard it in the chillest land.’ No matter how dire things got, how hopeless my happiness and future seemed, I somehow struggled on.
I wonder if Lincoln felt the same way. If he thought of the great ambition that drove him and lost encouragement because of the limited circumstances life afforded him, but still continued day by day, making progress and achieving more than he really dared to think he could achieve.
In a few months I will have lived as myself, as a young woman, for a year. Part of me cannot believe it, even now. Still, knowing I did achieve it gives me strength. There are days when my other hopes, to travel, to marry, to be a successful writer feel impossible.
All I have to do in those days is glance at my wrist where a tattooed fleur-de-lys (literally translated as lily flower) lies, to remember it was me who overcame all difficulties to achieve my greatest goal. When I start to lose hope, I just need to recall I’ve already beaten life. I think of all my previous doubt and fear and self-recrimination and say “I win”, and whatever negativity is in my mind at the moment is cowed, and I am left with an incredible peace and confidence.
What fear does a woman who has braved a storm have for a little rain?