A Dreaded Time
October, 2015. Trepidation gripped me once more. Worse than the making of the appointment; telling them your name and asking for a time and day is child’s play.
I can do this.
I can’t do this.
I got there. I stood outside the daunting black gates that shielded the surgery from the East London street with a slight tremble down my back, despite the bundle of clothes I’d thrown on just an hour before. People passed me in the street, getting to the primary school next door, or the bus right in front, and in their desire to go on with their own lives barely noticed the terrified not-quite-an-adult in their midst.
This will be all right.
I’m gonna throw up.
Speaking isn’t really my area of expertise. It’s a mess of words I can never get quite right with more ums and ahhs than I’d care for, falling in between. I can put the words onto paper, cut out and cross off and rework until the sentence I have to get out is nothing short of perfect, and still mess it the hell up when it comes to speaking. It’s a process, getting that back. My family would tell me I was a chatty child, always telling stories; they never understood why my teachers called me the quietest in the class. Of course, many of them had no idea what kinds of shit I was put through back then: the harsh words, the bruises, or the days I spent so alone. In this moment – October, 2015, my third year at university – I’ve only started to open up. I’ll mess up my words for a long time.
The only thing I despise more than talking about the general world is talking about myself.
One small town guy here.
Nothing special really goes on.
At the moment I write this, the most interesting parts of my life are the most private things I think about myself, my body and my mind. It has taken months to work up the courage to get to this very moment, and to share it has my stomach in knots and my heart going crazy, and that’s before I open my mouth. I’m taking a leap today; not of faith, of course. I’m going to walk into the room with the perceived knowledge that things won’t be terrible but could always be better. It’s what I do best. The leap in this instance is quite literal; unless I push myself toward the door, I probably won’t go in.
It’s a confusing state to be in, being afraid to go in and share my story even though who I am has never been shameful to me. Talking about it is something I genuinely want to do and I almost enjoy when people ask me questions. They want to know, and I am willing to share. And yet, I stand outside this tiny building and I can’t quite move my feet any farther. I watch the doors, the odd patient coming out or stepping inside to seek help, while I contemplate if help for myself is worth it. Maybe it’s the authority figure aspect; inside there will be the adult who has my life in his hands. Where I go next depends very much on his analysis of my words. That’s never worked out for me before; teachers have ignored me, punished me because of the lies of another. This time, the lie is my health. There’s a degree of dependence when asking for help; I can rarely bring myself to tell my parents things now. I must rely on someone else, because doing it alone is impossible, however much I want to. And that someone can deny me what I want.
I need it.
I’m not enough.
I like to have control when you ask me a question; you want an answer that I can give and I am able to share as much or as little of that answer as I want, while you have to accept it. It’s not like that here, now, when your questions are just by-products and all my answers can do is determine your opinion. I can only hide for so long.
My inside is very different to my outside. People see a quiet, nervous girl, bundled up in jeans and jackets, and they walk by without a care. They do not see a loud, desperate boy, playing tug-o-war with his mind. Telling me I need to man up, to get in there and fix what needs fixing, and then reminding me that it won’t be as simple as sitting in a chair and demanding they fix me. There are rules, waiting lists, talking, and that’s if the doctor believes you in the first place.
Sometimes I just have to step back and think…
Do you ever get the feeling you talk to yourself way too much?
Finally, I take that leap. I push one foot in front of the other, pull the door toward my chest and take the too long walk across the building to get to the reception desk. I find myself torn between a smile and a groan upon seeing that there is no queue to delay my task. I want to get this over and done with; the very thought of waiting another day is too terrifying to think about for very long. If I allowed that, I would keep myself from going through with any part and end up even more miserable than I have already become at the age of twenty-one. Ten minutes of anxiety-fuelled hysteria and forgotten words is worth it in the long run.
There’s no time…
…Still gotta wait to be called, you prat.
I come to a friendly enough, middle-aged woman who’s said the same few words about a hundred times and has no reason to really pay me much attention once she has my name and date of birth. The distinct lack of eye contact soothes me; I’m not being watched, not being judged, and she has no clue why I’m here. Her only care is to make sure she has the right patient. I envy that, being so confident in her task that she barely bats an eye. I wish this task were as simple as finding a name on a screen, that I could step inside the examination room and state my reasons articulately and concisely and get a nod in return, a yes, sir, I believe and accept that completely, here’s the next step, and leave.
…Here stands the most optimistic pessimist to ever live.
I’m not an idiot. The world works a certain way and I’ve been toeing the line; following the requirements for many of the rules society sets us in order to disregard others. And for the most part I have done so without judgment, without a need to explain myself. The only one I can never seem to get away with is gender – I play with boys’ toys and they tell me I can’t so I read; I wear boys’ clothes and they tell me it’s wrong so I defy them.
“Don’t sit with your legs apart; wear a pretty dress; you should be using make-up by now.”
As time passed, I grew from chatty child to withdrawn teenager to a mess at twenty-one. They gave up on certain things, something small and different each time I caught the act, at least for a time. Puberty and teen life was the time for experimentation, to be anyone in a sense, but I am an adult now and I need to face the real world. Well, that’s what they tell me.
How nice of them.
So that is what I am doing; facing the real world. Starting with a simple doctor’s appointment in a relatively quiet part of London – a world that still tries to fix me. It’s all a little surreal.
My name flashes red on the electronic board, bright and ugly and glaring down at me.
Miss Samantha Hardy, please go to room 12…
I hate that.
At least I don’t have to change my name, my mum told me a couple of months prior, after paying particular attention to my attire and the lack of shaving. It had been too warm a day to pass up wearing shorts; in the north of England, a bout of sunshine gets people bathing in their gardens. This was such a small thing. I forgot to think that there might have been questions because my dad had not asked any. But my parents are vastly different people whose only common interests now are the two children they happen to share.
I said I liked questions; I like the control, to know that I can give or take away the answer. When Mum asked if I was trying to be a boy, I knew she was probably joking. I should have told her the truth anyway; instead I remained tight lipped and let her continue to tell me at least I didn’t have to change my name.
Well, that’s not exactly true either…
It doesn’t have to be a complete change…
I’ve gone through so many names since I was thirteen years old: Henry, Matthew, Jonathan, Xander, James, Casey, Christopher, Ciaran. A bit of a theme developed toward the end, developed from the oddly large number of C names my family carry – three of them being my own siblings. I needed my own C name; I needed to be a part of something, to still fit in with the rest of the family even if it paled in comparison to the news I still need to share.
You can call me Connor, most of my friends do.
Family? Don’t worry, I’m working on it.
None of those names come up on a doctor’s screen yet, and I walk in with my already heavy heart falling further. Past the scattered selection of wooden chairs I hid between, past the reception desk that loomed over me with cautious eyes, and through the double doors. A quick turn right and the door I need is waiting across the room, the metallic number blinding. This is the moment. I can’t turn back now.
There are only so many seconds you can waste before a doctor decides you’re not worth it and sees someone else. After all, if you’re not going in it’s not hard for them to assume you’re fine. Or perhaps it’s just easier to think so.
So I walk up, give two swift knocks on the door, and enter when I’m called. The doctor’s name slipped from my mind the moment the receptionist named him. He’s not the one I usually see, but he smiles kindly and offers me the seat at the edge of the desk, as every doctor has. My skin tingles with nerves and I stuff my shaking hands into my pockets while he asks what he can help with today.
I need your help…
But you won’t.
“I need… I think… no, I know… Ineedtotalkabout… me… being transgender.”
A squeeze of my own hand; pinching the skin of my thigh caught between my fingers and the fabric. His own hand rubs his face; smooth skin, harder eyes. Thoughts flit through. It’s coming.
Wait for it…
“What makes you say that?”
I answer, slowly, as clear as I can possibly make things with a quivering jaw and stuttering words. “Where to begin.”
A bombardment of questions: When did it start? How were you feeling? What were you thinking? Are you really sure?
Course I’m fucking sure.
How are you so sure you’re cisgender?
The guilt I’d carried for not remembering the man’s name subsides with my hope for a better outcome. Deep down, beneath the doubt and the truth of the situation, I had wanted to be wrong about him not believing me. Instead he brings up the one question I’d prayed would remain a different topic, and yet knew would always be part of the interrogation when it came to things doctors aren’t educated on.
“Have you been referred to somebody for your mental health yet?”
I’m not fucking crazy.
“Well… no… I’m working on it.”
Don’t tell me I’m confused.
“I think we should focus on getting you better first. Anxiety and depression can have a devastating effect on how we think of ourselves.”
He’s calling you a liar.
It’s not true.
“Here’s the website for Newham Talking Therapies. Refer yourself this time.”
I’m handed a ripped scrap of paper with the website scribbled on and all I can do is fold it in my hand with a whispered thank you. Any louder and he would have heard that quiver between my lips, any slower and the shaking of my hand would have been noticed. I can’t bear any more questions. No more calm invalidation of my feelings, my wishes, my own goddamn body.
No more. Please.
Only twice in my life has my control given in to the unintentional tears that fill my eyes and fall for hours and the harsh stabs of panic that cut through every inch of my chest. When I was a young teen, I was handed the role of looking after siblings two and three – Daniel and Chloe. Daniel is two years younger than me, responsible enough for me to trust compared to a child younger than ten.
That night their fighting got the better of me; I couldn’t stop them, I couldn’t do something as simple as keep things in order while my mum was out, so I left them to it. I couldn’t let them see the uncomfortable, hated sobs that brewed at the thought of my mum blaming me for not stopping the screams that left their voices sore or the punches that left marks. Because obviously it was my fault. I rushed to my room and sobbed silently in the dark, hidden beneath the duvet in case someone walked in and caught the pounding of my chest.
The worst part is that they probably don’t even remember it.
Not their first fight… not their last.
The second time was 2014. I’d created a sheltered bubble the summer before, telling myself that my family would be fine while I was away for my first year at university. I’d come back to hear that my dad and step mum had split and he was seeing someone else. I held it in when I heard, kept it bottled inside for so long I began to think it would pass completely. Then, without notice, unable to sleep a few nights later, I broke. Thick tears warmed my cheeks and soaked the pillow I hid my face under, dreading a future I hadn’t thought would come.
It’s your fault. This all started because of you. They got upset because you exist.
I don’t remember when I fell asleep…
Those bursts make me weak, relaying every old memory and scar I try so hard to bury and reminding me why I’m not worth it. But I could not let it happen today. If I gave in, I would barely get to the university gates and that was too awful to think about. And if I gave in, it would be like admitting I was wrong and they were right and I am just deluding myself because mental illness has already fucked me up. Wanting to be someone else is a valid statement.
I am not wrong. I am different and quiet and a little bit broken, but not wrong. This is not a math equation or a wonky table because someone hadn’t read the instructions. This is my life, my body and my mind, and however wonky their coming together is, I know how to get there. I know myself better than anyone else.
The doctor waits for me to thank him for his time and I let myself out. I head to the doors and breathe in the cold, autumn air and force back the panic that stabs me in the chest. Because I know that I am not wrong and the ripped, scrap of paper curled in my hand is another chance.
Try, try again…