“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
― The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
If we’re being honest here, for many years I have struggled with the idea that what I have to say is worthwhile. It’s hard to sit down and try to write about anything when you don’t really think that what you have to say is of value or unique or in any way worth putting down in words for other people to see.
This blog is a step in an effort for me to try and explore the idea that I have anything positive to contribute to the world. So, from a simple human in search of some meaning and hopefully some sort of enlightenment and maybe even some joy, here I am.
I’m not entirely sure where I am hoping this blog will go. I don’t have any set ideas about what I’d like to discuss or what I’m going to want to talk about. That’s probably a reflection about how I’m feeling about life in general right now haha. I may occasionally have grand ideas, but rarely feel like I have the words to write them down eloquently.
I think a lot. I think about faith, life, love, death, education, health, politics, self, gender, and pretty much anything my overactive brain wants to focus on at any given moment. I have big thoughts, grand ideas, and I even have opinions about things, but I rarely share them. I’m hoping that this might be a chance for me to do so.
One of the main things that I think I am going to need to discuss is the fact that, even though by most accounts I consider myself to be boring and fairly vanilla, I also happen to be transgender. I didn’t really know this about myself until I was into my 30s, and it’s been a bit of a wild 3 or 4 years. That’s an understatement. It’s been a crazy adventure with lots of ups and a lot of downs, as well. But maybe not the downs you might expect.
I have struggled the last few years as to whether or not it is important for me to share my story of being a transgender man. Like I said before, I don’t consider myself special or different or especially important, and so I have struggled with whether or not my words are either desired or required. There are a lot of really influential trans figures out in the world now, and many of them are loud and visible and really influencing the LGBTQ2S+++ communities in ways that I wish I could have seen when I was a young teenager. Part of my hesitation, to be fair, of becoming a really visible trans person is that I have been afraid. I have been afraid to open myself up to a wider audience, afraid of being exposed to ridicule and hurtful comments, afraid of not being strong enough to shoulder the haters while providing a strong anchor for anyone who needs to hear a story like mine.
But truthfully, a good part of my hesitation has also been that although I was told that I am quite possibly the first person in the entire province to publicly transition while also being a teacher, and that I am often told that I am a positive role model, and that I sometimes suspect that my students benefit from my openness about my trans identity, I still don’t feel like I have anything important to say. Who even DOES need to hear a story like mine? I suppose that’s not for me to decide. All I can do is tell my story, and whoever needs to hear it will hopefully stumble into it when they need it most.
Where to begin?
If I were asked to introduce myself, there are a lot of things I could say. I sing tenor in a couple choirs. I teach special education. I believe in real and authentic connections. I believe in being honest. I struggle with basic organizational skills and often with my mental health. I have massive and unresolved body issues that I am continually trying to work through. I think Star Trek and Star Wars are equally awesome, but for totally different reasons. I firmly believe in a higher creative and unconditionally loving power that is greater than we can comprehend. I am a kind person; I am patient and gentle with my words. I am also sometime stubborn and anxious. I am a husband, a brother, a son, a teacher, a Dungeons&Dragons and board game enthusiast, a friend, and I just happen to be transgender. That’s how I would explain my life.
What else is there to know?
I was born on May 12th by emergency c-section. It was Mother’s Day. Mom said I was the best Mother’s Day gift ever, but I’m sure she maybe didn’t think that after a couple of days of being induced and waiting for me to come on my own. I had what I think of as a pretty typical childhood. We moved around a bit when I was young, from SK to AB and back again. I have 3 younger siblings that I love to the moon and back (though, again, I’m sure I didn’t always feel like that when they tested my last threads of patience in our youths). My dad married my mom when I was 3 and a half, and he instilled a love of sci-fi, fishing, and camping in me. We never had a lot of money but we always had more than we needed.
In middle school, I began to notice that I was different. I always knew, from a very young age, that I was a bit different than my friends, but it became increasingly clear once puberty started and hormones began to flow. I always knew I hated being a girl. I hated everything about it. I hated my body, I hated the clothes I was expected to wear, I hated my haircuts, I hated literally everything about myself. But for a very long time, I thought that was 1) normal, and 2) just me being anxious and depressed. I literally thought every girl felt the way I did – awkward, not wanting anyone to look at my shapes/curves, even to the point of hating the sound of my own voice. I thought puberty was basically just hating yourself for a few years and that over time things would get easier.
I tried really hard to fit in. I tried to learn to love my body and all its curvy boobaliciousness. I really did. I would go through spurts where I would try to wear skirts and would borrow my mom’s shirts (I never owned or wanted to own any “feminine” clothes). I would put on makeup and style my hair really pretty and shave my legs and wax my eyebrows…but deep down I knew that’s not what I wanted. I remember once I got in trouble because I had borrowed a pair of my dad’s underwear. I loved them. They were so comfy and I would gladly have bought myself a set of guys gitch if I thought my mom would have let me.
As I got a little older, I remember having a lot of feelings of despair. Of feeling like I would never feel whole or that there was something missing out of my life that I would never be able to have. And at some point I realized that a good part of what was going on was that I was uncontrollably attracted to women. Sure, I sometimes thought that boys were good looking and a few were very kind, but all my first loves, the really strong, passionate, unrequited teenage attractions and affections I had through middle and high school were all for women. Friends of mine, girls around school, even a few of my mom’s friends. And at that time, being “gay” or a “lesbian” was not something that would have gone over well for me. Between the Catholic church and a very small-town mentality is not a good place for a young queer person to be stuck.
Needless to say, I continued my charade well into my university career. I dated and eventually married a guy who was my best friend. He was kind and good-looking, a rare gem indeed. He was generous, supportive, sweet, and loving. I never regretted my time with him, and the only thing I wish I could change is any pain that I caused him by not knowing myself well enough. To not make him go through the humiliation and hurt he felt when I had to tell him I couldn’t stay married to him any more. Talk about your tough life lessons. I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone.
Fast forward a couple of years. I don’t like to dwell on the time between my divorce and my second marriage very much. It was a black time for me. In spite of meeting an amazing woman who I eventually married, there is not much else about that time I care to remember or relive. I took my first teaching job in a very small town school and spent 2-3 hours a day commuting, on top of working a challenging position. I was dealing with a lot of personal, family, and professional challenges. I gained a lot of weight ( I was already heavy following university). I was developing uncomfortable and excruciating physical problems that were compounded by my insane and sedentary lifestyle. I wasn’t “out” at work, and was keeping my lesbian relationship a secret from all my coworkers. I fell into a deep depression, and within a couple of years I was already experiencing extreme burnout from my job. One night I found myself laying in the bathtub contemplating how easy it would be to just end my life. How it would feel like a relief. How I didn’t see an end in sight and what was even the point if things would always be this hard. I scared Jaimie that night. And that was probably the only thing that allowed me to gain an ounce of perspective and strength to just keep going.
By the grace of god I was able to get into contact with an extremely lovely and knowledgeable psychologist who was well-versed in LGBT issues. He helped me turn my life around. He worked with me through my depression, my fears of coming out, and with strategies for managing my anxiety. I learned a lot about myself and about some of the negative thought patterns that I had developed over the years to help me cope with my confusion and from burying my authentic self for so long.
After 5 very difficult years, I was able to get a teaching position in the city. It was a far cry from anything I had done before, but was a welcome and needed change in my life. I had already decided that I was going to go into this new job out and proud, never-mind what anyone might think. I had already been binding my chest in private for a couple of years, because I enjoyed the feeling of not having a huge chest all the time. I began to bind daily. I was very fortunate to end up in a classroom that was filled with queer-friendly staff members and a school that seemed to like me for me. This was the place that allowed me to become even more myself. And so, I began to live my life very consciously, making sure that I was always aiming towards authenticity. Jaimie and I even managed to find a church that was not only affirming but even went so far as to plan and hold Pride services that included apologies to the LGBTQ2S+ community for all the harm the church has done to us over the centuries.
And then things got hard again. My new job had its challenges, but this was not work-related. No matter what I did, I was still walking through life feeling like something was missing. I would get stuck in cycles of self-loathing. I had even joined a crossfit gym in an attempt to become healthy and feel better in my own skin. I lost 60 lbs and within a couple years was probably the fittest I had ever been in my life. But still, every time I looked in the mirror I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. I still hated myself, but it didn’t make sense in my brain. I knew logically I had a good job, I had good friends, I had a loving wife, and I had an excellent mental health support system. Why the self-hate? I began to meditate like my life depended on it. I wanted introspection, some insight into the feelings I had towards myself.
And then one day, like a sledgehammer to the face, it hit me. I hate my body. I hate my breasts. I hate them so much. What could be causing this? So then I did the only thing I could think of. I began to Google my “symptoms.” Obsessively. And one word kept popping up over and over again. Transgender. I was honestly horrified. This couldn’t be me. I even knew a few transgender people and I just couldn’t compute it in my brain. But the more I learned and thought about it, the more likely it became. I was transgender. Well, then a whole other black hole opened up in front of me. The prospect of coming out again to everyone I knew was terrifying. The idea of the amount of work that it would take seemed already insurmountable. The anger I felt at the god of my understanding for allowing me to be born so different (and at the time I felt, damaged) was real and enormous. Those feelings have faded over time, but some still linger and are things I will probably be dealing with my entire life.
I will keep some of these stories to tell in more detail at a later time. The path I took from newly discovering my transgenderness to the the person I am today was long and winding, with many peaks and valleys. I eventually came out to my wife, my family, my co-workers, and my friends (more successfully than I had imagined possible). I waited to see a psychiatrist, I waited to see an endocrinologist, I waited to see a plastic surgeon…there has been more waiting in my life in the last five years than at any other time in my existence. I’m still waiting. And although I am slowly becoming more proud of myself and more loving toward myself, there are a lot of things that I am still working on and struggling with. A lot of the things I struggle with I think are not necessarily related to being transgender, but some of them definitely are. And there have also been some absolutely beautiful moments that have made it clear to me that I have made the right choices for myself.
And so, with that (not-so) brief introduction, I enter the world. I think there are a lot of things I have left to say, and things that I think it might be important for people to hear. May my words fall onto the ears of those that need to hear them, and may my story inspire others to live in their own authenticity. Because as I am continually discovering, life is far too short to be anyone but who you’re meant to be.
anger anti-racism anxiety authenticity BLM Canada change childhood connection discrimination emotional health empathy family friendship grief healing heritage history honesty Indigenous journey life loss love mental health mental illness Metis Michif mindfulness neurodivergent Ocean patience pride privilege racism self-awareness self-love soul transgender
5 thoughts on “Let’s get this party started.”
Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed reading your journey. I admire your strength and courage. Jamie is a lucky woman to have you as her husband. By the way, I have huge respect for Jamie as well. One day soon once this pandemic relaxes a little it would be great to have a coffee and see you both again. It has been a long time however you both are an inspiration to many. Good night. Diane Nagel
I love you. Always have. Always will. I miss you so much and this made me realize just how much.
One word comes to mind that you represent, as I read your blog Mike…COURAGE!
I look forward to reading more and learning from your narrative .
If I didn’t know you I’d say you are the ultimate “it gets better” poster boy and this blog will surely be a great help to others. Because I do know you, I’ll also say how wonderfully kind and positive you have always been, even at your darkest moments. Looking forward to more!
Mike! This is amazing…. the struggle and strive for authenticity alone is a feat for anyone. Your words, thoughts, opinions, struggles, Celebrations… can inspire anyone desiring to know themselves and hold compassion, space and find grace with our amazing crazy lives and the humans in it!!
Always a big fan of YOU!!