The bear trap

This is dedicated to all who suffer from gender dysphoria, to give hope to all who endure in silence, who cannot give voice to their pain, who do not dare to speak, who attempt to take their lives, who see no way out, and to demonstrate to everyone else how terrible it can be for we who live through this extreme conflict of self.

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I once again found the bear trap had snapped firmly onto me.

It was one year ago, today. I had my first ever appointment with an endocrinologist. I bawled through the entire appointment. My new doctor gave me time so she could get to know me. She patiently listened to me tell her how I worked so hard not to transition, how I still did not want to transition, and how I saw no other way out of my mess but transitioning.

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I have written about the suffering that crushed me in 2013, the result of the extreme internal turmoil that left me constantly lamenting, “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.” I have not explained all of this thoroughly enough.

You might recall the statistic: 41% of people on the transgender spectrum will attempt suicide—from those who have a gender identity question, to those for whom it develops into gender dysphoria, to those who attempt transitioning, to those who transition. This, alone, should speak to how difficult it is to live through the incongruence, the extreme conflict which it is to have a body and brain that do not match; to be seen as one sex but feel like another.

It is far from only the internal struggle. Indeed, if not for the outer forces—the potential for being rejected and misunderstood; of losing a job or a home or both; the risk to one’s emotional life, economic life, the loves in one’s life; rejection by one’s church; every last sphere of life—if not for all of these, the internal struggle would be so much smaller, the attempted suicide rate way easier to stomach.

As much as I pondered killing myself, I was not going to do it. As a Christian, I would not test my Lord that He would give me eternal life; it’s His call, not mine, when I die. As a human, I would not do that to my family and everyone else, who would be left with the worst of emotions, and especially to my Julie, who would have to make it in life on her own. And, frankly, I could not bear to hurt myself.

Even more than killing myself, I thought about running away from home. Sundays came to be the hardest day of the week. I loved leading worship, proclaiming Christ, and teaching Bible class. When I came home at noon, I crashed horribly. I hated myself the worst. Outside of church, I could not sustain the good feeling I had when leading the Lord’s people. Often, during worship, my mind slipped away to the coming gloom, and I felt like a sham of a person.

So, Sunday afternoons were spent planning my getaway. On Monday, whenever Julie might leave the house, I would quickly throw together some things and take off. I would drive to who-knows-where. I would only check in with Julie after I got far enough away, and only so that she knew I was safe.

Several things kept me from running away. I’m so stinking practical that I could not bear the thought of wasting money on hotels and dining out all of the time. Besides, I knew that, eventually, I would have to come home and face my life. Thus, I was able to conclude that running away, like suicide, was no answer.

What did I have left? Since transitioning was an impossibility—this was the mind-set I worked so hard to retain, that my becoming a woman was the stupidest idea on the face of the earth, and even when I would decide that I would have to transition I would work so hard to change my mind—the only other option I could fathom was to enter a psych ward of a hospital.

Here is what I want you to know about how horrible my life was in 2013, and that what I experienced was what thousands of precious people go through who have gender dysphoria.

My mind was on fire.

I have never had a tumor growing in me, so I don’t know how that feels. I have never delivered a baby, so I don’t know how that feels. I have not experienced many of the things which bring the worst pain to the lives of people, so I don’t know how they feel.

But what I know about delivering a baby is that after hours of pain one has a gift of joy. And what I know about tumors is that there are plans for addressing them. And what I know about every other malady under the sun—even the ones which become lifelong plagues, and those which end in death sentences—is that people can tell their families about them, and they won’t be shunned or hated or misunderstood for having them, and even when there isn’t a cure there are many and various ways to treat them, to ease them, and they will be respected for having the surgery or taking the medicine.

Forgive my presumptive arrogance: Because of its uniqueness, my pain was worse.

My pain took me into the wilderness. And feeling like there was no one on earth who could understand, no minister who would think me anything but a sinner, that I had a condition which my family and friends might not/would not respect for its seriousness, in this wilderness I found myself tightly ensnared in a bear trap.

And so I suffered. I hurt the same each new day as I did the day before, yet I wouldn’t die. I just kept on suffering. I bled, but the blood would not run out. There was no end in sight, no expectation of help, no hope that death would come. And there was nothing I could do about it.

That’s how the world looked to me: I was lost in the wilderness, tightly ensnared in a bear trap.

Thankfully, I had Julie, but I feared wearing her out. I undertook therapy, to see if I could learn some skills to abide in my male life. I regularly spoke with a pastor, for spiritual strength. I would wind up speaking with many pastors, and placed myself under the care of several of them.

I took refuge in my work. I still loved being a pastor, and I adored the people of my congregation and the village in which I lived. I did not want to leave there until I retired at a good old age or, as I came to joke, when my friends at Ramsey Funeral Home would have to come and pry my dead fingers from the pulpit.

But I could not work twenty-four-hours-a-day.

I cried constantly. I would finally tell my congregation that I cried more in 2013 than in the first fifty-six years of my life, combined. That is no exaggeration.

I cried when I got up in the morning. I cried when I got dressed for work. I cried when I came home from work. I cried when I prayed. I cried when I was driving my car. I cried in my therapy sessions. I cried when I tried to go to sleep at night.

My mind was on fire. The bear trap tightened.

Before I had begun telling pastors about myself, the thought of telling them crushed me. Then, the pastors I had come to tell, who had influence over my professional life, completely did not get me. They were sympathetic, but they didn’t get me. In the end, to them I was struggling with a sinful situation and I had to get my healing from Christ. Their answer to my plea, “What am I supposed to do with myself? If I can’t transition, how am I supposed to ease my pain?” was always, “I don’t know.”

I would rather be told that I have a terminal illness than to hear “I don’t know.” At least with that I would know where I stand.

Every two or three days, especially from winter of 2013 through that autumn, before they became less frequent, I would fall into a complete meltdown. The bear trap was at its tightest. I was filled with pain. With anger. With rage. I had nowhere to go with everything that was inside of me. I couldn’t transition. I had to transition. I had to figure out how to be a male. I couldn’t figure out how to be a male. I couldn’t kill myself. I couldn’t stop thinking about killing myself. I wouldn’t run away. I kept planning my escape.

There was no end in sight for my pain. In my mid-fifties, I was still young, still wanted to be a pastor, still wanted to be a husband and father and grandfather and brother. I didn’t know how I was going to be that person. I hated myself, and then I hated myself for hating myself, sniveling ingrate that I was.

I came to say that I suffered a nervous breakdown right in front of everyone, and no one saw it.

In April, I started therapy. I had a marvelous therapist. I felt like I exasperated him with my bawling, pain-filled sermons about myself. He worked hard for me, but he could not remove the bear trap.

He taught me that only I could remove the bear trap. Only I could walk back from the wilderness.

At times, I had a meltdown on my bed. I would kick, and scream, and pound my pillow. I would holler my prayers to Christ, begging His mercy. After an hour, I would collapse in exhaustion and fall asleep.

At times, I had meltdowns when Julie was home. These usually took place in the living room. I would either pound away at the arms of my chair, or I would fall to the floor and writhe in pain. I put my pain into screaming words, as if blowing it out of me would finally get rid of it.

I never put myself into physical danger, so Julie would sit by, observe me, and wait. When I had exhausted myself, she finally spoke. Then we talked. Always an hour. Often two. The same stuff, over and over. New stuff, as it arose. We addressed it all. The profound love and respect we already had for each other grew in a way that cannot occur unless a couple does the hard work of suffering together.

I would beg her to commit me to a mental hospital. Many times, I pondered driving to one and committing myself. I saw it as a reasonable form of running away. And if I wound up in the hospital and I came to tell my world what landed me there, then maybe, just maybe, they would have sympathy for me. Maybe, just maybe, if I were hospitalized for a good, long time, they would feel sorry for me. Then, maybe, just maybe, because I was this completely screwed up person—this man who was their minister in the stead of Jesus Christ, who led them with integrity, who spoke by the Spirit as one who had authority, to whom they looked in tragedy after tragedy which continued to befall our congregation and community—maybe, just maybe, they would have sympathy for me. Maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t hate me.

But Julie would not do it. Julie would not commit me. And when I was tempted to drive myself to Bay City or Port Huron—to the psych wards where I had ministered to some of my members—when I thought of placing myself in one of these places her reason for not doing it rang in my ears and kept me at home.

We were convinced that they would so heavily medicate me that I would basically be left in a stupor, that it would take the most serious sedatives to douse the fire in my brain so that I could relax

But the drugs would not cure anything. They would only delay any decisions I had to make. They would leave me in a spot where I was useful to no one—only a blithering idiot, one who could do no more than watch TV.

Drugs. Mental hospital. Suicide. They’re all just other forms of running away.

Another form of running away: One evening, I tried to get drunk. It was during tax season, when Julie was not getting home till 11:00 p.m. or so. We had a bottle of wine. I drank the first glass very quickly. I poured a second. I began to sip it. The alcohol hit my brain. I’ve never been drunk and that first feeling always makes me stop. I started crying so hard that I flipped my La-Z-Boy onto its back, and I spilled onto the floor. I lay there and bawled. I couldn’t even ease my pain with alcohol.

By summer 2013, I finally agreed that I possessed the keys to the bear trap. That’s keys, plural. It would take me two years to finally grab onto these to where they did not slip out of my grasp.

Doc, my exceptional therapist, then Julie’s echoing him, encouraged me that I was the only one who could decide about my life, so the first key was that I could not make decisions based on who would be hurt or by whom I might be hated.

Another key was educating myself, learning that I had a real, physical condition. Once I knew that the origin of my suffering was not some nebulous mental illness, I was able to take control of it.

Another key was Julie and I talking through every last detail as to how we would proceed, figuring out my retirement and our future, how we would tell people and the order in which we would do it, striving to know how each would react so that we were ready for this largest hurdle (and after we got the first few under our belt, we were 100% correct as to the reactions of everyone).

The final, most important key was the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence, His always holding my Lord Jesus Christ before my face, and the excellent theology in which I had been trained, which I had proclaimed and taught, which I believed. I found myself trusting in Christ more deeply than ever, that He loved me and that I was proceeding under His good and gracious will.

I continued to suffer, but it gradually eased. Even at the three year mark, this past winter, I would feel the grip of the bear trap; old wounds would bleed. When they have, I’ve used the keys to free myself.

Through it all, I have taken refuge in Christ and in many of His promises, including this one: “God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13b).”

G to G transitioning diary

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Key dates and events in my roller coaster years of going from Greg to Gina. From guy to gal. From G to G.

Pre 2013

Living as a female will never happen. My lifetime chant has been, “All I want in life is to be a woman.” It is an impossibility. I need to stop desiring this. I need to repent, pray more, try harder, be the husband and father and minister that I am.

2013

January: What is happening to me? I knew, over the past couple of years, that my gender identity problem had actually turned into this thing I never knew about before—gender dysphoria. I just plain hate myself. I can now look back over the years since I turned fifty and see how this has grown worse. I haven’t been able to look at myself in a mirror for, wow, how long? For years. I hate the man who looks back at me.

February: When I have a free evening, I need to be dressed as a female. I have never in my life had a need for this as deeply as I do now. I just chose the name, Gina, finally feeling like I have found a female name that fits me after a lifetime of trying. When I have to remove my female things, I break down, crying miserably and begging myself to let her remain.

March: Every dressing session ends with me bawling, lying on my bed and praying out loud, begging the Lord to help me. I can’t see a way out. For the first time in my life, I understand why people commit suicide. I am constantly saying, “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.”

March 8: I did not want to trouble Julie during income tax season because she works awfully long hours, but I finally have to come clean with how distressed I am. Her response to my finally admitting that I am desperate: “If you need to transition, we will figure it out.” Might I actually get to be a woman? I take turns being giddy and doubtful.

March 21: My first therapist appointment, a two hour drive both ways. I tell her that I need her to figure out whether I am transgender or just a crazy crossdresser. I schedule another appointment for a week from now. I will soon cancel it and never go back.

Mid April: I am a complete and utter emotional wreck. My life is constantly under stress. I cry all of the time, only gathering myself for work. Julie undertakes the finding of a therapist who might be up to snuff for what I need.

A week later: Julie found one. My first appointment proves that this therapist knows his stuff and is going to be a good fit. I tell him what I told the first therapist. Julie attends the session with me. She will attend as many sessions with me as possible, until tax season returns. The therapist is ninety miles away. We have lots of quiet time to talk.

Early June: In only my fourth session, I tell my therapist that I need to transition.

A few days later: I change my mind.

The next week: I change my mind.

The next week: I change my mind. I will live on this swivel for months.

Early June: Julie describes my life as riding a roller coaster through a hurricane.

June 24: I need to see if I can do this. I attend my therapist session as Gina. I feel comfortable going to and from the office dressed as a female.

June 30: Returning from my son’s out-of-state wedding, I tell Julie there is no way on earth I will ever be able to be around my family as a female. I am NOT transitioning. We flesh out new ideas about what I will do in retirement, which I just decided is what I’m going to have to do—I need to get out of the ministry so I can address my situation.

August 6: I inform the pastor who acts as circuit counselor for the churches in our area of my intention to retire in 2014. I do not tell him the full reason.

August 13: Wracked with guilt over withholding the entire story, I tell the pastor of my gender dysphoria and that I might need to transition. He has no knowledge of these matters but is very gracious. Over the next several months, I will tell many pastors, church leaders, my children, and some friends of my gender dysphoria and that I might be transitioning. Out of the dozens of people I will tell, precisely one will have any knowledge of these things.

September 1: I inform my congregation that I will be retiring in 2014, giving the cover story, which is true enough, that I need freedom from the grind of the ministry, especially because my kids all live so far away. The congregation is shocked and saddened. I’m sad, too. I don’t want to leave. I can’t figure out how I can stay.

September 19: I wish I would have kept track of the number of times I have changed my mind. One day, I am transitioning. A few days later, I am not. Round and round we go. I continue to have crushing meltdowns, about two a week. I need to do something concrete to try to get off this very-unmerry-go-round. I call one of the recommended doctors to get myself started on hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Perhaps, HRT will help me.

September 26: Everything is so far away. Julie and I see the doctor in metro Detroit. I pass the physical. I am given two prescriptions for HRT, one to lessen my testosterone and one to boost my estrogen.

September 27: I take HRT pills for the first time. I am very happy.

Early November: Julie and I go on the road, to tell each of the kids, in person, about my situation. No parent should ever have to tell their kids this lousy news. No children should ever have to hear this from their parent. The next two years are going to be very rough for all of us.

Late November: HRT often has a calming effect. At the eight week mark, I am so calm that I feel fine as a guy. Sadly, neither my therapist nor my doctor has ever heard of this. I can find nothing on the Internet to tell me why I no longer need to be a woman. I love the feeling, but I am totally confounded.

New Year’s Eve: I have felt wonderful for six weeks, happy to be a male for the first time in my life. I wonder if the HRT has balanced my hormones so that I finally feel right about myself, but I can find nothing to support this idea. Julie and I speak of my not retiring. We will give it another month before saying anything.

2014

New Year’s Day: Yes, it is the very next day after Julie and I have the happy discussion that maybe we won’t have to leave Port Hope. But, the moment I wake up, I know my peace is gone. I am in terrible distress. I am completely confused about everything. I fear becoming suicidal again. I will soon fear that I will literally go insane. Happy New Year . . . not.

Late January: If I don’t shape up, I am going to be shipped out of the ministry. I had to promise church officials that I will stop taking HRT and keep my mouth shut about my gender dysphoria—I long to tell my congregation what is going on with their pastor—so that I don’t create a storm. If I behave, I will be allowed to retire without trouble.

The next day: I have been so completely out of sorts, the worst ever, and getting worse since New Year’s Day, and yesterday pushed me to the brink. I am in such dire straits that I fear the day when I simply will refuse to leave my bed. I hate everything. I have no idea what I am going to do with myself.

The next day: I ask for and receive a month’s sick leave. I need to get a hold of myself.

Early March: I return to work. I announce that I am going to try everything I can so that I don’t have to retire, that I will give them the final word within a month.

End of March: I was a fool to think I could gather myself. I inform the congregation that I will have to retire. June 30 will be the day. Feeling they deserve to know more, especially after my taking a month off, I go so far as to tell them I suffer from dysphoria, which means I am completely out of sorts in my mind, my body, and my life. No one will guess that I am actually talking about gender dysphoria.

May 1: I can’t live with myself. I have HRT pills on hand. Despite my promise, I restart taking them. I fill all of my refills, just in case.

Four weeks later: I confuse my pending retirement with being on HRT for my feeling good about myself. I stop taking HRT.

June 29: My final Sunday. The congregation throws me the most wonderful retirement party. Julie gives the loveliest speech, getting a standing ovation.

July 3: We move to Indianapolis.

July 6: I crash.

Early August: I hate everything. I hate me. I hate living in Indy. I hate being retired. I miss Port Hope. I restart HRT.

Four weeks later: Same thing as in May, I should know that it is the HRT that has me feeling good but, dumb me, I use the good feeling to decide that I need to cease all thoughts of ever transitioning. I stop taking HRT.

Early September: I had already scheduled a first appointment with an electrologist, needed for having my facial hair permanently removed. I keep it, and the next week’s, then stop doing this for the next four months as I try to be a male.

October 6: Here we go again. After a nice stretch of peace, I crash.

Early November: After a month of fighting myself, I pull my female clothes out of their tubs in the basement. I feel like I’m going to fall to the floor in a puddle of nerves if I don’t put on some women’s things.

Mid-November: I go to our family deer camp back home in West Michigan. I spend a lot of time by myself in the trailer, crying.

Mid December: I start with a therapist in Indy.

Christmas Day: This going back and forth cannot continue. I decide that, on January 1, I need to try the Real Life Test, living full time as a female, to see if I can do it, to determine if it is the thing that works for me. Julie agrees: It’s time. I inform my kids and some other folks who have been in the know. No one is happy about it. I get it.

2015

January 2: As Gina, I go to Kroger all by myself, a first. Somehow, all goes well.

Mid-January: I have a bit of HRT pills left. I restart them in anticipation of my therapist soon giving me a doctor’s letter to restart officially.

Early February: Here we go again. Feeling good, I am fighting myself. I begin a period of going back and forth, Gina to Greg to Gina, sometimes flipping in the same day. My therapist says something about my struggles which finally sounds like it makes sense. Where the standard reaction of a transitioning person on HRT is, “Thank goodness I am transitioning,” when my hormones have enough HRT to be changed, the calm it brings actually gives me the power to fight harder to remain male. Earnest self-examination leads to me agree with this, that my intense desire to remain male is behind all of this, and I will see it in myself several more times over the next year.

Mid February: I have a consultation with a plastic surgeon for facial feminization surgery. Seeing the computer imaging of what I can look like pleases me very much.

Early March: I see a doctor to get new HRT prescriptions.

April 23: Returning from my therapist, I realize I’ve now been in therapy for two years and feel I’ve gotten nowhere. I just spent the hour in angry tears. I write about it and post it on Facebook.

April 29: I always knew that if I transitioned, I would not do so privately. I wanted no one to think I ran away to hide, that I was ashamed. Knowing how many people misunderstand transgender people, how many have prejudice against us, how many simply know nothing, I would make it my task to educate. I prayed for months about this and, last week, things came together to tell me it was time to go public. Today, I announce on the Internet that I suffer from gender dysphoria. I will post self-written essays, several days a week, to both my blog and Facebook.

May: We buy a house. I dub it Merrymoss, after Mary Moss who last lived in it.

June 3: We move in. I do all of the packing and loading and unloading in guy mode. Being in guy mode always makes me want to try harder to be a male. It never lasts more than several hours.

July 2: No more going back and forth. I am living as Gina 100% of the time, for good.

Mid July: I visit my son and his wife. This sets the table for his siblings. When I ask him how it is that we are having the same conversation as we’ve always had, with me dressed as a woman, he says, “You’re still the same. You are talking and acting and being your usual self. I don’t see that stuff. I see you, my dad.” Over the next months, all of my children will be able to accept my transitioning. Our relationships will be healed. I will never be any happier about anything else in my entire life.

August 19: After admitting online that I had been living full time as Gina for awhile, I change my profile from Greg to Gina, and post a female picture for the first time. The world didn’t come to an end.

Late October through early November: I print the forms for having my name changed. Family deer camp is coming up and I am no longer welcome at it. I talk with one of my brothers, who takes over a big function of mine at camp. The pressure of changing my name and the loss of the family vacation cause me to have a terrible breakdown that lasts for three days, a new record.

Mid December: The November breakdown has had me in a funk and finally I am coming out of it. I have a new resolve that I have to transition, that trying to stop, trying to go back to living as a male, is not going to happen. I will have losses, as with deer camp. I’ve had lots of losses in my life, just as everyone does. I will survive these losses.

2016

Late February: I apply for a legal name change. I have an article printed in Indianapolis Monthly magazine: “The Real Me. What it is like to be transgender.” It is well-received.

Early March: I get my therapist’s letter, endorsing me for sex reassignment surgery.

Mid March: Thirteen months after my first visit, I return to the plastic surgeon. I am now ready to apply for health insurance to cover my facial surgery.

March 25: I see a doctor for my first consultation for sex reassignment surgery. I hope to have the surgery before the end of 2016.

Mid April. To have the sex reassignment, a second therapist’s endorsement is required. I begin therapy with a new therapist. I will only need two sessions for him to confirm my first therapist’s endorsement.

May 2: After being happy to apply for my name change, I have been struggling the past two weeks.  I feel like Greg deserves better than this.  But, serious reflection tells me that every time I try to stop transitioning, I crash, and then I always return to it.  In circuit court, my name is legally changed to Gina Joy Eilers.  I am relieved to have it done, but do not experience happiness.

May 5: I get a new drivers license. Besides my new name and photo, it reads: “Sex: F.”  Now, I feel happy.  This was a bigger hurdle for me than going to court.  I leave the BMV feeling lighter than air.  I get into my car, cry, “Woo hoo!” and thrust my arms into the air.  Whew!

May 6: I receive insurance approval for my facial surgery.

May 11: I schedule my first facial surgery for June 22. I will have a second surgery later in the summer.

After I have SRS in the autumn, I will have completely transitioned.

I will be as female as I can possibly be in this life. I have no doubts about all of this. I struggle to remember what gender dysphoria was like. I feel like I’ve always been a female.