I was born a girl.
This is a fact, like many more about me. My name is Nat. I am nearly nineteen years old. I struggle with anorexia and depression, along with OCD, generalised and social anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder. I row for the University of Denver in Colorado. I am from Boston, Massachusetts, but now live in San Diego, California.
Unlike these other facts, though, there is serious judgement and shame surrounding the thought, ’I was born a girl’. Unlike my name or where I am from, ‘I was born a girl’ causes me to shrink down and makes me wish that I didn’t exist. Because unlike the other facts, I wish ‘I was born a girl’ wasn’t true.
For the past two years, I have been conscious of the fact that I am transgender, meaning that my gender doesn’t adhere to what I was assigned at birth. For far longer, I have avoided and suppressed and shamed my true self, hiding my trans-ness from even myself. I have known, perhaps subconsciously, about my true gender for quite some time, but through the avoidance and the suppression and the shame, I was able to believe for seventeen years that I was a girl— not just born one.
It all started with a button-down short-sleeved shirt, stolen from my brother’s closet when he went off to university. I had seen him wear it only once or twice before, and he didn’t bother taking it with him when he went off to school, so I figured, I might as well try it on. As I stood in my bathroom, critically analysing my reflection in the mirror, that’s when I knew: I wanted to dress in men’s clothing all the time.
Of course, the dysmorphia that generally comes with being transgender— the feeling that one is in the wrong body— started far before that; I just didn’t know what to call it. It manifested itself in the form of an Eating Disorder.
Come, the Eating Disorder’s voice would whisper in my ear, follow me. Do as I say, and I promise, your body will feel like a home. Just don’t eat, just lose some weight, and I promise, those curves will fall away, and you will have a body to rival your brother’s.
The Eating Disorder, in the beginning, was a tricky beast— I guess you could argue that it still is. But in the beginning, it talked to me of dreams that I had never imagined were possible, dreams that I didn’t even know were ones that I had. It talked to me of rippling muscle and slim hips and a nonexistent chest, and my own naïveté got in the way and told me that these were normal things to dream about. The Eating Disorder honeyed its words so that every sacrifice I had to make— meals, time spent with friends, relationships with my family, even school—felt like one that was for the greater good— the greater good being, of course, a more masculine body.
Years went by like this; I would listen to the Eating Disorder, and follow its every word, and in return, the Eating Disorder made me feel like I was taking steps closer to The Goal— which eventually, as I figured out my gender, solidified into an image of a thin, male body. I received treatment, first for anxiety and depression, then for the Eating Disorder, and nothing seemed to be sticking. I would recover for a month, or maybe six, but then I would fall back down into the depression and Eating Disorder’s clutches (the OCD and anxiety were a near-constant that could not be tamed). However, each time I went to treatment, I would open up a little more— to my therapist, to my parents, and to my friends— until I had a growing support system that first knew I was gay, and then knew I was transgender.
Sharing my secrets— the ones I had hidden from even myself— was liberating in a way that I never thought was possible. I had thought that I was going to die with my gender identity still unnoticed, that I would live a life in fear of being discovered. But with the urging of therapists, I finally shared my secrets, and found that the world is far more supportive than it seems. And with each secret shared, the Eating Disorder became a little bit quieter.
It is still loud, though. I am still having to receive help for my mental illnesses, but this time around, I am doing it as who I truly am. I am doing it as me, Nat, a transgender guy who, like so many other transgender guys, has an Eating Disorder. It has become easier, especially with the addition of coping skills like writing.
I can’t quite describe how helpful writing has been for me. I have always been a journalist and an amateur novelist, but over the past year I have started to write more than ever. I have a blog, called A Writer’s Passage, in which I share my stories and try to de-stigmatise mental health. I have been consistently working on a novel idea for over a year now, and it finally feels like it is getting somewhere. I write poetry, and I carry my journal around with me everywhere. Writing is a way to release, a way to get my thoughts onto paper and keep them out of my head. This, along with leaning on my support team, has been the path I have chosen to take to get myself out of my disorders. This is not to say that I will live my life lapse-free. Lapses are bound to happen, as are bouts of depression and intense anxiety. These things are all part of life, and they are what make us grow into better humans.
So, yes, I was born a girl, but this does not make me one; it is simply a part of my story, a fact that adds to my journey through life.