People refer to various items being “built like a house of cards,” clearly this is a cliché but there is a reason why this analogy works so well. A house assembled of cards requires an extremely delicate balance to remain stable, each card must be placed with all intent and caution – the slightest misalignment or incorrect touch will lead to its collapse – much like whatever is being referred to as it.
I had long believed that my life was built firmly – not flimsily as the card analogy. I was born in 1981, and that essentially meant that my representation of manhood was based on the 1950’s to 70’s family man as these were the decades my parents were raised in.
A man to me was just, honest, honourable, upright and had strong integrity. He worked hard and was never afraid to give everything for the job so as to ensure he was properly providing for his wife and children. He took care of the house, gave back to the community, believed in God and rose naturally into leadership positions by doing these things.
Talk about clichés.
By the time I was a teenager, I had already faced many challenges. I could never quite connect with males in general though my parents saw that I was surrounded by them constantly – a memory book following my time in grade school makes comment that I was very much a loner and had trouble making friends with the boys in my neighbourhoods. I was awkward and uninterested in almost everything that one would consider inherintly masculine, though I worked hard to get involved in such things to impress those I saw as male authority figures.
When I graduated high-school, I married my sweetheart, Jessica. We immediatly started our lives together building the white picket dream we saw as the goal. By our first anniversary she was pregnant with my son and I was being groomed into management wherever I worked – though only after I learned that minimal effort was not enough to succeed. I still couldn’t relate to any men, though connecting with women came naturally – I began to develop an unknown irritation with this and pushed myself to seek more male companionship, dragging my wife along as I would not feel comfortable without her present. Where Jessica wasn’t present, I would spend minimal time in male circles – just long enough to be seen as a solid friend and yet committed to my family and having to tend to them often.
Being a father did not come naturally to me, though sharing all the male expectations and setting unachievable goals for my son was easy and all I really knew how to do. Where I spoke as though I was doing my share of parenting, housekeeping and work – the reality was that my wife was picking up immense slack and doing all she could to keep me mentally in one peice. I was often ignorant and closed minded, when called on this behavious, I was very unreasonable – afterall how could I be failing, I’m the man and doing what I’m supposed to do although I was clearly miserable doing it.
As I got further into adulthood, it became harder to maintain my masculinity, breaking many of the tenents I was taught to uphold as the “successful” man, husband and father. Unknowingly I began finding male role models in whomever I saw on tv or in the news – rock stars, political figures, starship captains and famous building contractors or chef’s – when I found one that carried a trait I felt would improve peoples opinions of me or my feeling of being a successful man – I wore them like a mask. When I exhausted my own knowledge or interest in these men, I would break into a mess of uncontrolled emotional outbursts and depression until they were replaced with another one.
Enter the house of cards – each mask I wore was a card and everytime I exhausted a mask – a card was taken away from the base.
By the time 2020 came around I had two children, a business position where I was pushing for the top, and was completely worn out. Masks were not lasting nearly as long as they used to, and I became increasingly unstable mentally. Doctors had a hard time agreeing on what condition I had – in my mid 20’s I was diagnosed as having hereditary depression and anxiety after an hour long visit with a psychiatrist, this was overridden in my late 20’s to be bi-polar II, and again in 2019 (at 38) to a personality disorder “of some kind.” Regardless, the medications were the same and though my dosages changed, the results did not – I remained depressed, full of anxiety and converted any mistakes into critical life failures. As before, more cards came off the base of my card house.
After struggling throgh a mental collapse, losing the sense of herself and dealing with our sons teenage challenges – my wife began taking control of her own life and was working to learn who she was – something neither of us had done having been married fresh out of highschool and going straight into the cookie cutter north american life. While I was proud of her, this was interpreted as a response to my own failings as a man, husband and father. Yet more cards being stripped from my card house foundation.
In late 2019 and early 2020, I was working as a union business representative and presented an extremely challenging case to my boss, a man that I spent almost everyday trying to impress to the detriment of my family and myself. Where I knew whole heartedly that the union needed to act in one way, I was overridden, told how to respond and I followed his orders with disgust. I lost what would be a very pivitol card from that cliché house. I mentally collapsed into severe depression with daily panic attacks, everything was a failure to me now and after a panicked call to our employee assistance program, I chose to take time off to recover and see a counsellor.
My time off corresponded with the begining of the Covid-19 global pandemic arrival in Canada, I left work in late February and by mid March we were isolated. Counselling was not productive, instead of working through my issues I was helping the counsellor to cope with the stress of the pandemic. I spent my time wallowing in “Emo” music and trying to sort my own head out.
When April came, my wife presented her desire to explore polyamory. I was scared to death at first, I felt it wouldn’t be long until she left me for another, better lover – my failures included a lack of libido, yet another failing. By the 18th, I decided to admit something I had buried away for decades – I knew I could be attracted to any gender on the spectrum – I was pansexual. In highschool I had been seen checking out the posterior of the classes basketball star, it resulted in a long term of bullying and so I hid this to protect what little social standing I had. Eventually I began dating girls and the whole thing passed, never to be brought up until now.
To me, being pansexual and sharing this with Jess was a bonus – if she wanted another man in our life, I would be able to handle that provided he was the right sort. Win, win! We discussed my sexual identity on and off until the 20th of April when my son was in a longboarding accident, and became hospitalized with a broken femur. We did not disuss my sexuality again.
My son recovered well, the pandemic meant only one person could be with him in the hospital and as Jessica has an autoimmune disease, I was the one to attend. I am thankful for this time as it brought us closer together than we ever had been. This could be a story all unto itself and perhaps later it will be.
Fresh from the high of coming out as pansexual and the positivity of acting like the father I always dreamt i was; I began feeling well enough to begin plans for a return to my work, however, once I hit send on the message to my boss – I immediatly felt nauseus. I was sinking down again and the panic attacks that were subsiding came back tenfold, I became so mentally exhausted that i decided I had to stop it by any means. On May 18th, I knew I was done for and had to stop the pain – I decided that unless something completely changed, and fast, I was ready to end my life. I didn’t know how, but I knew that I could not take it anymore.
Sitting outside on our back patio swing chair, I flipped through my social media looking for reasons to stay alive.
I must take an aside here and draw attention to social media metrics. As we change what accounts we follow and the content we read, our metric data changes – the platforms will begin to populate your advertisements and sposored posts to reflect this newly introduced data. When I shared my pansexuality, I began feeling welcome to explore it a little more which led to my facebook and instagram content reflecting this with ads for pride groups and other LGBTQ+ related material. Back to the story.
As I flipped through my Instagram account, I was seeing this new LGBTQ+ content and around 2:30pm in the afternoon sun – I saw a sponsored post that caught my eye. It was for a counselling service which I remember rolling my eyes at initially – why would I go for counselling, to fix the counsellor again?
The ad featured a woman in a blue and purple top, with long curly hair – she was sitting on a couch and opened with a statement about how coming out is challenging and Pride Counselling was able to help. Her personal account was linked and out of extreme skepticism, I chose to find out who this woman was, and why I should listen to her.
Tapping into her Instagram account, the first post I saw was this woman in a yellow top, with a hand up to her hair and her pride rainbow watch strap popping. The caption on this post was talking about her being a mother in her 30’s – I was a dad in his 30’s so, okay, I’ll keep looking. As I scrolled down, I saw more pictures of her with positive content, there was something about her that drew me in and for some reason I felt truly compelled to keep scrolling, so scroll I did.
After multiple posts, I landed on one with a person that had extremely similar features as the woman whose account this was. However they looked different – less feminine, a relative perhaps? I read the post and learned it was the same woman, it was a picture from years before when she was in South Korea awaiting vocal feminization surgery – she was transgender. I was stunned that such transtitions were possible – I had never put thought into it before.
At the exact moment I accepted that transitions were possible – 2:38pm to be specific – my brain allowed me to contemplate something I’d not allowed prior. What if I looked through my entire history – the years having issues relating to boys and men, my years of struggling to be the man I was “supposed” to be, the use of so many masks to try and succeed – what if I looked at it all through the lens of my being female instead?
Each stressful moment was suddenly easier to understand, repression lifted and I could remember clearly moments I had tucked so deeply away – times I had looked in a mirror thinking how much I wished I was born a girl, times I thought how much more fun I would have had as a woman, the time I wore a one piece swimsuit and stuffed the cups just to see what I might look like…and enjoyed it…missing the sensation when I forced myself to reject it.
It all made sense.
My heart warmed and I felt a self love I had never felt before – my inner monologue told me to look and accept it, it was true and it was time was now right to face it. My thoughts of ending myself immediatly vanished and I felt a freedom as I continued looking at this woman’s early transitional photo.
Out loud, in my backyard, swinging on the back porch swing – I spoke in a clear and loud voice “HOLY SHIT!!! I’M A WOMAN, THATS IT, A WOMAN….” The inner voice of mine agreed and I knew it to be true. The last card was pulled, the card house collapsed as the mask I had worn my entire life vanished entirely. From that moment forward, I have never been anything like the person – the “man” – I was prior.
The following week was a mess of discovery, crying for my “maleness” to return and talking deeply with my wife while facing the new reality of my true gender. I fought hard to resist my need to transition – but by the following week, the love of my life looked me dead in my eyes and told me to stop lying to myself. She knew, as I did, that I had to transition – for me such a journey was truly life saving and therefore essential.
I have written many versions of this story, it has been the hardest thing for me to write and I still don’t feel I’ve done the experience justie. But the fact is, my life was the cliché – a house of cards which had its foundation slowly taken away over 39 years. When at last this house fell, the only survivor was a woman named Charlotte – a raw and naked girl who was now free to learn who she was, and live her life open and authentically.
Although I am sure she would never accept this, I owe a lot to this woman who chose to do a sponsored ad for Pride Counselling. A woman who shared openly of her transition to bring visibility and show that transitioning as a transgender person is possible – it is largely in part to this sharing that I am here to share this story now, and why I dedicate myself to a community I love so dearly. Thank you – I hope to one day say this to you and share your name.
Originally posted to: https://charlottedanielle.com/2021/05/12/my-story-the-webs-of-charlotte/