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Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Decision Not To Decide

I have debated for quite awhile whether to share this very personal and painful essay with you my readers on this blog. I wrote this to submit to a national magazine for an essay contest. This particular piece is one of the most revealing and difficult things I have ever put word on paper about. I've debated seriously about publishing it here, and weighed if I thought it would help younger people not make some of the very painful mistakes I made, which is why I am posting this. I came to the conclusion it was more important to post this than the importance of my own comfort.

The style in which I chose to write this article does not mention that what I am speaking of is being a woman of transsexual experience. I did not want to be so public about myself. Some may criticize that decision, but I do want a modicum of anonymity, though it isn't exactly a State Secret about this aspect of myself to a moderate segment of the professional community and in the gender community itself as I have so many friends all over the country who I have met giving workshops, through Pink Essence, Facebook and Google+. That's fine, but I'm a private person and don't feel the need to make this a central aspect of my public identity. It serves a purpose for those who know because I want to be of help, but I don't feel that is a carte blanche to open myself up to the world in general. Some people may think I'm copping out by not being out to everyone I meet, but it really isn't anyone's business what my medical issues are or what my genitalia are and how they got there. No one would ever enquire of a woman of non transsexual experience what their genitalia are or how they came to be and I wish to be afforded the same dignity and privacy as they have. So without further delay I give you the story about myself.

"Some of us turn off the lights and we live
In the moonlight shooting by
Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark
To be where the angels fly" The Girl From the Red River Shore   Bob Dylan

 The decision that I most regret in my life was the day I first made the decision to not decide. Because of this decision to not decide, my life became a war of attrition within myself. I find that my life has consisted of a slow drift in which I would strike a bargain with myself over and over again. Each time I would concede a bit more and have faith that this would be the end point, only to find myself drift some more.  No one knew anything about what I failed to decide for the first 37 years of my life. When someone did learn of it, it was a very disturbing and painful event. However, it allowed me to come to the conclusion that I needed to accept this and continue to become more comfortable with myself. The consequences of not coming to terms with me would be serious.

Even with this, I continued in the same way, deciding not to decide, but allowing the concessions to continue as they became manifest in my life. Somewhere the tipping point was reached. It happened three years ago when I made a decision that I should have made when I was 22, or 27 or even at 37. I was 51.

Though I finally made the decision to decide, I’m sure you must be wondering what is it that I regret by not making a decision. After all, yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not promised to us. We only have today.

 I regret living with fear.  I regret that so many people I have known, some loved, many wonderful people, have missed out in knowing me as equally well as I have known them. I may owe some of them an apology for not trusting when they have proven themselves again and again. I regret that because of my decision not to decide for so long that I limited my own ability to reach my full potential in many domains of my life.

When T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, “I have heard the mermaids singing each to each. I do not think they will sing to me.” It held a lot of significance about my decision not to decide. It left me with being incomplete and life would not offer the same opportunities others have had.

What I have been so indecisive about is about my identity. I have known this about myself since I was able to acquire the language to name it. I was very young then. Then when I was about 10, I began to go to the library and read about others who shared similar struggles. I was a very advanced reader for my age. That was when I became unhappy about who I was, as opposed to being confused about who I was. The battle of attrition began. I figured out all kinds of ways to be ok with myself without having to deal with reality, but they either only worked temporarily, or not at all. I did things that not many people did. Sometimes they were things that were dangerous with potential for serious injury. I should have been killed six times over because of serious accidents I was involved in. They might not have been my fault, but I was responsible indirectly (which means I was responsible) for making choices that put me in those situations. I had no wish to die, but I wasn’t very happy with my life. I was careless about myself.

Through all these years since I first read about myself, I continued to follow new publications and articles and learned quite a bit about myself that made me unhappier for a variety of reasons. I always wanted to understand and know my own truth. I continued to read and be current. Most of what I read seemed to be right; some of it was way off base.

I avoided serious relationships for many years so as not to have to be open to people or hurt them in some way. I’m sure I puzzled some people who would try to get close and were pushed away. I was very lonely for a number of years. There were some very fine people I decided to protect from me that under different circumstances I could have been very happy with.

Finally, I met someone and decided that I was wrong about myself. I could have this side of my to remain only with me. Eventually this person became the first person to know me completely. I’m very sorry that I must have inflicted a great deal of emotional pain on this person due to my unwillingness to make a decision with personal integrity, though that person also inflicted a great deal of emotional pain upon me as well. Nevertheless that does not justify my lack of sharing myself openly for me. I was at fault for a lot of our conflicts as well.

Even with the person to who I am spiritually bonded now, who I told at the time when our relationship became serious, it has been a painful burden to bear over the course of our relationship. It makes me extremely sad that even though I had progressed to the point to be able to be transparent about myself, it has been a painful experience for us as a couple. There have been very few who have traveled this path together. We define ourselves in relation to each other as well as we define ourselves.  It is not clear that we will be able to travel together forever, though we hope and pray so. We stay in the moment, or at least the day. We remember we each have a process we are going through, more or less of our own design. We feel it out as we go. Sometimes we are afraid. Sometimes we are just sad. But then there are other times that are happy. They renew us and remind us why we are in this process together, and that is a good thing.

Even now with the decision made, the battle of attrition has become a different battle. The battle has become about how long I will wait to allow myself to finish this process, if at all, so the next part of life can begin. There is a need for immediacy that must be as carefully approached as I approached my own truth. While before I had dug my heels in, I am now accelerating towards something I did not ever wish for and I attempt to exercise restraint as a matter of judgment. I now grow impatient, yet the need for patience is even greater than before.

 I have also been mindful that there is very little left to do, just two important things and when I complete that that aspect of my life. I’ll be there.

T.S. Eliot wrote in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.” I don’t want to do that anymore. I have learned that you have to live in the moment and it will pass, whether it was good or bad. We aren’t guaranteed a tomorrow. That’s enough to live with myself today and be at peace.



  1. This is a subject that, undoubtably, every older person has dwelled on over the years.

    Growing up, I only had TV to sate my desire for knowledge about myself.
    Forays to the library seldom gave up any useful information about gender issues, in fact, only slightly smutty articles seemed to be available so I meandered, I suppose, through the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's finding denial easier to deal with, without even realising that my aggravation in life was enhanced by my denial of myself.
    And then the Internet came along and a whole new world, a whole new vista to that world, opened up for me.
    I have found my congruence and the ensuing peace that transition has given me and I strongly believe that is our answer.
    I envy, with a small e, young ones today, with the knowledge that the Internet supplies and the slowly but persistantly growing awareness and acceptance from a cynical population, that is increasingly scared to accept anything that is deemed other than what we are told to conform to.

    For this older generation, we lived the guilt trip, for most of us, 50 plus years, now it's time to let it go and begin our lives in earnest, as woman, and complete.
    I can get that.

  2. Thank you Sherri Lynne for putting into words what so many of us have felt over our developing and maturing years. Your journey is one that many others share and not one we would wish the next generation to have to undertake so in publishing this you have certainly helped others.
    Like Rachel, i had little access to information about transgender issues while growing up and it was indeed the internet that opened my own eyes to a deeper understanding of who i was. We all need to use this wonderful conduit to pass on to the next generation and to the world at large, just what it means to transgender, not just physically but, importantly, emotionally as well.

  3. Great essay, Sherri Lynne. I'm SO glad I found PE. I've been living in the closet for so long I thought I didn't need any kind of support group, that I could continue to just tough it out. I was SO wrong. In just the brief time I've been here and at one other group (and gotten to meet so many other ladies whose experiences are so much like mine) I'm experiencing a sense of peace that I didn't even know was missing. Many blessings to you.

    Ariella Michelle

  4. When I was young, I may not have known what it was called, but I knew what it was. I even entertained the notion that I may be the only one; but not for long, for I knew I was not that special. A book I stumbled on my freshman year in college, the story of Christine Jorgensen, was my first confirmation that I was correct. The internet gave me a vocabulary (though a less than satisfactory one), more information, but most importantly, access to the wonderfully diverse people that make up the community of trans people.

    And there is one thing I have discovered from my own introspection and from corresponding with and talking to my trans-sisters and brothers: Lack of gender congruency is not the issue. The real issue is the decision to not decide, and what that leads to. What does it lead to? Living a lie.

    In my opinion, gender dysphoria is an inaccurate and even misleading term. Rather we should call it life role dysphoria, for it is the role, we chose when we decided to not decide, that causes the discomfort we feel. And when that discomfort becomes too great, a decision must be made.

    The other thing I have discovered is that the decision about what to do about it is also diverse. Sadly, more than 40 percent of us feel that ceasing to live is the answer, and even more sadly, way too many succeed. Some just come to terms and live true to themselves without transition. A few have to come clean with the people around them, but do not transition. Some transition their lives and presentations. And some transition their lives, presentations and bodies.

    The reasons for deciding to not decide are diverse, and vary with each point of decision: Fear; Pragmatism; Desire to please our parents; Denial; etc. But eventually, a decision will be made. And all decisions have costs and benefits. The more times we decide to not decide, the higher the cost.

    Thank you for another important post, straight from the transparency of your heart.