Monday, 6 April 2015

Finding one's true self

One of my all-time favourite cartoon drawings, which I think was current on birthday cards about ten years back, showed a man named Stanley struggling up some peak in the high Himalayas in an endeavour to discover his true self. Clearly he felt he was made of heroic stuff, and that when the Realisation came he would be thrilled to see the kind of person he really was.

On the ledge that awaited him stood a double of himself - his true destiny. Unfortunately it was the same old Stanley, dressed as an utterly conventional city commuter - the perfect Chartered Accountant. And he was of course deeply disappointed.

I was delighted to find this cartoon, which I used to chortle at, on the Internet this morning. Here it is:

My profound apologies if you are a real Chartered Accountant, and feel that he can't possibly be one of that august company. No doubt you will snort and say 'Ha! Obviously a Tax Inspector!' In which case, as I was a Tax Inspector once, and have expert knowledge concerning the dress, manners, feeding regime, and mating habits of the male version of the species, I will propose that this is a city clerk of some kind, perhaps a Bank of England functionary - on which we will no doubt agree to settle. The point is, not a hero or superman!

How awful though, to have a long-cherished belief in an inner, hidden version of oneself that, if only the chance came, would be revealed to the world as a wonderful and inspiring person - and then, when that chance did come, one was (like poor Stanley in the cartoon above) shown to be nothing special, just plain and ordinary, and quite possibly boring. What a blow to one's self-esteem that would be!

But, human nature being what it is, how comforting to everyone else. Friends and colleagues would be delighted to see that their low-expectation judgement of you was spot on, and although twit and buffoon one still might be, the easy-going bonds of friendship weren't going to be disturbed in any way. They'd breathe a big sigh of relief, and buy you a consolatory drink. And one's family would be very happy too, because the dear old familiar person was proved to be the true identity, and nothing would change, and everyone would feel safe and secure.

I'm thinking that casting aside the old self and assuming a different stature, a different and greater role, with a changed nature to go with it, could lead to a life full of impossibly high expectations, and constant worry about falling short.

While (for instance) Superman kept up his ordinary life as Clark Kent, that hunky but slightly ineffectual regular newspaper reporter, he was harmless and lovable. But as soon as he was found out, and his secret identity revealed - as happened by degrees in the 1980s Superman films, his girlfriend Lois Lane gradually putting two and two together - he couldn't be ordinary any longer. He had to be a superhero all the time, at least in her eyes, and always on call. I bet he pined for the old quiet life, with just the occasional quick change of costume in a convenient phone box, then a ten-minute flurry of action while he saved the world, all the time anticipating his next coffee and burger. But now, with his cover blown, the discretionary life had vanished. He couldn't say to himself 'Oh, hell, it's my lunch break and I can't be bothered. I really need a burger'. Lois Lane (and who knows who else she might have confided her Big Secret with) would be on his back to perform whenever required. Once you've upped your game, there can be no backsliding!

If that sounds silly, then consider the position of anyone who has a realisation of who they really are (transitioners for instance) - and then disturbs the cosmos making the necessary adjustments, so that they can be that better, truer version of themselves.

They spend money, oodles of it, that could have been spent elsewhere - or just go into catastrophic debt. They will have to make many statements about themselves, and their self-view, all of which may have to be lived up to. They may cause the rupture of relationships across the board. Given all that, there's often quite a heavy moral onus placed upon them to see the transformation through, and thereafter 'prove' that it was all necessary, and was absolutely the right thing to do.

Personally, I think that onus doesn't exist - living honestly demands that you do what is needed, and it can't become a deal struck between the one who needs to change and those opposed to that change, who want to see a reward for the 'permission-to-proceed' that they granted. The outcome is always so very uncertain, depending chiefly on how sundry other people react (which you can't control). And therefore it's not possible to guarantee, as your side of that spurious bargain, the sort of high-class success that justifies all the kerfuffle.

I didn't personally make promises about whether, and how far, to proceed. But I did at first agree to 'go slow'. This was my response to almost overwhelming pressure and resistance. I knew all along, once I'd had my eureka moment of self-realisation, that it would be a lie if I gave any cast iron assurance that my transformation would be limited. I did discuss the possibility, but such was the negativity at home and at my parents' house over any degree of transition at all, I quickly felt that all thoughts of finding common ground on anything to do with this were hopeless - and that I ought to forge ahead without insincere promises to hold me back. Indeed, without further discussion. So I quietly got on with it.

I often wonder how it would have turned out if partner and parents had taken a different line with me, and had 'managed' me better. Impossible to say. I suspect that getting even some encouragement and understanding would have led all the sooner to what actually was done to advance my transformation, because all the time I was feeling that inner pressure to push forward, and any sort of green light would have been taken advantage of. Not what they'd wish for! So I expect their 'co-operation' would have been rapidly withdrawn.

Thankfully I never had an instant of doubt and disillusion. I was never Stanley on that Himalayan ledge, confronted by an unwelcome but inevitable destiny: the same old person. And the notion that it was useless to strive and struggle.

Ironically, it was Dad's 'never give in' attitude that saw me through. I think I'm very like my father. It's not just the big nose.


  1. Currently lost for words. Such is my effusive praise for this post.
    Thank you might just have to suffice for now.

  2. Hi Lucy. I just came across your blog and this posting. It came at a great time because I feel like I'm suffering through this stage of my journey at the moment. I have started transitioning and with my spouse's devastation it makes everything so much more difficult. I don't know that I'm still really trying to discover myself, but rather struggling with how to appease both myself and my spouse...

    I tried to do a quick scan through your blog postings, but I couldn't tell - are you still married? What was the fallout from your transition?

  3. It was a fifteen-year unmarried relationship, Shel, and it didn't long survive my coming-out/commencement of transition in 2008. The fallout can't really be condensed into a sentence or two, but during transition I lost my partner, both my parents, a host of other people, and almost all the money I had. Fortunately there were no children involved. I gained independence and a brand new life that has not disappointed.



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