The Gritty, Beautiful Process of Becoming Yourself

Lili_Elbe_by_Gerda_Wegener.401These days we seem to be generally all about becoming ‘something’ — especially as the year begins. We want to be thinner, richer, sexier, bolder, more productive yet more relaxed, more spiritual …. hell, even bustier.

We want our flawed and weak selves to disappear and be magically replaced by someone who is infinitely better.

As if we could be improved on just as we are.

I write this as a lesbian who for the better part of 40 years pretended I was not. It wasn’t safe to be me – not in a family headed by two people who were cluelessly homophobic. My story is not new. The repression of who we are shows up again and again through the generations.

Yet, it is a new day. I have been out and proud for more than five years, and seen the dawn of gay marriage in the USA. The growing mass acceptance of transgendered people is proof as well.

Not long ago my partner volunteered to work at a conference for transgendered families. Yes, that’s right. Transgendered families; parents whose children have decided at age six or eight or eleven that they are in the wrong body. There were hundreds and hundreds of people at this conference – it was a dazzling display of openness and self acceptance.

Next month I will publish my first novel in 25 years, which features a transman (female to male) character. Charley is a spy who happens to have transitioned at age ten. In the deep south. In the late 80’s.

Why did my co-author and I make this choice? Because it’s a story of deep self acceptance that must be told again and again.

In Transformed: San Francisco, the fact that Charley is a transman becomes irrelevant; his transition is not even discussed. More important is that Charley is brave, strong, grounded, and a little hopeless in love. That he is gifted with being both vulnerable and tough, sensitive and bold.

Charley is us and we are Charley – even when he blows off paying his taxes and gets suspended by the CIA, his employer.

We all must be ourselves just as we are … no matter what. If this requires special bravery, then special things are likely to happen. Even if the results are immediately disastrous, they make sense over time.

The Danish Girl, an exquisite film by British director Tom Hooper, comes to mind. The film is based on the life of Danish transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, who was the first person to change genders surgically. Her decision to become a woman ultimately killed her – but oh how she lived until her death!

Lili Elbe loved to walk the streets of Paris in her full feminine persona, often passing as the sister of the man she once was. Mind you, this was in 1912. The painting shown above of Lili by her beloved wife, artist Gerda Wegener, completely captures her essential femininity.

The Danish government, in an equal state of openness, honored Lily’s changed identity and even issued a passport in her new name and gender.

We hope that Transformed: San Francisco will help all manner of readers accept those who are different, yes. But for me there is always a deeper agenda. As a writer and speaker, I am here to remind people again and again to honor who they are, even the tricky bits.

Can we improve and learn and grow? Always, of course. But must we change what is essentially ‘us’ in order to fit in? To be ‘normal’ — whatever that is? No.

Rather, we must learn to love our own particular quirks.

For this reason, we included a second character in Transformed: San Francisco who longs to be a professional dominatrix. She begins the book as Pamela Delacroix, a Manhattan socialite who has just been booted out of town for serving as dominatrix to six husbands of friends.

Honestly, Pamela was just doing what came naturally, though there was certainly a better way to get the job done. Namely by leaving her repressed marriage, moving to San Francisco and staking her claim as a true dom which she does. Here she takes the name ‘Electra’ and gets down to business.

Life moves towards wholeness for my characters as they take risk after risk fighting a Christian extremist who believes such people are ‘sinners’. As I know we can, as well.  Emerging from writing this book, I know that a good story can open hearts and minds, just as The Danish Girl has.

At the very least, it has opened mine just a little bit more.