One year ago, my world started to disintegrate.
I didn’t understand what was happening to me, seemingly out of nowhere.
Quite coincidentally, I started to watch a series called Sense8. In that series was a trans actor Jamie Clayton, playing a trans character. Being trans wasn’t pivotal to the role, it just was. She was just living her life. And she was beautiful. It began to dawn on me what my new—undeniable—reality was. From the fog emerged clarity.
In my desperation, I reached out, under this new name that seemed to have adopted me, like the cat that just invites itself in then never leaves. And then with a single click, Jamie Clayton became the first person in the world to acknowledge Ashley—me.
She may never know what that little click meant to me, but it changed my life. Allowed me to believe I could pull through this thing. I could never be as beautiful as her, but I could be inspired by her to accept this new reality and to be every bit the woman it is possible for me to be.
I wrote back then about the Imposter Syndrome I was experiencing, because every trans person always knew from their early years right? Not me.
I wrote that piece shortly before I talked with a psychiatrist who listened as I poured it all out, months of anguish and dismay, who assured me of my reality, my authenticity.
I walked out of that consultation, sat in my car, and cried for what seemed an hour. Great wracking sobs that left me gasping for breath, wave after wave. It was the cry of indescribable pressure and despair relieved, of validation, of hope for a future. The way ahead would be littered with damage and hurt to me and others, I knew that. But far, far less damage than would result from trying to deny the truth.
There was light. He showed me a path.
It’s helped that over the ensuing year, I’ve unearthed hints both small and large that lay there all along through the decades. It made it all a little easier to accept that it was always there—hidden from me, if not always from others.
But there nonetheless.
Acceptance does little to mitigate dysphoria though—the self-loathing that makes you hate the mirror, always screaming back at you that the world can see what you were.
You do what you can. Facial hair is hard, long, painful, expensive.
Makeup is a learning curve, but helps immeasurably.
Hair on your head counts for more than it should, but such is life for all women. And I was fortunate that I’d started growing my hair four years earlier. So blind…
And then there is HRT. Hormone replacement therapy. Started several months later due ironically to a prostate scare. Oh my what an adventure that HRT sends you on!
Discovering whole new emotions and whole new depths to old emotions, thanks to the wonder of estrogen. Discovering how unattractive if not outright repulsive were the thought processes that seemed to stem from testosterone.
Discovering the delights of soft, subtle skin, and an ever-changing body shape.
During the week, I accidentally caught my naked reflection in the bathroom mirror, something guaranteed to trigger a bout of dysphoria—once self-loathing but now more a wistful sadness. But for the first time, I saw the body of a woman… A long way from perfect to be sure, but beset only with the body image issues any woman faces. It was a remarkable turning point…
So a year has passed.
A year of coming to terms with myself.
A year of accepting the end of a marriage and a love that in truth she ended years earlier.
A year of accepting that friends can be more important than family.
A year of learning my name.
A year of rebuilding my self-confidence, self-esteem and financial independence.
A year of molding and shaping this new person I nicknamed Me Ver 2.0.
A year of unearthing a new personal style—the proud, retro, colourful and quite femme op shop queen.
A year of building a woman’s outside to synchronise with the woman’s mind coalescing inside.
A year to learn to love this new body.
On 18 July 2016, I walked out of that psychiatrist appointment affirmed and authentic.
Ashley was born that day.
Happy first birthday to Ashley.
Main image © Jenny Wilkinson, used with permission