After Life

Book Two: Purgatory

From Journeys and Transitions

by Melanie

Chapter 98

The Secret of Self Worth
(Just One of the Girls)

December 3, 2005

59 Hours and counting….

Don’t skip this entry.  It describes what, for me, is the single most important self-discovery I have ever made.

I will lead you to it.

Last evening, as I continued to fall into a deeper state of despair, Teresa, unexpectedly and all at once, asked if she could read the journal entry I had just written.  I was shocked and worried.  If ever there was an entry I wouldn’t have wanted her to read, it was that one.

I felt quite trapped.  If I denied her, it would drive a further wedge into the gap forming between us.  If I acquiesced, it held the potential of an even larger wedge.  I had actually thought to myself, at the end of that writing session, that I would certainly have to edit the piece before it ever made the light of day, lest Teresa read it in its present form which would simply pound the final nails in the coffin of our relationship.  So, it had been my intent to pull out whole sections and reword others, then to destroy the original file as well.

So wouldn’t it stand to reason that this would be the one night she would practically insist on reading the raw draft?

I had to agree to her request.  She almost leapt up from her seat, settled in front of my laptop, and began to read.

At first, she read aloud.  That made it more palatable to me, as the words were shared between us, not just out of my fingers and into her eyes.  But then, she started reading silently, and I feared I had completely fucked up.

In fact, though we discussed the issues I had penned, the mood between us had soured significantly.  Teresa continued to try so hard to put it all in perspective.  In fact, she even mentioned that she dealt with it as you would with someone who had Tourette’s Syndrome: she simply realized that the foul things I said were not actual attacks on her, but simply symptoms of the disease, and the good person underneath would never have said such things on their own.

To me, though this was a partial vindication, it also sent up red flags, for I realized that such exclusion would not last forever.  Eventually, no matter how one steels oneself against such abuse, the constant abrasion takes its toll, until, when the good is no longer experienced and only the pain remains, one must take leave of the situation, with regret and tears, but without choice, as the alternative is to be dragged down as well.

So, I had a limit of some unspecified time in which I must either solve my problems, hide them, or lose my love.  In fact, Teresa later admitted that in order to deal with my negativity, she had in her mind given me three or four weeks after surgery to work it through, and then it would be time for her to re-evaluate.  She did not specify exactly what that entailed.

Still, we became close again in bed.  It seems for us that no matter how difficult the day, the reality of being two women in bed together even now transcends any negativity to create an uplifting experience.

This morning, we awoke late again: our second full night’s sleep in a row!  Rested, we were still somewhat exhausted from the long drive and longer walk in the mall.  So we took a relatively lazy day, doing a minimum of chores, and mostly laying about, enjoying the rare blue skies of this perfect late Fall Day.

Over the course of the afternoon, I again fell into a funk.  I began to feel that there was no hope of saving my relationship much less my self.  Every time I saw how beautiful Teresa was, my heart sank into the depths of pain.  I could not think about her wonderful new life without considering the hopelessness of my own.

I tried so hard to break free from these feelings, but they held me tight, as if I were tangled so deeply in them that every movement merely cinched them more firmly around me.

I barely made it to the evening without a major blow-up, but I kept feeling as if Teresa and I were sailing away from each other at high speed, caught in divergent currents beyond our abilities to resist.

Eventually, we fired up the television and continued where we had left off in watching The Aviator.  At this point, Howard Hughes is with Katherine Hepburn, and first slips back into his obsessive/compulsive routines that he had largely held at bay.

I, myself, had suffered obsessive/compulsive disorder as a child, never diagnosed as I managed to keep it to myself and later overcome ever giving in to it.  Simply think about the television program, “Monk”, or the Jack Nicholson movie “As Good As It Gets,” and you’ll know what I experienced as a child, though never as bad as all that.

Here is how it worked in The Aviator.  Hughes finally comes to trust Kate – the first person he ever let in.  He divulges how he sometimes sees things that aren’t there.  He says that if he ever loses it, it will be like flying blind.  Kate looks him straight in the eyes and responds that he was the one who taught her to fly – if he every can’t do it, she’ll take the wheel.

For the first time, Hughes feels someone is watching his back – someone loves him, someone will be there to catch him if he falls.  He hadn’t had this since his mother.

Later, they go to a premiere, and most of the attention by the photographers is on Hughes.  Hepburn is a little miffed that she’s not the center attraction, so when they arrive inside, she sets out to meet and greet studio heads, leaving Hughes alone in the room.

To Howard, this was a betrayal.  She had just promised him that she would take the wheel, and now she was cutting him adrift to fend for himself.  But Katherine had not meant that she would only be his back-up singer.  She had meant that she would continue to be the outgoing, gregarious woman she was, but that if he ever couldn’t handle things, she would be there to hold and comfort him until he recovered his strength.

So, afterward, he is upset with her.  And to keep peace, she even apologizes for her insensitivity.

This, so fare, is as it was with Teresa and me.  She has always promised to be there to back me up, she has said she prefers to be in the background, not in the limelight.  But now that here surgery has greatly healed, she can’t help but being in the limelight, which is justifiably hers.

I used to garner all the attention with my web site, my voice tapes, my success in business and classes in story structure.  But she has now grown to be famous on the message boards, is prettier, and is contemplating many proactive activities for the future, such as joining clubs, becoming involved in organizations, and even going back to college.

I, like Hughes, felt she had betrayed her promise.  She, like Hepburn, never meant to live in my shadow, but only to be absolutely always there for me if I couldn’t handle things alone.  Still, she has even apologized for her insensitivity in having conversations with people at the mall.

How does it unfold from this point in the movie?  In response to her apparent double-cross, Howard begins dating a different starlet every evening for “business” purposes.  This, of course, alienates Kate, who complains to him that every time his picture appears in the pulps with another actress, it is a slap in the face to her.

Of course, Hughes is just trying to play what he feels is her game – to be out and about with others.  He is trying to level the field by saying that if she can have a life outside the relationship, so can she.  But to Kate, he is violating the relationship.  To her, she would never do anything that would put her in the company of another man.  She was simply pursuing her career, but letting it be known she was with Howard.  To her, his approach to leveling the field was an insult directly at her.

Her response is to throw herself into her career.  His response is to focus on his career instead of the relationship.  Again, she comes back to the relationship each night, ready to accept the poor atmosphere, and uses her work to provide positive energy during the day.  He, feeling neglected, does the same, but rather than just working during the day, works during the evenings as well in order to avoid the pain of the strained relationship.

In the end, depressed and hurt by Howard’s apparent disinterest, she meets Spencer Tracy on the set, falls in love, has an affair and tells Howard she is leaving.  Howard feels that she again has taken the initiative to violate their relationship and now springs this on him without ever addressing the issues or giving him a chance to save things.

Well, that could have been the direction that Teresa’s and my relationship might have taken.  Perhaps it even would have been – save for yet one more kindness from my love, who, this evening, saved our relationship for good, and in the same master stroke saved my soul once and for all.

Have you ever met a person who had been around a few years, but somehow missed some basic piece of information that “everybody” knows?  Perhaps it has happened to you – some phrase, some bit of history, some pronunciation or definition that is either unknown or completely wrong?  Have you ever missed the obvious, even though everyone else seems to have tripped over it in the path of life?

Well, Teresa began to ask questions of me again, and in the course of the discourse, I discovered an obvious truth I had not known that, as of this writing, completely removed my pain as if a switch had been thrown.

She began by talking about how what she had read in my journal, while real issues, were not about the true underlying issue.  They were just the symptoms and didn’t address the disease.

So I fell back into my description of why they were still useful to others because we all suffer from different diseases, but the symptoms still need to be treated.

What, she wanted to know, was the core issue then, at least for me?

I knew it was my low self-esteem, but I didn’t want to pay it lip service.  I wanted her to know the fullness of it, and why I couldn’t address it directly.

So I explained that everything I have ever created – the TG web site, my diary, this new journal, Dramatica, StoryWeaver, and all the classes I have taught, the music, art, and poetry I have fashioned – all of these were to prove my value to compensate for my lack of worth.

I described that I never had friends as a child because whenever I would let them see even a little of my personality, they recoiled as strongly as people recoiled from seeing the Elephant Man.  And I came to realize that I had a repulsive personality.

So, I instead developed my talents, my intellect, my usefulness.  And I learned not to let others see the person, just the potential.  Rather than be rejected, I hid myself away.  And because every time I’d open up just a crack, the negative reaction of others was the same, I came to hate my personality.  I hated my inner essence so much, that I defined myself by the value I could offer.

Value is an objective rating of something’s usefulness.  Worth is a subjective evaluation of its desirability.  So, I developed in myself all kinds of value, and hid away my nature to minimize my negative worth.  My identity became my accomplishments, how pretty I was, how fast in a witty retort.  And if I could avoid seeing my own nature, the pain was muffled , leaving only a general sense of discomfort rather than certain tears.

I hated being rejected all my life.  I hated having to reject myself.  But how could I accept a self that was so repugnant to others?

Therefore, when I met Teresa and she also suffered self-rejection, we were kindred souls.  And when she had complementary talents, we balanced out as having equal values but in non-competitive areas.  What I lacked in personability, she made up for with hers.  And what she lacked in passability, I made up for with mine.

We were not the same, but we had the same total value.  But her FFS changed that balance.  Suddenly, she had a total weight of value that far exceeded mine.  And worse, her increases in value came in areas where I had previously had the greater value.  So rather than balancing out as equal weights of apples and oranges, she now still had all the oranges, but also more apples than I.  Not only, then, did she become more valuable than me, but she effectively destroyed my relative value in certain areas.

So, when we went out together and she now not only was conversant, but also was more attractive, what value did I have?  And while she was now free to explore the world and build friendships and acquaintances, I had no tools and no value.  I was unable.

She told me she really began to see how hard this has been on me.  I told her that although I could not have responded any differently to the situation, I was sorry if I have robbed her of any of the joy of the post-FFS experience, and promised to try and minimize that negative impact in the future.

I told her how I just needed to feel as free as she now did to go out and make some friendships.  Perhaps if, after the lip surgery, I could join a few local clubs and organizations, not primarily because I’m interested in those groups, but merely to have the chance to sit there as “one of the girls” I would feel that I belonged, feel that I was normal, and perhaps that would lead me to change my feelings of self worth and to see myself as being equally disable as a “pal” as anyone else.

And from this, we both wondered how such a sense of low self worth, even beyond that to a sense of negative self worth where you are not only undesired, but repugnant – how could such a thing have developed.

I had always assumed it was either just my nature to feel that way about myself, or that I really do have a repulsive personality.  Since even in school I was rejected by all – virtually everyone who approached me, soon shied away and then avoided me.  I was shunned, the last chosen on any team, socially isolated, never invited to a party.  I was worse off the poor ol’ Charlie Brown, as I never even had people to talk to who would insult me.  People wouldn’t even get close enough to laugh in my face – they left me completely alone as a child.

How could I not have felt, then, that there was something wrong with me.  And as I grew, and all through my adult years, and even after transition and SRS and nose and bust surgery, even after nine years with Teresa, I still felt that was something not right with my inner self, the essence of my being.

And then, it happened.  The obvious truth I had never seen.  I asked myself the question:  why would others have been repelled by me?  I had never gone that far in my thinking.  Not ever.  It is clearly the next step in a search for personal meaning, but I had always gotten to the point of recognizing there must actually be something improper about my make up and simply accepted that information.

But now, the question hung in the air in my conversation with Teresa – if I really was rejected and wasn’t just imagining it, then what is it about my personality that made the other children recoil?

And the answer appeared quite on its own and equally obvious:  I really have a female soul, and I was going to school in a male body.  It wasn’t the personality that was the problem – it was the personality coming from the wrong gender that disquieted the other children.

Boys acted like boys, and girls acted like girls.  But I acted like a girl but looked like a boy.

I’ve beaten all around this bush, but only from the perspective of understanding why I devised a fake persona in order to avoid rejection.  I never took that extra step to stand in the shoes of the other children and see it as they must have.

Here is this boy, just one of the boys, but he acts so oddly, it just doesn’t feel right.  There is something wrong with him.  They weren’t comfortable with me, the vibes were all wrong.  And so they shunned me because I made them uneasy.

But it wasn’t a rejection of my personality.  It was a rejection of the combination of my personality and the body I wore.

And suddenly, it became clear.  If I had the exact same natural personality but had been born into a girl’s body, I would have been fully accepted among the other girls, and seemed just like the other girls to all the boys.  I would probably have even become popular, been invited to sleepovers and to join groups and clubs.  I might have had a full and wonderful life, without the constant ongoing agony of feeling deficient in spirit.

But that was not the way it was.  I never thought I was a girl inside.  Never even considered it until my late thirties when I began transition.  After all, I was being raised to be a boy, being taught to act differently than girls.  So my mannerisms seemed like boy actions, but my emotional energy seemed like a girl’s.  And that just drove all the other children of both sexes away.

I took it to mean my personality was flawed, and internalized that as a sense of low self worth.  And to compensate, I became an overachiever and a workaholic, so I simultaneously built up objective value, and was so busy I didn’t have time to see the horrendous self inside.

That explains why I began keeping this new journal during Teresa’s FFS.  It undercut my values so severely, that I needed to compensate by becoming relevant to the community again, even after being quiescent for so many years.  A new journal – a new valuable addition that is currently relevant, unlike my writings of transition from a decade ago – that would make me useful again.  And, it would keep me so occupied with the symptoms that I wouldn’t have to look at the real cause of my problems – my own rotted personality.

All this blurted out so quickly in our conversation that it left me almost dizzy.  And when I finally paused, there was a strange feeling I couldn’t identify – something I had never felt before.  It wasn’t something added, it was something taken away.  For the first time since I first became aware that I could look inside myself, I felt no inner pain.

Unlike previous catharses in which the discovery was immediately followed by a manic phase in which I felt I had discovered my ultimate Personal Truth, and then followed in turn by a depression when I realized it was only a minor truth and only peripheral to the Answer, this time I was not elated.  I simply didn’t feel the pain.

There is a scene in the movie “Close Encounters” in which just before the alien ship arrives, all the crickets stop chirping.  It is the cessation of sound that portends the coming visitation.  So too, my inner pain stopped just as surely as a patient with chronic physical pain might feel if an electrode were flipped on that blocked the signal to the brain, and for the first time in years the pain was gone.

This has been several hours ago, and since then, the pain has not returned.  In addition, my jealousy and envy of Teresa have not presented themselves.  I also find myself enjoying her new look very greatly, and without the usual contradictory counterpoint of trepidation.

Wouldn’t that be an ironic turn of events that one so intensely focused on understanding her inner self would suffer for decades because I was so fixated on the view of the inside that I simply never once stepped outside myself to see why others might have rejected me?

This rejection was not imagined.  It was real.  And it was true all the way up to transition.  If ever a little of the female me was glimpsed, others were repelled.  And yet, the fake persona I created could never bring me close enough to anyone to become truly included.

By the time transition started, I had so given up on showing my true self that I hid it for all the almost 14 years until this point in time.  Only now, realizing that I have a perfectly normal woman’s personality, can I contemplate having normal friends and being just one of the girls.

If I was still unreadable, I might have seen this earlier.  But having gone off hormones entirely for months and been at too low a dose for months before and after, my face had taken on a male look.  And the extra weight I carried didn’t help.  And the lengthening of my lip with age just made it worse.

And so, for the last few years, I would get a physical repulsion from others.  So in addition to feeling that my personality was crap, I had come to feel that my physical self was inadequate as well.  And then, Teresa became beautiful, transcended readability, and undercut my value.  No wonder I cried five years ago at Dr. O’s.  No wonder I began this journal with the ravings of a terrified soul.  No wonder the aftermath of FFS has been so emotionally devastating for me.

But that is no longer true.  Now I realize that the increased hormone dose, coupled with the loss of 22 pounds  have already made me unreadable again.  And in 56 hours, the surgery on my lip will complete the process of once again making me pretty.

Now, on the eve of recovering my physical prowess, I am ready to reveal my personality again, as I have not done in almost half a century.  Once I am healed, I will go out into the world and meet people, both men and women, and I will be myself.  And I will do this without fear of rejection for I will wear a body and face that now match the person on the inside.  Rather than driving others away in unease, I expect to be welcomed and enjoyed, matching inside and out, both open and unafraid, a complete person, both external and internal halves of my being, working together to make me truly, in all reality, and in all actuality, just one of the girls.

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