It’s my birthday today. I’m 41 years old.
To celebrate, I decided to draft a long-form post like I did many years ago, before I stopped writing.
Why I stopped writing was an important part of my process that brought me to the point where I am resuming it today. Taking myself off the radar of the people following my journey and turning my energy and focus inward for so many years revealed insights that the spiritual masters speak and write about. It moved (and terrified) me profoundly to identify with such experiences of epiphany.
As I’ve read those masters these past few years in extreme solitude, I’ve wandered to what felt like the edge of my own sanity and then tiptoed back from that brink, sometimes crawling hand over fist, inspired by others who embraced the bodhisattva path before me. Despite the increasing resistance of my ego, which is a natural result of coming closer to inherent spiritual awakening, a truth emerged: there was something important to know and understand about being human and then the responsibility to share it so others may come to know it.
What good does it do me or others to know and hold it all hostage?
Well, what held me back for so long was the duality of my own imperfect perception and discerning insight. It seemed people were so caught up in a current cultural narrative of anger and entitlement and resistance to reality, it felt futile to keep posting or writing to try and share my perspective. Honestly, I felt like people confused my insight with ignorance and ignored my voice if I wasn’t sharing about being transgender or in a way that reinforced their own argument or perspective about our President or race politics or self-care.
Amidst the current paradigm of “personal branding” and content marketing which I see as just finely-tuned and cleverly-packaged narcissistic manipulation at its finest, I felt powerless to share something that felt relevant, interesting or important. I now understood the timeless teachings that have yet to take root after so many centuries so what difference could I make in trying to whisper it to the masses myself?
So I stopped trying. I gave over to despair and found a certain comfort there.
Change theorists will tell you that without positive reinforcement or external accountability, a human being struggles to feel relevant and inspired.
In a society celebrating entitled rage while paying for more followers to appear successful and promote unearned expertise, I realized the rules weren’t working in my favor. In short: I no longer felt connected to or inclined toward a purpose.
And so that state of mind, coupled with my own existential grief and healing from trauma, led to my emotional isolation which turned into physical isolation. And that became a snake chasing its own tail.
Trying to find a reason to return to a society so hell-bent on perpetuating its own suffering seemed pointless. Why bother showing something of value to a disinterested audience?
But then I realized I was doing what many (most) bodhisattvas do: I was giving up on people merely because they lacked the insight that I’d achieved instead of being the light to shine if they wanted it.
In marketing terms (eyeroll), I was focused on the wrong audience. I was trying to lead drunken, resigned horses to water when all they wanted was wine. I was hiding from the ignorant, patronizing comments from people who only saw me through one lens: the transgender poster child to educate them on my transition.
In my own cynicism and resignation, I was ignoring the ones standing by the riverbank desperate in their thirst, those willing and able and ready to receive insights about collective human struggle and the breakthrough to lead them toward less suffering and more joy by overcoming internal and external limitations to be their full selves.
I wasn’t sharing the very same insights that helped me toward my own. But first, I had to walk through the darkness of ignorance and fear. All human activity stems from that or eventual love, but only once we’re able to first perceive and then receive it.
If it sounds dramatic, good. Now you know the person on the other end of this entry who experienced the PROFOUND drama of the human process toward self-realization and self-acceptance. It felt like life or death as I struggled with the hows and the why and whens and wheres and finally came to the conclusion that staying silent would haunt me in my old age so it was worth saying something for the right ones to see it.
I’ve made peace, total and complete peace, with my decisions and choices and feel grounded and confident and clear about my past and present existence.
So here’s what I know about radical self-acceptance at the 41-year mark, for whomever it reaches and serves and inspires.
I am a white person. I started understanding that in my early 20s and have read books and been thoroughly trained to understand it even more deeply.
In my career prior to being a health coach, I was responsible for training other people, mostly white ones, to overcome ignorance and shame and guilt to actually help right some of the cultural injuries happening to people of color (POC) or black folk, depending on how they want to be identified.
Speaking about whiteness and white privilege is incredibly important and easy for me, thankfully, because I have no residual reservations about how to speak up about it and when and why.
I don’t try to convert people who are racist but I do not respond when they make remarks or jokes. I just let them sit in the deafening echo of their words.
I DO actively engage white people who are interested in learning more about their racial identity and how to influence people who are similarly interested.
I DO NOT try too hard to get white people who aren’t accountable for their whiteness and instead behave like white saviors. They aren’t really ready to hear they are part of the problem, yet.
I DO try to make comments to hetcis white girls who talk BEV (Black English Vernacular) to sound more woke instead of claiming a positive white identity and letting Black folk have their culture and language. I DO NOT try if said clueless white girls ignore my comments because they aren’t ready to stop co-opting from other cultures in an attempt to define themselves.
I DO try to keep my arrogance about all this in check but sometimes I get angry so I don’t say or do too much which makes me part of the problem, as well.
Being awake to white privilege and being lazy about driving cultural change is part of white privilege.
So I keep working on this.
Body image is a sonofabitch aspect of being a spiritual presence in a human body, at least in cultures with the privilege of time to think about it as such. Those with access to resources like money and food seem to suffer, internally and socially, whether they are starving or obese. The body positive movement undermines some givens about good health while eating disorders continue to plague cultures with more money and food available to them than in any time in history. We’re missing access to intimacy and connection so much, we’ve manufactured too many reasons to loathe ourselves and take it out on food, no matter what gender or orientation or age or stage we are.
My own body image is a constant work in progress, depending on the lighting, how convex any given mirror or glass window may be and how many carbs I’ve consumed in the last 24 hours. I spent my childhood wondering why I felt out of place, developed an eating disorder in high school and then spent the next twenty years wondering how much of my lifelong struggle with my body was about my existential experience as a transgender person or because I’m a product of a materialistic, superficial society. I’m a fan of the both/and perspective.
I consider myself to have “relative passing privilege” which, if you’re outside the LGBTQ communities (pluralized with intention) means some people think I’m the male gender when they meet me and others just don’t know what to think of me. But since my body falls ambiguously outside the lines in a few key places, I do get gendered female on occasion. This first enraged and now continues to intrigue me, but it was never my intention to be a man anyway, whatever that even means since their own bodies vary in size and shape, so I’m finding more peace with it each day.
I don’t work out much to build more strength or mass or tone. I’ve lost muscle mass since I stopped consuming protein shakes and my liver couldn’t be happier. My weight has been pretty stable because my nutrition is well above-average. I am not exercising with the same tenacity as when I lived in the city, either by accident or intention. My skin is aging and I see it resemble crepe paper more and more as the elasticity changes. My hair started greying in my early 20s and two more decades of stress has made it more salt than pepper now. I mostly feel happy my hairline is mostly unchanged since starting T, which sounds vain but since I didn’t hit the lottery on height or narrow hips, having great hair seems like a nice consolation prize.
RELATIONSHIP TO FOOD:
My therapist of ten years told me on the phone once, “Dillan, 9 out of 10 people struggle in their relationship to food.”
At 41 years old, after 30 years of struggle, I no longer fear but fully and completely embrace food. Having tried all the fad diets and explored the range of eating disorders, from subclinical anorexia, as some call it, all the way out to being an evangelical orthorexic, I’m in the most solid place I’ve ever been with food. I buy mostly organic, clean food and know enough about labels and the food industry to duck and dodge garbage that is cleverly marketed to the masses. There’s nothing about food that I don’t understand, except how to prepare it as a trained chef, which doesn’t necessarily translate to good nutrition.
I happily and effortlessly cook 95% of what I eat each day, indulge in moderation and deeply understand what’s missing and needs to be added to my diet to maintain optimal health. The only time I got sick in the past several years was from being in close contact with other humans who neglected their health profoundly. It’s incredible to be here at this age!
Ironically, it’s this very sense of non-attachment and total fulfillment that often renders me invisible as an expert, despite my credentials, to help others. Most people have grown so accustomed to being told what to do or not do, to be in a constant state of dieting or stressing about NOT dieting, that meeting someone like me who literally eats everything, brags about it and doesn’t evangelize anymore, doesn’t occur to them as someone to help them at all.
My total inner peace with food erases over 30 years of struggle to be where I am now. Eating well is both incredibly simple and challenging and it’s a beautiful little silly thing. I still enjoy sugar but exercise more restraint so my mental health can remain stable. I’d be a fool to keep pretending like there wasn’t a link between the two and a balanced mood matters more to me than how many calories I consumed.
I was raised Catholic and didn’t make a very good one. I questioned too much and doubted too often.
I don’t make an exceptional Buddhist, at least to those who would like my membership dollars for their sangha, but consider myself spiritually fulfilled and sustained by the philosophy. It provided me access to understanding the chaos of humanity and helped me avoid nihilism when I came dangerously close (and still do, on many an occasion).
I began reading books about spirituality as a teenager and young adult, titles like “The Celestine Prophecy” and “The Seat of the Soul”, understanding at the age of 21 that human connection is both rare and transcendent.
I’ve spent the past 20 years trying to integrate and practice what seems incredibly simple but feels forever elusive when engaging with other human beings. I get the concept of intimacy and vulnerability, but the practice proves difficult based on wide-ranging and differing capacities of other people.
Spirituality for me, at this point, is mere management of my own expectations and responses each day to be the best human being possible because these are my fellow travelers and I might as well play nice.
It’s funny. Sitting where I am now feels like running a race and getting to the finish line and sitting on a rock somewhere with some water waiting for others to catch up.
I want others to hurry up and arrive so we can look around and appreciate the view after all the struggle and striving. The finish line doesn’t look anything like what I was told or promised or encouraged to strive for. It looks like making ends meet on my own terms for almost a decade and laughing at how much time I wasted trying to climb a ladder leading to nowhere.
I went to college and pursued the career I was told I should want and need. “Become gainfully employed!” boomed my favorite mentor, and so I did.
And then spent the next ten years trying to find better fits by which to define myself. “I need an adult job,” I said. And moved to a big city to be important and became depressed because it was all built on pretense.
Then there were the ten years I spent trying to prove myself among the masses jockeying for precious positions and social media likes within the matrix they built themselves. I realized this when people with lots of money were coming to me to help them out of their horrible lives.
Then I saw through it all. The big joke that strategic, one-size-fits-all selling to peoples’ pain points makes you more of an expert than telling the truth about your imperfect, inspiring life. And the paradox that the more vulnerable you are, the better but don’t be too real because then you look like a hot mess. Wow. Takeaway from the view here: some heterocis white people make being an imperfect person a real…mindfuck.
It’s some clever manipulation, that whole narrative, isn’t it? Get enough people to buy into it and you’ve got yourself a solid status quo! “Be yourself but not that way” is a perfect little prison and I have no trouble figuring out why marginalized people inspire those from normalized identities. It’s harder but WAY MORE FUN when you don’t fit in. Come on in, the water’s choppy but at least we’re FREE!
And we’re told the more you’re on social media, the more people will find you and the more money you’ll make—and then we found out they’re mining our data and profiting from us in that process and people buy followers anyway…it doesn’t say anything about their credentials or actual success. Brilliant stuff, there. Hook, line and sinker.
So I opted out of that circus and now seek out ways to make money to be happy and pay my bills, in that order. My credit score has never been higher, I’ve never had more money in the bank and somehow I just keep making it all work.
Now I’m contemplating what’s next for me, my message and mission. I’m taking my time with it because I have time to take.
And that’s really cool.
I love how I live.
I dig minimalism, and not because it’s a hot fad. But because it really makes me cherish what I have even more.
All the moving around I did, over 25 homes in 19 years, made it necessary to shed anything that wasn’t absolutely essential. Over time I just pared down my book collection to the bare minimum of titles I cherish or still need to read. And my clothes, I still have WAY too many t-shirts. Too many.
I hand wash each dish I use and cook every meal I eat and wash and dry and fold every article of clothing, year after year, by myself. I do the groceries, bills and taxes, etc. I clean my bathroom weekly unless it needs it more frequently and change out my shower curtains (and liners) with the season or my changing mood. I make my bed every morning and put myself to bed early each night to sleep as deeply as I can until I rise early to jog or walk or stumble into the kitchen avoiding both and brew coffee instead.
I drink coffee every day now. I love my routine of making it: grinding the beans fresh and boiling the water in my saucepan to pour over my unbleached Chemex filter. Breakfast involves greens unless I’m in the mood for pancakes or oatmeal. I had a client years ago who mixed spinach into her oatmeal, “to get her greens in” she said. That’s way more commitment than I have.
The few months when I was adrift and without my belongings stashed up in a storage unit in Boston were rough. It was unsettling to be so rootless even for that short period of time and the stability of having a Home again has done wonders for my mental health. Homelessness is a choice for some and not others and it’s not something I would actively choose again, even though I learned valuable lessons from it.
I hardly drink and can make a bottle of wine last a week with ease. I do no drugs and only have ever had one prescription to fill, which is my testosterone. Oh and an occasional antibiotic for a sinus infection. I opened a colleague’s medicine cabinet once and counted over 30 bottles and also dated someone who hid more than that and I wonder sometimes what that’s like. To take one pill to manage the effects of another one or offset what each one is doing. And I wonder how many people know how they could fare without them. I feel grateful to have chosen and then learned to master my emotional and mental and physical health without relying on anything other than food, water, exercise and a disciplined spiritual practice.
I exercise for strength, functionality, flexibility, joy or transportation. Never from shame or fear or obligation.
I gave up my tv in 2015 as part of a moving purge and haven’t replaced it. I spend my evenings with clients or listening to music or read or sitting on my back deck or walking around thinking, trying to release stressful thoughts or feelings before bed. Sometimes I call someone, usually I just practice being present.
If I’m not working, I don’t even paint or write any of the old hobbies I had. I just…sit or roam.
I want to work up to the point where I may sit and meditate for hours each day. I’m still settling and recovering from PTSD and just feeling like I don’t have to run from a burning building is a pleasant way to pass the time. Sitting meditation may have sped up my healing process.
Much of my lifestyle these days is merely letting myself BE. Not doing anything as a way to balance all the years I spent doing the opposite, either from defense mechanism or mere necessity—and I wonder, often, if there’s any real difference between the two.
My lifestyle is mindfulness. Total, deep mindfulness. I don’t remember how it feels to NOT be mindful and present. My brain is rewired permanently and my mindfulness switch is always ON unless I’m sleeping.
It takes that much mindfulness to filter out the useful thoughts from the ones that don’t serve me. Since I’m alone so much, I have little distraction and plenty of practice with this.
In everyday relationships like friends and colleagues, I’ve come real far and feel great about where I’m at. I don’t have too many close friends which sometimes feels comforting and concerning. After feeling real confusion or frustration, I now smile kindly at acquaintances or even strangers who call me “friend” because they feel affinity or want other people to know they have a trans* friend. Being friends with marginalized people gets you cool points, didn’t you know!
I feel comfortable in my own truth that real friendship is a two-way street of shared experience, not a one-way declaration.
Similarly, I now realize many people have MANY different perceptions of who I am, how I carry and express myself. I’ve worked hard to nurture above-average communication and listening skills that go WAY OVER most peoples’ heads so it makes it awkward sometimes. I’m thrilled with my relationship to and with forgiveness and compassion for myself and other people. It’s AMAZING and really fulfilling to learn how to embrace reality and stop hiding in disempowered stories or self-delusion. When we stop blaming or making other people responsible for our lives, for better or for worse, life REALLY begins to feel so much better.
I say what I think and feel and refrain when I sense it won’t be appreciated or heard. I’m grateful for the wisdom of when to speak and not for the best effect. I’m still refining it. I think now sometimes I’m perceived as aloof or judgmental or insecure compared to the gregarious, outspoken wildness with which I once carried myself. Some or none of those assumptions are accurate.
I’ve done enough personal development work in therapy and other courses and retreats to know that most of what people perceive about me isn’t at all aligned with my reality of how I’m behaving but rather their interpretations based on their own self-awareness of themselves and their behaviors.
Basically, I don’t take peoples’ opinions about me very personally anymore. I don’t worry about offending people if my intentions are good because they will get offended no matter what I do or say. I don’t worry about what they think of me, but I do worry about being called the wrong gender because it just feels uncomfortable and makes me a little sad.
After those years of profound sadness and alienation and abandonment, some days I can’t believe I’ve so fully reconciled with my mother. I wake up thinking I’m in a dream, sometimes. But we both worked incredibly hard to get here and there’s a sense of fulfillment and safety in knowing the transformation is mutual and here to stay.
I’ve never been single this long since I started dating and I’m not sure the trend will end anytime soon. I’ve come to accept I’m totally demisexual and feel little to no desire to be around someone or in a relationship that doesn’t feel absolutely soothing, comfortable and real. Taking so many years away, five and counting, from being in a relationship has helped me heal dysfunctional thought patterns and behaviors and being a Buddhist for almost 20 helped me get clear about attachment and craving. Without a desire to chase emotionally unavailable people or any real need to have someone around for…security…I find myself alone. And not lonely. I feel a little weird that I feel that way and it’s probably the hardest part of the whole thing. Just feeling like, wow, I actually enjoy this and what does that say about me when everyone else seems to feel so differently. Have I evolved past the human need for companionship? YIKES! That’s SURREAL! And sorta cool, too.
As a double-Gemini, I possess that trait of a deep, profound longing to find my spiritual/emotional/mental twin. It’s out there SOMEWHERE, I KNOW IT!
So at 41, I really like who I am, how I feel, how I live my life and what I look like (for the most part) and feel grateful for the rocky but really awesome road to this radical self-acceptance.