BY MICHELLE DIAMOND
I was 8 when I first realised the body I had on the outside didn’t match the person I was on the inside. It’s hard to describe the feeling, and I didn’t understand it. But I knew that it made me sad, and that it wouldn’t go away.
My teenage years were some of the hardest of my life. I was called awful names, even by my parents, and sent to bed without dinner on more nights than I can count when I was caught wearing women’s clothes.
During those years, that tiny collection of women’s clothes was my most precious possession. Wearing them, even secretly in my room, was the only time when I felt like myself. When my inside and outside weren’t at war with each other, and when I didn’t hate what I saw in the mirror.
My parents didn’t see it that way. Every day I went to school I would be sick with worry at the idea of my mum searching my room and finding them. I’d scrounged and saved birthday and Christmas money to buy each top, each pair of shoes, but she would throw them away whenever she found them. I eventually started sneaking them to school with me, rather than risk losing the only thing that allowed me to be myself.
I was 13 when I first ventured out as a woman. I remember how tight my chest was, how I could feel my heart pounding, and how I couldn’t stop my hands shaking as I closed the gate. I did it because I knew how I felt, and I wanted so badly to stand tall in public as my true self.
But it was hard not to believe what people around me said. I was terrified of losing friends, of being rejected, or even abused. So I hoped that maybe it would go away when I was older. I thought that maybe my parents were right, that maybe it was a “phase”.
It didn’t. It got stronger. And as it did, the strain of living a lie became almost too much to bear. I hid myself away from the world rather than face the insults, the stares and the intolerance that leads to violence. There were days when I would stand behind the front door literally shaking, because the idea of leaving the house terrified me so much.
I can’t describe the feeling of being in the wrong body, but more than once, it drove me to the edge. In 2009, I was close to giving up. I remember searching for help, someone to talk to, a sign that I should keep going. And I found that the Transgender Day of Remembrance is the same day as my birthday: November 20. I knew it was a coincidence, pure and simple — but it gave me the strength I needed to start advocating for trans rights, and to walk out of the house in broad daylight, living as the person I truly am.
My mum died of cancer before I could really show her that things were getting better, and I wish I’d been able to show her that even though she didn’t fully understand, I was happy. But I’m grateful I have my dad.