A week ago I turned 29 my next birthday will be 30, it’s a milestone I never thought I would reach.
Growing up there were no trans adults that I knew of. What I internalized about trans people was that IF they made it to adulthood they became sex workers and or met a tragic end somehow.
As a teen, the only word I had to describe myself was ‘freak.’ Entering grade nine my options felt simple, either no one would ever find out who I was and I would graduate in four years, or they would and I would have to kill myself.
This wasn’t because I wanted to die, this was because I felt that if I was outed my quality of life would be reduced to the point where there was no point in trying to live a full life. So I figured I should make peace with that possibility as soon as possible.
As a result, I never considered who I would be at 25 or 30, I just didn’t see any way I would survive that long.
After graduating high school, I made a plan, to get as far away from southern Ontario as I sustainably could and survive as long as I would be able to. At 19 years old I really truly felt like I had maybe five, at the most 10 years left in my life. The upside of that extremely depressing outlook was that I began to live each month like my last.
Post-secondary was a way for me to be in a new place and start over. Between work, school, a busy social life, I had no time to think about where I was going – then I found journalism.
Journalism, specifically photojournalism offered the chance to experience a lot of life in a condensed period of time through a camera lens. Bylines also offered a small chance of memorial, expecting to be dead by 25 I still hoped to leave something of myself and bylines gave me that. Journalism is an all-consuming profession. The hours are odd, sources return phone calls at their leisure, you almost never set your own schedule, this kept me from being able to think about where I was going.
Constantly overscheduled motion became meaning and that meant I didn’t have to deal with the difficult stuff waiting in the wings.
By the time I graduated university I had new words to describe myself, at 22 I knew I wasn’t ‘strictly a man.’ I also refused to delve into that deeper or acknowledge those thoughts out loud. Once again I was haunted by the fact that people’s careers and lives had been destroyed because they were trans. Two trans people, who I knew from university, had already attempted suicide. The degree of bullshit and discrimination they faced made me think I too would try to kill myself if I had to deal with that every day.
Three years later I had to face some unexpected realities. Firstly it was increasingly apparent I would never be a full-time photojournalist, the industry had changed. That job didn’t really exist anymore. Secondly, my partner of three years and I had split up. Finally, I had just turned 25.
It really felt like the end for me and I was headed for a truly bad place when self-preservation kicked in.
On a whim, I began applying for journalism jobs. I didn’t think I had a shot but my roommate and I had been watching job postings. At that time new ones were posted in Alberta, BC, and Saskatchewan on an almost daily basis. Mostly in smaller communities, mostly weekly newspapers, as a ‘multimedia journalist,’ which meant producing all of your content with limited editing.
Against the odds, I got a job in northwestern Alberta and moved here in February 2014. While I shifted between two towns and ultimately switched careers, literally everything was driven by a new realization. I was surviving and maybe I could thrive.
As I established my new life I had to reckon with the fact that I had no plan in place because I hadn’t expected to live that long. So I began to plan for the future, to ask myself some basic questions, like what did I want to get out of life.
To be me and to be happy with me that was the most substantial thing I thought I could achieve. So I tried something I had never dared to try before, I thought about who I wanted to be in 10 years. I was able to see a new version of myself and I cried, like a baby, for like 20 minutes.
For the first time I could see my future self and I loved her, I wanted to be her and it actually felt possible. I had never, ever felt this way before, I had never been excited about my future before.
That was four years ago, now I’m officially approaching 30 and so very happy about it. I’m going to live the life I denied myself for so many years in all its excitement and boringness. I can’t imagine anything better than that. It won’t be easy, there have been challenges, there will be more and that’s ok.
In the last six months, I’ve felt better than I have in my entire life. Folks around me have said I appear ‘lighter.’
I’m also beginning to be able to look back on my teens and early 20’s critically and I’ve realized something: I was incredibly privileged to be able to retreat into the guise of a cis hetero man. Leaving that world behind has meant leaving the privilege that it held, and it was a lot. It was what I had used to survive on for so many years and most don’t have that.
To those trans or non-binary kids and teens who can’t imagine themselves reaching their 25th birthday, please survive. Survive however you can until you have the agency to set out on your path to becoming you because the world is a better place with you in it.