Sunday, September 18, 2005

Fear

(by Rhenaiya Jesson)


Fear has a way of controlling people. There are many levels that it can exist on, such as obvious and identifiable fear. Something understandably scary, like a big mean dog or tornadoes for instance. Also fear can be obscure, the fear of change and the fear of the unknown are both good examples of this. A persons decisions are dictated either consciously or subconsciously by their fears and desires. Although this can be a hindrance, fear can also be useful. If a person understands their fears and can assume control over them, they gain the ability to accomplish almost anything.
Fear can work like a warning signal. Use it as an early detection system, an alert to possible danger then proceed with caution. In any risky endeavor, one must be prepared to deal with even the worst case scenario. It is only by facing them, that we can conquer our fears. People do it every day.
I have, like many of you, a fear of persecution or ridicule. We all know these are not unfounded fears; one only needs to look back in history. Being transgendered, we are outwardly different from most others, and people fear what they do not understand. I worry that I will be the target of violence because of who I am, something I cannot change about myself. This fear causes me to hide my true self, only able to be a female on the outside when nobody is looking or in the clubs that cater to people with alternative lifestyles. Though these establishments are great, allowing a person a space to be free, I can’t help but feel that it’s merely a bigger closet to hide in.
Because I know I cannot proceed in my life suppressing my femininity, I have chosen to transition completely. Everything masculine about me in respect to my appearance and voice causes me anguish and I just want to be happy and live my life being true to myself. Because of the path I am on, I am forced to conquer my fear otherwise I will remain in the closet defeated by myself. I have no other choice if I want to find peace and happiness.
Thus far in my life I have yet to face such a challenge, it is myself that I am at battle with. It is the fear of the unknown dangers that take shape in my imagination. Initially, I was scared to admit to anyone about how I feel I am a female, worried that I would be abandoned by those I love if they knew what I intended to do. I felt that way for 20 years and it took a near death experience to actually give me the will power to come out. During the 3 years leading up to when I began telling people about my true identity and my hidden lifestyle, not a day passed that I didn’t wake up and wish I hadn’t. Almost getting hit by a speeding city bus, in a daze from lack of sleep and my mind in turmoil, death winked at me. It was that moment I realized not only that I wanted to live, but that I really wasn’t allowing myself to live for a long time.
Over the next year I found the courage to come out to my friends, family and coworkers, a process that is still ongoing. With each person I told, my courage grew a little bit more. I was and am still amazed how much everyone in my life supports and loves me, regardless of my decision. I know now that I underestimated my bond with these people and am grateful for the strength they have endowed upon me with their love.
Even more surprising to me is the response I have received from my coworkers. I work in a wood shop with a 90% male staff, most of whom are typical men in such a place, discussing cars and sports and other pastimes of masculinity. I see now that I have stereotyped them myself, assuming they would reject me and ridicule me. I figured since I live in a small city full of hard working “manly” men, I was bound to get harassed. I must give them all credit as they have honored my feelings and gained my trust and respect.
It is important for me to mention that I have begun expressing my identity as a woman in the workplace and have approached the transition in a gradual way, starting with small amounts of makeup and (as of last week) wearing girls clothes. Of course in a wood shop I am obviously not wearing dresses, but my girls’ jeans and tops fit in with my attempt to ease the discomfort others would likely feel if I were to be more drastic in my transformation.
I have been the subject of jokes and comments by my coworkers on occasion and was fully prepared for it. I empathize with the awkwardness they must feel, and typical to male behavior, an awkward situation is made a little more bearable with some humor. I have the ability to laugh at myself and not take everything to heart which serves me well under these circumstances. I have only had a few people make comments that were intentionally hateful or mean. Once again I have to take them in stride as I know that it is simply another coping mechanism. Words may sting a little sometimes but I cannot fret over them, for every harsh word I have been dealt, a dozen kind words have also come my way. It is the threat of violence that I have to pay attention to, fully aware of the statistics of hate crimes against transgendered women.
To sum things up I suppose I can say that by facing my fears I am achieving the things I have always only dreamed of. Though it isn’t always favorable, my experience makes me stronger. The support I have received in respects to my transition has given me a little more faith in people and that is a gift unto itself. Not only to my sisters but to everyone I say this:
Being true to yourselves is scary as hell, be brave. Such courage never goes unnoticed.

Rhenaiya Jesson

2 comments:

Michele Angelique said...

Rhenaiya thank you so much for sharing your story. I want to tell the group that I bear first hand witness to Rhenaiya's transition over the past few months. She and I live in the same city and are close friends. I want to recount her story from my perspective, as it is really quite remarkable.

When we first met a few months ago, she already had an online presence (that's how we met actually), and had begun telling friends and family, however she'd only been out in public once or twice. We started going places together, mainly the local gay bar (the larger closet) and had a great time dancing and socializing.

Before too long though, Rhen wanted to take it further by going out publicly to more mainstream venues. The first time, we went to a movie theatre. It was a huge milestone for her because she totally passed! No one looked strangely at her, it was ALL GOOD.

Her confidence was boosted, and she continued telling more people, including many of those at work and her bosses. Everyone reacted with acceptance, which surprised us both. We were both fearing a negative outcome that was like those we've heard about. I was hesitant that she should be so open with her collegues (my own fears), yet she forged ahead and did it anyway.

The responses and reactions from her co-workers yet again boosted her confidence such that she decided to go to a certain event where there would be a huge diverse crowd from all walks of live. The difference on this occasion was she was less concerned with "passing" it seemed, and instead was interested in testing the reaction of our local society to "recognizing" her as bi-gendered. She did not attempt to look like a "girly girl", but looked rather a "tom boy" with makeup on. She wasn't wearing a wig; instead a baseball cap on sideways and her natural hair in two little braids down the sides. She wasn't wearing a dress/skirt, she was basically wearing girls drabs. She was openly walking the gender tightrope. My first reaction upon seeing her was shock and fear. I thought for sure she would get hassled, if not worse.

Well we walked along through thousands of people, and I must say she got many looks. The looks I saw were surprise, shock and in a few cases distain. With all but one exception, the looks were not threatening. Rhenaiya walked along with her head held high, smiling, proudly speaking relatively loudly, with no attempt to conceal her guy-voice. She openly expressed who she is, in mainstream public, in as honest and forthright a manner as possible. She truly conquered her fears that day, and I was (am) truly moved by her bravery.

Following this event, and the reactions received from the co-workers she had already told, she made the decision to "come out" to everyone at work. Let me emphasise a very striking point here: the woodshop she works in has a group of 50+ manly-men who do wood-working for a living. Think about it. These are blue collar laborer men in mid-nowhere Canada. We (I) did not give them enough credit, for they have accepted Rhenaiya's transition on the job, without critisism, hostility or degradation. If anything, they have treated her more respectfully than before. A few months ago, Rhenaiya was a guy in their eyes, and now she comes to work in girls clothes and makeup. That's what I call speedy progress!

If Rhenaiya had not been so brave as to challenge her (our) fears, we never would have known how this brilliant miracle called "acceptance" could come from such an unexpected group of people.

Rhenaiya I respect what you are doing, both for yourself and the TG community. You are standing proud, in public, representing your closeted sisters and educating everyone around you just by your presence. You are being true to yourself, and making us all so proud. The deepest debt of gratitude is owed to you by the TG community for your part in changing the world. You are one of our champions.

Much love,
Michele

Rhenaiya said...

thanks Michele, I doubt I would have progressed with such speed without your help sweety, hugzzz.
Rhen