The last few years have been quite a trip for me. As I transitioned to living as a woman, I had to let go of my old identity, to create space for a new one. I realized a lot in this process, not the least of which is how we are always working with a self-image. It seems to have a profound impact on how we engage in the world - how we feel, how we behave, and what we do or don't do in life.
There are many facets to this self image - emotional, physical, and spiritual. It is constantly evolving if you let it. If you are heavily invested in your self image, change can be hard to accept, and often slow you down. A lot of times we don't even realize that we are working with a self image. It's like wearing lenses all your life - after a while, you forget that you have them on, and that they are coloring your perspective. The more mindful you get, the more you become cognizant of it. Or a big event could bring it into focus - a breakup, a big failure, or in my case - my transition.
The reason it's important to think about your self-image is that it discourages you from taking actions that don't align with it. If your self image is that of a physically weak person, you won't exercise much. And even if you start exercising, you may not feel stronger. It's because the self image can sometimes be slow to evolve. You may be getting stronger but you may not feel so. You may still feel your old lazy, and tired self. It's probably why a lot of people find it helpful to visualize the end result before they get there. It chips away at the old self image, and helps you create a new one.
Before my transition, I invested in my self-image as a man. I refined it by throwing out what didn't work and added what I thought would help me. It still felt off, very off. It was only after I started transitioning, and had been on Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for a few months that I understood what was going on. As I started noticing physical changes associated with my second puberty, it dawned on me that my self image lacked the physical component. I couldn't close my eyes and imagine myself physically. I had primary and secondary sexual characteristics that my mind wouldn't accept as part of my mental image. Of course, I didn't understand it this clearly. So in some ways, I was always absent from my own life. Sex was particularly challenging because my self image wasn't that of a man. It caused me great distress, and confusion. Mental distress like this is classified as gender dysphoria.
Once I started HRT, my self-image slowly started improving but it still wasn't complete. I couldn't form a self-image for my lower body, until I underwent gender confirmation surgery. Obviously, a surgery can't flip your self image overnight. It's a slow process accelerated by conscious work. It took me months to start forming a new self image, this time more complete, and more authentic. I could finally be present in my own body. I could be myself in my dreams, and in my desires. I could enjoy being here!
I am fortunate to have the financial means to transition and to be surrounded by people who help re-enforce this new image by accepting, and loving me as the woman that I am. Everyone is not so fortunate though. Every time we are challenged to prove that we are who we claim to be, it is a blow to this fresh new image we have been crafting for ourself. When transgender people need to prove their validity, it causes us great distress for this very reason. This happens when we are denied access to the bathrooms we want to use, jobs we aspire to, right legal identity, or when we try to get insurance to pay for our transition. It happens when we are intentionally misgendered or when we are told by well intentioned people that trans (wo)men are cool, but they'd never sleep with one.
Now that I am more comfortable with my self-image as a person, I am putting my self image as a businesswoman under the same scrutiny. It's going to be a slow process, but hopefully, in a few years, I'll end up with a self-image that is much more aligned with who I want to be.
I want to thank my friend Milena for gifting me the illustration in the cover. She is insanely talented, and I recommend you go checkout more of her work on her Instagram.