Guest post by Ilea Brinkerhoff. Ilea is a transgender man who attended the Young Women’s program in the same ward of one of our bloggers. Ilea has shared a guest post on the blog before about his experience coming out to himself and those around him, and the impact his church leaders had on him growing up. You can read that post HERE.
March 31st is Transgender Day of Visibility, and since Ilea is our awesome trans friend who is not invisible, he’s sharing another post to commemorate the holiday.
Happy Transgender Day of Visibility!
He’s floating, suspended in a pool of his own senselessness. Something keeps tugging at me, sparking at his nerves, aberrant waves pushing me towards the surface of something desperately unknown to him. An emotional revelation perhaps? One that trembles his core, quakes itself into existence. But it fades, disappears into this black hole, this abyss that he has found within himself. You’re wrong, Ilea. You need to stop pretending you’re something you’re not. Lost. Gone forever, only living for a few short seconds. Is it, like he is, terrified to exist? Scared to show for too long in the fear that it may be caught? It drags on. On and on for lightyears. You’re crazy, you know. No one else feels like this. What gives you the right to think that you do? Eons pass and we are still here, drifting, floating, but never drowning. Never fully. There are whispers. Bare whispers of clarity, hints at life beyond, gasps of oxygen. Barely there, barely in existence. Whispering and hissing like a hidden lie. A lie that’s grown itself for years until it is the only thing you turn to. The only thing he can hear are the voices, before he’s tossed back out into the sea.
“Please. Please. I can’t live like this. I don’t want to be bad, please.” Another strangled sob escapes his throat and he slumps against the car seat in defeat. There had to be something better than living like this. He wasn’t supposed to feel like this, everyone had made that clear to him. Everytime he tried to talk about it at church… The looks he got there made him never want to go back there again. He’s screaming, are they words, or is it merely sound? His knuckles split open from pounding them repeatedly into the steering wheel of his car. An agony that to anyone else who is unlike him, sounds like an exaggeration, a jest of sorts. He knows the truth. The truth behind the stories, the lies, the shoving and pushing to get him to believe something when his heart screams the opposite.
“I want to be good. I swear. I don’t want to be evil. I don’t want to be a bad example. I need help. I don’t know how to stop feeling like this. Please. Anyone.” He whimpers to himself, not even sure if there was anyone listening to him. He should have kept his stupid mouth shut. There was no need to tell people the thoughts he had. They didn’t make sense to him, so why would they make sense to someone else? He knew what to do, he knew what was right and wrong, right? He’d been taught those things his whole life. So why couldn’t he do them? Why couldn’t he be normal like everyone else seemed to be?
A devastation that his lungs hide behind his heart, a loss, a mourning that his soul has never known. He feels his ribcage is splitting open. Blood thunders through his body, hot and thick, never ceasing, never slowing. It rips his veins open and floods the rest of him, his system, his heart, it runs hotter and hotter. Sweat beads his forehead and I’m drowning, drowning. Tangled within this web of who he is, or is it him? He couldn’t say for sure with the war going on between his heart and his head. His heart beats all too fast, lights entwined with his existence flicker, flicker. Only for a moment, a whisper. It reminds him that they only need a second, one opportunity to go out. One chance. One mistake. One breath.
“I can do it. I can be a girl. I can. I swear I can. I know that’s what you want, but I need help. I feel like I’m a boy but I can’t feel like that. It’s wrong. Please God. If you’re there, please help me.” Breathing was a lost art now, his chest heaving up and down as he struggled to get all the words out that he wanted to say. What was wrong with him? Why couldn’t he just do what he was supposed to and be the person he was supposed to be in the eyes of God. He’d never meant to be bad, the thoughts had started so young, so young. They scared him, what was a 6, 7, 8 year old supposed to do with thoughts like that? A boy in a girl’s body? The idea was ludicrous. That didn’t happen. There was clearly something wrong with him. Something that desperately needed fixing.
“PLEASE. I CAN’T STAND THE WAY THEY LOOK AT ME ANYMORE.” The words rip through his throat, the screams lost in the darkness of the night around him. No one is there. No one is helping, no one is coming. No one is going to help you. You’re far beyond help now. He drops his head onto the wheel, sobbing uncontrollably, every breath an uneven gasp.
“Please. I’ll do anything.”
Hello to everyone reading this! My name is Ilea, or Rae, and I am a 22 year old trans man. I spent my whole life growing up in Utah within the LDS religion. My family was one of those “perfect, cookie cutter,” Mormon families. My dad was a worthy priesthood holder and my mom the ever faithful wife. They had five kids together, I am the second child of the five. Those passages you read above are a real experience I had when I was seventeen years old. I wouldn’t come out as transgender for another year and a half after that incident. I had many similar to that from ages six to eighteen when I eventually came out a few short months before I turned nineteen. They got more intense and more heartbreaking the older I got, the more I understood and absorbed about the world around me. They started out simple when I was young, questioning why I never felt comfortable in the clothes my parents got for me. Why I always fit in much better with my guy friends than my girl friends? They progressed, as did the thoughts that made me different.
I was taught my whole life that temple marriage was the ultimate step, the purest form of happiness. To get there, I was expected to marry a worthy member of the church who held the priesthood. A returned missionary that I would settle down with and start a family. We would lead our children in the ways of God, make sure they had the same opportunities with the gospel that the two of us had been gifted with. Something about all of that never quite settled with me. The first time I spoke my thoughts aloud was when I asked my Sunday school teacher at age 8, “what if I’m the husband instead?” The room fell into immediate silence, and people looked at each other in confusion and horror while I waited patiently for an answer to my question that I was one hundred percent serious about. I was later taken home and my parents sat me down and talked to me about how that wasn’t an appropriate way of thinking. They told me that I was a daughter of God. That I had a “divine destiny” and thoughts and questions like that were bad. Thoughts like that would lead me away from the path that I needed to be on. “The straight and narrow path”. I was young, and took their words, and the words of my leaders at church straight into my heart. Praying that night, I asked God to take these thoughts, to “make me good.” Looking back, it makes me sick to think about an eight year old thinking that was something they had to do. I didn’t think about how I felt again for a few more years until I hit middle school.
The thoughts got worse in middle school. Everyone around me was going through puberty and I knew it was my turn next. Never in my life had I dreaded anything more than the changes I knew were coming. I loved my flat chest, I didn’t want that to change. I didn’t want to look more feminine than I already did. That was my worst nightmare, and every night I prayed for it not to be. These were normal changes after all. What right did I have to be so scared for them? No matter how much I begged and pleaded to live how “I was supposed to”, nothing ever happened. No magical revelation about me being a girl, no lightning strikes taking out my bedroom ceiling, nothing. Then high school.
My high school years were easily the worst thing I’ve lived through so far. The thoughts got worse and more persistent. You’re a boy, you’re a boy. This is wrong, so very wrong. I stumbled alone through these years, keeping my head down and doing my best to not completely lose it. I wore the biggest clothes I could to disguise my body, and tried to make myself more masculine in an effort to settle the voices rattling around in my head. My breakdowns got more intense. I prayed still, but more often than not they ended in screaming until my voice was lost. Pressure from church leaders and my parents to keep those feelings away only made it worse. I’m grateful for the outstanding young women’s leaders I had, which is most of what kept me afloat during that time, along with my friends. One day while I was praying when I was eighteen, I asked God if he would truly be angry with me if I “became a boy”. If I followed the feelings in my heart and did what I thought would bring me relief. There was no silence this time. A voice came into my heart and spoke so clearly that I thought there was someone standing next to me. Be happy, Ilea. And help others to do the same. It was a slap to the face. Be happy? God wanted me to be happy? After years of silence when I begged him to fix me, he told me to be happy? This wasn’t what I was taught at all. Where was the reprimand? The lecture? Was there nothing wrong with me after all? Was it something wrong with the world this whole time?
Parents, leaders, friends. Anyone who reads this, please don’t shut down the feelings of anyone around you. We are all human. We all experience things differently and see different things throughout our lifetime. Kids should never have to wonder what’s wrong with them. They should never have to cry and beg anyone for help with fixing them. No human needs to be fixed, they need to be loved, they need to be understood. Pushing them away by shoving beliefs into their face will only result in you losing those people that choose to confide in you. It was hard to go through what I did, more than I can explain. But I’m glad I did experience what I did. So that if I ever have kids, I can make sure they never feel that way. I don’t really blame my parents. I’m angry at them, yes. But they were raised the same way I was, there’s heavy influence there. I just hope that one day they will see things clearer, and be able to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. Please be mindful of those around you, and never shut anyone down for explaining how they feel, regardless of whether you understand or not. We are not meant to understand everything, but to learn. Be happy, and help others to do the same.