After seventeen years of therapy with a half dozen therapists, an extremely sad divorce due to a horrible case of gender dysphoria (mine), bottles and bottles of Chardonnay and Heineken consumed, and countless tears—by yours truly and others—my on-going journey of self-discovery has come down to just two questions:
Am I being honest with myself?
Do I love myself?
Really simple questions to ask. Not so easy to answer.
But before I get all preachy and know-it-all here, let me interpose a disclaimer.
I don’t hold myself out as some enlightened guru, nor do I have the wisdom market cornered. Not by a longshot. There are many far smarter folks than me out there in Readerland. A few of them even peruse my columns. Still, some people seem to appreciate my perspective, so I’ll proceed.
Plus, I’ve got a deadline to make.
First, the honesty question.
Every day, we have hundreds of opportunities to lie to ourselves. You name it: Is this job healthy for me? Does she love me or just need me? And vice versa? Am I really cut out to be a multinational banker? It’ll be okay if he doesn’t use a condom, right?
And oh yes, my all-time personal favorite: Am I really going to have just one glass of wine?
How in the world can we keep ourselves honest to ourselves?
It’s no small task. We humans are easily distracted—oh, hold on, there’s my phone—which means it’s difficult to do the one thing that’s guaranteed to lead to honesty:
Thinking takes a lot of work. It necessitates analysis and pondering pros and cons. Thoughts invariably tie to emotions, which in turn relate to memoires, some of which may be really crappy.
Why would anyone needlessly put themself through such misery?
On top of emotional baggage as a cause for self-dishonesty, there’s naiveté and ignorance. I’m a prime example.
Back when I lived as a dude, I told myself that vague thoughts about trading penis for vagina were nothing serious.
I’ll grow out of it, I believed. This stuff in my head will go away, I self-assured.
For nearly four decades I said such things to me.
One would think that I’d have gotten smarter—and more honest—by year 22 or 31, but no, that wasn’t me.
Because the truth (which meant radically changing my life and hurting so many people) was too much to take.
Eventually, I had no choice but to think. I did it by talking to myself out loud—in the car, in the shower, on long walks. I also journaled with real pen and paper; there’s something sacred about written words to one’s self.
In the end, self-honesty happened. I was extremely lucky to get there.
By the way, in case you’re wondering, that vagina thing is working out quite nicely, thank you very much.
If screwed-up Ellie Krug can do self-honesty, anyone can. Trust me.
Now for the second question, that one about loving one’s self.
Just in case there’s any confusion, I’m talking about something more than a five minute hand exercise.
What does it mean to say, Yes, I love myself?
Hmmm. That’s a tough one.
Every day we’re bombarded with the message that a BMW or a Schwab account or unrealistic sales figures are the true measures of one’s worth. In turn, it’s easy to suffer when we don’t measure up to what or who the greater world says we should be. On top of that, how many of us have had important people in our lives put us down or say that we’re not good enough in one way or another?
For us GLBT people, that includes being bullied.
One more thing; don’t get me started on Catholic guilt (note: I’m a former Catholic) and the concept of original sin.
In short, the deck is stacked against us loving ourselves almost from the moment we’re born. It takes real work to scape and claw one’s psyche to where you’re able to say, I’m a decent person and I love myself.
I won’t pretend that I’ve got self-love down entirely. I may still be working on it on my deathbed. Still, that doesn’t mean we should avoid asking the question.
Because life should be lived.
It’s not something to simply endure.
Ellie Krug is the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org