That was the end of a process of experimenting with self-honesty but it set the course for the rest of my life. Eighteen months on I look back and can say that it has been the best time of my life. The best.
Here are just some of the things that have happened:
- My mother died of cancer.
- My father became seriously ill with dementia. He's now in a care home having spent several months in hospital. He broke one hip while in a different care home. He broke the other hip while in the hospital. And being hundreds of miles away I've been able to do nothing to help him and have had to leave everything to other family members.
- My cherished Christian faith died, very painfully, over the course of a year.
- We've had all the usual sort of family problems here - plus a few more. But I don't talk of those online.
- I have been sexually assaulted. The police couldn't find the assailant.
- I have received much verbal abuse in the street for dressing as I dress. Thankfully that's pretty rare now but to being with it happened pretty much every time I left the house.
- I've spent sixteen of the eighteen months waiting for medical treatment. That treatment has only just begun.
Yes, plenty of horrible things have happened. Most people would say that the year in which they basically lose both their parents, their faith, and undergo abuse and assault would be among the worst in their lives. Circumstances have indeed been pretty poor in many respects.
So how can I say that the last eighteen months have been the best of my life? How bad must the experience of my first forty years have been if so much can have happened and it still be my best time?
It's simple. I have lived these months as myself, free. I have learned to love myself. I have learned that the truth of who I am does not to be utterly crushed, despised. I have learned that I am not a thing of shame.
And I've remembered and healed a lot of my past. All the clues and thoughts and acts that I'd suppressed for so long. Many painful memories and many confusing memories. They're still coming to light now. Just this week I remembered things from my childhood. Words said to me by my parents - who were of course doing their best but in the 1970s couldn't see past their little boy. But words that led me further into Hell and the long attempt at self-annihilation. Remembering them hurt. A lot. But now they can be left behind and peace can be found. Some of that language may sound over dramatic. I promise you that it isn't.
It's been the best eighteen months of my life. And that brings my past into sharp relief. I knew it was bad. For thirty years even the best of days contained the shadow of depression, ever felt. So many episodes of mental illness. So many years of not knowing if I'd be alive by Christmas. So many years in which others had to suffer through that uncertainty. Looking at photographs from my life is hard as there are very few in which I cannot see signs of that shadow. Even on the days of many smiles those photos display pain, if you know what to look for. Comparing my present with my past shows me just how awful my inner life was for all those years.
There are a lot of challenges involved with being transgender. But the chance to be who I really am outweighs pretty much any rubbish that life could throw my way. Because, accepting myself and being Clare took away the cause of that shadow of depression
I've lost friends. But I've gained more friends. And my wife and child stand by me giving full support for me being who I truly am. I am truly fortunate.
I've lost that faith. But I've gained a better faith. And have written much about that wild journey.
I've cried many tears in the difficulties. Many more tears for my parents. Many more tears as the past has come to light and been grieved for and healed. But I've also learned the meaning of crying tears of joy.
I've suffered transphobic abuse. But I've grown stronger through battling onwards regardless. And I've been fortunate. The abuse has only been verbal. I know others who have been less fortunate.
I've been sexually assaulted. There aren't many "buts" to that. But it could have been a lot worse than it was. Many women are sexually assaulted. I don't want to belittle what happened to me but so many women have suffered far worse assaults, or repeated assaults, or rape. I count myself fortunate.
I've experienced fear as I never felt it before. But I've overcome that fear in walking into freedom.
I've lost my mother. But that last year was precious, to be able to share just that short time with her, knowing she was proud of her daughter.
I've lost my father - though he is of course still living. I must admit that the silver lining is harder to find when I think of him and the sadness we all have for everything that his illness has brought to him.
I've remembered much pain from my past. But I've been able to clean those events and words, repair wounds, and leave them behind so the future can be better.
I've waited so long for treatment - for the physical help in being who I am, having transitioned mentally and socially last year. But the treatment has begun, just about. I'm now on the lowest dose of oestrogen and waiting for my next appointment which should lead to increased hormonal treatment. Waiting impatiently - as every timeline I've been given in the last eighteen months turned out to be a false expectation. That next appointment, from what I was told, should have been this week. It will be next year.
I know who I am. And I accept who I am, embrace myself in love. That in turn enables me better to receive love from others and to show love too. The changes are immense. I find myself doing things, frequently, that the old me wouldn't have done. I'd either not have conceived of being able to do them or felt great shame that I couldn't do them.
I know that there is still quite a way to go. The healing is not complete. And without too much trouble I could make a long list of things I don't do but would be better for doing. And a list of things I do and say that would be better left undone or unsaid. A long way to go but the difference between now and then is to me nothing short of a miracle.
Yes. The past year and a half has been full of the most difficult things I've ever faced. Full of pain. Full of challenge.
Yes. Those months have also been the very best of my life so far. The very best. By a very, very long way. Simply because they have been lived free.