I think I have been an ambitious or even over-achieving person my whole life. I was real good at school and felt great each time I scored high on a test and when I got good grades at the end of each year. I learned to work hard and to feel the reward for that. Never went to parties where achievements on tests and grades ceased to matter that much. Had a few crushes but never started exploring real emotions and relations.
All this contributed to me being a bit socially handicapped when I started working and entered the very special environment of a fighter squadron where the social part is very important. I was confident in my professional role but did not feel interesting or valued as a person. I did not drink alcohol at all either and that did of course put even more harder requirement of being yourself and feel cool about it. I realise that alcohol often can be an easy way out when you are feeling insecure. And finally add the fact that I was trapped in the wrong body. I think what was hardest was to feel misunderstood. They never knew the real me and I was so scared of anybody finding out my inner thoughts. It is a bit hard to be myself then and it more or less rules out any personal relationships since what was most important for me was a non-topic.
This “ambitious-girl-approach” of course worked just fine at work in the Swedish Air Force as well. We were of course driven by our interest in the subject and maybe even a bit idealistic because we really thought we could change the Armed Forces. So me and my collegue worked hard and it was really rewarding at times. People respected me for the work I did, even though I had an self-image of being a bit nerdy.
My coming out process changed all of that. Suddenly a new world of social interactions opened up both with new friends and in the LGBT-world. What I did at work did not matter that much more than that people thought I had an exotic job. I was invited to parties and got to know a lot of new people who valued me for who I was. In the beginning it was a bit hard to accept that I was a nice interesting person and not just this strange freaky transsexual person. But it is was still so great to be there, to be part of the crowd. To be invited almost despite who I was (in my mind that is). Felt a lot more proud about who I was although I was still ashamed of my body and my legal name. When I was in a situation where I had to change clothes I often had this feeling of being scared that people would not see me for who I am if they caught a glimpse of me without makeup and clothes. Sometimes you need to state your legal name and those situations was even worse. Tried to only show my ID so people could read it instead of me having to say my old name out loud. On the flip side it became an important level of trust to friends around me to let them know my legal name and see me without makeup and see that they still liked me and saw me for the woman I am.
Work was becoming a little less interesting and I really looked forward to my spare time where I could be myself and shine for a while. Then back at work feeling more and more trapped in my body and identity. Living two lives was becoming more and more difficult and I so longed for integrating my life into one. It is a bit interesting because I think that I got somewhat a change of focus then. From the ambitious person to someone who finally could show I was and got many positive affirmations of that. However, I wonder to what degree there was some kind of achievement in that. I want to believe that I started to value myself better as a person and learned that it wasn’t what I did that mattered. On the other hand I think I used my skills as reason to do things with people also. When I met my best friend of today I started out by making her a web-page for her band and volunteered to shoot pictures and video on their performances. So I guess I felt I was there to do things rather then being just me and enjoying the show.
My engagement in RFSL quickly become another comfort zone especially during the first years from 2001 to 2004. It was such a relief to have these days off from my regular work where I good put on my best clothes and head of to the RFSL office in the city of Stockholm and do volunteer work. I think people quickly noticed that I was quite good at making certain stuff happened and I of course accepted tasks gladly. Felt good that my skills was needed of course. Still it was a very happy and interesting time.
I started my transition in the summer of 2004 which felt so good and gradually I felt better. Felt so good to finally do what I had dreamed of for so long. Life was gradually becoming less complicated and my life as one person, a young woman, started to fit together. Acceptance at work was really good and that made work feel a lot more interesting and important. I could be myself at all times at last, I coud be honest and did not have to hide anymore. Such a relief! But all of that also meant that I could not hide anymore behind some excuses that the true me wasn’ there. It was just me out there. Still there were a lot of obstacles in daily life at work because the transition process takes a lot of time and the threshold of daring to use the women’s locker room was bigger than I thought. I also think that I feel I have became more afraid than I was in the beginning. Back then I could be complely terrified of just opening the front door and showing myself to others but somehow I overcame my fear so many times and did what I longed for. I think I have become more hard on myself today to dare as much and as quickly as back then. Maybe it also has to do with a realisation that what I do and don’t do today is something that stays. Before I separated my life so that it maybe did not matter that much what I did. I guess in my mind I kind of think that I sometimes have just one chance to “prove” that I for instance look feminine even naked in locker-room. So I want that situation to be a little bit more perfect then what is realistic.
New situation at work
So being a woman and with my background naturally meant that I felt the pressure to continue to achieve to get (remain) respected for the things I did. Like most women I felt that I needed to achieve above average to be considered ok. My self-esteem was possibly even more hit when I started working with my new name and my real look. Previously I had got to know people in my private life who accepted me for who I was and felt a comfort zone around them. Now, each new situation had a potential danger and it was easy to think negative thoughts. I was of course nervous about how people would react to me and I think I was strange. The feeling of being looked down on based on you are is by far the hardest one. Somehow I don’t white straight men understand how much that can affect you. Much more hard than being looked down on based on my professional performance.
Balance and sensitivity
So in the end I guess it is about finding the balance. I like to achieve things and like to have passion to change things. That is who I am and I think if I stop doing these things I won’t be happy. The important part is to not feel sad when I fail or don’t succeed in doing things. It does not mean that I am a bad person, it just mean that I did not have enough time, was inspired enough or something like that. Then I must work really hard on my self-esteem and try to spend much less time thinking about what other people might think of me. Usually most people have enough in their own life to have the energy to think about other people. However, my whole experience of being a transsexual person have made me super-sensitive and I have a fine-tuned ability to read people and how they look at me. That is a training I really could have been without. However, I do think I have a big need to feel that people care about me but that kind of affirmations is not always easy to get all the time. Therefore I also need to care more about myself.