Our childhood filters are a blend of the social construct, culture, family values and religion we experience growing up. Cultural and religious expectations dictated how I would live my life. It was a predictable traditional journey, with very specific, clearly defined gender roles. My gender determined my academic path, ambitions, my personal interactions and society’s expectation of me. It was a no brainer. It was expected that I would get married (to a man of course) and have children.
God and his army of saints were very involved in my childhood.
They were everywhere. They showed up in the thousands of statues, holy pictures, churches, weekly confessions and endless praying. I attended an all girl’s convent school where we were taught that God is always watching us, always. We were, unknowingly, being groomed to fulfill God’s will, i.e. to go forth and multiply. Of course, this multiplying, could only happen within the confines of a strong Catholic marriage. The nuns made sure that by age 14 we understood that sex (although I don’t think that they actually ever used the word ‘sex’) had only one sole purpose - to procreate.
Questioning was not an option; questioning one’s sexuality wasn’t on the radar. I had no idea why I had this vague feeling ‘that something’ was not quite right with me. At 17, I didn’t know that same sex relationships existed or that women could love women.
I got married at barely 18 years old. I didn’t go into marriage believing in happily ever after. God loves those who suffer the most and marriage seemed like suffering to me. Meanwhile ‘that something’ feeling was always present yet just out of reach; it was vague yet loaded with the promise of untold possibilities.
Fast forward 18 years and 4 kids later and our life is interrupted by the ex’s Male-to-Female transition journey. Everything changes.
I didn’t know much about gender dysphoria or transgender. Google was still in its infancy and so, not much help there. No, I did not see it coming at all. There was no indication throughout our 18+-year marriage that he had gender dysphoria. It was more like a switch spontaneously went off in his head and he had this immediate, desperate need to live out the rest of his life in what was his true identity - a female.
I have great respect and admiration for people who go on the transition journey. It is not for the faint hearted; it is disruptive, hard, demanding and daunting for everyone involved. No matter how supportive you are, no matter how much you are behind a transition, no matter how much you love the person transitioning and want them to be happy, it changes everything, forever.
The came the biggest mind f**k of all. After 4 years of transitioning, the ex decided he didn’t want to transition, after all. He abruptly stopped the process and filed for divorce (he wanted to create a new life for himself, on his own, in America). So he didn’t transition; we got divorced; he disappeared from our lives.
The marriage filters were swept away. I was so relieved when he left although financially, emotionally and physically I was a wreck.
Those were very dark days where I felt like I was living in Dante’s inferno; every time I thought that I reached the bottom, I was pulled down to another level. And the levels seemed never ending. Of course I did what women do in these situations. I blamed myself. For everything. I beat myself up for being gay, for being less than, for not trying harder. I did this to myself in spite of the fact that he had been emotionally abusive throughout the marriage, that I was so much better off without him, that I had never loved him or even liked him very much.
Of course by my mid-twenties I knew what ‘that something’ was. I discovered that there were women like me, women who loved women. The aborted transition, the marriage ending and the need to start a new life gave me the freedom to live in a world where I could be myself, find some peace, self acceptance and love.
So began the journey of self discovery. Still, I chose to heavily filter that part of my life from family (except my sons), relatives, professional and personal friends. For the next 10 years I lived in a dual world. It was a happy time. I may have come to the party late but I made up for lost time. It was also exhausting. I became an expert at filtering all aspects of my life. I filtered the way I spoke, dressed and behaved, depending on who I was speaking to or engaging with. I did not know it at the time but I had deep-rooted internalised homophobia. So perhaps the filters were necessary for survival.
When I stared On UnCommon Ground (which has now morphed in to Across Rainbows) it was with the intention to disarm labels and to encourage young LBGTQ+ to be true to themselves, to love who they wanted to love. Ah, the irony, right? I felt like an imposter. Most of them did not know that I was gay. It was a humbling experience. Through them, I learnt how entrenched the world still was in heteronormativity, how unforgiving society was to a gay boy/girl who did not conform to social norms, how the social construct made them always feel ‘less than’ and how shame is used to make them invisible. I witnessed the pain they felt when they were rejected by parents, relatives and friends. Most of all I learnt that love is love.
The whole point of moving to Brighton was to live without filters. I was determined to be out. And I did. For the most part. Yet many people (straight and gay) assume I am straight because I look straight (I’m not quite sure of the logic behind that but that’s what I’ve been told). It is frustrating that while I am so ready to live without filters, I find out that I am not visible as a gay woman. So, I find myself coming out, every single day, over and over.
It was not fireworks going off, or a ‘love at first sight’ kind of meeting. We did not look across the dance floor, lock eyes and know that we were destined to be together, forever. It was a bit more mundane. There was a familiarity and a feeling of coming home.
On our first date we realized how very different we were but there was definitely something. We dated for a while until we reached the next logical step - a committed, exclusive relationship. After monetarily panicking and resisting the urge to run screaming from the building, I realized that actually I was ready to be in a committed relationship. I warned her that I had no clue how this worked but she assured me that no one does and we’d figure it out as we went along.
Ten months into the relationship things came to a head. We talked casually about moving in together and that conversation triggered my two-month journey into self destruction. I broke her trust, I behaved badly and I hurt her. It left us both confused, angry and sad.
So I went to therapy to figure out why I would destroy the relationship and in the process destroy myself.
Exposing the filters and facing my demons head on, has been very hard. Every filter was unceremoniously broken down, scrutinized and analyzed causing many ‘WTF’ moments. The filters were exposed for what they were.
We have slowly rebuilt our relationship. We are good together. I love her and she loves me.
I will, probably, always struggle with internalized homophobia (due to early childhood brain wiring), and I know that I will have to keep ‘coming out’ until the day I die.
But there’s no filtering.