October 16, 2022
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Illustration by Brittany England
While my mental health and gender identity are inherently connected, it’s important to note how they are separate, too.
Before 2019, the World Health Organization considered being transgender to be a mental illness.
I started transitioning in 2015. I came out in 2017. I got my name and gender marker changed in 2018, the same year I had top surgery.
All the major milestones of my transition happened when it was technically classified as a mental illness. And let me tell you, transitioning did more for my depression than antidepressants ever did.
I knew I was a boy when I was 5 years old. I knew it in the same way that I knew the sun would come up in the morning.
Being depressed and being transgender are not the same thing. But they often go together because of how transgender people are treated their entire lives.
It’s hard not to think that I wouldn’t have even had depression if I hadn’t been bullied about my gender identity growing up. It’s hard not to think that my depression comes from being told, for decades, that everyone else knows who I am better than I do.
Every day that I was misgendered, and every day I was told that I didn’t know who I was, my depression got worse and worse.
It started when I was 5 and reached its peak in puberty. I got bullied a lot for being different. I got bullied a lot for “wanting to be a boy” or “not acting the same way other girls do.” In middle school, I stopped sleeping through the night.
In high school, I learned that if I took the right classes and had a job, I would be too busy to really realize what it felt like to live in my body.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I learned what transgender meant. And it wasn’t until after I graduated that I would start to transition myself.
I’m going to let my nerd flag fly a bit.
In “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” there’s a two-part episode called “Chain of Command” that feels exactly like it felt being told that I didn’t know who I was by other people. In these two episodes, Captain Picard of the USS Enterprise gets captured and taken behind enemy lines while on a secret mission.
One of the aliens opposing the people Picard works for tortures him to try and gather information about his mission and The Federation. The alien tries just about every torture method imaginable — drugging, beating, starving. He even tries pretending to be his friend.
In the room where Picard is being tortured, there are four lights in a row in front of him. But his captor insists, over days at a time and using classic gaslighting tactics, that there are actually five lights.
Each time we see Picard, he looks more beaten down and destroyed than the last. And yet, he never caves.
And even when Picard is exhausted and tired after days of torture, informed of his crew’s demise and that there is no escape, he does not yield. At this point in the episode, you can see that he is weak and delirious from starvation.
And despite all of that, he still insists that there are four lights, not five.
Unlike Picard, I caved after several years of gaslighting by everyone around me. I learned it was easier to get through life if I stopped fighting what everyone wanted of me and tried to be what they all showed me they expected.
And this gaslighting was so effective that I didn’t really start to question it until I was done with college.
But I was depressed. My depression got so bad that I almost didn’t graduate college. The first semester of my senior year, I was so depressed that I could only focus on my studies. Even then, I had to take two semesters to finish my senior thesis because the depression was too bad to finish it in one.
I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who or what I was supposed to be. Suddenly, I was allowed to be my own person, but I had spent the last 13 years being told that who I knew myself to be was not just not allowed but not even part of reality. Now the world wanted me to define myself?
I’ve been medically transitioning for the last 7 years. I pass well enough that no one questions my manliness when I’m out in public. I even spend quite a bit of my time helping others who are just starting to transition.
And yet, I can’t say that my depression is completely gone. I still have days of deep depression because my depression and transition are not the same thing.
Don’t get me wrong. It is leaps and bounds better than it was before I transitioned. Before I transitioned, my situation made my depression much worse. Now, I can work and function without too much effort. But there are many other factors that go into my depression, including genetic predisposition, so it still impacts my life.
So, yes — some days I still get depressed. But now I’m depressed for a day or two instead of months at a time.
Sometimes I will need to take a day off to deal with my depression. But once I’ve gotten through that day, I can bounce back and be my beautiful, authentic, transgender self.
And that is a life worth fighting for.
Medically reviewed on October 16, 2022
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