The paradox of change
It’s hard to love and accept yourself the way you are if there’s something about yourself you wish you could change.
Changing yourself without acceptance leads to self-hate, to temporary fixes that come back to bite you in the ass, to wearing uncomfortable masks that never truly fit you, even if they do manage to fool everyone else.
It can be scary to love and accept yourself the way you are because to do so, you’ll have to let go of your goals. You’ll have to let go of the things you want to change about yourself, and the things you want to change in your life.
It’s okay. It’s safe. Those goals never really came from you in the first place. They’re not your goals. They’re the goals you think you ought to want.
Accepting yourself as you are gives you the freedom to discover what you really want.
But what if there’s something you cannot accept about yourself?
When I was 25 years old, I crashed headfirst into the paradox of change. I discovered a truth about myself that I simply could not accept, I simply could not love myself as I was.
I was born a bouncing baby boy. I lived the first 25 years of my life as male. It didn’t even occur to me that I could be anything else, or that I might want to be anything else.
But as I came to know myself in all my parts, I realized that there were an awful lot of parts that felt a lot more female than male. I noticed that a whole lot of subtle things that just felt somehow off all clicked into place when viewed through the lens of a different gender.
My internal gender identity was shifting toward female. The more I thought of myself as a woman, the happier and more right I felt inside. It simply made sense on a deep level that I cannot convey with words. But I’m a writer, so I’ll try anyway!
You know that feeling when you’re sitting around and fidgeting and fidgeting and you’re uncomfortable but you’ve been uncomfortable for so long that you fidget unconsciously and don’t even realize you’re doing it? And then you stretch and turn in juuuuuust the right way, and your back pops into place and suddenly ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, everything feels perfect, and that aching discomfort you had somehow swept under the carpet is finally gone, gone, relieved, and all you can do is bask in how gloriously right you feel at last?
Imagine that times a hundred, and instead of my back, it’s my whole life. That’s how it felt to realize that I was female.
But as I started to feel more and more of that glorious rightness, I also began to feel more and more uncomfortable dissonance, because my body was male and everyone I knew treated me as male.
Something had to give.
I had to either squish my newfound gender identity back into Pandora’s Box, or change my body and my gender role in society to match my identity. In other words, I had to either change my inside back to male, or change my outside to female.
I read the stories of other transsexuals, others who had made the courageous journey across the gender gap. The phrase that was burned into my mind was “Transition or die.”
They wrote that the process of transition – of changing one’s body and gender role – was so painful, so traumatic, and so irreversible that it must not be undertaken except as a last resort to suicide.
I wasn’t feeling suicidal. I could easily imagine how I would be feeling suicidal if I had been feeling dissonance between my inside and my outside since I was young, but grace had gifted me with the bliss of ignorance until 25.
I could also easily imagine how, if I didn’t take action, I would feel more and more uncomfortable, more and more dissonant, more and more miserable.
So I asked myself that most beautiful and dangerous question:
Why wait until I’m miserable enough to be 100%, absolutely, positively sure that I’m really truly honestly definitely female?
Why wait until I feel enough pain to make the “choice” dead obvious?
Why wait until I hit rock bottom?
I decided not to wait. I began my transition from male to female.
And that was when I crashed into the paradox of change.
If someone had come up to me at that point and said, “Pace, you need to love yourself and accept yourself as you are,” I probably would have punched them. (And then blamed it on my brand new hormones.)
I would have said, “That’s crazy talk. I don’t love the way I am, I don’t accept myself as I am, that’s why I’m trying to change the way I am.”
And I would have been wrong. If I had used self-hate to fuel my transition, I would not be the person I am today. I would be bitter, scarred, and resentful.
Instead, I embraced the paradox of change and dared to love myself.
When I noticed self-hate, I loved and accepted the hate as part of myself. And through an amazing sort of emotional alchemy, the hate dissolved and was purified, transformed into clarity and motivation.
When I accepted myself exactly as I was, I accepted all of me – and that included my true desire to change.
The false desire to change – the part that was rooted in hate and fear – melted away. But the true desire remained.
So I changed. I changed my body to female. I changed my gender role to female. It was painful. It was traumatic. It was fascinating. It was messy.
And it was wonderful.