Excerpt from Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man
It would take me almost 10 more years before I truly understood the significance of my gender dysphoria, a clinical description that gets to the disconnection between how the body presents its sex and how the brain experiences its sex. In essence, when these two are different (the brain feels itself to be a man but the body is a woman's, and vice versa), the confusion and discomfort is so deep, so disturbing, that most of us try anything to either deny our true feelings or otherwise avoid dealing with ourselves.
Like everyone else on this planet, I grew up in a society of rigid gender roles and had the same distance and lack of understanding about what being transgender really means. I, too, thought it was weird to be transgender. So for years, I fought that secret lurking within me with thoughts such as "Trans people aren't 'normal'— how could they be?" Historically we have been a culture that accepts very little gender variance. Look at our discomfort with feminine men and, to a slightly lesser extent, masculine women. We have plenty of derogatory labels for people who don't fit into our society's strict notions of masculine and feminine: sissy, queen, fairy, butch, dyke and tomboy, to name a few.
The actual clinical term to define being transgender in the DSM IV (the diagnostic manual used by physicians and psychologists) is "gender identity disorder," which still carries with it a certain degree of pathology, not to mention negative connotations. This labeling, this constrained understanding of what it means to be transgender, is only one of many reasons why making the decision to transition is a difficult and often painful conclusion for anyone to reach. Transitioning often leads to loss of jobs, friends, spouses and family members. And even when relationships aren't severed, they are often pushed almost to breaking points. Before I made my decision to start the process, I was terrified about how all of the people I was close to would handle and feel about my transition. I also had to contend with the fact that, unlike most individuals who transition relatively privately, because I was a public figure with famous parents, my transition would have to take place in front of the whole world. This reality added a pressure to my decision to transition that for years completely incapacitated me.
I was blindsided by the full realization that I'm transgender. I felt completely helpless and paralyzed with fear—at an emotional ground zero. Finally summoning the courage to act on the essential truth about myself was a deep, dark and often ugly struggle. I had to relive moments of shame, embarrassment and pain. And yet, though the struggle to start my transition was as frightening and challenging as climbing Mount Everest, I have written this book to show and share with the world something even more remarkable: Ever since my first dose of testosterone, I have never felt so whole, so complete, so happy in my life. And this triumph is what Transition is all about.
Chaz opens up to Oprah