[CW: suicidal ideation, genocide of trans people, depression, self-hatred, mention of COVID]
It is no surprise to the people who know me that I struggle with self-compassion.
In early 2021, I attended compassion-focused group therapy. The weekly in-person sessions were a lifeline. After months of lockdown when I’d been living alone and seldom leaving my flat, I was just desperate for any human connection. I struggled to put into practice the frameworks we were learning about; I was barely holding it together, let alone ready to start unpacking my self-hatred. But one exercise did stick with me: compassionate imagery.
Creating a compassionate image is a research-backed technique for building self-compassion. It’s built on the idea that imagery can trigger emotions, so creating a compassionate image can help ‘unlock’ a more compassionate mindset. If you’re struggling to be compassionate towards yourself, bringing to mind your compassionate image can spark the compassionate thinking you need.
I can still remember the wave of panic flooding through me as I tried to work out what my compassionate image would be. A compassionate image should show kindness, care and concern for you. It should be an image that is strong and wise as it supports you. You should feel like you can tell it your deepest, darkest secrets and desires and it will accept you rather than judge you. What represented pure compassion to me?
I almost laughed with joy when the idea for my compassionate image came to me. It felt so perfect.
My compassionate image is my future self.
When I think about my future self, he’s in his early thirties. He’s stronger, both emotionally and physically. He’s more assertive and self-assured. He’s had top surgery and is proud of the scars on his chest. My future self is brave. He’s badass. He’s fucking shameless. He doesn’t see caring too much as a weakness anymore, but he also doesn’t give a fuck about what strangers think about him.
He’s happy – and he’s a reminder that I will get to be happy too.
My autism means I struggle with visual imagery. While I know what my future self looks like, these are details I know more than seeing them in my head. I know he has the tattoo on his hip that I’m saving up to get. He wears rings and sometimes paints his nails. He can laugh when someone calls him cute rather than fighting down a wave of dysphoria. He is confident in his body and his masculinity.
And he has the utmost compassion for my current self.
Over the last few months, I’ve been doing individual compassion-focused therapy sessions. Unlike during group therapy three years ago, I was in a place where I was ready to actually do the work. To start learning the frameworks and tools to help me manage my depression. To start building self-compassion. It’s been hard, but I feel like I’m finally taking baby steps forward.
For years, I told myself that I don’t deserve kindness or rest or care or forgiveness. That I haven’t earned it. I spent a huge chunk of the last three years genuinely believing that the people I love would be better off if I killed myself. When I can’t extend myself the compassion I need, imagining my future self sometimes lets me ‘trick’ myself into taking care of myself. He helps me externalise the compassion I find so hard to give myself.
My future self reminds me that I already have all of his strength and grace and courage within me. I just need to breathe and remember how fucking badass I already am.
My future self isn't perfect. Like I’m learning to accept about my current self, he’s human. He's flawed. He makes mistakes. To my current self, who feels like a giant mess most of the time, he seems like he has everything together, but the reality is that he’s just a few steps ahead. I don’t expect to turn into him overnight, or without putting in a fuck tonne of work, but he is a promise that I will get there.
Let’s face it: there are very powerful and vocal people in the world right now who don’t want me to get there. There are people who don’t want me to become my future self because they’re terrified of the idea of a trans person who loves himself.
These people want to make it impossible for trans people to access healthcare. They want to stop trans people from existing in public, to stop us from existing at all. They are working really fucking hard to make sure that trans kids never become trans adults.
I turned twenty-five last week, which I think makes me a trans adult. But my future self is a promise to myself that I’m going to do everything I can to keep getting older. To keep getting more unashamedly queer, unapologetically autistic, and defiantly trans. To keep unlearning the self-hatred I internalised from a society that told me that I was wrong and sick and broken.
When I first imagined my future self as my compassionate image, I didn’t think I’d get to turn twenty-five. I thought my suicide was inevitable. I don’t any more – my future self would be proud of me.
I’m proud of me too.
I'm trying not to feel guilty that I've barely read any of the important writing and journalism around Brianna Ghey's murder, the New York Time's transphobia, and the targeted roll back of trans rights. If you're feeling the same, please remember that it's important to take care of yourself. You're allowed to step away and protect your mental health.
- I was honoured when Megan Wallace asked me to write about what self-love means to me for this article, which is part of Woo's masculine-focussed content around self-love for Valentine's day. It really meant a lot to be featured alongside other men talking about self-compassion, vulnerability, and self-acceptance.
- As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about how the intersection of capitalism and sex-positivity, and potential issues that can arise when companies embrace the latter solely to make a profit, I loved this Girl on the Net's critique of the issues with Dear Gillian. "But seeing as it is the 21st century, and this is a project that is going to generate profit, perhaps we could take a 21st-century approach to sharing women’s stories for money?"
- I can't believe how long it took me to get around to reading Frankie de la Cretaz's essay about learning to love their body hair. They write about cishet beauty norms and queerness and the power (and risk) in rejecting the male gaze, reclaiming our bodies, and marking ourselves as visibly trans. Like Frankie, the idea of being a pretty boy makes me happy in a way my attempts at being a pretty girl never did. (Also, I 100% teared up at the line "What a pretty fucking faggot".)
- While I do work with Hannah Witton as a writer and researcher, this isn't a video I worked on. It absolutely encapsulates why I love working with her though, because how often do you get to see three men talking about dicks and masculinity while decorating penis biscuits? I just love the openness and the curiosity and all the nerdy discussion between folks who have very different experiences with both penises and masculinity. "Generally most willies aren't covered in glitter!" 🍆🍪
- I know I've mentioned this in a previous newsletter, but I want to do another (butt) plug for my friend Florence Schetcher's debut book, which comes out in just SIX DAYS on 2nd March. I'm really sad that I can't make it down to London for the launch of V: An empowering celebration of the vulva and vagina, but I've preordered my copy and can't wait for it to arrive. Florence is brilliant, her book is going to be brilliant, and you should go preorder it now*.
🏳️⚧️ What's bringing me gender euphoria
I started PrEP! While I know that almost a third of people living with HIV in the UK are cis women, there was still something incredibly gender-affirming about a member of staff at my local sexual health clinic pointing out that I should consider starting PrEP when I asked them to update my records to reflect my gender. After two months on the waiting list, the obligatory STI screening appointment fell on HIV Testing Week and on Wednesday I had my phone assessment. Yesterday I went into the clinic to pick up my medication and get my first dose of the MPX vaccine, and today I took the first two tablets!