[CW: suicidal ideation, self-harm, transphobia, genocide of trans people, mentions of sex]
Earlier this week I saw an Instagram post listing 'New Year wins you won't see posted today' which included "went to your first counselling session" and "survived". It's an important reminder that we often don't talk about the darker and messier parts of life on social media, opting instead for a more polished highlights reel. But it made me want to share that my New Year win is surviving. To make the dark and messy parts of my 2022 explicit.
So, here goes: I survived the last year when I didn't think I would. Not killing myself was by far my biggest achievement of 2022.
My biggest achievement in 2022 was surviving
In January 2022, I was suicidal. Very suicidal. I was suicidal every single day. Sometimes all I could do was just try to get through the next thirty seconds, digging my nails into my arm because pain in my body was the only thing that could temper the pain in my head.
I thought I was going to kill myself. I'd been thinking that for most of the last two years at that point. I wasn't sure how I was still here; I wasn't sure why I was still here.
And I know the statistics and the stories: I know how many trans people die from suicide while on the waiting list for gender-affirming healthcare. I thought it was pretty much a given that I was going to kill myself, but I didn't. Instead I dragged myself through those first weeks of 2022, knowing that if was still feeling this awful in five years, I'd look back and wish I'd killed myself then rather than enduring this much pain. And back then, I'd been struggling for so long that I couldn't imagine it ever getting better.
But somehow I clawed my way out of crisis mode. Some of the numbness lifted, and at least the sharpness of my emotions made me feel slightly more alive. I broke my obsessive suicidal thinking patterns - it's not that I stopped being suicidal, but 'I want to die' stopped being the first thought in my head in the morning and the last one at night.
I asked my girlfriend out again and worked hard to build a healthy relationship with them. I got my autism diagnosis. I started back at uni. I increased the dose of the antidepressant I was on, and stopped taking the antipsychotic that had (unknowingly to me) been making my tits bigger for the last year.
It wasn't easy. It was hard and painful and I hated myself for how hard I found it to do basic things that abled people seemed to be able to do effortlessly. I hated myself so, so much. And the onslaught of transphobic and queerphobic laws being passed in the US this year didn't help: it's hard to keep going when it feels like so many people would be far happier if you were dead. Sometimes I wondered how much transphobia I'd internalised growing up, if I hated myself so much because I've always been told that trans people are sick and broken and wrong.
But I made new friends. I built up my stamina until I could run 5k. I started individual therapy and worked to build self-compassion. I exchanged rings with my girlfriend exactly three years after I'd first asked them out. I started working out. I had my first orgasm from oral sex. Slowly some of that self-hatred started to ease away, being replaced by self-respect.
And I started to do something I'm not sure I'd ever done before. I started to believe that I was going to get to turn 25 - and 26, and 27, and 30, and even 40 and 50 and 60. I began to believe that maybe my life wouldn't end with my gender being recorded incorrectly on my death certificate at 24.
I wonder how much I viewed my suicide as inevitable because growing up I didn't see people like me. Stories of trans people dying dominate the news - and to some extent they should, because cis people need to pay attention to how we're being killed: both deliberately by violence and hatred, and less directly through long waiting lists for healthcare and laws that deny us human rights. But as important as those stories are, there are so few examples of trans joy, trans love, trans life.
Is it a surprise that I didn't think I'd get to grow up?
In 2022, I fought tooth-and-nail against my own mind to get to a place where therapy is actually helpful, where I can actually start doing the work to manage my depression. I'm learning how to ask for what I need and how to rest. I'm seeking out examples of trans people who came before me, because we have always existed and it's important to me that I know about their lives as well as their deaths.
This year I started testosterone. I legally changed my name. I went to London Trans Pride. I sat in the public gallery of the Scottish Parliament as MSPs voted to pass the Gender Recognition Reform Bill and Scotland took a massive step forward for trans rights.
That Bill will make it easier for me to get a gender recognition certificate, meaning that when I die the gender on my death certificate will be correct. But I no longer think that's going to be any time soon. I can't tell you how incredible that feels, to no longer believe that I'm going to kill myself before I can truly live as who I am.
I started 2022 suicidal, but I ended it as an award-nominated writer, thirty-one weeks on testosterone, and with an incredible T4T4T threesome with my girlfriend and their girlfriend.
I survived. I fucking survived. There's no 'just' in that sentence. There's no 'just' in surviving when the world is screaming at you to kill yourself, and when the voice in your head is telling you exactly the same thing. Getting to 2022 was a massive achievement. My suicidal ideation hasn't gone, though it is more infrequent nowadays. My depression, my disability? Very much still here. But so am I.
Last January, I didn’t think I would make it to 2023. But I did - and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.
It's fucking cliché to say 'it gets better', and twelve months ago I wouldn't have believed that if you said it to me. So I'm not going to say it, and I'm fully aware that 2023 not going to be easy just because I've got to this place. But if the biggest thing you did in 2022 was survive, I see you. Me too.
Footnotes is the section of Genderbent where I share what I've been writing, reading, and generally getting excited about recently.
- I haven't written anything recently, but for once that feels like a win: I didn't pitch anything about the experience of being a trans person sitting watching MSPs debate whether I deserve rights, and I'm proud of that decision. Just being there was challenging enough at times, and it was more important to me to witness what happened than to write about it.
- One final mention of sex in this newsletter: all of my sex in 2022 was with trans people, and most of it was while Taskmaster was on in the background, because my girlfriend and I are very, very autistic. This Autostraddle article really captured why I love the show so much: it's not a show where I worry about encountering transphobia - a rarity for a British TV show. It's joyful and ridiculous and brilliant, and 'a man in a dress!' is never going to be a punchline. "Men playfully flirt with each other with a rare ease of comfort, and there are enough women in suits and Converse that my phone is sick of asking if every woman on this show is gay."
- I wouldn't usually read an interview with Tom Allen, but the headline 'Why do I always talk about being gay? Because I wasn't allowed for half of my life' absolutely got my attention. I feel like people often say that I'll feel the less of a need to be loudly trans when I get older - and maybe they're right. Right now, though, when trans people are fighting so hard for our human rights, it's important to me to remind people that I'm trans. I also love this quote: "camp comedy, in particular, is subversion. It’s about treating light things seriously and seriously things lightly. It flips the world and gives us the power back. It allows us to stare death in the face."
- On Wednesday I went to Body Love Sketch Club's Happy Nude Year workshop. It's run by the incredible Ruby Rare and Rosy Pendlebaby, and they create an inclusive, creative, anti-capitalise space for us to celebrate our bodies through life drawing. I've attended several of their workshops over the last two years, but their Happy Nude Year one is a little bit different: to finish off the workshop we had to draw ourselves and then write things we like and appreciate about our bodies around our drawings. I had so much fun doing it, which I definitely wasn't expecting. I was literally giggling while I sketched myself. They have upcoming workshops in London this Sunday and at Vault Festival in February. I thoroughly recommend you treat yourself to a ticket.