Bipolar Adventures in Transition

So I’m Bipolar. Specifically, I am diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder, which means I deal cyclically with highs and lows, but not quite to the extreme that someone with Bipolar I would deal with. I take an anti-depressant to help the lows from getting unbearable and a mood stabilizer to keep the highs from getting dangerous, but the meds do not erase the highs and lows completely. They’re still there; they’re just more manageable: it’s still a challenge to function during the lows, but function is possible, and it’s hard to hang onto money during the highs, but again, it’s possible.

One of my personal Bipolar quirks is that sometimes, my brain will be plodding along, and I’ll think I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on — after all, I’m a pretty introspective and self-aware person. But then I’ll hit a particularly intense bout of mania, and my brain speeds up, and suddenly all of these things that were just vague notions and disconnected pieces before click together all at once into something much more concrete (and often overwhelming).

Specifically, this has a tendency to happen with thoughts related to my gender identity.

At first, I refused to trust these thoughts. After all, mania has a way of making absurd, unwise, and/or otherwise misguided ideas seem like great ones. But I’ve noticed in the past several years that there is a difference between my harebrained manic schemes and these moments of introspective epiphany.

It happened when I decided to try out the name Alyx. I was idly pondering what I would change my name to if I ever transitioned (which was a pretty big “if” at the time, as it was so impractical that I didn’t even consider it as a possibility). Alexander James was the name that immediately popped into my head, and before I knew it I found myself asking my partner if ze thought Alyx could be a reasonable nickname/derivative of my given name. I never had that period of adjustment where I didn’t always respond right away to my new name. My brain had made the shift before I even realized it was happening.

It happened when I decided to start on testosterone. I came to the conclusion that I needed to make a change before I even realized that I was really thinking about it. I held back. I waited and thought and was much more mindful about what was going on in my head, and I conferred with my partner and with friends. I didn’t trust that gut impulse that I got when everything suddenly shifted into place. But in the end, it was right.

And over this past weekend, it happened again. Once again, my identity is shifting, not in a totally different direction, but in a more focused one. My single greatest hesitation with physical transition was the fact that I am convinced that the world does not need another white man running around. It’s been hard to reconcile this with the fact that I am profoundly uncomfortable being read as a woman. I can’t get around it: I am becoming a man. Whether I identify as a man to my core doesn’t really matter: this is how the world is going to start to see me. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I really do identify as solidly masculine, and that I can be a man without being a “Men’s Rights Activist”, that being a man doesn’t have to mean being oblivious to my privilege but can actually be a place from which I can (I hope) use what privilege I have to try to make other dudes aware of their privilege.

And as all of that clicked into place, I started pondering pronouns. My team at work (and a handful of other folks in the office who have caught on) refer to me with he, him and his. Friends generally refer to me using singular they, which I’ve been claiming as my preference for a couple of years now. It’s equal parts hard and terrifying and exciting, but I’m realizing that the more I hear myself called “he”, the more I like it. It’s increasingly comfortable, and while I certainly prefer “they” over “she” (and, truly, don’t mind the gender neutral variants), I’m realizing that my preferences are changing.

I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever have a truly stable identity. I’m fairly certain that the only part of my identity that’s remained consistent over the past four years is the part that claims “queer” as a label. In the past five years, I have been many things: a straight, cisgender woman; a queer, cisgender woman; a queer, genderqueer individual; and now, a queer, transmasculine dude…a trans man. My current identity doesn’t invalidate any of my previous identities. Who I am now is real; who I was then was real, too. And I think this is the hardest thing for people to grasp: it would be so much simpler if my identity was black and white, or even greyscale. But it’s not. It’s an entire fucking rainbow of nuances and experiences and even if that makes it harder to understand, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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