15 year old Sophie Amundsen came home from school one day and found a mysterious message in the letterbox. The letter had no information on it but only contained one question.
It said: “Who are you?”.
This is the beginning of the Novel “Sophies World” by Jostein Gaarder, a novel for young readers and an introduction into philosophy. I read the book in the early 90’s when it came out and absolutely loved it.
I’ve read it two more times since.
It not only satisfied my then flowering interest in philosophical questions but the introduction question hit me deep. I was asking myself exactly that. Not just “Who” but also “What” am I?
Back then I was not aware of what the problem was, I just knew I was deeply confused and that there is something very different about me.
I was so different than my friends. I believed I was an alien from another world who got stranded and had to learn the strange customs of this planet.
I think parts of me still believe that.
After puberty I was convinced I was a man but the way I behaved was at odds with that of the male people around me. The most obvious, by far, was the fact I was not dating much or really flirting.
I was interested in girls, just not that, well, aggressively.
When I saw a nice girl on the side of the street I looked, noticed it and moved on. Exactly the way I now see women checking out other people.
Checking out but discreet. No fuss. But when you are a young guy, checking somebody out consists of having your eyes pop out of your skull on springs, the way it happens in Disney cartoons and then stare so long that you have to twist your neck to breaking point to be able to keep the target in the field of view.
This has to be verbally commented with sounds like “whooooho, whistle whistle, what a ….body part……yaaaay, A++++”
or something like this and the verbal comments have to be emphasized by outlining the said body part with your hands.
Outlined with grossly exaggerated proportions.
I did not do that naturally.
And guys police each other with stuff like that. More than once was I asked “Oy bro, you aren’t looking? Why aren’t you looking?”.
I was looking.
But I had learn to look with all the special effects a guy at that age is supposed to go through the procedure.
I never did it very enthusiastically, just enough to pass the police checks.
That was the case with many things in my life. Nothing seemed to come naturally to me, I had to learn almost everything. Until I totally forgot how I actually behave naturally.
I did notice I felt a bit better in the company of women, there was so much less peer pressure. I must admit, I never liked the chicken style chatter style of some female groups. That also does not come naturally to me. So I’m not a typical female either.
I am after all, physically and mentally, an in-between….thingy…creature.
I also never had a long lasting relationship. Not totally surprising I think.
I never understood what was going wrong in my relationships until very recently. I acted like a guy but subconsciously expected to be treated as a woman. I was presenting myself as the “protector” to the female while instinctively wanting to be “protected”. But so did the girl. Obviously we both had a conflict of interest going on.
Now, looking back it makes sense but back then I was so frustrated with myself because I understood nothing.
Who, what, how was I?
Was I homosexual? Wouldn’t that require being sexually attracted to guys? Of course many people knowing my struggle with females thought I was gay. I tended to leave it at that as I couldn’t explain it anyway.
The ones who did not think I was gay said: “You just haven’t found the right one yet. There is a “lid” to every “pot”, wink, wink, wink”
To this I tended to laugh heartily.
What kind of pot what as I? I remember one time I was so fed up with my confusion and friends comments and frustrations I started kissing a girl who was interested in me on a dance floor at summer festival in Germany.
And I mean not just politely kiss on the cheek, I almost “ate” her.
And we continued to do so after the music stopped and the dance floor emptied. We were on stage in front of about two hundred people wildly kissing. I don’t know what overcame me to do this, I just wanted to prove myself, and apparently to the rest of southern Bavaria that I’m not too bloody stupid to give an attractive girl something positive to remember and impress her somehow.
After we were done, we left the stage. I tried to look cool, walked like Clint Eastwood after a successful gun fight with a smug “any questions?” look on my face.
I still think back with cringey embarrassment of this strange action of mine. And a little pride.
It was the time I got used to the male persona I invented. And I overcompensated to convince myself I was a real man. This left me with a strange identity crisis I’m still struggling with even now. It is a slow process to rediscover my true self.
I’m so used to my invented persona I have a hard time letting go of it. The girl in me has no experience in life. Kristine is still like a child in many ways. If I encounter a situation unfamiliar to “Kristine” I often don’t know how to react.
I feel like a teenager and “Chris” has to take over, just because he has been in similar situations many times before. It feels as if somehow I have now two people inside me. It is silly but my invented Ego had taken on an own identity.
And my female self was literally locked away for many years and remained a little childlike.
The Ego is after all only a sum of our memories, experiences, education, opinions, world views, etc and a bit of genetic influence. Nothing else. People identify with it so strongly that they think this is all they are.
When I rediscovered my female self I saw the girl in me as a separate entity at first. It was like somebody took an axe in my childhood and smashed in into my mind and half of it was left dangling on my side, unable to develop, while I invented a new, more “expectations fitting” AlterEgo which grew instead of my natural one.
I still feel I am sort of a twin soul now which is slowly growing back together. Trying to unite two separate Egos into one.
What happens if one looses parts of ones Ego?
When a world view gets changed or a belief is challenged?
As we identify with these things as who we are it feels like we are loosing ourselves, it’s literally like dying. When an old belief is changed and vanishes and is replaced with a new belief there is this period of mourning of the old “self” of which the old belief was a part of.
And that’s gone, dead.
It takes some time to integrate the new belief into the new “self” to feel whole again. I believe this is why people don’t like to change. Their current Ego is simply defending it’s existence and doesn’t want to die.
I felt this very strongly when I actively started to transition.
I was mourning Chris.
I felt I have lost him. I was him all my life, he protected my female me, suffered so much and now he is gone!
He does not deserve that. I know it is totally silly thinking about it rationally but it took me quite some time to realize Chris is still there, because Chris is me.
I can bring Chris back anytime I want.
In the beginning I did that sometimes to reassure myself I’m still me and not loosing myself. In a way. Now he is starting to annoy me sometimes when all of a sudden he stampedes back into my life when I actually want my female self to learn something new.
In several articles about transgender transitions I have read that this “We think we are our Ego” issue very often seems to be the reason of rejection of a transgender person, particularly parents.
They usually have a very fixed view about who their kid is, which is usually a frozen image, taken around age 12, no matter the actual age of the “child”. It appears that so many parents or family members reject a transgender child or relative because they cannot see past that person’s Ego.
For them the person they know has disappeared as if dead. And instead there is this “new” person, the transitioned one, and this is the one who “killed” their relative.
I can relate to that. I found it and find it hard to see past my own Ego. But I’m getting better. Being who I am naturally is in the end a lot easier than performing an act of an invented person.
“Sophie stood in front of the brass mirror which allowed her to see her “Real life” counterpart.
“Who are you?” Sophie asked.
She received no response to this, but felt a momentary confusion as to whether it was she or her reflection who had asked the question.
Sophie pressed her index finger to the nose in the mirror and said, “You are me.”
As she got no answer to this, she turned the sentence around and said, “I am you.” “
Further Reading: I found an interesting article which relates to what I want to describe here. Native american cultures traditionally have a much looser point of view when it comes to gender. The overall term for such people is “Two Spirit People”, individuals who have a male and female spirit within them. CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE!
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