Dear Closeted Me,
The world that you grew up in has never been accepting or kind to people who are different. You knew that you were born in the wrong body when you were 3 years old – the memory of that realization; that you are a boy, is still crystal clear. I’m here to tell you that this is your truth. The challenges ahead are abundant. But along the way, you are going to rediscover little nuggets of the authenticity you thought were lost, and realize that the truth of your 3-year old self was always there beside you.
Growing up in Malaysia in the 90’s was frightening – the way politicians talk about queer people, the discrimination and brutality inflicted on trans people of color, the police raids and open shaming through the media. Even as a young child, you understood the risk of being exposed, and the reality that you could never truly be yourself without living in fear.
To survive, you had to mould yourself to fit into the expectations of others. At first it was easy – you were just like a chameleon, but the emotional numbing grows heavier as the years go by. You are sacrificing parts of yourself in exchange for a sense of belonging, but as you lose your freedom, the expression of your true self, there is only isolation.
You loathe the moments that give you gender dysphoria: the distress of wearing dresses and being told to act like a lady, the internal cringe you feel every time someone calls you “ma’am”, “miss”, or “girl”. As you creep into your late 20’s, all the pressures to conform, the resentment of always being as a woman, it gets depressing. On the really rare occasion when people call you “sir” or use male pronouns, for a moment you feel so happy and validated, even if they apologize for ‘mis’gendering you. Those moments are rare and fleeting, but those flashes of joy give you hope, a small light in an uncertain future.
I promise you that the light is bright at the end of this tunnel – I know how uncertain everything feels for you at this moment, and I wish I could hold you and promise you that if you hang on, everything will turn out okay. Eventually you are going to reach a fork in the road, and realize keeping people happy at your own expense is a losing battle. The negative emotions that you will go through are valid, but promise me that you will only stay in this sadness for a little while – there is so much to be grateful for: finding financial security in an affirming company, supportive friends and allies, and a beautiful loving partner who loves you so much she will go down on one knee and pop the question.
Yes, you are deserving of this love. You always were.
Your new environment is going to nurture you, and you will feel safe and supported enough to start coming out as trans to your nearest and dearest. Coming out to people will be nerve wracking, because you never knew if that was going to be the last time you will ever hear from that friend again. But while most people might not be able to understand your journey, you will realize that they will continue to love you anyway.
You don’t see it yet, but by being brave and living your truths you are going to inspire and educate so many people around you!
Eventually you would learn that in order to move forward, some things will need to be let go. Some friends are going to part ways with you. Just understand that you were never the problem – these people were only capable of accepting an idea of you.
While we are on the topic of relationships, there are going to be many difficult conversations with the family on this journey. My advice to you is to be patient with them. I know you’ve been waiting and preparing for this moment all your life, but it’s going to be new for them, and when you come out you should give them the time to take it in and to process their feelings. An endless stream of questions will come your way, but with time you will learn how to manage sensitive conversations with grace, and how to set boundaries when the questions are intrusive.
On the flip side, you’re going to be ecstatic to know that there are family members that support who you are. You will be blown-away when Gong (maternal grandpa) becomes your biggest advocate and supporter – you’ll wish you had ignored the emotional blackmail from others and been able to have told him sooner. Gong even comes to your wedding, and you will never forget how he smiles with tears in his eyes, and tells you how proud he is of his grandson. He even calls you handsome!
One thing I can share with you about medically transitioning – it is everything that you ever hoped for. The changes are going to take a while to fully come in, but day by day you’ll start to love the person looking back at you in the mirror. As something you think is intangible finally becomes reality, as you become whole both inside and out, you will feel a sense of peace come over you. Remember to give yourself time to be present and to take in all the little changes, and acknowledge yourself for accomplishing all the milestones that brought you there.
I can’t wait for you to find yourself and be the author of the chapters of your story. As an introvert, you’re going to be surprised to discover a voice hiding inside you that has the strength to move mountains. Your new way of being is going to open so many amazing opportunities for you, but in the end, you (and everybody else) will realize you are still the same Kim: an art lover, dog whisperer, creative bricoleur, manga lover, a quiet homebody who can’t handle spicy food… You will have changed in many aspects yet at the same time, you won’t change one bit.
I love you – I will always believe in you, and I am already so proud of your efforts! I can’t wait for you to reach this part of your journey, and stand where I am standing right now. Hang in there. It will be worth it.
With lots of gentle love,
Your 35-year old self
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