This is going to be hard for me to write about but it’s something I feel I need to do recover from this trauma. I am issuing a serious trigger warning right here and now. If you are easily triggered by sexual abuse and rape you probably are not going to want to read on..!
I’m going to talk about a couple of things that have happened to me when I was young and then this past January. At first, these incidents were really hard for me to talk about because I was ashamed by what happened and felt completely lost on how to talk about what happened. I’ve decided to face the issue head on and not hold back. I’m taking the power they held over me back. I refuse to let being sexually abused as a young child or being Raped as an adult define who I am anymore..!
I will start out with the one that has affected me the longest. When I was in first grade I was living in the city of Chicago with my family in a two flat with my grandfather living upstairs. My parents worked so after school my brother, sister and I would be taking over to my aunt and uncle’s house to be watched until my parents got off work. On one particular afternoon after school just like always, we went to my aunt and uncle’s house, but this time was different. My uncle had laid out some blankets and pillows. My aunt was in the kitchen cooking dinner. My uncle had me lay down under the covers with him and he was naked. I felt uncomfortable and tried to leave but he grabbed my arm and told me to touch his penis. I felt so uncomfortable and ashamed. I knew it was wrong but he had made me do it. This was just the start of an indoctrination into his sick world. It did not take long for my uncle to ramp up the sexual abuse. Fortunately, it never reached the level of raping me but he did eventually have me kissing his penis and having me put it in my mouth.
These experiences stayed with me throughout my life. When you add in my gender identity issues I never felt in control of my life and found myself at the will of others. I was easily influenced by others as if I couldn’t help myself. I lost all sense of self-worth. Which made me impressionable. This was a very big issue for me because at a young age when I had a chance when I was about 10 years old and was sent to a child psychologist when I was caught crossdressing by my parents. During my sessions, I told him I was a girl but let him tell me it was a phase I was going through and I’d feel different. Which I never did feel differently about my gender. Just felt like I was crazy and my self-worth took yet another hit and this time by a professional…!
What did my low self-esteem do to me? I didn’t have the confidence to stand up for myself. When I was being teased and bullied in school I felt like I deserved it and didn’t defend myself. I started living my life by others expectations and what others wanted. I was miserable and hid it from everyone because it seemed my feelings were always wrong. After all in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s every time I mentioned that I am a girl I was told “YOU ARE WRONG” or “THAT”S IMPOSSIBLE”. As a very impressionable child and into my adulthood this was devastating to me.
Fast forward to my last suicide attempt in 2011. The scary part about my attempt was I didn’t even think about it. I know I was miserable and tired. I was tired of the fight. The fight between my body and brain along with the fight with the back pain I suffer. But the worst was the battle with myself. I was extremely depressed for a long time. My addiction to pain medicine is one of the biggest reasons for my marriage to fail. My gender identity had destroyed any self-worth I had left. At this time in my life, I felt I had lost everything I was and had. What scares me the most is the fact I didn’t even think about ending my life, I just tried. I was found three days later and was not in good shape when I was found. My kidneys had shut down and I needed dialysis. I’m a diabetic and my blood sugars had crashed leaving me completely unaware of my surroundings. I had blood clots in my left leg and left arm which has left my left leg paralyzed and reduced dexterity and dramatic loss of strength in my left hand. I had pressure ulcers all over my body with one on my back eventually needing surgery to repair. The worst part was I was septic from my body eating it’s self-leaving me unable to move my arms or legs for over a month because I had no strength to move anything. So here I was laying in the hospital a complete mess and not wanting to live till an angel walked into my room. That’s when I met Kim, my psychiatrist. She started working with me and building up my self-worth, not an easy task at that point. Kim was the first one to point out that someone must have been watching out for me, a guardian angel of sorts. No one has been able to explain how I survived that attempt let alone why I survived. Day by day Kim and I talked and I finally started to open up with her, I finally started being honest with myself and at long last after over 40 years of hiding who I am told Kim “I AM A WOMAN”…! What a relief to announce that to someone and to my surprise she said okay, now we’re getting somewhere…
For the first time in my life, someone listened to me and understood what I was talking about. For the next couple of weeks, we went through what I was feeling over and over again. I think she was trying to see if my feelings changed as my health was ever so slowly improving. I was having these daily sessions with Kim my psychiatrist but also with physical and occupational therapy. Slowly I was gaining my strength back.
One day Kim came to me and asked me if I was willing to see a gender therapist which I was. The next day there was another woman with Kim. Kim introduced her to me, this is Cheryl, she is a gender therapist and I would like for you two to have a conversation and I’ll come back in a while. Cheryl and I spoke that first day for about 1-1/2 hours about everything I have been through thus far in my life. I started seeing her 3 times a week in the beginning. Between Kim and Cheryl, I was starting to find some self-worth again, through physical and occupational therapy my body was getting stronger. Day after day I was relearning how to move and control my body again. I was in the battle of my life, for me it became a matter of life and death. Get off the pain meds I was addicted to, which I went cold turkey. Yes, I went through a severe withdrawal but I also had 2 amazing women helping me through it along with my doctors.
This is about the time I really started fighting for myself. I threw myself into all my therapy. In the therapy gym I started doing more than they were asking me to do and with Kim and Cheryl, I started digging deeper than before. Something changed in me, I developed a will to live and to find myself…. I was on a mission and became very determined to get better. Day after day my confidence was growing. As my confidence grew so did my self-worth and with that self-worth came an attitude of no longer caring what others said or thought of me. This is for me and no one else. I give Kim and Cheryl all the credit for the turnaround in my thought process. Kim and Cheryl literally saved my life. I can honestly make that statement even after all the work the doctors did to save me because if not for Kim and Cheryl all the work done by the doctors would have been wasted.
The biggest thing for me was to work on myself. I had always been a warm and caring person but the change in me that has affected me the most was the development of empathy, Empathy for others but more importantly empathy for myself. I started to allow myself to feel things again. For most of my life every time I showed any type of feelings I was always shut down by someone in my life. Especially about my gender. I was allowing myself to feel and express my true self. At long last, I’m being authentic to myself.
After almost 2 years of being clean from the pain meds and physical, occupational and intense therapy with Kim and Cheryl, I at long last moved on from the rehab center to the retirement community I now live in. This marked a huge change in my life. I now was on my own to manage in the world and was more than a little worried I wouldn’t manage my addiction on my own. All the work Kim and Cheryl did with me really did give a lot of confidence I could do this but there was that little voice in the back of my head that scared me. AS I was unpacking and setting up my apartment I came across a lock box I had but didn’t remember what I had in it or the combination to the box. That night curiosity got the better of me and I sat down with the lock box and started going through all the possible combinations until after about an hour I came across the combination and opened the lock box. I was surprised to find it filled with Dilaudid vials. I felt a panic set in but I closed and locked the box and the next morning I went to my doctor’s office with the lock box. I explained I had the Dilaudid and ask if they had a way of disposing of it. Thankfully they had a gallon jug of a charcoal based product that we could dispose of the Dilaudid in and make it disappear. I needed to sit there and opened up every single vial and pour the medicine into the charcoal. This was the defining moment in my recovery. This is when I realized it no longer held a power over me.
One step at a time I was taking the power and control over my life back. In short, I was taking control of my life for a change. This is when my oldest son came to me and told me he had gotten engaged to his girlfriend. I was extremely happy for him and was looking forward to his wedding. But some major issues where on the horizon that actually helped me with my confidence even though at that time I had no idea what was coming.
I was still in contact with my ex-wife and boys at this time. My whole family was in my life but some of the relationships were very tenuous at best. I spoke with my parents almost every week and then it happened… My son and ex-wife made the decision not to invite my parents to my son’s wedding and I was caught smack dab in the middle with no say so at all. My mom was furious with me and stopped talking to me and it was the beginning of the end of my relationship with my boys. Add into the mix I started with a new therapist to explore start of my transition.
My new therapist Sharon helped me continue to grow. And during this very tumultuous time in my life is when some things were really cemented into myself. I learned I could stand on my own two feet. I didn’t need anyone telling me what I needed to do anymore. It was me against the world. My mom had cut me out of her life and according to her, I was dead to her. With the start of my transition, my boys cut me out of their lives also. This is a time of my life that could have crushed me but it didn’t. Did it hurt? Tremendously… But I had developed coping mechanisms and didn’t need to turn to pain meds to numb the pain. I had learned to work through my emotions and feelings. I started to realize how much strength I had now.
I started my transition and wasn’t letting anyone stop me. I came out while living in a building with 400 residents and another probably 150-200 employees. A massive amount of people to come out to at once. Not your average way of coming out either. The strength it took for me to do this is enormous and I accomplished it and went full time just 86 days after coming out. It wasn’t easy or smooth but each step of the way I persevered and continued to move forward. I answered every single question that was asked and didn’t shy away from anyone. My personality had changed completely as I became approachable and always have a smile on my face. I’m enjoying life and meeting every challenge head on.
After working with Sharon for almost 1-1/2 years I felt it was time for me to move on. I had outgrown the help she was able to provide me. I became an administrator in a support group for transgender people and shortly after I was asked to do a talk show. I turned my attention to helping others. Offering advice and guidance to transgender people just starting their journeys. I continued not moving forward but driving forward with determination.
Last year, in May, my mother had a real health scare, I had reconnected with my sister by this time and she had told me she was coming in from Arizona to see mom because she was in really bad shape and wasn’t sure mom was going to make it. My sister and I spoke over the next couple of days and came to the decision I needed to visit my mom. I was nervous about going to see my mom because by this time it had been a few years and she hadn’t seen Melissa yet but it was time. If it wasn’t for the change my self-esteem and strength I don’t think I could have done it. To say this visit was contentious would be an understatement. I stayed calm and loving towards my mom and slowly our relationship started changing. After mom got out of rehab, mom and I started talking quite frequently and we really spoke and listened to each other. When I went to see her in the rehab that first time her attitude was I was dead to her but today she is very proud to have a transgender daughter. She has fully accepted me and I cannot express enough how happy I am to have her back in my life.
Last year I also started working with another angel in my life, my current therapist Suzy. Her one thing that she has been working with me about has been taking care of myself. She tells me I work too hard and spread myself too thin with all my groups, friends and work. But on the flip side to that is she likes how hard I dig into any issue that comes up. Sometimes I wish people could see one of our sessions when I’m working through things because I’ll be confused or struggling with something and just to be able to watch how we interact and how things come into clarity for me and it’s usually me just talking things through when the answer comes to me. There have been some huge changes in me but I need to talk about something else first and I’ll come back to the observations Suzy has made about my attitude as of late.
This is the part that is the hardest for me to talk about. As I was recovering from my suicide attempt I promised myself that no one was ever going to be able to do anything against my will ever again. This past January I was asked to go out by an acquaintance. She was going to pick me up and we met a group of about 20 people at a bar & grill. I wanted to go to get out of the building I live at and it had been a long time since I went out to a bar. After about an hour or so the person who brought me to the bar said she was going to the bathroom, It took me a little while to realize she left me there and now I didn’t have a ride home. I tried calling and texting her and was not able to get her on the phone.
This past January I was asked to go out by an acquaintance. She was going to pick me up and we met a group of about 20 people at a bar & grill. I wanted to go to get out of the building I live at and it had been a long time since I went out to a bar. After about an hour or so the person who brought me to the bar said she was going to the bathroom. It took me a little while to realize she left me there and now I didn’t have a ride home. I tried calling and texting her and was not able to get her on the phone.
Now didn’t know how I was going to get home. I asked some of the people that were part of the group if they would be able to drive me home. For a while, people were telling me they couldn’t take me home. They lived the opposite direction or their car was already full. There was almost a panic setting in when a gentleman who was part of the group offered me a ride home, it really seemed innocent enough to me. He came up to me and said “I’m sorry you got left behind. Would you like me to take you home”? I said yes without really thinking about it. After all, I never had to think about my safety before. I always knew how to handle myself. We said goodnight to the people that were left in the bar and headed out.
I need to stop here for a minute to explain a few things. As I explained earlier I have a bad back and my left leg is paralyzed from the knee down. I have a real hard time walking and my balance is tenuous at best. So I was in no way able to defend myself. We got in his car and we started towards my home. There was some small talk as I thanked him for taking the time to drive me home. We were heading down a busy road which had some wooded area’s that had places to park and he said he needed to pull
As I explained earlier I have a bad back and my left leg is paralyzed from the knee down. I have a real hard time walking and my balance is tenuous at best. So I was in no way able to defend myself. We got in his car and we started towards my home. There was some small talk as I thanked him for taking the time to drive me home. We were heading down a busy road which had some wooded area’s that had places to park and he said he needed to pull into one because he had to pee real badly. He pulled off the road we were on and into one of the groves, He got out of the car and I thought he was going to go to the bathroom but instead he came around to my side of the car and opened the door. He said, “get out”..! I asked why and he grabbed me by the hair and pulled my out of the car and continued to pull me away from the car calling me a fucking bitch. He threw me to the ground and stood over me and was saying so you really want to know what it’s like to be a woman you faggot? I’m going to show you. He pulled off my skirt and underwear and rolled me over. I have learned since this happened to me that one of three things will happen. You will fight. You’ll run or fight or you’ll freeze. I froze. As he rolled me over it was if I detached from my body. I just laid there and he took me. He entered me and raped me. Continuing to ask if I liked being a woman now..! I was frozen in that moment and couldn’t move or say anything. I felt like part of my soul was being shattered to pieces. Suddenly I felt like my life was over. When he was done he climbed off of me and told me to get dressed. Which I did. I was in physical and emotional pain now. My self-worth was completely shattered again and was crying as I got back in the car. I sat there in silence and tears as he drove me home.
When he pulled up to my building he said “get the fuck out bitch” which I did without saying a word. I got to my wheelchair which was in the foyer of the front entrance of my building. I sat there for about 15 minutes as I gathered myself together. I didn’t want anyone to know what happened to me. When I entered my building I signed myself back in and went up to my apartment and broke down as I cleaned myself up. My world and my life had been shattered and I was completely lost as to what to do.
One of things that I was thinking about was if this got out people would think differently of me. I’ve seen how women’s lives get destroyed after being raped. Rumors start going around… What was she wearing? Was she flirting with him? Was she really asking for it? It’s all something that starts to get out of hand and ruins her reputation. I’ve worked very hard to be me and I felt like it was taken away because all of a sudden I felt all alone in the world. The trauma and pain I was feeling at that point felt like it was never going to go away. I never wanted to be thought of as a slut or a whore and these are the type of things that can go around when you are raped which is why I didn’t go to the police.
Suddenly I felt so alone and I was afraid of being slut shamed. The big problem here is people will make up their own story about what happened based on their beliefs. People hear what they want to hear based on their perception of you, suddenly you are no longer human to some people you’re an object. I felt like there was no safe space anymore. I blame part of this on society because as women we are made to believe we are rated on being attractive, to be popular, and good looking and to look perfect and when something like this happens you’re not worthy of being a girlfriend, you’re dirty, used and don’t have the right morals. You’re treated like a sexual object.
Transitioning you start relearning everything about yourself. You’re finding your own identity, your finding yourself and it’s a process that isn’t much different than a teenage girl in high school. The littlest things can have a major impact of your self-image. We are developing our identity, our bodies and our sexuality and that’s a tremendous amount of huddles to navigate. At first I thought I did something wrong. As I thought about what happened over the next week or so I realized I needed to talk about it. I reached out to a couple of very trusted friends and told them what happened and what they said to me really helped me out. I was reaching out for help from them but afraid to say anything. The person I call my soul sister said to me… “Melissa if it’s important to you, I’m here and there’s no judgement from me”. Her statement relaxed me enough for me to open up. I was in a crisis was trying to just forget what happened but couldn’t.
Sexual assault comes with so much shame, on top of the pain, on top of the violation and it’s so incredibly hard to talk about it. To top it all off there are so many new emotions as you transition you are completely over whelmed by them. My friend provided me with that safe place that I needed to open up. I was in shock still and having a hard time getting it out but she was very patient with me and spent the time on the phone with me till I got it out. To be able to verbalize and explain what I was feeling was so hard to do but it was the first step in taking back my life. I was asking why me? At first I was only said able to say so much but over the next couple days I was able to get it all out.
As I sit here writing this it’s been a couple of months since it happened. I do ask myself what culpability I hold in the situation. I am a rape survivor and did what I had to do to survive what happened to me let alone have second thoughts as to my own actions. This is something that he did not me. I did not ask to be raped. I did not flirt with him. I just needed a ride home and did not say yes. As I sit here going through all of this I firmly believe I was set up. The person that asked me to go out that night I have not been able to get a hold of and this point I don’t ever care to talk with her again. And I certainly don’t need to know why.
Over the last few months I have been working with my therapist on recovering from this without actually telling her what happened. I finally found the courage last week to tell her everything and I realize it’s okay to talk about being sexually assaulted, the more I talk about this the less power it holds over me, and that is why I am writing this article. I never thought something like this would ever happen to me again but it did. This is where I’ll pick up what I was talking about before I explained the rape. I have a huge presence in the transgender community and, as far as I can tell, I am liked by many. People have told me I’m an inspiration to them, so I feel a responsibility to them. I always try to post positive posts in an attempt to help others and I knew I needed to overcome this situation. I dug deep into what I worked on with Kim and Cheryl and I started changing once again. The anger I felt and the way I interact with people I don’t like is changing. When I was getting interrupted while talking with Suzy I would get very irritated with the people interrupting but now I am just answering their questions and moving on now. Suzy has told me she is really seeing a softer and gentler side of me now. Why is that? I think it has to do with I now know I can survive and move on and this article is prove of just that. My only hope for writing this is that if it helps just one person, everything I went through was worth it….Tweet #TransHopeUnited