Being True to Myself: A Story of Hope
My name is TJ Maher. I am a transgender man and I use the pronouns he and him. I hope my story brings you hope that change is possible at any stage in your life.
I have always struggled with perfectionism. When I had every reason to be happy, I would still beat myself up. In college, I struggled with mental health issues and was diagnosed with Bipolar 2. I went on to a career as a teacher and then made the decision to go to chiropractic school. While there, I chose to go off my psychiatric meds, which led to a series of breakdowns and diagnosis of Bipolar 1.
While hospitalized in 2017, I was put into an environment where I could do a lot of thinking and reflecting on my life. It was also safe to be disconnected from reality and to connect with the spiritual realm. I remember vividly talking to God and trying to discern what it meant to be a man to me. I feel that a complete breakdown was necessary for me to come to this realization, to fully understand myself. I felt safe. My behavior was so erratic that I was isolated, but my relationship with my higher power made it so I didn’t feel so alone.
I began with changing my name and my pronouns. I was perceived as a tomboy as a child and this helped my transition to realizing I was a man as an adult. When I was in the hospital lots of people would say my identity was wrong. When I eventually came home from the hospital, I was aggressively searching for acceptance. It was challenging for me to come to terms with my identity, and I just wanted my family to be a stable force outside of me. It was hard for my family to accept my transition and use my correct pronouns and name. They were my support system, but it caused conflict because they were having a hard time coming to terms with it as well. It has taken time, and it is not perfect, but my family has come to accept me, and our relationship is strong.
Today I’m constantly misgendered and people still don’t know my pronouns. It’s hard because I’ve chosen not to change my body, so people automatically categorize me as a woman and use she/her pronouns. When people get my pronouns wrong, it feels like a part of me slips out the window. I feel whole, valued, and seen when people get my pronouns correct. I am becoming more comfortable being an advocate for myself when people make a mistake and use the wrong pronoun. I would like to ask you to consider standing up for me and others and being an ally. Normalizing asking about pronouns would be a great gift to transgender folks in society.
I wish I could say being trans made me feel complete, but I am still a work in progress. I have doubts about everything; that’s just who I am. I feel blessed to be able to choose my identity, one that is congruent with me. I am also sometimes angry with God that I had to choose; it caused so much stress because of how I came out in a manic state. I was so sick when it happened that I didn’t trust my brain. My relationship with God is still strong. Going through this breakdown gave me a new appreciation for life and the things that I had, and made me more empathetic to other people. Empathy is the reason I have decided to go into peer support as a career. I could not have done it before. My hope is that in time the words will come back to me. I hope that finding community will help me recover my voice.
Identity is an evolutionary process. Perhaps I am more nonbinary than male. Part of me gets nervous talking about it, like I’m a little kid in the nonbinary community. Maybe I don’t know enough about it, but it allows me to step outside the usual gender boxes and be myself.
I’m still discovering parts of my identity like you can discover yours. It’s never too late to change a part of yourself. You can become anything your heart desires like: an artist, a musician, an athlete, a writer, just to name a few. Identity is not limited to your gender and you can evolve and grow.
That’s why I am telling my story here. I am hoping to create more support and community around issues of gender and identity, and invite others to join me. Please call if you are interested in joining a group focused on these issues.
TJ Maher is a Connections staffer with our Step Up/Step Down peer-driven residential program. He is eager to connect with others who have concerns around LGBTQ issues and mental health. Please call us at 603-427-6966 to get in touch.