The Knife of Shame

There are many challenges being Transgender, and battling societal shame is certainly not the least. Recently the Transgender community has been under increasing attack. The narrative is that there is something perverted or deeply flawed about us for being Transgender. If you support your Transgender children, you’re a “groomer,” or pedophile. How can a Transgender person ignore this noise and avoid feeling shame in being themselves? These people don’t understand how painful and difficult it is to be Transgender and how these attacks make Transgender people feel. When you are closeted these attacks feel even worse, because they make you feel hopeless.

Before I transitioned I had this deep dark secret. It was like a sharp knife that I held every day. This knife, however, was pointed at me. I held it there in constant anticipation of stabbing myself with it. I might, and did occasionally hand that knife to someone I trusted, and then they could also stab me with it. That knife was my shame. I always felt bad when I broke down and shared about being Transgender. People would say, “I’m glad you shared,” but I knew I hadn’t done them any favors by doing so. I had simply handed them the knife of shame. More often than not it was the same knife they would eventually turn and stab me with. At some point, I realized that the only way to drop that knife was to actually transition and move that dark secret out into the light. People I had trusted with my knife would simultaneously be disarmed as well. They wouldn’t have my secret to stab or threaten me with any longer. I also wouldn’t have to wonder who they might have given it to.

My ex-wife was someone who held that knife of shame for a very long time. She also shared that knife with many others. Some I knew of and some I didn’t. I walked around in the world never knowing who had that knife and who didn’t. Did this parent from my children’s school have it? Is that why my children weren’t invited for a sleepover? Or is that why their children couldn’t sleep over with my children? Did they know my dark secret? Had my ex handed them the knife? It created a threatening world for me. A place where that knife could be pulled on me at any awkward moment. It weakened me and my relationship with others. I always felt anxious and unconfident, because I never knew who had the knife and who didn’t.

I’m not trying to blame my ex. As it turns out the knife of shame is quite heavy. One might say it’s unbearably heavy. The only way to carry it is to try and share its burden with others. Some need one other person to help with the weight, while others need an endless multitude. You see, one’s shame can be infectious. My shame infected my ex. She felt shame for my secret. It was more than she could bear, and ultimately she gave it to so many others that eventually I felt surrounded by threats. That situation began to make my life and existing in it, intolerable. Many Trans people choose to end their lives when they find themselves in this circumstance. Surrounded by the sharp blades of shame. That’s why these attacks against us are so dangerous.

Looking back, I wonder how I carried the knife of shame for so long? I feel so much lighter now. I think I had simply grown accustomed to the weight and the constant threat of it. So much so that I wasn’t aware of how much it weighed on me until I finally set it down.



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Genivieve is a Transgender Artist living in Santa Barbara California.