Ten Years of Recovery: Reflections from a Transgender Man
Over Labor Day weekend in the year 2000, I was lying on the floor in my college dorm room asking myself if it was time for me to leave this world. The walls only bounced the sound of a clock and my heartbeat off of the green cement blocks. Everyone else who lived in the dorm had left for the weekend break, leaving me in solitaire. I was at a tipping point in my eating disorder. As the minutes continued to tick, a voice grew louder in my head.
It wasn’t the usual voice of defeat, but one of hope. One that simply said, “It’s not your time. You need to get better.”
This voice gave me the strength to lift my body up off the floor and set intentions for my future, a future where I would live in recovery. I recognized that I was fearful of what recovery would look like for me, what it would reveal. I learned as I moved forward that just like the slow take-over of my life from my eating disorder, my recovery was also a slow moving process. One for which I am eternally grateful.
Flash forward to 2005, where my body, in recovery but not behavior free, stood firmly among the shelves of a bookstore in Boston, Massachusetts. Snow blew around outside the nearby picture window, but in the spot I stood, I only felt warmth. In my hands was a book about people who identified as transgender men, meaning they were born assigned female, but identified as male. This book shared their journeys along with images of them posing within their personal spheres of school, home, recreation, or work. My five years leading up to that moment suddenly felt worth it; I found what I had been searching for.
I was a man, living within a female body.
Along with the excitement that I felt, I also felt fear. Questions began swirling in my brain.
What if what I am feeling is just part of my eating disorder?
What if I transition and I still feel the same way about my body?
What if my therapist refuses to recognize my transgender identity?
What if I never feel . . . “right” . . .?
Eleven years have passed since that moment. Over the past decade, I have become Ryan, a transgender man. I have also become behavior free from my eating disorder.
Before one applauds, I feel it is important to point out that although I haven’t slipped back into the grips of eating disordered behaviors, my eating disorder is still a part of me. From thoughts of restriction to distorted body image – it all continues to pulse inside. I still find myself measuring self-worth and value based on the perception of my muscle development and current body fat percentage. My transition did not make these feelings go away.
However, my transition did help with my dysphoria over certain parts of my body, which I changed through surgical measures. The testosterone that now courses through my veins has brought me a sense of chemical balance. While I still get depressed, I am not always depressed. While thoughts of suicide sometimes creep into my mind, these thoughts are not present 24/7. While I still struggle with my body, I do not feel the immense anxiety that once overtook my life and my identity.
Moving beyond what my transition has brought me within my physical form, my transition also brought me the courage to take hold of my life and allowed me to be the person I am, no matter what other people say, feel or think. It gave me the strength of individuality to break the strings that tethered my personal feelings to what I interpreted my parents needed from me. It gave me permission and the authenticity to stand in my truths and to learn that my identity is separate from my family’s identity. I am an independent being. While it was difficult to see my family struggle with my identity, over the years we have all grown and have created new relationships with one another. I am grateful for going through this period of growth, and grateful for the support I had from my friends while I continued to work toward finding self.
I learned over the past decade that it is important to always be present in recovery. I recognize my emotions now and I am able to take a step back and pause when my eating disordered thoughts come into mind. I also recognize how influenced I am by what I see around me, and how vital it is to appreciate what my body can do for me while I continue on this journey into the unknown.
About the author –
Ryan K. Sallans, MA is a public speaker, diversity trainer, consultant, publisher, and author of the book Second Son:Transitioning Toward My Destiny, Love, and Life. Published in 2013, Ryan’s memoir chronicles his battle with his family, his romantic partner, and his body. It is an unblinking focus on self-empowerment tracing Ryan’s evolution into manhood as he underwent gender reassignment surgeries. Born Kimberly Ann Sallans, Ryan shares his struggles through his eating disorder and his awareness that gave him the courage to become his authentic self through his gender transition. Ryan specializes in healthcare, workplace, and college campus issues surrounding the LGBTQIA community, with a specialized focus on the transgender community. For the past fifteen years, he has worked with organizations and universities on LGBTQ social issues, creating transgender-inclusive environments, and media literacy related to eating disorders, body image, and gender. His educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts in English and anthropology, Masters of Art in English, and a Masters of Art in educational psychology. Learn more about Ryan’s work at his website: ryansallans.com.