The other day a friend sent me a casual message, inviting me to go with them to an event. I read the message, saw what the event was and my heart began to race. Just the idea of going scared the hell out of me.
It got me thinking about fear.
I had made an appointment to see a GP. It was one who had come recommended, as someone who'd helped another person transition before. So at the least, I knew I wasn't going to be fundamentally judged. But every fear in my mind was there - from the fact that I hadn't seen a GP in years to the fear that he'd say, "Sorry, looks like you have X medical condition which means you can't do hormones" to simply telling me I was wrong about myself, and transitioning wasn't a thing I should do.
It was one of many things I did over that the early-transition period that absolutely terrified me. Before this GP appointment I couldn't sleep. I lay awake in bed, what little slivers of sleep I could grab resulting in me coming to very quickly, sweating and nervous, then I'd fixate on whether or not I would wake up my partner and get a different grade of nervous. Sitting in the waiting room felt like an age when it was probably barely enough time to finish a coffee.
It felt like almost everything I did was terrifying on some level. From my fear of getting a blood test for the first time since I was a child to the fear of coming out to friends and family.
Each time I organised to meet up to come out to them, I felt fear. I was so nervous this was the last time I would ever be seen as a friend. That I might be wrong, and they'd panic and that'd be the end of our friendship. It had happened before, and it made me scared each time that I'd lose another friend. I rarely did, but that fear remained. Once or twice it was so pervasive I had a friend come with me, for emotional support.
Some of these things were marked on calendars - seeing this or that specialist. I counted down the days, and the hours, before each new scary thing I need to contend with. Others were things I knew had to happen, but I wasn't sure when. The first time using the right public bathroom. The first time going out in a dress. (I thought I didn't much care for dresses early on, so it took a surprisingly long time before I had that expereince.)
These things, once done, became huge milestones, worthy of celebration. They were single, isolated things, even if I had to do them repeatedly, which got less and less scary every time.
Each milestone had a great impact on me. I remember the first time I was gendered correctly by a complete stranger. When I realised I had nobody left to come out to, and the majority had been enormously supportive. When I realised I had no fear left whatsoever of needles.
Yet when my friend invited me out and my response was fear, I realised it was a very different kind of fear.
Fears you can list, itemise and which are based around a specific event which you know will happen at a certain time, are often easier to deal with. You can point to that event on your calendar, look one day or even a few hours ahead and say to yourself, "It will be done by this time. Over. Finished. Complete."
I realised when my friend asked me out that... I had more fears than ever before.
That specific one she'd accidentally triggered was a deep-seated imposter syndrome over being queer. Once I realised this, I grabbed a pen and a bit of paper and began to write my fears down.
I am scared of going out alone, or travelling home alone, after dark. I have much less money than I had before, so just getting an taxi or ride-share home is often less of an option, and travelling alone on public transport late at night as a woman is a far, far different experience than doing so when the world sees you as male. Especially if you've just come from a party and you're dressed up to the nines.
The instances I've experienced of men drunkenly hitting on me, trying to stop me walking somewhere, cat-calling while in groups - they all eat at you, and they're experiences I had never had to deal with before.
I would talk to my cisgender, female friends about it, and a typical response would be, "Oh, yeah. That sucks. Fuck men. You'll get used to it." Which may be true, but they'd had years to get used to it, develop psychological coping mechanisms and even get used to how much more differently they may have to plan their evenings.
I can't imagine the toll that kind of thing being a constant part of your adult life forever must be like, but as time goes on and it becomes an inescapable background factor in my own life, I began to get some understanding of what it might be like.
Almost every woman I know uses taxis, ride-shares or drives a car.
I'm also scared of public speaking.
This isn't anything too surprising, of course - but I've done it before. I wasn't that scared after the first few times. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. But I haven't done it since I began transitioning. It brings up every fear of being judged, of my voice being on display... it's a different kind of fear to when I first began to give talks or appear on panels.
There are more. Some related to physical intimacy. Others related to travel.
I realised, all in the moments after my friend invited me out to something which sounded fun... that I had more fear in my life than ever before, but in a totally different way.
Latent fears. Fears that ate away at my comfort doing things which before would have simply made me excited.
But that list... when I wrote that list? I saw them as itemised things. They may not be on specific dates, and they may not be so easy to overcome as "making to and coming out to a GP", but they once again became items on a list.
How do I do this? How do I overcome that? They went from nebulous fears to ones I will be able to at least partly move past.
I stared at that list and thought, "This is nothing. What you did before was scarier. This may take longer, but you've conquered fears before to become yourself."
So that's my 2018.
I'm going to work through that list. I have no illusions that, despite now being a tangible list, they won't be tough and, indeed, some I may at best just be able to manage rather than entirely overcome. But I'll do that.
I started by saying yes to my friend's invitation.