My transition starts in an odd way, as all things in my life do. I will not bore you with the typical narrative of knowing that I was transgender since I was young: I did. I will only say that I have struggled with OCD my whole life and I figured I could take a pass at transitioning. In my early to mid-twenties I came close to beginning this process, but then I became a teacher and moved abroad.
I spent the better part of 2015 and 2016 getting over the bends (DCS Type 2II), and this is the origin of my admission and action that I had to do something about my gender if I ever wanted to become healthy. I will begin with an excerpt from my travel blog.
…After travelling to Japan, China, the Philippines, and Bali, I returned to Palawan to go to El Nido and Coron with a colleague. The first part of that trip was sublime. El Nido was the ideal place to burn out the remaining days of summer. And though it occasionally rained, the tropical karsts, endless empty beaches, and hidden lagoons were perfection. Unfortunately, the trip ended with an event that I am still recovering from. Maybe when it is less fresh in my memory, I will add to the entry below, and describe what it was like to spend several weeks in and out of hyperbaric chambers in two different countries, or the ensuing ten-month recovery.
The following vignette was written several hours after my dives as I was developing the symptoms of the bends.
The wrecks we dove yesterday still grip my mind with their terrifying murky glory. I recalled the awesome nature of the sunken cargo hold filled with thousands of swirling barracuda: deep inside a World War Two Japanese wreck. Today, wreck penetration didn’t seem much safer despite the crash course experience. As I reflected on the previous day I felt anxiety at the task at hand. Today’s wrecks were deep! And, a woman on the boat yesterday had casually commented that the current was like a river and that some of the people she had been diving with had “freaked out.” Her tone suggested that she thought her temporary dive partners were weak for their fear: comforting.
I jumped into the heaving grey sea with a splash. The current swept me away from the down-line. I struggled back to the rope and gripped it hard. I began to descend. The water wasn’t the impenetrable green shroud of debris and murkiness from the day before, but it wasn’t clear either. The sea rushed at my be-goggled eyes in the current like warp speed. Eventually, the stern of the giant supply tanker slowly resolved into view as my heart pounded and the current surged. The flow slackened as we descended behind the coral encrusted aft of the downed vessel. A rudder stood forever fixed pointing to stern: eternally steering the ship in vain. The massive edifice was the size of a city bus. I followed my guide around the rudder, gripping the coral-clad steel as I swam. Our dive target was in sight, a two-meter hole at the bottom of the boat, the home of the former propeller. We were going to swim into the engine room through the propeller shaft. The thrumming of my heart quickened.
My friend went in front of me, following our guide through the tiny hole. The shaft was dimly lit; no light glowed from within. My friend’s feet kicked as he disappeared through the hole ahead of me. Slowly as we followed our guide, the shaft widened, some light filtered through from a hole in the ceiling. As the shaft gave way to the engine room, our flashlights cut through the abyss: small rays of illumination that gave the darkness of the ship outlines of shape and depth. Mud stirred up from the floor swirling into the air and textured our flashlight trails.
Salvagers had opened up the wreck from above to take the engine in the sixties. Through their hole, we ascended. I looked up and rose slowly into the aquarium I could see glowing above me. We rose back over the deck and swam along the hull. Coral transformed the once human-wrought shapes into something wild but familiar. Fish flitted about in the current as we hugged the deck to avoid the pull of the steady stream overhead.
Eventually, we came to a small porthole pointing upwards toward the surface. The meter wide hole was our second penetration target. I descended once more into the wreck, this time head first. The cargo hold seemed endless, deep, and dark. The blackness was penetrated by the thin illumination of our torch beams. Catwalks and ladders gave this underworld a human form. I alighted on a beam beside my friend and took in the eerie space, bubbles surged from my regulator as excitement drank my air supply rapidly. We floated into the next hold through a hole. Air was trapped in the ceiling and I thought about sipping the 71-year-old air but thought better of it. We returned to the deck and swam through an old causeway choked with sea fans.
Later, on the surface our guide told us of human remains that until recently had been on the deck had recently mysteriously disappeared. The thought of skeletons in the dark added to the incredible nature of what we had just accomplished.
The ensuing year sucked. I spent a week and a bit in various decon chambers in Korea, and that was after the tube of horrors I was in the Philippines, which saved my life. I had nerve damage and could barely walk because of how dizzy I felt. No doctor could tell me if I would recover, and that year I broke up with my partner of six years. I had to take benzodiazepines in order to get through the day as they acted as effective anti-vertigo agent. My March of that year I was physically dependent on them and despite the neurologist not believing me, I had to taper myself off them which may have been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Needless to say by March I was concerned about my health. I had been free to express my gender with my partner, but crossdressing never felt like enough, and I felt like she never thought of me as a girl. I had therefore slowly repressed that aspect of myself over the years I had lived in Asia. I had the epiphany that much of the suffering I had felt may be related to suppressing my gender. I sought out a gender therapist over the internet and admitting that I needed to transition didn’t take more than a few sessions.
This post is long enough. But, suffice it to say, transitioning has helped me immensely to achieving the goal of feeling healthier. And the bends, well it’s subsided substantially most days. I even managed to do a few weeks of high altitude hiking this summer in northern Nepal on the Tibetan border.