I am the captain of my soul...

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

Gerrie looked into the mirror and shrugged. The bruises had almost healed, and she was fairly confident that she’d be able to see out of her right eye with less of a blur.

“Will I look pretty once the swelling goes down,” she had asked the emergency room doctor. The woman nodded almost nervously until Gerrie reminded her that she hadn’t been ‘terribly pretty’ in the first place. Even with reconstruction, there was only so much her own surgeon could do given that she had started out a bit later than everyone else in the race to gender confirmation.

“Still…It’s not that bad.” She was worried about being too complimentary; as if wanting to believe in herself was a crime. She was pretty in a very rugged way, even if she didn’t see that. What was that movie? Different for someone? She felt odd and almost guilty about including herself among the marginally attractive women in one of her support groups. It hurt as well to think that instead of having a hunk like Rupert Graves in her life, she had lost everything; her 'second' virginity, physical well-being and most of her bank account when her boyfriend left.

The one thing he didn’t take, which was still very much intact if on the occasional tenuous side was her self-esteem. Her faith kept her strong, and her friends reminded her about something that she thankfully forgot only once and a while; that she was worth so much more than she could imagine, and that life and hope and love didn’t have to be foreign words in her vocabulary.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

It had seemed to most of her friends and especially her family that she had wasted so much time.

Why go to so many support groups?

I thought Danny was a nice guy? You know you could do worse, right?

Honey? Gerald? Don’t you know how foolish you are?

Honestly, Gerrie, you really deserve better than that…you seem to just invite trouble.

While those friends meant well, they could on all-too-frequent occasions be just as discouraging as Job’s comforters. And her family was equally divided. Her parents were angry with her for abandoning her gender and her sister and brother hated her for hurting Mom and Dad.

But she had something that kept her going; people who knew firsthand exactly what it was like to be rejected. Friends who were just a little bit further up the road in their own journey; helping her know that she wasn’t alone. And they challenged her to stay the course. Yes it was rough, and at times it could be excruciatingly painful to continue, but they knew and said as much to her that there really was no turning back once she had gone through with her surgery.

And she had dear friends who told her softly but firmly to stop letting people hit her. Too many times of making up with an abuser who was the one who needed to apologize by departing. And when Danny did leave, he made it clear it was all Gerrie’s fault. He held her choices against her even though he had been aware before they even started.

“You’re not even real!” His angry outburst hurt almost as much as the slap to her face. And while the pain was ‘less,’ it still lingered well past the healing of her various bruises and sprains.

“You’re as real as anyone you’ll ever know, Ger…” One of the girls had made a strong effort to help her by baring her own soul; allowing everyone into her heart to know how much she had despised herself. And Gerrie drank in the encouragement eagerly. She began to see the abuse as the fallacy and her value as the truth.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

Too many years were left to wallow in self-pity or retreat to the habits of the past. Her commitment to her support groups went beyond what she derived from them. While she wasn’t all that far along in her journey of gender, so to speak, she had made long, confident strides about herself. She volunteered at a woman’s shelter on the weekend; an example to the women she met as someone who could and did turn away from self-condemnation and doubt.

And she continued to drink in the warm, rich nourishing strength that her friends gave to her. She moved away from her understandable but wasteful self-centeredness; giving made her a better person for her own benefit as well as those she helped. Gerrie grew and grew.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

“You look pretty good, honey,” she said to her reflection. She’d never be a Carolyn Cossey or an Andrej Pejic, but she was finally at a place where she accepted her beauty. Perhaps as 'pretty' as Hillary Swank or Tilda Swinton? Or maybe her mother, even it that was uncomfortable as hell! And she also realized that while her happiness might grow by acceptance in a relationship, she indeed was the one who would determine her worth. Nothing that had been done to her or withheld from her made her what she was, but instead her definition came from within; she decided who she was. And she knew she was good.

by William Ernest Henley

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