The following is based on a tweet thread I made earlier this month, which I’ve adapted and re-written here. It contains spoilers for a specific scene in season 1 of Sense8, which I’ve written about from memory. There are no spoilers for season 2, as I’m saving it to watch this summer!
In June 2015, I came out to my parents as transgender, the same month that Sense8 was released. With its help, I was able to unpack a lifetime of repressed emotions.
Telling my parents that I was about to begin my transition was something I had been actively building up to for months, and fantasising about for years. For a very long time I was convinced I would never do it. Somehow, I had. But that day had been an absolute disaster.
At the time I couldn’t handle the idea of telling my parents to their faces. I was so frightened of a negative reaction, I knew I could never do it that way. So I told them via a letter, one I had tried to keep short and to the point. I’d stressed that nothing under the surface was changing and I’d still be the same person, I’d still be their child. I was just making some changes to my presentation to match how I had always felt. I was going to stop hiding the parts of me I had buried.
The message I got back in return was that the news had left them ‘in pieces’. I was told that second only to a sudden family death years earlier, learning that I was transgender had resulted in the worst day of their lives.
In the letter I had also explained how hard it had been for me to keep things hidden, that these years had been very stressful and difficult for me. But none of that seemed to matter to them, they had bypassed that thought altogether. That was the part that bothered me the most, that they weren’t expressing any concern for me. They didn’t ask if I was doing okay, or how it had felt to keep a secret that long.
I’d been expecting a very bad reaction, but even what I had pictured was mild compared to how extremely negative they were being. I was being treated as someone who had betrayed them and done something utterly unforgivable.
That evening I was strangely numb. Quietly disappointed in their reaction. I didn’t shout, I didn’t cry, I didn’t do anything. I just sat there.
At the time I was living in a small flat with my partner, so thankfully I had space. I wasn’t even in the same city as them, so I didn’t have to see my parents anytime soon. But I had no idea what to do next.
Beyond the fear, one other significant reason I had told my parents using a letter, was because I was worried I would panic and back down otherwise. I was still worried about that happening even now, that the fear and stress might make me cancel my whole transition and go right back into the closet.
I had already tried to come out as transgender when I was a teenager, but fear had driven me right back into denial, right back to hiding. It felt uncomfortably possible that I was on the verge of doing it again.
The next day I simply sat and resumed watching Sense8, as I was trying to just get on with my life and distract myself. I didn’t feel up to going out, but I figured I had to give my parents time to digest the news. As I’d started watching the show that week and greatly enjoyed it, I was happy to continue with something that had already sucked me in and helped me forget about my own troubles.
If you’ve not seen the show, there’s a trans woman in Sense8 called Nomi, who’s excellently played by Jamie Clayton. She’s a fantastically human character, defined by more than the fact she’s trans, but also that part of herself is still central to her background and relationships.
Meanwhile, there’s also a gay male character called Lito, played by Miguel Ángel Silvestre. He quickly became my second-favourite character after Nomi.
Due to the slow pace of the plot and the large cast, the two characters don’t often talk one-to-one. But when they do, in a scene towards the end of the series, the result is incredible.
When peacefully sat side-by-side, Nomi tells the story of how she was pushed into playing sports when she was a kid, forced to play alongside boys. This leads her to talk about bullying.
It’s important to remember that being a trans woman, Nomi’s childhood is pre-transition. In this flashback, the other kids don’t know she’s a girl, they just think she’s a “girly” and weird “boy”.
At this moment, I had lost my breath. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: it was my life.
I grew up seeing trans people as punchlines, corpses or killers. My feelings, my life, was always presented as a joke or a perversion, every time.
But here was my experience of being pushed into a locker room with boys who bullied me, who could tell I was different somehow and wasn’t one of them. Bullying that didn’t come from being nerdy, or quiet, or physically different. It came from being trans, a girl. This was explicitly what I had experienced.
I’d never seen my childhood shown like this before. It was being presented for sympathy, as something the protagonist had survived. Everything about this story was framing Nomi as a hero, someone to cheer for, someone who had endured an ordeal when she deserved to be protected.
At school my bullies weren’t villains to anybody, they were seen as funny, cool and confident. They were everything I was not. Nobody ever tried to protect me, and I never felt like I deserved any protection either.
As the scene progresses, Lito is shown to be absolutely enraged by this story, he calls the bullies ‘monsters’. At this point I lose it. I start crying.
I always felt like the loser, the outcast and the weird kid. I felt like I was never good enough for anyone, and not standing up to those bullies was on me. I thought it was all my fault. I had spent years and years as a teenager trying to toughen myself up. Trying (and failing) not to cry in front of my peers. I tried to be “normal” like they were. I blamed myself for being the way I was.
But Sense8 was telling me no, it wasn’t my fault. That the bullies were being horrible and that I deserved to be me, just like I had been trying to be.
While I was still reeling from this, the scene continues and Nomi explains that what those awful kids did to her, was nothing compared to the hurt of repressing herself. This destroys me, I relate to it so much. I feel like that the foundations of my life have just been torn down. Lingering feelings of self-loathing and guilt are beginning to be dismantled as I process what I’ve just seen.
I start to cry harder than I ever have in my entire life. The episode finishes, the credits play, and I’m still there on the bed, sobbing.
I had spent my life hiding being trans, not admitting I wanted to transition, because I was scared to be myself. I had never let myself admit what I wanted to wear, who I wanted to be, and how I really felt. I hid it all. I pushed it down.
It had always hurt, I just never let myself admit how much.
All at once I feel it. The exhaustion of hiding myself for so long, a lifetime of pretending that I was okay, pretending that I didn’t need help. The suppressed pain of believing that I didn’t deserve to be happy and honest, always telling myself that I was wrong to feel the way I did. I finally face up to it all.
‘I’m done.’ I gasp, still crying ‘I’m not doing it anymore. I’m being me.’ I knew at that moment I was never going to pretend again.
I finally felt hurt that my family had rejected me, the despair finally hits, a delayed reaction well overdue. That longing for acceptance that I never got, what I had been seeking my whole life, it overwhelms me. But among the pain, I also realise that my need to transition, to be me, is more deserving than the comfort I’ve given people by keeping quiet.
I always deserved to be loved for who I was, not just who I pretended to be.
I always deserved to be me.
The pain gives way to more confident revelations. My sense of self is reborn with newfound calm and acceptance.
As a teenager I had felt like I was doing something wrong by feeling this way, as if there was something inside me that I should despise and seek to silence. But it was never wrong. This has always just been who I am. That’s okay. Likewise, my choice to transition was the right choice, nobody had the right to try and stop me. Nobody had the right to make me feel guilty.
I didn’t truly understand and believe that I deserved to be happy until that evening, when I saw that episode. I watched it at the perfect time, at the lowest point of my life. It was exactly what I needed.
No other show with as big a budget, with as much marketing, in such an accessible place, had that type of representation and message. I had never seen anything like it, and still haven’t seen something that remarkable.
The next week I saw my parents, as we sat and talked about what I had told them. They tried to talk me out of transition, claiming that I needed time to think, and if I was truly trans than there would have been more signs. I calmly explained that I was not going to change my mind, there was not a single doubt in my mind.
My parents didn’t like my choice. Surprising me, they said they wanted me gone. Even though myself and my partner were about to lose our flat, I wasn’t welcome to stay with them anymore.
So with that I moved 250 miles away, to a place I had always wanted to live, a completely new environment. Once there, I changed my name and immediately stopped pretending, without an ounce of guilt or shame for doing so.
It’s been two years since I watched that episode.
Everything since then has been the happiest time of my life.