Munroe Bergdorf: I transitioned as an act of love to myself
The road to happiness begins with a dive into the unknown, says the social activist and model
What’s love got to do with it? Well, apparently everything. The Ancient Greeks believed there to be seven kinds of love. Eros, taking after the Greek God of sexual desire, was used to describe one’s love of the body. Philia, also known as “brotherly love”, was a way to describe a love of the mind or a platonic love. Ludus was the word used for “playful love”, while Pragma described a longstanding love. Agape was a love of the soul and Philautia was love of the self. Finally, Stove was used to describe a “love of the child”.
Fast forward to 2018 and love has become somewhat of a grey area, romance is seemingly dead unless it’s on Instagram, and your next potential partner is a mere swipe to the right away. Is it time to divide love into seven new slices? Or should we throw out the rule-book completely?
Full disclosure, I’ve always had a pretty complicated relationship with love, whether that be struggling to love the person I saw looking back at me in the mirror, or to identify who I’d end up loving before I came to understand my sexuality. The struggle has been real and I know I’m not the only one. Author Stephen Chbosky wrote it best in his book, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower: “We accept the love we think we deserve”. But since we live in a world where the lines between wants, needs and desires are so blurred, how do we begin to know what love is without a new set of rules?
Let’s begin to unpack this. I’m a pansexual, transgender woman, and somehow I’ve found myself in an open relationship. I mention these three aspects of my identity, because I believe that they are all manifestations of my personal understanding of love. Let’s start with my journey to identifying as pansexual. I’ve always been a sexually adventurous person, but it wasn’t until I was able to truly look at myself and love myself in my rawest state that I realised the potential of the love I was capable of giving others.
I knew that I wanted to transition when I was 15 years old. I remember being on holiday in Spain with my family; we were driving back from the beach where we’d had lunch together. I was having a really tough time at school, and I remember feel-ing extremely isolated from everyone and everything. I had no way of putting into words how I was feeling. I didn’t possess the language or understanding of self to do so. I was trapped in the imaginary space be-tween my body and reality. Existing just far enough outside of myself to cope with the body I was assigned to and the world I wanted to hide from. As we were driving back from the beach, I remember sitting in the back of the car with my head against be if I could upload my brain into another body. Who would I be if I had the choice? I spent the whole holiday doing this, piecing together different parts of my favourite celebrities, all of them female. I found a great com-fort in the fantasy of being myself, but looking how I wanted to look. I didn’t piece together what this meant until I was 18 and realised that being who I wanted to be was possible.
I transitioned as an act of love for myself. I set the intention to love myself, regardless of what anyone else thought, and I knew that the only way this would be possible was if I transitioned. By this time I was 24, identifying largely as genderqueer but knowing inside that I was actu-ally female, using female pronouns, but again not yet possessing the language to communicate my identity. This was an extremely tough time, with no clear light visible at the opening of a very dark tunnel.
I wasn’t just physically heading into the unknown with regards to how I was going to look. I also began to realise how much the reactions of other people would shape my everyday life. Small tasks such as popping out to the shops became terribly daunting. The idea of strangers recognising my transness became an all-encompassing fear that affected everything, from what time of day I would leave the house, to what places I would go, to what clothes I would wear, what method of transport I would take. I felt unsupported, but also too ashamed to tell anybody about how fast my mental health was declining. I began pushing those closest to me away, investing my time in toxic situations when it came to who I gave my heart to, until I reached the point where I began to lose sight of why I wanted to transition in the first place. I had hit rock bottom and knew that I was the only person who was going to be able to get me out of this hole.
My journey to self-love was a long road. I moved house twice, ended toxic relationships, and actively set out to break the self-destructive cycles that I had found myself in. I became more conscious of what I needed from myself, not just from others. As I began to love myself more, I noticed my self-worth increase. As my self-worth increased, I noted that I began to embrace the aspects of myself that, up until this point, I had seen as my weaknesses or my flaws. I realised how much was attached to me not owning my transness, not liking or respecting my transness. I saw it as something that I should be ashamed of, and didn’t see the beauty in my identity. I started to walk a little taller, hold my head a lit-tle higher, push my shoulders back a little further. At this point everything changed, and it’s still changing. Every day I feel like I am shedding a little more unnecessary skin, allowing me to become more and more present, happier, better at my job, closer to those I love and more definite in what I want to achieve.
One of the most startling side effects of learning to love myself is those who started to come into my life as a result. Not only that, but the way I loved others also began to change. How I viewed sex and relationships changed down an almost parallel path to my journey of self-love. For the first time, my mind truly began to connect with my body. I was able to become present during sex. I found myself more willing to be vulnerable with partners. My sexuality opened up as I became less concerned with trying to conform to an idea of who I should be, rather than who I actually am. I started to date women as well as men, which is something that I never thought would happen. But the closest, most meaningful connections I have had sexually and emotionally are with women.
My perspective of love within the context of a relationship has also changed and is still changing. What I have gained in confidence within myself has allowed me to become less possessive with my love; so much so that I am currently in an open, trusting relationship and exploring polyamory. I’m sharing all of this with you because I want to illustrate the point that we can’t ever form strong, meaningful and truly fulfilling connections with other people if we don’t even know, let alone love, ourselves.
The scale of my transition – not only when it comes to gender, but also who I was as a person to who I am now – is huge. It’s more than just a case of growing up; it’s conscious growth, it’s intentional self-work. I just had the catalyst of gender dysphoria to spur me on, but I seriously encourage everyone reading this to ponder the same thing that I did at the start of my transition. How far are you willing to go for your true happiness? Dive into the unknown. It’s scary at first, but it’ll be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.
This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of DIVA, available to buy via the links below.
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