In September of 2013 I had begun noticing some concerning symptoms and during a trip seeking a 2nd opinion at Dana Farber in Boston, one of the nurses asked if I wanted a snack, to which I responded “No, those are for the cancer patients.”
“Chelsea, you are a cancer patient,” she reassured.
Being handed a diagnosis for stage 2 cancer is stressful and life-altering enough, but for reasons not limited to appearance, I decided to come out as transgender in my workplace simultaneously. Maybe it was to distract myself from my overt denial of my looming health condition while maintaining some semblance of direct control over my life, but the end result was the same: I changed my hairstyle in the form of a high quality wig by the following Monday.
My obsession with fancy dresses started when I was a very young boy, asking my mother to take me dress shopping, seeing all the pretty dresses in catalogues that I dreamt of wearing, the prom styles I loved seeing everywhere and the sweet sixteen ballgowns my father made abundantly clear I would never be allowed to have, being a male. In my adult womanhood, I had acquired some similar beautiful dresses aimed at certainly making my younger self very happy to finally own. I eventually made the decision to wear a different one to each of my chemotherapy treatments as not only a way to manage my happiness but also as a means of reclaiming the femininity I would be losing with expected hair loss and eyebrow thinning. My father Joe came to my first treatment and upon seeing my self expression, began swearing and yelling at myself and my partner, and later stormed off. In an email several days later he would call my decision “a spectacle… that disrespected hospital staff and more importantly, [him].” He continued “we will not be part of any future spectacles.” Upon being made aware of this, my local friends picked up the slack left void by absent family and joined me in small groups for my infusions. Being transgender unfortunately often means choosing gender expression over blood-related family, who convolute “unconditional love” with various unreasonable appearance-based requirements. I concluded they no longer deserved to be included in my life path experiences moving forward.
I continued the pattern of a different dress for each treatment, which my chosen family absolutely loved and supported, ending treatment in May of 2014. It was abundantly clear that my relationship with my parents was never a loving or supportive one, and my decision to finally cut them off as a result of their past manipulative conduct was essential for my own mental health, an unfortunate commonality in the duration of many transgender lives. Not every victory is a total win and not all happy endings are entirely happy; but the transgender experience, like cancer remission, endures and boldly persists survival through self-preservation.
By : Chelsea Brickham