2012 was the worst Christmas I could ever remember. I had just begun what would become an arduous and painful journey into coming out as a transgender woman. I had lost my job six months prior to a start-up web company. I was barely making ends meet and renting a one-room flat with an air mattress and a closet.
In addition, I had just ended a three-year relationship with someone, and I wasn’t speaking with my family because I didn’t really want to burden them with the idea that the brother and son they once thought they knew was actually someone they didn’t know at all. Even my cats, which were literally the only things I had left in the world, were staying somewhere else because I could neither afford or was allowed to have them in my tiny space.
That Christmas was bleak, to say the least.
I sat in my tiny room on Christmas Day with no tree, no presents and nobody to talk with. There was only a dark corner of the room where my soul was hiding. I tried to keep my mind focused on what was important. I tried to keep my mind on survival. Knowing that next year, perhaps Christmas would be special.
There was never a time when I was completely alone at Christmas. I can remember wintry trips across the hills of Upstate New York to visit my family, with Christmas carols on the radio and the smell of apple pie cooling on my back seat. Despite the copious amounts of the brownish salt and sand mixture which coats the highway splashing on my windshield, there is no place like Upstate New York in the winter.
I waxed poetic about that time, as I sat and watched a film about Christmas redemption and ate whatever food out of a can I had that day. Life indeed had reached a new low. Faced with the reality that soon I was to leave this place and step out into the world as a trans woman was nearly too much to bear.
It is after much contemplation that I come to think of what the meaning of Christmas is.
We’ve created a world where Christmas is less about Christ, and more about our personal needs and desires. Our desire to be with friends and families, to give gifts to one another, not to represent the gifts the Magi gave to Jesus but for reasons altogether different.
Each and every year from the four weeks before Christmas, we plan for the birth of Christ through Advent. And on Christmas morning, Christ is born, as He has been born every year for over 2,000 years. It is easy to think about what this means for me, a person in a cramped room with a cheap air mattress and a tin can full of processed food.
In spite of it all, I was thankful. I was alive. The lesson I was learning from being alone at Christmas was not one of self-pity or self-loathing. It was a lesson about how it was time for me to live through Christ and be reborn, as he is through us.
On December 25, 2012, Rachel was born; a name from the distant Biblical past, and also a name from my distant past chosen by my mother.
My first year as Rachel wasn’t a glorious birth and celebration.
It was fraught with poverty, unimaginable suffering, and a suicide attempt. It was rife with discrimination and hatred, sexual assault and the loss of friends. It was a depletion of my bank account and consideration of bankruptcy.
Nevertheless, every time there was discrimination, there was someone who didn’t discriminate. Through all the hatred, I received great love through new people I was meeting. The sexual assault helped me to learn how to be street smart, and old friends now since gone were replaced with new ones. In 2013, I even found a job in my own career field.
And then, during Christmas 2013, I spent the holiday with my best friends. It was a happy and lovely time in my life with memories I will cherish forever. It felt like the end of my birth, and the start of something glorious. It felt like I was starting to turn a corner, and I was.
When we suffer, as so many of us do at Christmas, we always must remember the true meaning of Christmas.
Christmas is a chance to be reborn as Christ is reborn. To find how we can improve upon ourselves, our relationship with others, and with the world. This is the true meaning of Christmas.
2014 has been the best year of my life. I have new friends, and I have reconnected with old ones. I have a community full of people I love unconditionally, and who love me. I’m stronger each day, and have affirmed my faith. I’ve emerged into womanhood, feeling enveloped in the freedom of it. Best of all, I have my family back with their unconditional love and support. These are the best Christmas presents of all.
This year, I will spend another Christmas alone, and not because the opportunity doesn’t exist for me to go many places, but the rule of the law which doesn’t permit me to travel. As I am a person who is a victim of a system who questions what makes us men and women. Although there is no doubt to anyone who knows me that I am a woman.
For the government in their most simplistic of thinking and misinterpretation of the Bible chooses to define me on what is between my legs instead of what is between my ears, and stamps the letter “M” on my travel documents: a tyrannical injustice evoking a false word of the Lord.
This Christmas, my rebirth happens knowing that 2015 will be my best year yet.
Nothing is going to stop me now.
Photo via flickr user Visit Finland