In conjunction with November being ‘Depression Awareness Month’ here at Twenty3, we had the opportunity to sit down and chat with the lovely Terrena. Here she shares her moving story about gender identity, struggling with depression, and learning to love herself.
“The name my parents gave me was Terrence. For as long as I could remember, I always felt like I was a little girl trapped inside a boy’s body. I loved playing with dolls and always wanted to dress myself up in beautiful dresses instead of wearing t-shirts and pants like boys do. When I turned 5 years old, my family began thinking that it was strange I was still playing with dolls instead of toy cars. This led to some of my relatives accusing my sisters of influencing me to be a girl, instead of a normal boy.
Gender identity is a funny thing; you think you know who you are, but everyone else tells you you’re supposed to be someone else. Primary school was a very difficult time for me, because kids can be so cruel to anyone they see as “different”. I was the subject of constant verbal and physical bullying. Not only was I certainly attracted to boys, but my body language and the way I spoke had femininity written all over it. Boys would purposely walk past me and hit me in the chest. Even at that age, I felt sexually harassed, but because I was a “boy”, no one cared. Once, a girl told me that she wished I would stop behaving like a girl and act more like a boy. It hurt me, and confused me even further.
Home wasn’t a place where I could seek refuge. My mother’s friends would comment openly with disdain that I was turning into a girl. I knew that this bothered my mother, but she would just laugh with them and shrug it off. But I knew it was eating her up inside.
I vividly remember the first time my family turned their backs on me. When I was 8 or 9 years old, I innocently asked to play with Barbie Dolls and discovered the dolls went missing the next day. They threw them all away and refused to speak a word to me. It scared me – I loved my family, and I was terrified of being alone. Everyone hated me in school, I couldn’t bear to lose my family too. From then on, I tried my best to be a normal male, even though it was far from who I was.
I’d told lies before, but to actually live a lie made me question my own identity. Who am I? What defines me? Do I exist if nobody will recognize the real me? Do I exist if I don’t even have any sense of my self? It’s a heavy burden for anyone to bear; for a child, it was crushing.
Growing up, my mind was constantly filled with suicidal thoughts. It started when I was in Primary 6. I would constantly ponder on the quickest, most painless way to die. I began harming myself by hitting my head against the wall, but never cut myself because I was afraid of blood. Several times I tied a rope to the windowpane, but never mustered enough courage to put it around my neck.
College came and went and yet, I did not find the courage to embrace my feminine side. I wasn’t ready both financially and emotionally to face the consequences of coming out to my family. You only have one family.
After graduating, I found a job and moved to the city. Away from the environment in which I grew up, I finally began to open up – KL is a much freer and much bigger place where I could grow and learn to rediscover my own self and self-worth. Back in my hometown, I was the weird child under scrutiny from friends and neighbours, but here, I was free to start over. Most importantly, I found a group of friends who have never judged me, and who have been incredibly supportive of my rediscovered gender identity.
Two weeks ago, with their constant encouragement, I stepped out in public in a dress for the first time. It was terrifying at first, but I had their unwavering support. They weren't embarrassed to be seen around me – in fact, they were thrilled for me!
As for my family, I eventually came out to my eldest sister about who I truly am. Her first reaction was shock but she quickly learned to accept it. She even offered to research for the right doctors for me to consult in order for me to receive the right treatments!
I now own several dresses of my own, but I still have a soft spot for that first dress – it was a Shanon Dress from Twenty3. They contacted me, and convinced me to share my story with the world.
For anyone reading this who’s going through the same situation as I did, please know that you are not alone. I promise it gets better.
This is me, coming out of my closet. Having lived a lie for so many years, it feels absolutely wonderful to finally accept myself for who I am.
And who am I? I am Terrena.”