What do you see when you look in the mirror?
I don’t know what it’s like for you, but I can tell you what it’s like for me.
In 1991, when I was thirteen years old, I had my first severe dissociative episode. I was looking in the bathroom mirror in my parents’ house, and I realized that I did not recognize the person in the mirror as me. I had seen this reflection my entire life, but this time was different. Imagine looking in the mirror and quite literally seeing someone who is not you, looking back at you. That is the plot of a horror movie. I got closer and closer to the mirror, staring deeply into my own eyes, letting my facial features blur. The only thing I could recognize in the image, were my eyes. I started to feel dizzy. I started to get very “meta” in my thoughts. I thought, “If that’s not me, who am I? Maybe I’m not really here. I don’t really exist.”
This was the first time I remember having facial dysphoria. The result of this episode was that I felt like I was “outside my body” for the entire rest of the day. It was extremely disturbing. After that, puberty started to kick in to high gear. I became increasingly depressed. I tried to avoid shaving for a long time, because I heard that if you shaved, you’d make the hair grow in faster. Then one day, a classmate of mine told me that I “missed a spot” and pointed at a patch on my cheek. I was distraught. I started shaving the next day. It got worse from there.
I hadn’t had the life experience to understand what was making me upset. I thought everyone just dissociated when they looked in mirrors. After a while, my brain formed a cyst around this thought process, in order to protect me. I stopped having dysphoric and dissociative episodes from looking in mirrors. Instead, I was just depressed all the time. I started eating Kraft Macaroni and Cheese by the box, frozen pepperoni pizzas whole in one sitting, frozen dutch apple pies. I hated my body so much, but I did not understand why. The facial padding that weighing 300 pounds gave me hid my prominent brow ridge, wide-set jaw and enlarged trachea. It made my cheeks puffy and baby-like. The weight also gave me breasts. I didn’t realize that I liked these things. What I hated was what the weight did to the the rest of my body, my health, my prospects of joy or life in the future.
When I decided to lose this weight, I made it happen quickly. When I am motivated, I do things very rapidly. I lost 140 pounds in nine months. As the weight came off, I felt joy and vigor at being able to do increasing levels of activity that I had not been able to do in years. Unfortunately, my sharp facial features emerged, and I started to have to build up that cyst around them in some other way. I internalized the self-hatred and channeled it into things like my career, bettering myself constantly, always striving for a better skillset, a better job. I rewarded myself with a better outward appearance, in the form of a series of increasingly fancy cars. The cars were the projection of a desire to look attractive in a way that I could not. I’d buy a new one every year. This was not healthy, even if I was starting to become more physically healthy and seem more mentally healthy.
I was a genuinely more happy person, and I thought I had “fixed myself,” all the while continuing to ignore the parts of myself that I had encysted. They went far beyond my own image in a mirror or a photo, but I’ll save these other things for discussion at a later date. In any case, I tried to live as a man. I tried for 30 years. And then, one day, I gave up. Like a meteor impacting the earth and wiping out the dinosaurs, a series of mental self-revelations careened into the stream of my life and blew away the outer shell of “Nicholas Spencer Roy.” As I started to do things to align myself with this deeply-ingrained gender identity that is different from my assigned gender at birth, the cysts started to dissolve, and all these behaviors, fears, images, reactions and thoughts came to the surface. One of the most painful turned out to be about my face. I hated, have always hated, and will always hate the prominent brow ridge, hooded orbits, wide and angular jaw, and Adam’s apple. So, I have to do something about them.
It turns out that changing these things will be expensive, but not anywhere nearly as expensive as I had feared. It’s achievable, and so I will do it. You may wonder why I would subject myself to the physical pain of this procedure, which will be significant. I can only tell you that the pain of the procedure is slight, compared to the pain of looking in the mirror. The harder, and easily the hardest part for me, is what this will do to those I love. I hope that the love you see in my slightly different face makes up for that.
What do you see when you look in the mirror?