Join us at the Trans and Gender Expansive Retreat: The Voice of Self Love


Is the mirror your friend? When someone asks you to introduce yourself or to “tell us a little bit about you” does anxiety grip your throat and steal your ability to make a sound, let alone utter a complete sentence? Does your concept of who you are seem so far at odds with what the world may see that even meeting someone new seems like an unthinkable task?

There are many reasons any of those scenarios might describe your reality. In my own experience, living with Gender Dysphoria drove my social anxiety to unbearable levels such as those. The disconnect with who I knew I was and who I was expected to be was an ever-present, shrill alarm in my head telling me I was not worth the effort.

I made the effort to manage the situation. I worked with a body image specialist who had me attempting to stand naked in front of a mirror for 5 or 10 minutes at a time affirming the reality of what I saw. Gender Dysphoria and body dysmorphia, as it turns out, are not to be treated the same way. I knew exactly what I saw and it didn’t fit.

When that didn’t work I consulted with dream analyst. Perhaps, I was told, the subconscious effects of trauma were causing misguided perceptions of self. If we could tap into those thoughts and understand where they were coming from, then we could “correct” my perception of self and understanding of reality. Gender Dysphoria and Post Traumatic Stress, as it turns out, are not to be treated the same.

Mode after mode, specialist after specialist I did everything I could address the fear, frustration, and physical pain that dominated my life. Everything, that is, expect accepting and loving myself.

Then the door was opened to the idea that God didn’t need anything “fixed” for me to be loved.

It wasn’t just one counseling session, or even one counselor. It wasn’t one seminar or retreat or workshop or book or class or sermon. It was a cacophony of seemingly random voices all coming together to reinforce the notion that I am lovable: Able - To - Be - Loved - by God, by others, and - most of all - loved by me.

The more voices we have present in our lives reasserting that truth, the deeper it gets rooted into our realities. While the dysphoria is not completely gone and the insecurities and self doubt are often still my default way of thinking, they are no longer the only message in my head. The chill alarm they used to represent is drown in a chorus of affirmations and soft chimes of acceptance.

Listening to those new, affirming, voices has allowed me to bring my perception and presentation of self into accord and to willingly share myself and my story with others. Embracing the notion that I have value as an image bearer of the Divine has allowed me to finally make friends with the mirror.

Also, I’ve come to appreciate any opportunity to be that voice to others on their journey.

I hope and pray that we can be that voice to one another as we gather this summer in Ft. Lauderdale.

Read more about the Trans and Gender Expansive Retreat from Austen Hartke and don’t forget to register for the Summer Retreat!