MY HOLLOW HEART (by Amabel Holland)

Mary Russell

You know how in some movies, there's a big twist at the end, and then you get this montage of scenes from throughout the movie, only this time it's putting the pieces together, and showing you what was really happening this whole time right under your nose?

Figuring out that I'm trans was a little like that. But that montage would never make sense out of context, without having seen all the scenes that came before it. How can you describe the big twist without telling someone the entire story in the process? It's impossible.

It's impossible, yet somehow others have done it, and it's because they did that I finally saw myself in their reflection, finally recognized feelings and experiences that felt and sounded like my own.

In the past, when I had tried to describe them to others, hoping that they, too, had felt what I had felt, that it was normal to have those experiences, that they might have words for them, they had no clue what the heck I was on about. More than that, they didn't want to know, didn't want to be around the weird, scared, desperately earnest kid who was hurting all the time for no reason.

I learned to stop talking about it. I learned to imitate "normal" behaviors; when I pretended I was like other people, other people liked me more, hurt me less. Because I was presenting as male, "normal" in this context meant masculine behaviors, which didn't come naturally to me, and which I didn't really understand or enjoy. I had friends, but those friendships for the most part only existed on a surface level, because my entire existence was surface level. I wouldn't say that in pretending to be a man I was "hiding" my real self, because it didn't feel like there was a real self to hide. Inside, I was empty. My heart was hollow.

I wasn't really alive. My body and my brain were just going through the motions, and as the years piled on, it became harder and harder to do even that. The more files you put on a computer, the more miles you put on a car, the poorer its performance, the more it struggles. I had always been struggling, right from the start, but it got much, much worse when I hit puberty. It felt wrong in ways I couldn't articulate, but I took comfort in the knowledge that it was "normal" to be confused and upset, and that those overwhelming, unbearable feelings would pass when I was on the other side of it.

Only it never did. My twenties were harder than my teens, my thirties harder than my twenties. One would think given that pattern that I would have looked at my approaching forties with dread, with the certainty that they'd be harder than my thirties. But in all honestly, it never occurred to me that I would live that long. Probably I wouldn't have. Like I said, I wasn't really living; my existence was automatic, by rote, a thing of muscle memory. Like the living dead, shuffling dimly and soullessly from A to B.

It's a miracle my body kept going as long as it did. Long enough to finally hear my own song in the echoes of other trans voices. Particularly those of older trans women, who are often less visible online than younger ones. There's a toll those extra years take that young people can't experience and can't articulate – an accumulation of emotional detritus that made it harder to recognize their experiences as being like my own. More than feelings about gender – more than how alienating I found masculine spaces and behaviors, and how obviously I yearned for feminine modes of expression – what resonated was the way older trans women described how decades of pretending had hollowed them out.

This simple act of recognition – of understanding who I was and what I felt – made a world of difference. I knew all along that I was hurting, and badly, but I didn't know where or why, didn't have words to describe it, didn't have tools to treat it. And then, suddenly, I did. It was a gift of incalculable value that was given to me on accident by absolute strangers. It's a gift that I feel blessed to have received.

A gift I am obligated to pass on to others. That's why I make it a point to be visible, to talk about my experiences where and when I can, in the hopes that others will see their story in mine. There are so many who were crushed by their pain – pain that was already and always too much to bear – before they could find themselves. That was almost me. I couldn't have survived much longer living as I did. I didn't have years of pain ahead of me; I had months. Weeks. I was saved at the eleventh hour.

More than saved. Resurrected. Though that word is at best a clumsy approximation. I wasn't brought back from the dead, because I wasn't really alive in the first place, not truly, not in the ways that count. Before I was alive, I was hollow. Almost every emotion was felt distantly, just as you might feel the chill of winter only dimly when in your home, bundled under blankets. Sometimes I wondered if I felt them at all, or if I only thought I did – only pretended that I did because that was what was expected of me.

Transition opened my heart. There are no walls, no blankets, between me and the blizzard. I feel it fully, feel it deeply, feel it easily and with clarity. No pretending, no second-guessing. As hollow as I was before, I never thought living could ever be so full. What was once constrained now feels limitless.

And the most astonishing thing about being alive, is how easy it is. So much easier than being hollow. I'm not constantly fighting the fog of gender dysphoria. I no longer need to keep up the exhausting pretense of "man", a role for which I was dreadfully miscast. It was a very stressful full-time job, and it wasn't until I quit that I realized just how much of my time and energy it was eating up. It left me habitually distracted, nervous. And now? Now I can simply and joyfully exist, comfortable and confident.

My life is full now: full of feelings, full of joy, of time for what matters, of energy and enthusiasm. My heart is free now: free from confusion, free from anxiety, free from pretense or artifice. I've lived more in the last twelve months than I have in the last thirty-eight years combined.


  • My best friend in the early 60’s to late 80’s struggled with the same identify. He went overboard trying to prove how masculine he was which led to some criminal activities. Finally he accepted his true gender and had sex realignment surgery. It was much harder in those earlier decades and she struggled all her life. Sadly she died way before her time.


  • I can’t say I really understand your situation, but I’m glad you’ve found a way to be happy.


  • Thank you so much for sharing this personal journey. Your strength is such an inspiration to me as young trans designer, and you bring a lot of light to this hobby.

    Marceline Leiman

  • It’s so good that you were able to find a more peaceful and joyful being. I hope that your sharing is a help to others.

    John Theissen

  • This is beautiful and inspirational Amabel. I’m so happy for you.

    Robert DeLeskie

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