Don’t just survive
by Danny Ashton Earll
Life is about more than just surviving from day to day. “If I’m stuck on this earth,” writes Danny Ashton Earll, “I’m going to enjoy it as the man I was meant to be.”
Recently I’ve shared my story with a lot of people and many of them have asked, how did you survive so much? That must be so hard to deal with. You’re so amazing. While the compliment is appreciated, I don’t see myself as that amazing. I’ve yet to figure out if that is humility or I’m just so used to crazy shit happening in my life, but either way, I just hope to be an inspiration. I want others to know that they are not alone in the struggle of gender.
Transmen can be difficult to find in society unless they are out of the closet simply because our transitions tend to go more smoothly. We are able to blend in with straight society with ease if we want and our physical features are usually already masculine. After just a year into my transition, no one ever guessed I was still technically female. I still enjoy when people are in complete shock when I come out to them; shock that I was born female but that I look so much like a normal, biological man. This also makes it difficult for those who are questioning to find us to ask questions or find appropriate resources.
Before I started my transition I was lucky enough to be introduced to a transman through a university professor. Had I not met him, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. Having someone to talk to about transitioning made all the difference in the world for me. I had my questions answered and fears eliminated and some new fears after talking to my new trans friend. Thus began my journey of becoming Danny.
Life as Ashley had its good moments but generally I was living in a hell. I lived doing what others expected of me and didn’t focus on myself. If I did focus on myself it was only the pain, anguish and nights spent cutting myself for punishment and relief. I was alive, but I wasn’t really living. The only time I felt really alive was when I was singing and dancing in choir or lifting weights. I lived for those activities and they were the only things that seemed to really get me through the hard times. I couldn’t confide my secret to anyone so I had to work out my emotions some other way and those allowed me to use negative energy towards a positive experience. Once I got to college I found myself lost without my coping skills and in a world where I was once again only surviving. I spent my years simply trying to live day to day; losing sight of my goals and my hope. I became a constant act in my daily life just trying to get through the times I was around other people. It was only alone in my dorm room where I was myself and even then I wasn’t sure who that was. Even after I started transitioning I found myself just living day to day. I was struggling to find my new identity and find things that I enjoyed doing. Part of my problem was that I was suffering from major depression that had gone untreated since early adolescence, and I was dealing with things that no individual should have to go through. I was going through emotional trauma and neglect and religious persecution that left me unable to do anything more than just survive. I feel like I wasted so much precious time.
After my recovery from my suicide attempt in September of 2011, I promised myself that I was going to change. I was tired of living just to survive. I missed things from my past, and I ached for a better future. I needed to change and fix my life. After all, I was spending tons of money to change my body so why wasn’t I putting in more effort to get more out of life? Hell, I had just tried to kill myself after years of no suicide attempts. It was quite the wakeup call for me. I was blessed to have friends by my side and be supportive as I was in the hospital and afterwards as I recovered. I spent time with them to get out of my dark house and started the road to recovery. I vowed that 2012 would be MY year. I would create what I wanted my life to be, and I would work at bettering myself because that is what I wanted.
Up until the end of 2011 I had many negative experiences: loss of family and friend support; being fired from a job for being trans; loss of living situations and several spurts of being homeless; bad relationships and break ups; self-harm; suicide attempts; debt; periods of starvation; bad health; and I spent most of my time trying to feel better through negative coping mechanisms like smoking and drinking — a LOT.
Now I look back and while I still see the struggles and hardships I’ve had to deal with, I can also see the accomplishments. It took a lot to become that way, and I still have a long way to go before I am where I want to be, but I’ve started seeing the Bright Side of Life. Today I am a 23 year old female-to-male transgender who lives life as a handsome man. I have survived 13 suicide attempts; I have been clean from self harm for over two years (I count the self harm that occurred in September 2011 a suicide attempt and not an episode of cutting because death was never the goal in cutting); I have a safe place to live; I have a good job with decent pay and health insurance that is little to no stress; I am building a relationship with my parents again; I have good friends who are there for me, who love and support me; I work out and eat a healthier diet with very little junk food and soda only with alcohol now and then; I quit smoking (on a regular basis — I still have a few smokes now and then); I stopped drinking every night and don’t go extreme or irresponsible when I do have alcohol; I am seeing a doctor on a regular basis and am on correct medications and testosterone doses; I have had one surgery towards my transition; I am saving money to go towards my next surgery; I can pay all my bills and am working on paying off past medical debt; I have held 2 titles with the Imperial Court of All Alaska including the very first ever Mister Gay Alaska; I am secretary of the Board of Directors for Operation Morale Boost; I am a member of The Last Frontier Drag Kings; I am returning to school in the fall; I have a talent agent based in Seattle to help pursue my dreams of being a famous actor; and I also have other strides in mental health and well being that have been positive changes in my life.
The steps to looking at life through a positive light weren’t easy. It has taken some loved ones kicking my ass into gear but also being there to listen as I went through a wave of emotions. The first real outing I had after getting out of the hospital was to Thunderbird Falls. I spent that Saturday with Kristin and her 2 kids. We hiked up to the waterfall and watched quietly as a man painted the scene in front of us. I remembered how much I loved art and later that week I would get my own art supplies and start painting and drawing again, even though I’m not even moderately talented with it. I just like to do it. The kids wanted to walk down to the edge of the water below the deck we were on, and I was grateful to have the day continue. Something about nature makes me feel at peace, and I was glad to be there. We made our way down the trail and goofed off taking pictures inside a hollow tree and trying to keep Kristin’s youngest from going into the water. I looked off towards the waterfall and walked towards it as Kristin was helping the kids. I felt drawn to the water. I kept going and for the first time I walked onto the rocks and went to stand right in front of the waterfall. I could feel the water spray on my face as I watched the water pound onto the rocks.
I never would have risked walking across wet rocks to a giant waterfall before, but I felt invincible. I had purposefully tried to die and failed — what did I have left to fear? Kristin called out to me afraid I had done something stupid and was relieved when I made my way back. She embraced me in a tight hug as her youngest asked to go to where I had been. I put him on my shoulders and the four of us made our way to the waterfall. The patch of dry land was small so we were crowded together between the rocks. Kristin took my hand, and I was glad I didn’t have to explain anything; she knew I had just done something to step into a new life. As we stood there in silence I felt a peace I had never felt before. I began to realize that I was worth something. I had a best friend who loved me despite my craziness; I had passions and talents that just needed to be developed; I had a six year old who went crazy anytime he got to spend time with his favorite buddy; I had friends who didn’t judge me for attempting suicide but rather made sure that I was ok.
That day at the waterfall made me want to experience more of life. I started going on small adventures and went hiking more often. I went to places around town that I hadn’t been to before. I took pictures of all my experiences as a reminder to myself that life was beautiful. I went back to Thunderbird Falls a few times and even crossed through the water to stand in the waterfall — a breathtaking and exhilarating experience. For me, I had to remember and experience the beauty in life even when I didn’t feel like it. I had to remember what I enjoyed and what made me feel good about life. I also have to get out of my comfort zone now and then. It’s a hard life sometimes but I’ll be damned if I just sit around and simply survive anymore. If I’m stuck on this earth, I’m going to enjoy it as the man I was meant to be.Tags: Imperial Court of Alll Alaska (ICOAA), Last Frontier Drag Kings, Operation Morale Boost, transgender