“Several years ago, a Facebook post was made in a well known, and often provocative dairy group. It was in the earliest days of the dairy crisis, and farmer suicide rates were just coming to light. A question was posed by a member that struck a chord with many. It really struck a chord with me! The question was asked, “how do you identify as a farmer?” Attached was a blog making the point that we are all so much more than just what we do. There were the expected responses of husband, father, mother, daughter, board member, hunter, Christian, and more. There were also several comments of farmer… Stoicism abounded in many answers where one after another, farmer after farmer, took great pride in being of one identity. A farmer.
This was moving. In retrospect, it was very telling. Some of those who identified as farmers are not farming anymore. Many are struggling. A few… aren’t anymore. It’s a sad truth. It shouldn’t be that way. We are so much more.
I don’t believe I responded. I was very active in the group. I followed the post like a hawk. I couldn’t turn away as the pain inside grew. I knew that those that saw themselves as specifically farmers were going to have a huge struggle ahead someday. It’s because I recognized their denial of being something more in myself.
You see, I’ve always strived to be more. I am a father, a husband, a board member, a Christian, a farmer. I also have what’s commonly known as gender dysphoria. AKA: transgender. Almost nobody knows. I wanted to keep it between me and God. I wanted God to free me from it. That’s not how He works. I won’t get into my faith real deep, but the Apostle Paul spoke in his second letter to the Corinthians of a thorn in the flesh. He asked God to please take it from him several times. God told him that it was for Paul to face.
I didn’t ask to be made this way. I didn’t want to even acknowledge it. I normalized it my entire life. “All boys try on their mother’s bra.” “All guys wish for a day as a girl.” Here’s the difference. Every morning, I woke up in fear that I wouldn’t be man enough. As we poke fun of videos like the infamous “Call me ma’am”, (I do too) we need to realize that those of us with gender dysphoria have been hurting for a long time. Some cope better than others. Some fail miserably. Some, sadly lose their internal battle. They are not at all unlike the dairy farmer that couldn’t hold on anymore. They are human. They’re just struggling to feel complete in a mixed-up world.
My own story is still being written every single day. I’m facing my gender dysphoria one day at a time. I’m slowly sharing it with a handful of friends, family, faith leaders, and a counselor. My Christian values will always be core to my soul. Being stoic in my conservatism does not make these feelings go away. This is so much bigger than feeling my mind and body are not incongruent. It affects every aspect of my day to day life, and I didn’t even recognize it.
I struggle to speak up in groups of men. I often feel out of place among them. I gravitate towards hanging around with women, but have to be very guarded not to give too many compliments for new highlights, a dress, or manicure because that would be awkward. You see, I have to be mindful of each and every social interaction. I have to be on my game everyday. This farm economy, 2020 in general, and aging family are all contributing to ever-increasing burnout, and I have to address this.
I am not done figuring this out by a long shot. I want to share with my fellow farmers and more though. I think this is a perspective that isn’t talked about. It’s too taboo. It’s too shameful. It’s too difficult to wrap our heads around. I would gladly put the needs of my family, the preservation of my heritage, and the lives of everyone I love ahead of my own. I love living a life of service and wish to keep it that way. Bottling this up has sent me to the ER with terrible anxiety attacks and muscle spasms from stress more times than I can count though. I have to face this. I am facing it. Self care is the best care, and facing our demons through vulnerability will give us strength.
As our fellow farmers watch their last calf go on the trailer. As the last load of corn pulls out of the drive. As the foreclosure notice arrives at the door. As the mental health crisis unfolds in their life… Don’t dehumanize those that haven’t made it as far as you. You don’t know how your end will look. You don’t know what tomorrow will hold. You likely aren’t even accepting the demons you keep locked away in your mind. Love your fellow farmer. Come together for a common cause. We all do this for the same reason. For family, for heritage, for good living, for liberty and freedom, for the love of the animals and soil. Don’t attack those that aren’t in your own shoes. You don’t know the cross that they already carry.”