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Facing The Final Note: A Journey Through Gender Identity and Mortality

Before we start, I’d like to give a trigger warning for mentions of the subject of death. Your health comes first, so make sure that you feel comfortable before you read.

When I was young, I was an extremely angry child. I used to scream and shout till my face was red and my throat sore. Somewhere there’s even a picture of me of when I was around 5 years, standing in a staircase with my face red as a tomato as some of my family members were laughing at my extreme anger and I was screaming that it wasn’t funny. No one, not even I, fully understood the source of my continuous anger. All we knew was that I refused to wear dresses, didn’t like when people said my old name and that I wept as I got my first period. It wasn’t until I met my friend, a transgender man, that everything made sense. The source of my anger wasn’t just random toddler outbursts, it was the fact that I was unhappy in my body.

I’m Gabriel, an openly queer, transgender man who is diagnosed with bipolar type 2 and severe Panic Anxiety. I’ve been in the Swedish healthcare system since a very young age, and I started seeing my first therapist at around 14 years old to talk about my identity. During these meetings I got asked if “I was sure?” and “Don’t you think it’s just a phase?”, but I was sure, I knew. Because I remember how I lay in my bed at 5 years old, looking up at the ceiling and happily saying that “When I’m 25, I’ll be a man”. To me, that was a fact. And it was when I met my friend that I learned that everything wasn’t just in my head. He had felt the same feelings and for the first time in my life I wasn’t alone or strange and I knew that my identity was valid.

After coming out to myself I found the courage to tell my family. As my mom watched the latest football game, I went into the living room and with tears streaming down my cheeks I look at her and said “I… I think I’m a man”. There were a few seconds of silence before she smiled and replied “Okay… it’s wonderful that you now know because we already did.” That moment changed my life forever and as I slowly came out to family members and friends, I was lucky to be met with nothing but love. However, society wasn’t as accepting.

In Sweden, almost 40% of transgender people between the ages of 15-19 have had, and sometimes acted on, very dark thoughts (Folkhälsomyndigheten, 2020). I’m one of those youths and I’ve spent most of my life thinking about and contemplating death. At 14 I was quickly diagnosed with severe panic anxiety disorder with roots in death anxiety and at 23 I was given the diagnosis of Bipolar type 2. These diagnoses have helped me navigate my life with therapy, techniques and lifesaving medication. But before I had these types of support, I started playing a lot of games and when I was 11 years old, I found one that anchored me and helped me through the day-to-day. That game was Eternal Sonata.

Eternal Sonata is an RPG from Japan initially released back in 2007. It’s a very niche game about the real-life composer Frédéric Chopins final dream before he passed away. As he lay on his deathbed in Paris his mind travelled to a world that wasn’t just different from his own, but it was one where he could wield magic. Now, magic isn’t new in RPGs but this game’s version of it certainly is. Because in the world of Eternal Sonata, those that can wield magic are sick and are going to die in the very near future. The citizens avoid them like the plague, and they’re seen as outcasts to the point that after one of the main characters, a girl named Polka, saves a man with her healing powers he runs away in fear and a mother physically pulls away her child and exclaims; “Never go near anyone that glows as that girl did. Do you understand me?!”

To many this might seem like simple storytelling, however, to someone like me it hits close to home. In many parts of the world there is no support for transgender individuals and in others it’s illegal for me to exist. As I grew up, I felt excluded and alone but as I played Eternal Sonata I got to go into my bubble and follow along on a journey where Chopin, Polka and their friends fought against a world that didn’t accept them, even when death was right around the corner.

Eternal Sonata is a heavy game about exclusion and death and how to fight back against oppression and find solace in your limited time of being alive. To be quite fair, it’s 70 hours of therapy. The game made me laugh, it frustrated me, and it certainly made me cry but at the same time, it gave me hope and helped calm my dark thoughts. Eternal Sonata truly is a gorgeous game but sadly few know about it. Throughout my life, I’ve met only a handful of fans but every single one has been touched to their core by the game. Eternal Sonata will forever be a part of my history and mental health journey, and I will always carry it with me because it’s tattooed on my arm.

If you’re struggling with mental health and/or your identity I want you to remember that you’re not alone, you’re not strange and that you’re valid. Consider calling your country’s suicide help line and I promise you; it gets better. With this, I’ll leave you with a quote from Eternal Sonata;

“I believe that the future holds infinite hope for all of us. So no matter what the odds, however slim the chance, I always try to hold on to that hope. I would never want to give up on something without at least trying. What about you? What would you have done in my place? Would you still have drawn a fortune if you already know what it was going to say?”

Written by Gabriel Eriksson Sahlin