I haven't spoken a single word in a month and I couldn't be happier.
Don't get the wrong idea - it's not like I'm doing some monastic retreat. It's not a spiritual healing, or a social cleanse.
For this to make sense I'll need to rewind a little bit - back to 2019.
The day I came out as transgender to my friends, family, work and the world in general.
It was a steep and daunting learning curve. Finding new clothes, learning what worked with my body shape, makeup, walking in heels.
The first year or so was a tough time. On one hand, I was failing to live up to my own hopes. Every time I looked in the mirror I saw a reflection that I hated.
The world around me seemed to agree. If I left the house, it was a guarantee that I would get harassed. Sometimes it would be slurs shouted at me from cars driving past. Sometimes it was a little bit more physical. There were a lot of these.
On the other hand, as time went by, the reflection I saw was starting to ever so slowly transform. I felt more at ease with myself. Little by little, I stopped stressing over the little details and started to get on with my new life.
I think I've done a pretty good job. A lot of people don't realise I wasn't always like this. My old life as a male seems like a half-forgotten dream now.
There is just one little problem.
I've spent a lot of time working on my outward appearance. My voice? Not so much.
When I used to work in telesales I was grateful for my low pitched voice and friendly Yorkshire accent. People trusted me very quickly.
"You just sound like such a down to earth bloke."
"It's been so nice talking to someone like you for a change."
I used to love talking with my clients on the phone.
But after I transitioned from male to female, the phone became my biggest source of anxiety.
Suddenly those compliments felt like insults. They hurt. Even the polite little "Sir" and "Mr Lastname" stung.
It seemed that no matter how hard I tried to change the way I spoke, nobody heard a female voice.
I was devastated. All of this work that I put in, and I was still being followed around by constant misgendering.
I would walk into a bar, order a drink. A cute guy would say hello, and then immediately back off or make a crude quip at my expense when I replied.
A phone call from my bank.
"Hello, can I speak to Amber please?"
"Yeah, speaking." I reply.
"Is she there?"
I sigh, and calmly explain the situation. Sometimes I daydream about having a rant at the next person that does this, but I don't want to be a Karen.
One day I'm sitting in a cafe with a friend. She's transgender too. I complain about how hard it is to change my voice. My friend agrees. I declare that I will take a vow of silence.
I don't mean it of course. It's just a flippant remark.
Fast forward to February 2020. I walk into the same cafe, alone this time. I sit at my table, sipping tea once again. I start working on my laptop, catching up on some projects that ran over.
Two hours later, I close my laptop lid and weigh up whether I should have another drink before going home. As I'm staring vacantly into space, I notice a girl sat opposite me, a few tables down. She smiles and waves. I do the same.
A little bit later we got chatting.
It turns out she is Deaf. We use our phones to have a short conversation. It's time for me to leave, so we say goodbye and arrange to meet up at the weekend.
Can you see where this is going?
I didn't learn sign language because I wanted an excuse not to speak again.
I did it because I wanted to make a new friend, and there was no way I could do that by only ever communicating via text. I'm bad enough at replying as it is.
The next time we met, I used the little bit of sign language I was able to cobble together from youtube.
"Hello, how are you? I'm good thanks."
Just the basics, that sort of thing. The rest of the conversation was still via text.
Every weekend we did the same thing. I would learn a little bit more, and eventually over time we would use our phones less and less to text.
Quite often, we would have a conversation one day about a particular topic and I would read through the texts when I got home and pick out some key words that kept popping up.
The next day I would try to subtly steer the conversation back around to the previous topic. We had a lot of conversations twice. Once in text, and again in sign.
I'll never forget the first day we had a conversation completely in sign language. She hasn't forgotten either as it turns out. We both had a very emotional little session reminiscing over that one.
We became very close. Best friends in fact.
She started to notice things about me. How I went anxious and uncomfortable when speaking to people I didn't know. She asked me what was bothering me.
I explained my insecurity. How my voice made people react to me differently.
She smiles. Not mockingly. Just a smile from one friend to another. I tell her how much more relaxed I feel when I'm with her and we can have a conversation in sign. She nods understandingly.
December 2020. She has a fight with her family. She feels trapped at home and wants to move out.
I'm beginning to feel the same way. My friends and co-workers treat my gender identity with respect. Most of my family do too. My parents? Not so much.
It's not that they're outright hostile. It's more like they're living in denial. Deadnaming, male pronounces, so on. It's not exactly the hardest thing to deal with in the world, but it grinds down at me, day after day.
Me and my best friend decide to become flatmates.
We move in January 03 2021.
I haven't spoken in a month, but I've had a lot of conversations. I like this new life. It feels free.
Also, she makes really nice cakes so there's that too.
Now, I know that a lot of you are sat there thinking that I feel better about myself because I'm not having to use my voice.
Yeah, I won't deny it's nice.
But this feels like the first time I've made a real and close connection with another person.
It feels like the first time I've ever really achieved something.
I've been brought into a new community, learned way too much to fit into the space of one article
I've grown as a person.
And now that I've done it once?
I know I can do it again. I feel ready to take on my life, to deal with the challenges and obstacles that will fall in my way.
2021? Bring it on. I'm ready.