"Who am I to change my life? Who am I to fuck with form?" - from A Guy Named Joe, Joe Stevens
12 years ago: my first CD, Boy in a Dress. It was the culmination of years of false starts and bargaining, of trying to be something, of trying to find some kind of satisfaction that would make me happy enough to continue to avoid and ignore the identity issues that had been chasing me for most of my life.
My story does not fit the typical trans narrative; I did not know I was a girl when I was 4, I didn’t know much of anything except to try to enjoy and make the best of what was given to me. I gravitated towards girls as friends, but was equally as happy playing with boys. I learned to crochet from my grandmother, liked to vacuum and also liked to wield a hammer and climb trees. At what point do these activities become gendered? I don’t know. I learned quickly and at a young age that some things were off limits to me, and that doing or saying certain things would bring trouble or ridicule or scorn. We moved a lot as kids, and most of my efforts were focused on fitting in, trying to make friends, wanting to be liked. I told jokes, I made origami rabbits, I did impersonations of teachers and TV commercials.
7th grade, halloween, I wore my sister’s girl scout uniform, was still young and undeveloped enough that people thought I was her. How happy that made me.
(Something in a tabloid, sex change, transsexual, what is that, is it me, the fear of being caught, my eyes lingering too long on the headline, the type, showing an interest in something that my Catholic upbringing would surely count among the weightier sins.)
High school, a year younger than everyone else, had skipped a grade somewhere between first and third. It never seemed like a big deal, but now - everything had changed, everyone was changing so quickly. Me, clueless, the only thing we had been taught about our bodies was that we shouldn’t touch them, didn’t understand boys, girls, puberty, bodies, anything. The teasing had already started in the locker room, there were boys in 9th grade that looked like men, the fear of being singled out, small, thin, waifish, a target. I tried to be quiet, to go unnoticed, invisible, when group showers became mandatory some of us would hide in the back, wet our hair in the sink, hope it looked convincing.
The ravages and confusion of puberty, at least it was a blessing to fit in, at least something was happening, muscles, hair, a camouflage, a subterfuge. Maybe I felt like I was playing for the wrong team but I lacked the language and the understanding to articulate that, let alone embrace it.
Graduating high school at 17, moving out at 18, living with friends, mostly girls, platonically, roommates, but still hanging out with boys, shooting pool, smoking cigarettes, it was OK, the feeling of belonging was a warm blanket. Falling in and out of love, peach schnapps, wine coolers, the beginnings of the anxiety that would harangue me for most my 20s and 30s, the underlying feeling that some of that anxiety had to do with what I loosely called my gender issues.
Trying out crossdressing but quickly realizing that it was trouble, because what I saw and felt was that this was a better expression of me than the one I was living. The end of a major relationship, a chance to try something different, a therapist, another, trying on identities like summer dresses, who am I. Am I who my body tells me I am from the outside? Things could be so much easier if that were true. It is not.
Comment from a friend, If you’re really supposed to be a woman then wouldn’t it be like God played some cruel joke? Because you just - you look so much like a man.
The beginnings, small things, makeup, a soft sweater. The agonizing debate over starting hormones, the Catholic gnashing of teeth, who am I to mess with what God created, who am I to have agency. The anxiety ratcheting up, up, the fear of rejection, of ridicule, realizing that I have never really risked these things because I have never shown anyone who I truly am. Finally some lightness, a friend, a confidante, a supporter, some sanity, why don’t you just let yourself try this, could you really be any unhappier than you already are. No.
Exhilaration, freedom, acceptance, terror, rejection, shame, hope, confusion, uncertainty.
Electrolysis, laser, 5, 10, 20 times, the snapping of a hot rubber band many times over, the sting of it, the surprise and joy of watching dark, black hairs come off in my fingertips when I rubbed my 3 day old stubble.
Giving up singing because it sounded too deep, too resonant, I thought that I was supposed to disappear, to be swallowed up by a new identity, one that would be compromised by a rich baritone. The internal struggle over that, the strong desire for complete self-expression that would not be contained in a soft falsetto or a strained alto. The willingness to step into a place of complete uncertainty, to be on the path towards something more female without holding fast to some preconceived idea of how that expression would ultimately manifest. To embrace the fact that I did not know, that all I had were questions and a desperate hunger to answer them, and the feeling that the ignoring of these questions would be the death of the best part of me.
And accompanying all of this, the simultaneous rebirth and discovery of creativity, words, songs, the pure love of sounds, the slow building of a quiet, shaky confidence. The joy and unleashing of something long held back, the flood of ideas, something simultaneously breaking and breaking through, who was I before this, how did I learn to hold back so much for so long, how did I not know that the best parts of me are adjacent to the most vulnerable parts. I made these choices with no understanding of what I was sacrificing: honesty, truth, directness, wholeness, a clear voice.
And what is transition - life is transition, we are all always changing, what does it mean to live 'full-time', I am always living full time as something, someone. Is it a process, is it a goal, does it bring happiness, is that happiness lasting, is it a carrot on a stick, and even if it is, does that carrot lead me somewhere more interesting than I would have been otherwise. Trapped in the wrong body was a narrative that never adequately described me, and yet finding my way into the right body has been so freeing that looking back I wonder if I didn’t feel trapped.
Or maybe less trapped, and more like: relentlessly moving towards a huge mistake unless I intervened.
I think about all these things and who I am and also think, who would I be if not this, the inevitability of it, like a verse into a chorus into a bridge, of course it happened that way, of course I became this person. That this transition has been in large part about stripping away the otherness and seeing what remains, a game where the universe places you far, far from yourself and says, see if you can find your way back. Try. And as you try, you will learn things about yourself, things you would never have known otherwise, you will undergo things that will deepen your experience of being human, things that teach you about the parts of yourself that are constant as everything else around them orbits in a swirling eddy of confusion.
This is the path by which I have come to know myself, and I now inhabit this body more gladly than ever before.