“How did you go from ice road trucker to dresses in a year?”
A coworker and my boss looked at the picture on my phone, eyes wide, and then back at me. We had been showing photos of ourselves in the past, and I decided to show them a peek of who I used to be. They’d never known me as the punk rock rebel without a cause that I pretended to be. The person in that picture wearing the leather biker jacket covered in patches and pins and a scraggley red lumberjack beard.
And they couldn’t understand how I bloomed out of that. How someone who wears bows in her hair came from someone who wore combat boots and never shaved.
When I was trying to figure out what I was, the question that really started my journey was “would someone who wasn’t trans think about being trans and wanting to be a different gender this much?” And the more I explored that question, the more I realized that yes, I have gender issues. I identified as gender queer (someone who fits in between genders, or goes back and forth on the spectrum) for about a year or so when I decided I didn’t want to live fully as a man anymore, but I never really talked about it with anyone. It was a way to step into the gender spectrum without having to call myself trans yet. But even before that, I was playing with and thinking about gender.
So I tried to explain – that version of me was a way to get away with letting little pieces of the real me out without having to deal with the blowback. It wasn’t a jump from polar opposites, but more like a gradual mental slide followed by a physical jump later, when I was sure. I experimented under the cover of a hyper-masculine identity for years, trying to figure out why I felt the way I felt, and what it meant, and what to label myself. I could paint my nails – not just black, but colors and patterns as I progressed, and nobody would say a word. They assumed it was a weird style choice. I wore rediculous amounts of black eyeliner in a style that could only be called panda-meets-The Crow, and nobody would say a word. But I did it because I really liked putting on makeup.
Tough guy was just a shell to protect girly girl underneath, until she was ready to come out and claim her place. So in a way, it wasn’t really a transition, but an emergence.
But then, in another way it was a transition. I spent so long crafting a personality, that finding out what’s real, and what was just expectation and masking and diversion is hard sometimes. I have to ask myself whether I really like something, or if it was just something i faked liking for so long I tricked myself. Or something I really don’t like, or something I told myself I didn’t like because I thought I wasn’t allowed to like it.
Trans people like to hide behind the “I’m still me,” assurance because it helps reassure people, but that’s often not the case.
“But it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then,” as Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland said.
If I liked how I was, I wouldn’t be changing. I’m not who I was. And I know that’s hard for people who have known me. Trying to reconcile the old me with the new me is hard. Learning to treat me differently than they ever have before is hard. Learning to call me a new name and use new pronouns is hard. But please remember, I’m still a person. And I have to reconcile this new identity, too. I have to learn to fit into my new role as daughter, niece, sister, girlfriend. That I will be discriminated against not only as a trans person, but as a woman. That I can’t feel safe in public alone anymore. I gave up my privilege of being a white, straight male, the best thing to be in this society, like it or not, to being a transsexual lesbian woman.
So no, I didn’t decide in a year that I was a girl. I was always a girl, and it took me 20 or so years to really consciously figure that out (although in retrospect, part of me already knew) and another 5 to figure out what it meant. That year of transition has mostly been trying to be what I already came to know I am. There is no more question of what. Now, it’s just a matter of how and how long.
So keep questioning what people label you as. And keep questioning yourself until you’re satisfied that you’ve come to the right conclusions. And then fight like a grrrl to live the way you want to live.
Update: I got my name change. I am officially Natalie now. I need to get my documents all in order now. But I told my night job boss, and now I’m officially out in every part of my life. So far everyone has been good with name and pronouns. Hopefully within a few months the other name will be a footnote in my life. One more obstacle down.