I wish I had a pull-over hoodie so I could look like them. Because they seem to be “further along” in their transition process. “Further along” doesn’t make much sense in the context of wandering lost, but their eyes keep telling me they know something that I don’t. Their gentle smile that runs along their closed mouth suggests their internal world is long and dark and vivid and they found something there.
If I could find one at a thrift store then it may only cost an hours worth of work. But it will probably be several hours worth of searching the extra small mens, womens, and large children’s sections to find one thing that both, (1) I like and (2) fits me. But that is still better than the day’s worth of work to exchange for one therapy session, or the week’s worth of work for my name change, or the 4.5 months of work that I’ll exchange for surgery, not counting my other living expenses, of course.
If I could find the right one, it would both hug my body like the soft blanket I long for in the morning chill, but hide my chest from myself to ease me into the day. It wouldn’t break like all my zip-up hoodies have. I wouldn’t have to hide the part of the zipper that falls off every time I unzip my jacket, shoving it deep into my pocket, until I’m ready to zip it up again, risking being witnessed by that confused gauze I see in the eyes of anyone who grew up replacing broken things, or even fixing them. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel so broken when seen.
I would get dark blue, but probably just to match them. Maybe black, because then I could match it with everything else I wear, which is almost always white or brown or grey or black because nobody ever showed me how to match. Because the dresses mother made me wear matched only the empty sound of my limited vocabulary and defeated temper tantrums. Because looking good was much further down my priority list, given that surviving took up so much space. Because hand-me-down umbro soccer shorts and t-shirts that fell to my knees and my hair pulled back in a low ponytail was the closest I could get to looking like my brother, who I really wanted to be, and that was the closest thing I could imagine to freedom at that time.
Until he died. Then I imagined that freedom could stretch beyond our flesh and maybe even our clothes.
But I still want a pull-over hoodie so I could look like them. I still search for freedom in the corners of a world that consistently reminds us all that it will bless us with anything but that. That it will taunt us with smells of freedom but has no intention of giving grace. But I don’t know myself as anybody but a fighter. Or a searcher. And a child trying to find myself again, longing for a cotton dream that I pray will set me free.
It wasn’t until I realized that I was conflating fear with uncertainty, that this process could begin to unfold. When my brother, Caleb, and I ventured off into the Flattop Wilderness in Colorado, we came across a giant lake imbedded in a valley, surrounded by cliffs, and he came to a complete stop. Our normal adventures are made up of long days until dark with a few dumpster veggies and an early crash to wake up and do it all over again. But that day something was different. We still had several hours of light left and yet I watched as he threw his backpack down and asked if we could stop. Out of his backpack came an extra set of boxers, that he said he packed for me in case we wanted to go swimming.
I threw my backpack down and immediately changed. Our normal is to race in. But the water was cold and rocky and he took a head start, inching in towards the middle, water almost up to his calves. I looked over at him and paused. “I only have 1 binder. I don’t want to get it wet.” He looked over at me and immediately told me he didn’t care what I was wearing or not.
I stripped down to boxers only and came sprinting in the alpine lake. I closed my eyes and didn’t look down at my chest. Rule #1 of not wearing a binder is to not look down. But when I dove into the water, winning the race of course, I forgot what existed. With him, and only him, could I pretend that I was a young boy in the body I always wanted, and finally free.
It was in that moment that I became certain that I would get surgery. It was the first imaginary taste of what it could be like to not be so afraid of my own body. I had no idea it would take me another year to do it and what freedom could actually taste like, but I knew it was the first step in a long journey of making decisions that would ultimately save my life. I went home and made a to-do list and wrote at the top, “the map to freedom in my skin, or one step closer to letting my bones off the hook, or something that sounds dreamy but certainly doesn’t feel that way all of the time.”
When I told my brother Caleb that I decided to have top surgery, I paired it with a 30 minute download on my emotional process of arriving at the decision, on the C train, from Brooklyn to Manhattan. I wanted to keep telling him more but we had reached W 4th St and I needed to get off while he continued up into the Bronx. I wandered around Washington Square Park waiting to find my partner, while I continued to tell myself aloud, how I had arrived. From that point on, I decided I would capture this process in a more tangible and lasting way.
I considered what had helped me navigate this journey, including countless blogs and facebook posts, FAQ’s for surgeons, and insurance navigation advice. I feel infinitely grateful for these resources and this is not that. Instead, I sought to name my experience in the spaces between the to-do lists and physical labor, between the dysphoria and freedom. I wanted to capture and pause and hold what happens in the liminal space of transition.
TransRamblings is a collection of journal entries, poetry, and random stories, and photos taken by Megan Newton, who became my friend throughout this process. It is not a full story, but instead excerpts that can be read linearly, or not. It tells of an emotional journey capturing the intersections of my trans identity with my very personal experience of growing up in a dysfunctional household, losing my mother and brother at age 9, and being a social justice activist, organizer, performance artist, poet and nature-lover. The overlap exists in order to not separate my trans identity from the rest of my life.