Friday, September 5, 2008
I spent the evening last night remembering my transition. I told all the great stories that had become lodged in my psyche, moments of awkward humor or brilliant awakening. In some ways I had meticulously recorded my transition, but, like all records, it was a record of things I wanted to remember. As the evening wore on, however, I began to recall moments that has just slipped away. I began to wonder about those moments that I simply didn’t want to recall. Moments that were so defeating and heartbreaking at the time that I didn’t think I would ever want to go back to them. We all remember those times when we begin to pass, but what about all the times we don’t.
Here I am years later being asked questions by two people that, together, provide my perfect combination of feigned confidence and total anxiety. I see myself in both of them so clearly that anxieties and fears I totally forgotten come rushing back. Some stories I’m learning are somewhat universal, moments that many if not all transmen share. Others are stories I keep hearing, stories that seem to be universal to everyone but me. Seemingly more common are the feelings--feelings of guilt, shame, awkwardness, annoyance, anger, fear, pride and bravado.
So, in the interest of full disclosure, here are some memories that at the time I probably preferred to forget…
I had decided to transition, I had decided to make art about it and that seemed to be the end of it. Nothing was happening. I didn’t know what to make work on, I didn’t look any different, but I went from a confident dyke to a terrified and nervous nothing. Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough. Maybe if I only put a little effort into it something would begin to happen. If you knew me then you knew I had D breasts. I didn’t bind. It wasn’t because it was uncomfortable or hot or suffocating, though it certainly was all those things, it was that it didn’t work. I would have gladly turned my breasts into deflated pancakes if I though it would make me look like a man. It turns out that I passed more often when I didn’t bind. The minute I put on a binder my stomach turned into knots and any eye contact I made with the world took on a dear in headlights terror. This fear took away any masculinity I may have gained by a flat chest. Still, I kept going back to it. I wasn’t trying hard enough. I woke up that morning and decided to bind. Anna and I were going into Manhattan and I was going to be a man. I got out of the shower and with Anna’s help, began wrapping more and more fabric around my chest. A sports bra, ace bandages, another sports bra, an undershirt and then a sweater. It was the tightest I’d ever gotten things and I thought I looked good. I couldn’t breath, sit normally, walk normally or really talk, but surely I must look like a man. The entire subway ride into the city I was feeling alright. My eyes darted from face to face looking for any acknowledgement of my masculinity. The next stop was lunch—my first interaction with another human. The first words out of his mouth—“can I help you, ma’am?” I wanted to cry. I didn’t say anything trying to decide in that split second if I should correct him, trying to force myself to say “actually, it’s sir.” Instead all I could choke out through my constricted chest was “one slice of plain.”
I hoped the old wives tale was actually true—that when you shaved a hair a darker one grew back in its place. Before I took a drop of testosterone I was going to try to coax a beard out of my fair skin with shaving cream and a disposable razor. I went to the dollar store by my house in Brooklyn. I picked out some shaving cream from the shelf, but the razors were behind the counter. I gathered all my courage and asked for a bag of razors. The Dominican man behind the counter looked closely at me and then said “for your face?” Yes, I told him, thinking I had finally passed. “You don’t look Puerto Rican,” he tells me as he turns and grabbed a pink bag from the wall. I wrinkled my brow, not following. As he tossed the razors on the counter he explained that these were the best for ladies faces. Easy on the skin. All his customers prefer them. He didn’t think I was a man but a Puerto Rican lady trying to get rid of my feminine mustache. “I’m not Puerto Rican,” I said, affecting the lowest voice I could muster. I left before he could recommend a woman’s shaving cream.
And finally (for today)…
You know how annoying 13 year old boys can be? I Was That Annoying. The great thing for these kids is that they have no idea just how obnoxious they are, but when you have the mind of an adult and the hormone levels of a child you unfortunately know better. Even worse, there is nothing you can do to stop it. I was passing most of the time so I no longer had this look of terror frozen on my face. I was no longer spending all my energy trying to be a man, but belong. It was non-stop over compensation. This need to be a man, need for the approval of my peers, approval of girls, approval of adult men and although I saw myself as a train wreck in slow motion, there was nothing I could do to stop my hormonal wrangling not for king of the hill, but for a spot somewhere along the side of it. I would push a bit too hard, talk a bit too loud, and my jokes were a bit too inappropriate. I totally wanted to pee on things. I got drunk and spray-painted something (I have no idea what) on the side of a bodega. If I thought I could get away with body checking everyone on the subway I would have. I wanted to be a man, but as annoying as I was, I had to be a boy first.