See, here’s the thing—I was a little girl. I was a pink dress wearing, doll owning and stuffed animal obsessed little girl. I was a girl by the very societal definition—sugar and spice and everything nice. Of course there were the other sides of me—the girl that would play in a large dirt pile with friends while my brother played baseball, or the girl that liked to wrestle with her brother and venture out with him during nor’easters to sled down the BIG hill. It didn’t matter that I idolized my brother, that I liked getting dirty or that those baseball field friends were boys—I was a girl.
For those that study psychology, you will remember the psych 100 class where they discuss archetypes and categorization. Categories or labels help you understand and organize information. This is a necessity—your brain needs to chunk information in order to retain it. Labels are not bad things in and of themselves, but when people hold too strictly to them it can lead to discord within the self and society. If you think about it for a while you’ll be surprised by how many societal issues, beyond the obvious, are actually caused by a strict adherence to categories.
Personally, the problem I have with labels is that I could have remained a girl if it weren’t for them; that I could have just been a person making some changes and that would have been the beginning and the end of it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t going to be a little girl forever, and once your body starts changing your life becomes much more restrictive in regards to who you are and what you are expected to be. I have never done well with restrictions, and with the progression of gendered words (girl to young lady to woman) came an ever-increasing feeling of strangulation.
“I always knew I was ____ gender”—you hear that a lot in the transgender community. I didn’t, exactly. I knew there was something different about me, but when I was a little girl, I was just a kid. Kids are kids—they are free to be weird and experiment. They are free to thrive. The fact that I was sexually oriented towards everyone was my main focus at the time—because that was apparent from the get go—and I instinctively knew that was something I needed to hide. It wasn’t until I was nearing middle school that I began to realize that something else was a bit unusual about me. I can trace the beginning of my epiphany to a single individual—Ms. RuPaul.
Imagine it with me, won’t you? It’s the summer of 1997. My TV is a thick square box and VH1, the home of Pop Up Video, is being broadcasted in all of its 90s glory. I am just a tiny thing, hoping to see Hanson and sitting too close to the television when without warning, he appears. Coming down the catwalk, tall and with legs for days is the one, the only, RuPaul. Have you ever had one of those moments when you see someone from afar and you know it in your bones that you are kindred? I nearly choked on the fireball in my mouth, one of the many I always seemed to have on my person as a child, because RuPaul and I were somehow the same. I didn’t really understand why, I had little clue, but what I did know was that I was going to watch as much of The RuPaul Show that I could until it was unceremoniously taken off the air after 100 fabulous episodes.
Epiphanies are, by definition, only supposed to last a moment; mine lasted years. I had already come to the conclusion, deep down, that I was a boy; understanding why and how that could be, took a very long time.
Adolescence, unsurprisingly, would inevitably bring the epiphany to its conclusion . Instead of focusing my efforts on trying to win the heart of the hottest boy in school, my teen years were spent obsessing over androgynous boys and men. Gays, bisexuals, and transvestites—as long as they were pretty I was transfixed. In retrospect, I believe that I was keeping myself distracted with queer media in order to postpone the truth. If I were aware of what was to come, I probably would have tried to stop. I didn’t know that it was this obsession that I couldn’t kick that would make me face the thing I did not speak about—my personal He Who Must Not Be Named.
It finally came to a head on another summer’s night, home from my first year in college, when I saw Velvet Goldmine for the first time. I remember my best friend and I watched it on my computer, hiding it from parental eyes, and sweating like pigs from the intense humidity. Somehow, once it had started, I didn’t feel the heat anymore.
Velvet Goldmine is a film about two glam rock musicians who essentially become obsessed with each other/fall in love, gender bend, make it big, have sex, and then crash and burn epically. The movie is loosely based on real (and likely false) reports of a love affair between Ziggy Stardust himself, David Bowie (RIP), and The Rolling Stones frontman, Mick Jagger. As you can imagine, I wanted to see this film more than any other, and it took us a good deal of time to track it down. It wasn’t exactly a well-stocked item. This movie had everything I could ever want in a film, including a cameo by my favorite band, but instead of enjoying what was a fun campy thrill ride, I was filled with the most intense despair I have ever experienced.
I don’t think I slept that night. Instead I picked popcorn out of my teeth and stared up at the crescent moon, pushing off the rising tide inside of me. I called my best friend the next morning and ugly cried into the phone while I lie on a sheet-less bed. She doesn’t remember this conversation, but for me it is one of the most important ones I’ve ever had. “I’m a boy. I want to be a boy,” were the words that escaped between the sobs. I had never, ever said those words before. Not to myself when standing naked in front of a mirror confused and uneasy, or when thinking about what it would be like to have sex with a man as a man. In that moment a wall that I had carefully reinforced came crashing down, and it was all due to Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Christian Bale. Behold the power of cinema.
Now it was out in the world. I had made it manifest. I was a boy, a wannabe effeminate boy—and there was no going back. I grieved then and I grieve still for the little girl I was. I grieve because the world created restrictions that said if I wanted a man’s chest and jaw that I could no longer be one of the girls. I love women. I love their culture, their strength and how they have nothing constraining their art. If you need to cry—you cry. If you need to slap someone—then you slap someone. Women have been oppressed since the beginning and they seem to survive by expression. There is something deeply moving about that.
It was never my wish to separate myself from women; I just know by societal definition that I’m not one. My body needs to change, but my inner workings remain the same, and for some reason the inside doesn’t seem to matter. That isn’t to say that I don’t like my new pronouns, my new name, or that I won’t be excited when I pass for the first time—I just don’t want the “us” and “them,” bullshit. I want to go out with my friends for a girls’ night out, where the conversation and the booze flows without restraint. I don’t want to be considered a “male feminist” (which is not a thing—a feminist is a feminist), and I don’t want to be separated by misconceptions based on categories.
In the end, the little girl I was and the man I am now, aren’t that different. Sure, we’re separated by years of growth and experience, but at the end of the day we are a singular me. I still wear my grandmother’s ring, I still do my makeup and I do, when I feel like it, wear female clothing. Gender does for me what it should do for everyone, it helps to paint a picture but does not define my human experience. And anyway, I am that great genderless thing before everything else—an artist—and I prefer that label to every other.