Following up my post on how to handle someone in your life coming out as trans, I thought it might be useful to provide some context. Or rather, I thought I might try and give you some insight into to one trans woman’s experience. I won’t quite give you my life story, but you may find some of these stories useful, interesting or at least different. You can find part one here.
Part 2 – Adolescence
High school means a lot of things to different people. New faces, changing bodies, sexual awakenings and social explosions. To me, high school meant one thing above all else; inescapable, unbearably oppressive masculism.
Puberty’s a funny thing. That time in a girl’s life when her voice drops irreversibly, her body starts sprouting her all over, especially right on the face, where everyone can see it, her shoulders broaden, her muscles start to become defined, and she’s suddenly flooded with testosterone-fuelled anger and frustration.
…oh, that didn’t happen to you? Really. Well, that must be nice. Because that’s what happened to me, and appreciated exactly none of it. Now, I know that nobody enjoys puberty, but try to imagine waking up every morning and finding another change that takes you further and further away from the person you want to be. Now try again, but imagine you have no idea why those changes make you want to cry, just that they do, because you don’t even know who you want to be.
So, puberty happened. I got the wrong one, but hey, what can you do. They don’t exactly offer refunds on that stuff. I couldn’t even get a store credit. But, funny thing about going through puberty, and looking more and more like a boy; the more you look like a boy, the more you’re expected to act like one.
So let’s loop back to my original point: masculism. I went to a co-ed school, thankfully, and that might be the only reason I’m still alive today. Even still, I barely managed.
A lot of what comes next, I think, you may recognise as familiar, if you’ve ever heard a gay man talk about his experiences in high school. Constant pressure to act masculine, enforced via teasing, exclusion, harassment, verbal and (thankfully, not as pervasive as my first primary school) physical abuse and having the collective focus of around 180 students brought to bear on you if you dared to be different.
There is a very simple way to survive this. Don’t be different. I was clever. I adapted. I spent time with boys. I talked like a boy. I interacted with them like boys did (apparently, an endless stream of insults and abuse, all ‘good-natured’, and an inability to connect on any personal level). It did not help.
Well, I avoided being the target of abuse. I was still constantly surrounded by a culture of homophobia, misogyny and heteronormativity. Back then, I didn’t know what any of those words meant, but I knew they were present, and I suffered being around it, because every word that every person said was a dagger right into the heart of my identity.
Do you know what happens when you repress enormous parts of who you are? It comes out in other ways. For me, it was anger. I lashed out at friends and family in nasty, vicious ways, entirely focussed on bringing the people around me down, presumably so they’d all be as miserable as I was. At the time, I didn’t understand. I just thought that’s how I was, a horrible, unlikeable little shit who’s only talent was hurting people. It was a better identity than being ‘some guy’. At least when people thought of me, my gender wasn’t a factor.
In my later high school days, the emo craze rolled in. All of a sudden, there were all these boys with long hair and heavy make-up and tight, androgynous clothing. They listened to angsty music and complained that the world didn’t understand them. I thought I had found my people.
I threw myself right into it. Tight jeans, eyeliner, long hair, all of it was suddenly okay. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t suddenly becoming popular, but suddenly people ‘got it’, or felt like they did. I could begin to express my femininity and it wasn’t weird, it was just an emo thing.
Time moves on, and people do too. The emo craze faded, at least at my school, and one by one, the emos disappeared. During that time, though, I found a band called AFI. You may groan, you may have no idea who they are, you may think they’re great. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that I found someone to inspire me, a lead man with a highly feminine presentation, and he didn’t dress all in black. I began to experiment, with different shades of eyeshadow, new eyeliner (blue glitter, aww yeah), less black clothing. It became natural to me.
Eventually, my obsession with AFI faded, but the momentum kept pushing me forward. My wardrobe became increasingly androgynous, my hair kept getting longer, I was never seen without make-up on. More and more, I felt ever so slightly more comfortable with how I looked, like finding something I hadn’t realised I’d lost. Bit by bit, it felt like coming home.
Of course, it wasn’t without its own challenges. I ran into intense and sometimes violent homophobia, as I was perceived as a flamboyantly gay young man. I ran into times when I unintentionally passed as a woman, if only briefly, and when people realised I actually had a cock, whatever they were feeling turned into vitriolic hostility.
In my final year of high school, we had a fancy dress party for the entire year level. A friend and I decided to go in drag, or rather, we decided to dress as the stereotypical streetwalking prostitutes. We were young, and didn’t know any better. We ran around a few op-shops, preparing our outfits, and showed up in high heels, fishnet stockings, short dresses and more make-up than I’d ever worn before. It felt amazing.
That night, I had three separate people ask me if I did drag professionally. One of the straightest (and most obnoxious) guys in the year level flirted with me until he realised who I was. Some female friends tried to teach me to dance like girls do, and praised my quick adaptation to high heels. I spent the night as a woman, even if it was a ‘fake’ one, and it was incredible.
The night ended, we all went home, and I didn’t really think much of it. Looking back now, I definitely felt something change that night, but it took me a while to work it out.
Before I could, my rage turned into depression, and everything started to fall apart.
But that’s a story for next time. There’s one more part of this story to tell, as I struggle with depression, come to terms with a changing identity, and find myself exposed to a far bigger world than I’d ever realised existed. Until then, as always, you can ask me questions at email@example.com or drop me an ask on tumblr.