Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Images, Bodies, Memories

A comment, elsewhere, got me started thinking at length about self-image. I suppose you could say that this is what this blog is named after—the fact that I rarely, if ever, see myself when I look in a mirror; I see a familiar person, someone who "plays me on TV", actually. Except the "TV" is the waking world, and the casting really sucked.

Anyhow, I've been reflecting [hah; at my punniest when not even trying] on my feelings of detachment from the images of myself which I see in photographs. Something struck me—the pictures from my earliest childhood, after my memories began to crystallize, but only barely, don't suffer from this. The little boygirl I see in them is me. I remember the tableaux, I remember watching the camera, I remember the feel of my body, I was there. And I remember looking as I do in the photographs. That's not somebody else, standing where I stood.

What was it that took this from me? Yes, I'm trans. Yes, my brain has structures conditioned prenatally to be part of a female body. Never mind any of that. What I want to know is "what can I remember of this loss? What did it feel like?"

There are some curious sides to this. So, the pictures I've been contemplating most are a pair of me at 2½ years, snuggling with my favorite blanket. I've another picture taken at approximately the same time, showing me in our garden wearing a straw hat borrowed from my mother. I remember the blanket pictures being taken, and I do not remember the hat picture being taken. But I do remember the hat. And what I remember most strongly about the hat is this: it was gendered.

Certainly I didn't have that term for it, but the idea is quite precisely that. The hat was my mother's. It was a woman's hat. I liked it: it felt comfortable, in a way most clothing did not. But I knew, somehow, that getting to wear it out in the yard, there, was a special treat, not something to take for granted, because it was girl clothing, and I wore boy clothing. I regretted this, I remember that much, but there's no pain. And this is the same me I can recall being, there in the blanket pictures. I may have understood gendering of identities, but I'm still authentic, then; I'm still just me, and haven't yet been carved-up.

When did my face stop being mine?

I can remember, in kindergarten, I was terrified by a fairy tale story assigned to us for reading homework. In the tale, a savage dragon was terrorizing a kingdom, and a pair of knights and a squire of sorts had been tasked with eliminating the threat. The knights sought-out a powerful wizard for aid against the magical beast, and the wizard helpfully provided them with a potion that would transform them into dragons—operating, I suppose, on the theory that anything less would be unable to best the beast in combat. Unfortunately, the enchantment made dragons of them in mind, as well, and they joined the first dragon in harassing the populace. And that's all I can tell you of the story, as I could not bring myself to read any more. Something terrified me about the thought of losing oneself—losing one's sense of self—inside an unfamiliar body.

It was early in the school year, so I cannot have been much past my fifth birthday. This is the first memory I have of being insecure about my own identity. I know I puzzled over earlier photographs of myself, that year and the next few, and watched my face in the mirror as I changed expressions, trying to figure out just what this person—whom I seemed to be—looked like. I recall wondering what, and where, I was—where was my self? I wondered if there was a point somewhere inside my head, a tiny spot in my brain, that was "me", that looked-out through the eyes in my face, that controlled my limbs and fingers and mouth. I think the only given was that "I" was not this body which housed me. I was something different from it, somehow. I don't know if that's a normal perspective for a five-year-old. I sort of doubt it.

I'm presently stymied by lack of images. I have an album from birth to three years of age, but nothing else until nine—by which point there's only an awkward boy in the photographs, my erstwhile stand-in. My parents are moving, this month, but when they've settled and unpacked, I need to dig further and collect more images to consider.

Somewhere between two and five, perhaps later, something fell apart. Something in my head drew away from my form, rejecting it. I want to know what it felt like. I want to know what happened to Rachel. What did it feel like to be broken apart? Did it hurt? Did I even notice, at the time? Was there a trauma that shook me and forced me to examine things that were too delicate to withstand scrutiny? Did I just notice, one day, that something didn't feel right?

I want to know.

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