Tuesday, April 28, 2009

visiting the old home

Standing in the hallway for hours, looking at pictures in old photo albums, I notice things. I am so unhappy-looking, so serious, in these pictures. They date from eight to eighteen years of age.

There are a few exceptions. A few images from the end of my senior year of high school have smiles—what I remember of the time is that my future was an open book, full of the promise of adventure. I’d been accepted to a marvelous school, I had shaved my beard and begun to think more honestly about my gender. I had reason to be optimistic.

The other systematic exception is in pictures from my teens in which I am interacting with children. I am happy, there. I don’t look calculating. I don’t look reserved. I look like I feel genuine.

The only other time I have seen that genuine look is as a little child, in even earlier pictures, and only when I’m expressing excitement or distaste. When I’m calm … I look thoughtful. I look wistful. I don’t look present. I’m not there.

And then … then I see a picture of myself in a swimming pool, and there’s a stab of pain. I should have been in a one-piece, with narrower shoulders, a small but defined chest, a too-high forehead and longer limbs than I knew what to do with, spending a mid-teens summer vacation trying to come to terms with young womanhood in America in the early nineties. Instead, I’m in swim trunks, baffled and uncertain about developing chest and facial hair, completely failing to come to terms with an even more oppressed and confusing status.

I cry. All those years of isolation in rich company, gilded imprisonment in privilege. I never stopped trying to understand—not once—who and what I was, but I only rarely paused in my desperate flight from the answer. Transgender. Transsexual.

I cry because I remember the moment so well. I remember feeling, clearly, what I just wrote, above: every…single…thought. I don’t remember what I was thinking—the words, the meanings I attached to them, the boxes in my head into which I finally shoved them at a loss for options. I could probably reconstruct them, now, if I tried, but I have no desire to do so. I have options, now. I have words for these feelings. Loneliness, isolation, and fear. Heartache. Regret; longing. Grief. Deep wells of grief. Such sorrow, over what I feared to do, what I was too afraid to assert, to claim, to demand. Womanhood. My body. My name. Me.

It’s funny how in times of emotion, it’s just words—“womanhood”, “transgender”, “name”—that I fall back upon. It’s simple, powerful words—the right words, hard-won over many years—that are the foundation-stones of my redoubt. They are my spell, my name, my Polaris. I don’t so much write about these feelings or articulate them as—using an embarrassingly awkward analogy which I nevertheless cannot seem to shake—instead toss words onto a Pollock canvas and mutely ponder the wreckage. It paints a map, in adolescent, stuttering cadences, to authenticity.

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