Tuesday, April 04, 2006

the year's been short but the days were long

so in about two weeks (April 15th! Mark your calendars!) I'm going to throw myself a party. It's going to be called Eli's Manniversary, and it's to celebrate my first year of embodied manhood. After all, it was right around the middle of April last year that I had the breakdown night that I think of as a turning point for me. It was a moment when I realized that things were feeling wrong wrong wrong, and needed to change AND also discovered that I had people around me who would love and support me no matter what, and wanted to see me happy. It was an important night for me.

I mean, I've been thinking about my gender for a pretty long time. I came out as queer (as a lesbian, really) when I was 12 or 13...I discovered that I liked girls, and I hadn't yet started to question what I'd been told my whole life, that I was a girl, too. And, you know, Girls + Girls = Lesbians, so I stuck a 'Babydyke!' sticker on the back of my leather jacket and ran with that for a couple of years. So I guess it was about the age of 14/15 that I started meeting transfolks, and getting a broader perspective on the queer community, and that started me thinking pretty hard.

I remember writing in my journal when I was 15, and being real confused, and deciding that I needed to put things off for a while. When I got to college less than a year later, I was questioning my gender identity, but still in small spurts and bursts. It was too daunting to take on all of it yet, and I also didn't yet have a pervasive sense that life as a 'girl' or a dyke was impossible , and so I kept waiting, to see what I needed to do.

The summer I was 16, I got further involved with a queer and genderqueer community in Portland, and really started realizing that I wasn't a girl. I didn't know quite yet what that meant, but I more or less identified as a genderqueer boy-type person by the end of that summer. But then sophomore year at the Rock, I had a bad experience that set me back for a while, genderwise. I made myself rather vulnerable in a rather public way, by writing about my gender identity (precarious though it was at the time!) in a zine, and got some really negative feedback from a couple of individuals that caused me to pull back and shut down for quite some time.

But by my junior year, and the summer after, things were coming to a boil again. I was in a relationship with someone who encouraged and supported me in my masculinity, and I started talking to people again about my gender, albeit cautiously and with great difficulty. I chose Eli as "a name I might go by, you know, if I ever changed my name" and I started thinking Big Scary Thoughts about the future and what could happen. I was shutting down a lot, though, and not letting people support me- like my sister, who was being proactive and supportive in a truly stellar way, that was wonderful, but I wasn't quite ready for.

But important things were happening for me, too. I started binding sporadically, and understanding how much more comfortable I was with a flat chest, despite the physical discomfort of binding my chest. Mel honored me with a place in her thesis performance, and I had a chance to fix some of the bad associations from sophomore year when I made myself vulnerable again, this time in a monologue about my gender in her performance. I got only good feedback, and it felt very good to say those things publicly, and I came out of it feeling stronger.

I was 18 by then, still wrestling with these thoughts, but I was still mostly putting them off for another day. But I remember reading Jamison Green's 'Becoming a Visible Man' on the bus in Portland that summer, and having to stop, and lean my head back against the window and close my eyes, because the words on the page were being overtaken by a voice in my head saying "You're going to have to deal with this. One of these days, you're going to have to deal with this."
So when I arrived back at SRC my senior year, fresh out of a serious relationship and ready to take a serious look at myself, I knew that a change was gonna come. I started therapy for the first time, because I knew that I needed to deal with my gender in a serious (or at least systematic) way. Being in therapy was REALLY good for me.

I think I've talked here before, and certainly in group and with other friends, about what I think of as the Trans Threshold of Miserableness. I think there's a narrative about trans people that says you have to be a certain level of really miserable in your assigned gender in order to want to transition out of it/toward something else. Nowadays, I recognize how that notion is messed up on a lot of levels, but for a long time it's what I told myself...that I wasn't unhappy enough 'being' a girl to justify becoming a guy.

I mean, I wasn't TOTALLY miserable being Emma, being a dyke. I still don't think I was ever really much of a girl...I put 'being' in quotation marks up there as a nod to the notion that no one really 'is' any one gender, but rather, we all perform and create our genders according to the rules of society. I don't think my performance as a girl ever garnered any rave reviews. But still, I was making it work well enough for a while, and there were parts of it (feeling authentically in the feminist sisterhood, being indubitably and very visibly queer) that I actually quite liked. For a long time, that lack of a sense of total misery was a big part of the inertia that kept me where I was.

Therapy, and the ever growing support from my friends and family and lovers, helped me realize a few things- namely, that the idea of a threshold of miserableness is pretty much bullshit, and that I don't need to be totally miserable in order to want to make myself happier. And secondary to that- I actually was pretty darn unhappy with myself and how I was living. I was growing increasingly disconnected from my body, and feeling increasingly invisible. I needed the world to see me as I saw myself, as a guy. A short, queer, somewhat effeminate and definitely feminist guy.

So that gets us to last April, when I was simultaneously (contradictorily? maybe.) coming to reject this Threshold of Misery as being unnecessary, and also feeling closer and closer to it myself. My future was looming large, seeing as how I was about to graduate from college, and I saw a chance to make a change...take advantage of one period of transition (leaving school) to start another (becoming a man). And, perhaps most importantly, I had people in my life, and one in particular, who were raining support down on me almost faster than I could soak it in. I was in a relationship with someone who loved me and wanted to see me happy, and gave me reason to want to make myself happier.

I mean, clearly I would've gotten here eventually, but being with her made me want to fully engage with myself, and become a better (happier, truer) person so that I could be a good person in tihat relationship. I felt like I couldn't be a good boyfriend until I became a happier boy, and I really really wanted to be a good boyfriend for her. Also, it was invaluable to have somone who liked me at a time when I wasn't sure how much I liked myself, and was willing to lend me some strength at a time when I needed it.

Also adding to that strength were my friends, who answered affirmatively all the stupid questions that I actually asked them like "Um, will you still like me if I'm a boy?" (thanks, Wane!) and my family who kept reminding me that they loved me no matter what.

So I decided to take two (now maybe three?) years off before graduate school and, as my mom put it, "get this Eli business all figured out." I decided I wanted to be legally and inarguably a guy, and comfortable and happy about it, before I went to grad school, and so I moved to New York, and I got a new job, and I started looking for new friends and a new community, and a new me.

And lo and behold! I've found those things, plus quite a few more, and now I can't believe a year went by so fast. and I guess this entry turned into How Eli Became a Transman: a Fairy Tale for All Ages. But it's good to see a chronology like that...I've needed to get it down. Hopefully it'll spare me from any temptations toward revisionist history.

I'm looking forward to this party, and a chance to celebrate. Amy keeps reminding me that I've worked hard this year, and accomplished a lot. I still see a lot in front of me, and I still have a lot inside that I suspect I'm going to have forever. I still shut down, and break down a little. But there are people who love me to hold me and help me put myself back together and remind me that it's gotten better, it's getting better, it's going to get better. Time to party!

1 comment:

CaptLex said...

Congrats on your "Manniversary", Eli! You've certainly come a looooong way already. My own freak out moment was less than a year ago, and I can't believe how much I've changed since then myself. I think we have much to celebrate.