IN THREE years, I’ve moved, changed jobs, published a book, joined clubs, left clubs, made friends, and lost friends. Sometimes it’s hard to remember only five years ago I believed there were no options other than living and dying as an unhappy female.
Unlike my past updates, I’m not going to go into details on changes. To give you an idea of where I’m at, I’m pretty much a balding werewolf, one whom is no longer subject to the emotional sway of the moon. And I’m okay with that.
Sure, there are many aspects of myself that if I had a choice–say–if my and Marissa’s sperm and egg sat down together to check off boxes on what they would and wouldn’t want in their symbiotic self, I probably wouldn’t have chosen all of them, and probably neither would she. But these imperfections feel more aligned with who I am now than what I had before, and that’s progress.
My theme for this year has been to live like I am dying. I’ve questioned why I do or don’t do things, questioned my assumptions, and I’ve taken more risks. I swam with a bunch of naked gay men in an alpine lake, joined a men’s group, and used the men’s locker room as if I owned it. Even if these ventures don’t work out, even if I fail, I’m making progress. That’s what transitioning has taught me. Things that used to seem strange, or horrifying, are suddenly working, they’re bringing me peace. I must keep pushing.
Not everything about transitioning is sunshine and rainbows. Because I no longer present as female, I’ve experienced some distance between me and the women in my life. When we lost my maternal grandmother this past month, my mom collapsed into my sister’s arms, even though I was within reach. I wanted to think I could be a rock for someone I love, for her when she needed me, but my relationships have changed.
I’m less because I don’t have those older women in my life, those I lost, their wisdom and support. I don’t have their solidarity. Those moments reinforce the idea that we must break down gender boundaries. Not only could girls learn from older men mentors, but boys could learn from older women. We have so much to teach each other.
As a man, I’ve been called bro, son, pal, friend, dude, man, sir, and buddy by other boys and men. I’ve had a fourteen-year old boy feel my chin, hold me by my scruff, and look up to me, even though I’m a good six inches shorter than he. I’ve had second-grade boys run around my legs and say, “Mr. Ben, will we be as tall as you someday?” I assured them they would be taller.
I’ve had all that, but when I was presenting as a woman, I only got the occasional miss or ma’am. Even from woman to woman, we didn’t have that breadth of language to refer to each other by, that level of mentorship–and that’s a problem.
The limits of our language are the limits of our world. –Ludwig Wittgenstein
Some of you may be thinking, “Well, I don’t want boys calling me dude or pal.”
I completely understand. I understand familiarity makes it seem as if these boys and men aren’t respecting you, but let me tell you something–as a person who has been on both sides–it isn’t respect when boys and men use formal language with you. It’s distance. It’s misunderstanding. It’s fear. They’ve been taught women are unknowable, that you are not them, and therefore you are not a part of their world.
I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. –The Beatles
We are different, but we are also the same. We all have differences, no matter if you’re man, woman, black, white, first generation immigrant, sailed here on the Mayflower, live in Florida, live in Washington, buy organic, drink Mountain Dew, do yoga, race cars, frack, garden, sing, swim. None of those aspects of our lives distance us as much as our language with one another, as much as our actions toward one another.
If I had one regret of transitioning, it would be that a lot of who I am was erased. When I tell people my stories, those same stories I told presenting as female, they no longer seem as daring as they once were. When I fell in love with my best friend, when I kissed her under the blankets while our friends looked on, when I lost her, when I sought out my first girlfriend, when I fought off the neighborhood boys to protect her, when I whispered promises in her ear, when I asked her to be mine, when she stuck her tongue down my throat in response, when we loved each other behind closed doors because no one would understand, when I lost her too… now that same narrative seems typically heteronormative. I’m no longer as brave. I’m a conformer. I’m that white guy.
The truth? I couldn’t help any of it. I couldn’t help falling in love with my best friend. I couldn’t help losing her to her parents’ religion and my anger. I couldn’t help loving my first boy. I couldn’t help it when he couldn’t give me his heart. I couldn’t help loving my first girlfriend, couldn’t help having the most beautiful experiences with her, and I couldn’t help losing her to my immaturity and cowardice. I couldn’t help fumbling with my first boyfriend, couldn’t help feeling awkward and out of place, couldn’t help falling in love, and I couldn’t help cheating on him with a trans woman. I couldn’t help it when that relationship dissolved. I couldn’t help any of it.
It’s not about bravery. It’s not about strength. It’s never been about that. I simply couldn’t and can’t help it. All these crazy drugs I take? The surgeries I undergo? Enduring the sensation of blood dripping down my back and the smell of my flesh burning as my surgeon ‘does a minor adjustment’? I have no choice. I can’t help it. I’ve never had a choice.
That’s why I transitioned. If transitioning means becoming something else, then I suppose I’ll keep transitioning, forever.
Link to Two Years on T
Link to One Year on T
Link to Six Months on T