Why are you Trans?

Being in a new and unfamiliar scenario, I have been told, can be exciting and refreshing to break up routines. I can’t recall how many times I was told in college to break out of my comfort zone, aka “come join our club!” Unfortunately, it is an unspoken truth that no amount of steps outside of my comfort zone will make me suddenly enjoy whacking a puck across the ice in your hockey club. Maybe if I could play goalie and there were pizza rolls being sent my way instead of pucks. Maybe.

The point I’m trying to make is that I’m in general an anxious person, and unexpected and new situations are incredible stresses for me. I don’t think it would come as a surprise to hear that starting this journey of transitioning has made practically everything a step outside my comfort zone. My journey has come with a big list of ‘firsts’ that I’m dreading: first trip to the endocrinologist, first time using a women’s bathroom, first time wearing women’s clothing in public, and it goes on. Even my own body feels like it’s something outside of my comfort zone sometimes; just like with the hockey club, there is no amount of mental gymnastics that I can do that will make me to truly enjoy the body I’ve got now. But that’s precisely why we can change ourselves to match the self we want to be: we diet, we exercise, we get tattoos, we dye our hair, and for people like me, we transition.

One of my ways of coping with my anxiety over the unfamiliar is to create a plan and diminish the unknown. After expressing some nervousness to my therapist over coming out to people and how they might react, she suggested that I try coming up with questions they might have and answers to them. One of the questions I thought might come up, and the one that sparked inspiration for this post, was, “why are you trans?”

After thinking about this question for a while, really the best answer I could come up with was the disappointing “Well, because I am!” Now I don’t think I’m the type who isn’t creative enough to give a better answer, but honestly I think that’s the best and most frank answer that I could give. Questioning my trans-ness would be akin to me questioning why the asker was a boy, or a girl, or a human for that matter. We simply are. What I believe one who would ask “why are you trans” really means is not a matter of why, but what. “What makes you trans?” And that is a question that has an answer.

What makes me transgender is that I get euphoria from looking in ways, acting in ways, and imagining myself in ways align with female gender norms. And I get varying amounts of dysphoria from looking, acting, and imagining myself in ways that are in-line with male gender norms. As an example, I am incredibly dysphoric about my facial and other body hair, to the point that I need to be clean shaven to feel comfortable (and confident!) in my skin. Having visible hair on my body is embarrassing, unattractive and feels “wrong” to me in a very visceral way. This is in line with a dominant norm of feminine appearance, and my embodied and largely subconscious sense of what it means for me to have hair on my skin is part of my gender identity. My identity as a woman allows me to express myself with minimized pushback from society and, ultimately, is what makes me the happiest.

Following my euphoria and just being who makes me happy has defined for me what it means to be transgender. And in a way, I suppose stepping out of my comfort zone had something to do with that. Maybe we grow the most as people during those moments of discomfort; perhaps our anxiety is like a spotlight on all of our insecurities, a mirror showing ourselves what we don’t like about ourselves and giving us the opportunity to change the reflection.

I think I’ve taken that opportunity a bit more literally than most.

The Spaces He Leaves

My lover is suffering from a terrible disease. I don’t know how he caught it, only that one morning he was heaving rose petals into the toilet and the next the doctor explained that there was an entire garden within his chest. It’s been a month, and now he’s shaving blades of grass off his legs.

Nobody knows what is wrong with him. We’ve tried doctors and surgeons from across the country without a stroke of luck. Every treatment to remove the malignant matter is fruitless, for everything that is cut out of him regrows at a more furious pace. There are roots strangling his veins and climbing vines marching their way up his spine and into his skull. There were a lot of calls at first, people asking when he would be back at work, that his coworkers were worried, or that he had missed his appointment to get the oil changed on his car. Eventually the calls had stopped. Now it was just us.

The last day he was healthy, he had been sad about himself.

This was not something that was unusual. He was often sad about himself, and it was one of the reasons why I loved him. We would sit together on the couch, him laying his head on my chest with my fingers in his hair because I knew no woman had held him in such a way before. He never said a word to me about it, but the pool in his dark eyes made my skin lift with emotion.

That day we were sitting just like that: his head on my chest and my fingers in his hair. It was raining outside, gently moving from our gutters to drip onto the sidewalk. He lifted his head and said to me, “There’s not enough sun in the world.”

I thought about that for a bit, listened to the rain hit the roof and the sound of him breathing. “I think it’s easy to say that on a day like today,” I murmured.

“It’s not just today,” he said. “I’ve thought about it often.”

“Why do you think that?”

He pressed his head into my shoulder and held me tighter.

“I don’t know.”

I didn’t press him, and was surprised when he added softly, “I just don’t know who the person I am is supposed to be.”

“The person you are is whoever you want it to be,” I said. “Maybe there isn’t enough sun in the world because it encourages us to always grow towards the light.”

He looked at me with those unwavering eyes and didn’t say anything more. I took his fingers in my own and leaned in and kissed him. Took his face in my palms and the kiss was soft and sweet and our faces were too close for anything else to be happening. I made love to him. I told him I loved him and meant it. I could feel the void within him, my affection falling into it like a star being devoured by a black hole. For a long time I thought I could fill the void, that somebody wicked had stolen a piece from him and I could put it back.

I don’t think the same anymore.

This morning, over a month later, he is especially bad. I wake up and find him at the toilet again. He hasn’t left the house in a week and spends most of his time lying in bed. He hasn’t eaten anything in that time, only drinking copious amounts of water. I help him heave a nasty clump of dirt and plant matter. I rub the back of his neck and can feel something hard underneath, like the bark of a tree.

“You’re not getting any better,” I say to him. I don’t try and hide the pain in my voice. I had stopped that after the third surgery.

He had stopped replying for a long time, and when he does I’m not expecting it. His voice is like creaking wood and rustling leaves.

“I don’t want to get better.”

“What?” I say, taking my hand off him.

“This is who I am,” he murmurs. “But I don’t know if I’m ready to go.”

This is the limit of my limits. I cannot bare to see him like this any longer. I wait until it is midnight, and then I hold his hand and lead him to the passenger seat of the car. I drive him to the park, the same park where we had first met. We lay out under the moon and the stars and I hold his head against my chest. His breathing is so shallow it’s almost inaudible.

“I love you,” I say to him. I truly mean it. “But it’s time for me to go. You can be the person you are, now.”

He closes those dark eyes, those tiny pools reflecting the stars, for the last time. When he opens them again, he is someone different but not unfamiliar.

His rips crack open like a flower in bloom. From his chest comes a thousand petals of all sorts of colors: reds, oranges, pinks, and purples. Most of his flesh and bone are gone, having nourished the plants within him for a month. His skin, paper-thin and hardly able to contain the garden inside, tears from everywhere as his chest rips open. The rest of him spills out onto the ground and quickly takes root, covering the last remnants of my lover in their foliage.

I turn around and walk back to the car.

Sometimes I think he’ll return to me some day. A naked man who dropped out of a tree somewhere, looking for his way back home. I make sure my phone number is listed in the paper. I know deep down, though, that he’s happier this way. I take up gardening and keep a small plot of flowers by the house. Somebody compliments me on them one day, telling me that they really fill out the space under the porch. I think about that as I lay in bed that night in the quiet of my small bedroom, and wonder if the plants growing inside my lover had filled all of his spaces, too. I wonder if the plants had been inside him all along, just waiting for the proper moment to grow and fill the void.

I close my eyes and the dark spaces waiting inside were so numerous I thought there wasn’t enough sun in the world.

Trans Enough

When I first started therapy in January of this year, I was looking for answers. I don’t think that I’m unusual in that regard. What I was seeking was somebody to answer a question regarding my gender identity: was I transgender? The feelings and thoughts I had carried inside of me were so distressing at the time that I wanted to turn away from them and have somebody else decide. I wanted somebody to put a definitive stamp on my forehead so I could either forget about everything that had been on my mind or to begin the process of transitioning. I thought a therapist would be an expert I could turn to.

And I was correct—mostly. It turns out I’m an expert too; an expert on myself. Being transgender, I found out, isn’t as easy as checking off three out of five ticks on a yes-or-no chart and being sent on your way to get hormones. The answer that I got was a lot more complicated, and one that came entirely from myself. Instead of my therapist answering the questions I would ask, more often than not she would turn my questions back to myself. If I asked her about dressing in women’s clothing, she would ask for how wearing those clothes made me feel, or how wearing them affected my understanding of what it meant to be a boy or a girl. It was annoying at first because I was so desperate for an answer and it felt like I was being led in circles, but now I realize that I didn’t even understand the meaning of the question I had.

When I first reached out to my therapist, I knew very little about what it meant to be trans. I believed that because I didn’t experience genital dysphoria, I couldn’t be trans. I also thought that since I couldn’t remember feeling way I did since a child, my feelings were somehow not legitimate. There was an ever-present doubt that always lingered in the back of my mind, always whispering “Are you really trans?” I would later learn that these feelings I had were incredibly common in the transgender community. This imposter syndrome made me believe that I was fraudulent because my feelings didn’t align with the stereotypes I held regarding what it means to be trans. And I continued to doubt my feelings, waiting and waiting for my therapist to make the choice regarding my gender for me. Ever doubtful, I remember telling a transgender friend of mine, “I don’t think I can be trans because I would be content continuing to live my life as a boy.” My friend replied that “being content isn’t the same as being happy.”

That was the moment everything clicked.

That was my answer. That single shift in how I viewed what it meant to be trans expanded my entire view of myself. The entire time I had been focused on what made me dysphoric and if that would align with my understanding of being transgender. I had never seriously considered what made me euphoric. I told my therapist the next day that I had my answer, and wanted to start experimenting with pronouns and a new name.

Being transgender is not something that is all sunshine and rainbows. There are many days where dealing with dysphoria, bigotry, and that ever-present doubt is a nightmare. There is a lot of pain my trans brothers and sisters experience on a daily basis. But embracing what makes me euphoric and accepting my identity as a woman with open arms has made me the happiest I have ever been in my entire life. Looking back at who I was before, it’s almost like I’m looking back at somebody who was half a person. That half is still who I am now, just more defined and fleshed out. Even though I’m confident in who I am, there is still a lot about myself that I do not know; Albert Einstein once said that “as our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it.”

Don’t let other people answer these questions for you. You are the expert on your life; if being a boy, girl, nonbinary, or anything in between makes you euphoric, then you are trans enough.