I know you from afar. You’ve got great sneakers and great sideburns and a great blend of boy/girl grace and I just found out that you’ve changed your name. You kept the first letter, like a lot of people do, but you changed it and I am unexpectedly filled with a feeling I can’t quite place. I feel jealous, for one. I realize there is something you have that I want, and it isn’t the ability to call myself a boy.
I was talking to a friend about how we’re both attracted to trans films but we find them hard to watch because they stir up shit that we’d rather suppress. We were talking a bit sheepishly about how we’ve both picked out boy names and flirted with the possibility of shedding female gender. I was at my closest when I worked for Inside Out film fest, spending time in a space frequented by artists with the most (perceived) freedom to fuck norm identities. Previewing trans stories on screen made them feel more real, or more common, like each time you played a tape you multiplied the experience. I was at my closest when it seemed a lot of other people were, too.
I was at my closest six years ago when I stopped shaving my legs and my armpits. I was at my closest when I started shaving my head all the time, along with my side burns, my chin, my upper lip. In fact it’s one of my best kept secrets: how I started shaving and then, two years later, spent hundreds in electrolysis to undo what I’d done.
It was kind of on a whim. It was kind of in response to the urging of a girl or two who liked me better dressed as a boy, packing a dildo and wearing a tie. It was kind of in response to the fact that I didn’t feel pretty enough to be a girl in the first place. I was giving up on the girl thing, at which I’d always considered myself a failure because I was too hairy, too flat chested and too full of errors.
It was relieving for a while to stop correcting people, to respond to “Sir,” to use a bathroom without sending anyone running for security. It was relieving to stop comparing myself to other girls, to consider myself an entirely different thing. I had a whole new category within which it seemed impossible to feel inadequate. There were relatively few trans examples, and no aesthetic trans ideal that I could identify. Six years later, I wonder how many people feel unique enough in trans identity to avoid comparing themselves to an “ideal.”
I’ve slowly travelled back along my path as a girl. I haven’t learned to accept myself, but I’ve learned that both given genders are messy. The language just isn’t there to describe me in the everyday world; confusion will follow no matter which name I choose. You don’t become a boy because you’re sick of fighting girl stereotypes, just like you don’t get married because you’re sick of being single. You get married because you fall in love, and I wasn’t in love with the male gender any way you slice it.
Maybe it’s okay to transition just for a change, but it wasn’t enough of a reason for me. Just because someone thinks you’d make a really hot boy doesn’t mean you don’t cut it as a girl. I would have been better off joining a drag troupe on the weekend than reading up on testosterone and thinking about what taking it would do to me. It’s the space between that I want, the political spellings that don’t translate into speech, the andro-gynous characters who show up in low-cut dresses when the credits come down.
I still find it incredibly hard not to compare myself with other girls. I can’t help feeling that they’re more applicable, more attractive, better equipped for the role. It’s actually one of the hardest things for me about being queer. I don’t feel ugly around boys, I just feel different. But being around a pretty girl every day makes me feel like a frog. My self-esteem would be safer, in a way, if there were only one of me in the world. It’s why when I’m depressed I want to be alone. Better to be lonely than to see myself fall short of everyone around me. I don’t want to be relative. “Boy” and “girl” are too loaded. I am an inadequate rendition of what each of them stands for, imperfect and unskilled, even after all these years, at passing.
I’m not a girl like you are, not a boy like you are. You changed your name, and I am jealous because maybe you’ve found a home for yourself. I am still searching for a form that fits, not just in queer circles. I am afraid that this life will be too slow in its offerings to accommodate me.