Jacob Rostovsky recalls a moment when doing something totally ordinary could have had completely unintended consequences.
When I was 16 I went to the store to buy some snacks with a group of guy friends. They were new friends, as I had just transferred high schools and it was the start of the year, so of course I was on my best behavior and trying hard to impress them. When we went to pay for the snacks I didn’t have any cash and had to use my credit card my parents allowed me to have for emergencies (because snacks were definitely an emergency). The checkout lady proceeded to ask me for my ID, something I was not expecting, which at that point sent me into panic mode and started to create a whirlwind of anxiety.
Now, you may ask, what’s so problematic about having to show someone your ID? You’re not buying alcohol or cigarettes, so really it shouldn’t be an issue. However, I’m transgender. This means I was born female and transitioned to male later in life because my gender identity did not match the sex I was born as. Even though I had transitioned two years earlier and passed incredibly well as a biological male (I had a pretty good beard that I was proud of!), I had yet to change any of my legal documents, which included my ID. So what was going to happen when I pulled out my ID, in front of my new friends (none of which at this point knew I was transgender) and had to start explaining who I was in front of this clerk. Yes, I’d done a lot of workshops and transgender 101’s in the past. But at this moment, all I really wanted to do was pay for my Cheetos and leave. I didn’t want to get into an entire educational lecture about what it means to be transgender. I also didn’t feel that this was the right moment to disclose my status to my new friends.
There were many reasons why I hadn’t come out to them yet; they were sixteen year old boys so I wasn’t sure of their maturity or ability to grasp the concept; I didn’t know how to do it; I didn’t know when. But most importantly, this was the first time in my life that I was seen as Jake, and nothing more. Nobody thought of me as “that transgender kid”. They just saw me. Jake. A male.
I’d finally be able to join in on conversations with guys and not feel like they viewed me as an outsider. They’d be able to allow me to identify with them, and I’d be able to learn about male culture in ways I always dreamed of. This would be the first opportunity I would have to explore my manhood without people thinking I’m trying to learn how to be a “male”, but rather what it means to be a man. If I’d make a mistake, do something stupid with my new friends, act goofy and aloof, people would assume it was because young and still learning the lessons of life, rather than just trying to learn the lessons of man. They’d attribute my actions to being a teenage male, and I’d finally be able to fully assimilate into the culture I’d always dreamed to be in.
This was my chance and I did not want to give it up for a bag of chips. I had worries too. Maybe this group of guys wouldn’t be my friends after they found out about me. What if they freaked out and hurt me? That had happened in the past at my old school, which was one of the reasons why I had to transfer. I didn’t want to put my physical safety in jeopardy. So I cancelled the transaction and put away the chips. My friends were curious as to why, and I just told them that I didn’t feel like using my mom’s credit card for things I wasn’t supposed to. One of the guys, who happened to become a good buddy of mine for the rest of high school, offered to pay for me and I gladly accepted. Of course, I got the tab for him the next time and definitely remembered to have cash.
There is something I wish could have told my sixteen year old self then; it didn’t matter what would have happened if you bought the chips. I was doing just fine as Jake, transgender male. Why did it matter if I never had the chance to present to the world as Jake, biological male? Really thinking about it, I was happy with the man I was becoming in my life. I had a special perspective, being able to live in the world of both genders. How would it really enhance my life by denouncing all the things that made me special and molding myself into the traditional role of a male? I enjoyed my qualities associated with feminine traits and looking back on it, I am disappointed in myself that I stopped doing things I loved just to fit in with the guys.
Why was it so important to just be “one of the guys”? How come there are so many societal rules and regulations put upon men? To be honest, those days I spent trying so hard to be a “normal” guy were so difficult. I actually hated it. It was difficult trying to remember all the things I was and wasn’t supposed to do to that I hardly had any time enjoy life and be myself. The day I decided to say “screw it” and just live as me was one of the best moments of my life.
So I ask, what would be so wrong if everyone was a little different? How affected would society really be if everyone could be who they wanted? Wouldn’t that just make the world a better place?