The step from boyhood to manhood is never one I knew myself. I’ve had to take a crash course, because I am one of the flukes– I did not have a boyhood at all. I was raised as my brother’s sister, my parents’ daughter, my aunts’ niece. My family did nothing wrong; I was not forced into girlhood. It just turns out that sometimes, the brain and the body do not agree with one another. The doctor assigned me the sex he saw when I emerged from my mother’s womb, and no one could have expected that my brain was very likely biologically that of a male. When I hit puberty and began developing the secondary sex characteristics of a female, my brain failed to recognize them as my own. I panicked as I began developing into a body I did not understand on a fundamental level.
It is a lonely experience to be transgender, and a Godless one too many. There is no refuge from myself, I would think when the clock ticked into the sleepless late hours. If the female body I inhabited was not where I wanted to live, what was there to live for? It was not this kind of existence. For a long time, there was no concept of escape for me, and I fell into believing that everyone thought the same about their bodies and their lives.
When I was fifteen, I read Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club and an awakening came upon me rudely and with an earthquake’s force. I found it in the scene where the protagonist and his peers play a deadly game of chicken, each man brought forcibly to the brink of death in order to admit to one thing in his life he has always wanted.
“Quick,” the mechanic says.
The car swerves again, and the mechanic swerves back into its path.
“What,” he says, “what will you wish you’d done before you died?”
With the oncoming car screaming its horn and the mechanic so cool he even looks away to look at me beside him in the front seat, and he says,
“Ten seconds to impact… Nine. In eight. Seven. In six.”
“My job,” I say, “I wish I’d quit my job.”
The scream goes by as the car swerves and the mechanic doesn’t swerve to hit it.
“Hey space monkeys,” he says, “you see how the game’s played. Fess up now or we’re all dead.”
The game the men were playing made me hollow. I couldn’t sleep for what felt like days, weeks, months, turning it over that if I could say one thing before the car jerked away, I would say “I’m not supposed to be female, or “I wish I had been born male” or, “I want to be a male. I am supposed to be a man.” And finally, “I can’t live like this anymore. I have to do something. I have to tell someone.”
So I told someone. I told a few someones. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but what choice did I have?
Between now and then there have been almost seven years, fraught with toil and trouble and fighting a fight no one teaches you how to fight. I have had many conversations so fragile it felt like I would burst like a thin lightbulb, and have had many so wonderful they made my heart grow wings that I thought had long been taken from me. I was able to begin college as a man, begin male hormones, change my name, change my legal paperwork, and have specific medical procedures done. Now, the only people who know I am transgender are those it is relevant to—my family, a few childhood friends, and my doctors. To the rest of the world, thankfully, I am simply a man. And to myself, I am simply a man doing his best to deal with his medical condition. I look like, sound like, act like, feel like, and am a regular American man in his early 20s. And thank God for it.
When I feel the wind press a loose T-shirt against my flat chest, I remember my blessings. Last night upon realizing I had to shave, I laughed for joy before I lathered my face. Every day, my body feels more aligned with my brain. Every day, I remember how it used to be to live in a body I could not inhabit without pain. Now, there is comfort, sometimes even an embarrassingly bubbly optimism I am slowly getting more acquainted with. It is this way for me to be a man, to be comfortable in the body I inhabit. I told a boss of mine, years ago now, that I believe in the idea of a self-made man. I am the strangest kind of self-made man– and I can appreciate the humor in it.
When those who know about my journey tell me that I am brave, or that I have so much more courage than them for coming out and living my life honestly, I find myself at a loss for words. I usually end up telling them the simple truth:
I had to speak, and so I did.
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