Thinking Queerly: The question that made me transition, giving myself permission to be me

One of the first people I came out to as transgender was my ex. We had been together for about two years, and we lived together. I knew the conversation would set off a chain reaction of consequences that neither of us were prepared to deal with.

I was stone-cold sober when I’d made the decision to tell her, sloppy drunk when I executed it—as was my style back then.

The bar was dark, we were several drinks in. She ordered food, I ordered another round. I have to tell you something,” I said. “Okay,” she said, “I’m listening.” “You know how I’ve been journaling a lot lately, for therapy? Well—it’s because I’ve been figuring some stuff out. About my gender.” My voice and hands started to shake. Maybe this was the wrong choice. Or the wrong time. Maybe I should have been having this conversation sober. Welp, it was too late now. “I’m scared to say it.” The tears started flowing. 

I reached across the table, and placed in front of her my most sacred, secret possession. The truth I’d been avoiding and chasing off for years, until it crawled right up to me on my darkest night and looked me in the eyes, and licked my hands, and curled up in my lap, as if to say “I trust you, and I’m your responsibility now.” This stray truth that I took in and fed, that still did not have a name yet, sat trembling in all its scrawny, homely glory in front of my ex. She looked at me like I’d lost my mind. I can’t say I blame her. After all, we were in a public dining establishment.

My ex was not a cat person. She had nothing against them, she just preferred dogs, and a cat is not what she signed up for. Also, like many rescues, this particular stray had been through a lot, and was not the best behaved. (That is to say: “pre-transition me” was a raging, angry drunk. I was codependent and destructive. I was untrusting and untrustworthy. I was resentful toward so many people, including my ex and myself. I was in a lot of pain. Coming out would mean that pain would get worse, a lot worse, before it got better.) 

Some strays don’t need names, and won’t respond to them. Some trans, non-binary, and/or gender-nonconforming people don’t care much about labels, definitions, or even pronouns. They don’t feel a strong attraction or aversion to particular words; the words just kind of hit them and roll off. This is not me. Feminine language triggers horrible dysphoria, gives me nightmares, sends me reeling for days; masculine language has the opposite effect: it makes me feel euphoric, impossibly happy and validated.

When I first came out, I tried to not care about gendered language, or about being misgendered, because I thought that this would make my life, and everyone else’s, easier. I didn’t say the words male, man, or trans man when I came out to my ex. Deep down I knew that being male was a deal-breaker, so I compromised my terms out of fear of losing her.  I told her she wouldn’t have to refer to me as “he”—that “they” was just as good. I tried to convince myself that this was true, just like I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need to medically transition, that going by a different name and they/them pronouns would be enough. 

Then one day my therapist asked me: “What pronouns would you go by, if no one else cared, or if no one else’s opinion mattered?” The answer came immediately, with the force and clarity of an unquestionable truth: 2+2=4, I exist, he/him/his.

I started applying this same logic to other aspects of my transition. How would I cut my hair if no one else cared? How would I dress? How would I identify? How would my body look, if cost was not a factor, and no one else cared? 

The thought experiment was a game-changer. It transformed my self-concept, and my sense of what was possible. It gave me the courage to come out fully and unabashedly as myself, and to transition into the man I am today. It would cause me to lose a good number of people, sure, but it would also enable me to meet people who would love and accept me for me. 

Now my truth is strong, healthy, steady, and thriving. It is no longer a stray. It is at home with me and I am at home with it. 

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