For individuals who live in the margins, on the fringe, or outside of the box, sharing personal details about their lives can lead directly to their destruction. People who assert that everyone has a voice in this “post–civil rights era” are only partially correct. But the volume is still turned down – if not muted – for many people of the world, despite all the avenues available for sharing unique experiences and viewpoints.
I am able to speak at high volume today, but experience fewer risks to my well-being than many of my queer and marginalized peers. I have not always had this ability, and have worked through very difficult situations to turn my whisper into a shout. I do not want to forget how I arrived here, as I fear I will no longer serve others effectively when they need my help.
And so…more of my story.
I grew up in a very rural and religious place, where critical thought and self-discovery were discouraged. The unspoken motto was “Fit in, stay quiet, and if you can’t do that forever, get out.” Staying was not an option for someone like me. I couldn’t pinpoint what the difference was, much less accurately describe it. I was something else, and so I spent my energy avoiding the emotional and physical violence that queer folk encounter. I did not escape unscathed.
I was born into a prison. My body did not match my eyes, and I was stuffed into attire that chafed no matter the cut. The wrong color of bow was affixed to my head upon entry into the world. I spent years staring into mirrors just to catch a glimpse of myself. I could only see that person hidden deep in the shadows of my eyes. Every time I wondered when everyone else would wise up, reveal the big joke, and speak to me, the person I knew lived inside this alien body. They seemed intent to carry on the prank forever.
How does one decide who they are? I don’t believe I can answer that.
I asked myself this question repeatedly growing up, never quite finding the resolution in the holy textbooks, nor in the mundane lecture. There had to be some great game afoot. Perhaps I was the subject of an experiment, or maybe I was somehow conscious inside of another’s elaborate dream. There was a voice offering me suggestions, and it said to keep looking.
The voice inside me explained that something was awry and convinced me it would never be silent. I told a few people about the voice when I was in the third grade, how I was in the wrong body. My fellow students were scandalized and intrigued until I was pulled into a classroom by a concerned teacher for a serious talk, and I was issued a formal cease and desist. “We just don’t say things like that,” she said, and she made it clear that if I did not suppress this “fantasy,” I could never be normal. I was a child, and I thought I could trust this adult. So I stopped sharing and built walls around my already fortified cell. The voice and I remained cellmates for years. Swallowing a sword of fire only exacerbates indigestion.
There are all kinds of things I would tell myself to make the days pass. I dived into literature, games, and school, but I was still depressed, alone, and scared. I pretended I was a sleeper agent, posing in the wrong body to get the top secret files. I was a shapeshifter, a wizard, a great con artist. But I had no confidants until I neared adulthood. I finally told my first (secret) love how I was trapped in the wrong body. I mistakenly thought they understood what I had shared, but they were too afraid to face being “a queer” by my side.
I found a small group of outcasts who were more welcoming, and I shared a bit of myself. But I failed to compose accurate words and in an overly simplistic word dump, I expressed only my bisexuality.
It was the truth, but not the whole truth, and even though I found enough acceptance from this ragtag posse that I survived my teenage years, I was still trapped. There was something more to my identity, but I did not have the words to properly describe my prison, so I held onto the secret.
I went to college. A new town. New friends. New life? I came out of the closet again, freer in my second iteration. I received some …genital education (I hope you like puns, dear readers) in a Psych 101 class. Have you ever been punched in the gut? Have you ever fallen down and been winded for minutes, unable to pull air into your body? Learning the word transgender was just that, and like an explosion, it left me feeling shell-shocked for weeks afterward. It was perfect, it was the word I had been searching for. I had waited, never knowing what I needed, and I had accidentally stumbled upon it. I was that type of person! There was no doubt. There was nothing else to do. I needed to transition, to match my body to my mind and heart.
I would definitely have committed suicide if I stayed in the prison of my own body, but I wagered I would make it around this new curve in the road, and that bet paid off. I have been navigating this path for a decade now, and I am no longer in a prison. My body is finally my own. And I can shout really fucking loud now.