Confronting My Closet Walls

Yesterday was New Year’s Day and for me it really was a new year. 2015 was the biggest and hardest year of my life thus far. I had begun it knowing that I wasn’t a man, but I was still presumed to be a cis man by everyone I knew, and I was unsure of how to proceed. By the end of it I was fully recognized as a feminine soul by all the world around me. I had faced so many of my biggest fears in life and though not unscathed I had come through it all a stronger and happier person. I was relieved to have that behind me and excited to begin my first full trip around the sun as myself. Only promise lay ahead.

Then, an hour or so before the end of this first day of my new year I got an email. A painful echo from my past. It was from a friend, one of the five people to whom I had come out in person. She had helped so much in the past few years as my life fell apart. She was there supporting me as I got sober and as I came out as asexual. She was one of the first people I came out to for a reason. But there had been a snag…

I had had a problem for a very long time. When I was a kid I always had at least one good female friend. Another tomboy to hang with, go outside and play pretend with and be goofy with. Somewhere around the second grade that stopped and for a while the other girls wouldn’t talk to me. Somewhere around the fifth grade that changed again, I was paid attention but it was of a kind that I couldn’t comprehend. It was often cruel and mocking. Then, in my first year of high school, in my favorite class (Creative Writing) I got a friend again. She was cool and smart, a couple years my senior, I figured I could learn from her, we started bonding. But she started to get awkward and one day turned her back on me. I then saw her with a boy her own age, being romantic and realized that was what she wanted from me, not friendship. I was not an equal, I was a potential mate, a guy. That began a long and painful string of such relationships. All I wanted was a friend, all the women I met wanted was a man. So before it happened again in my early twenties I asked out my best friend. I had been told by my other bestie (a guy as I always have a guy friend too) that she had a crush on me. I ended up in that relationship for eight years trying desperately to be the man everyone wanted me to be. It nearly destroyed me and hurt her to no end. I will always feel bad about that. She had been my third girlfriend, I had expected the relationship to last as long as the first two, less than a month. I had also told myself that I would face my fears on the other side of that relationship. In our darkest times she would often ask me why I wouldn’t leave her, I couldn’t answer her but the truth was that I was so very scared.

So here in 2016 I got a message from this friend, a sister tomboy. She was a good friend, a source of hope. We were the same age and had grown up in the same part of New Jersey. My father had known her in school in his capacity as a substitute teacher. We had worked for the same museum. She knew some of the people I had known going all the way back. She wrote to tell me that I only mattered to her as a man. She had tried to accept my transition, even gave me some of her old clothes. But as my transition had progressed she saw that the man she knew was gone, that whatever she had hoped for from him was never to be. She hadn’t allowed herself to see that his best qualities were mine and that I was still here. I was not the man she wanted anymore. So she told me that she could not be a part of my life anymore.

Even though I had seen it coming for a long time it still hurt, it saddened me. But it was okay too. It finally put to an end that long string of women with whom I wanted to be friends but who could only see a man to date. One of the other people I had come out to face to face was a former roommate, another tomboy, with whom I had had a glancing friendship. I was always worried about how she saw me. Our friendship has been growing since I came out, she says that I “make sense now”. So all is good and right.

I slept on all of this, feeling oddly at peace with it but when I woke up today, the 2nd of January, there was a nagging doubt. After watching a couple videos about a dead rock legend and comedy super star I realized there was something else from way back when that I had as yet to face. I had used comedy and punk music to suppress my true self and I realized it had all begun with one band. I had their genre of punk tattooed on my forearm. I had done the tat myself in a drunken rage during my last drunk winter five years ago. A winter I had barely survived. It was the music of the British skinhead branch of punk known as Oi! The band were a jokey laddish bunch of blokes known as Peter and the Test Tube Babies. I still had a couple of their songs in my playlists but there was one song that I had been avoiding for years.

It had haunted me since I first heard it. One of my buddies from Creative Writing back in high school had started a punk band with his friend and they needed a singer. I had the equipment, the love of the stage and a good loud shouting voice. I didn’t know much about punk except for what I had learned from corporate music television so I asked my new bandmate who looked very punk and tough, to make me a mixtape, so I could learn what was expected of me. On it was this song by the Test Tube Babies, “Transvestite”. In it the oaf of a singer describes bringing a girl home for the night singing “I am gonna screw the arse off you!” It quickly devolves into shock, revulsion and horror at the physical discovery that the girl to whom he had directed his lust was assigned male at birth. The song finishes with the jeering chants of “I’ve been cheated tonight, transvestite!” and “Is this some kind of a joke, you’re really a bloke?” I had already learned that the world hated folks like me but upon that first listen I learned my friends hated me too. If I was going to survive I had to be the manliest man around, so I became that jeering skinhead. I held desperately onto that image, the anti-racist skin, until I finally put down the bottle in my early thirties in a punk house somewhere in Lower Allston, MA. Not such a long way from suburban North Jersey.

Now, back in Jersey, in my Mother’s home, I turned to an internet video site and looked up that same song that had taunted me for so much of my life. At first, my morning dose of estrogen still melting under my tongue, I started to weep. But then, just as with the letter from my friend, I got angry. I stopped letting the world hurt me just for existing, for wanting to be who I am. I listened to the whole tune and felt a source of strength, of self confidence and worth. I pressed the “dislike” button. I was the only one who had. I then went back to the search results and went through every other iteration of the song on that site, pressing “dislike” I was the only one on every version and the only rater on many of them. I saw the lads, and heard their hateful crowd, I heard the transphobic rants they introduced the song with and sneered back at them. Cowards. When I was done, having disrespected every piece of it I could find on that site I went to my own music library, to the two of their songs left in my possession, I had listened to them recently, trying to look past the hate I knew they felt toward me. It was just jokey punk right? No, hell no! I gleefully pressed delete.

I have no space in my life for those who hate me or those who can’t accept me. I am a proud aromantic asexual transsexual non-binary tomboy trans woman. I am worth just as much as any of you and I have a hell of a good year stretching out before me. One hell of a good life too. I hope you all enjoy this trip around the sun as much as I plan to. This is your life, live it freely and joyfully. Never forget to give others the same chance because we all deserve to know and love ourselves. Happy New Year!

Confronting My Closet Walls

Tomboy! A Declaration 

When I began gender transition, like many other folks, I assumed I wanted to be the opposite gender from the one assigned to me at birth. I had spent so long feeling trapped by everything male that escaping it was my paramount concern. I declared to all who knew me “I am a woman!” and began seeking the sage advice of the transexual people who had come before me. As I absorbed their stories and ideas I was struck by one concept in particular and found myself so bowled over by it that it became my only goal in transition. I was moving away from assumptions and toward authenticity. I was leaving my maleness behind and becoming me. My transition was about one word, one embodiment of gender that had always held me in its grasp, from the instant I first heard it at five or six years old. Tomboy. I was becoming my true self, a trans tomboy.

All my life up until not too long ago the world was busy telling me what boys don’t do. I was a person of don’ts. Hemmed in and dying on the inside, constantly checking my every second against the norm and endlessly correcting myself. I was exhausted, fed up and depressed. So I accepted and declared my trans nature and began to face the opposite chorus that told me what women don’t do. The world still told me “no” but my life was becoming “yes!” The people I had looked to all along, through all of my years, who seemed to have the best grasp on their identities were this multifaceted gang of cis women who called themselves “tomboys”. They expressed a wide variety of styles, gender expressions and activities. Some were simply less conventionality feminine and others were outright masculine and every combination of those two expressions. They were every sexuality too. They were asexual, heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual and lesbian. The one common denominator was this deceleration of “no!” If there was a feminine or masculine role or expectation that agreed with them, they embraced it but if something didn’t fit, they rejected it. They were all so cool. I saw too that as a group they seemed to encompass the largest swath of women and girls.

During my first year of transition I have walked in many people’s shoes. I began 2015 being seen and treated by the world as a man. I had a shaved head, stubble on my face and dark utilitarian clothing. I was addressed as “sir, man” and “bro”. Then I slowly discarded my male clothing and replaced it with women’s clothes, I began to let my head hair grow out and shaved my face clean. I was becoming a queer man in the world’s eyes and I received the abuse reserved for them. I became a “faggot” or I was called “sir” in the most sarcastic tones. I began hormone replacement therapy and electrolysis on my facial hair and my body began to shift with my ever more feminine presentation. To the world I became an open ended question. I was stared at, mocked openly, jaws hung open at me, double takes were taken and fingers pointed while faces laughed. The world had no words for me. As my body shifted again I became feminine enough in appearance that the world began to see a woman or maybe a man, a perverse deceiver, this brought an end to my male privilege and I was threatened on the street. Attempted physical assault was followed by demonization. I was told that I was going to “burn in hell”. Next came the absolute assumption that I was either a very butch woman or a trans man. I was called “bitch, homo, buddy” and “dyke”. The epithets had returned. A month or two later and the hateful began to see an object of desire, a woman for them to own. I was gawped at by men and they tried to coral me and my attention. I was “ma’am, miss” and “girl”. When I ignored the cat calls I was again just some “bitch”. I realized too that all of those stages of humanity I had passed through could fit under the umbrella of tomboy. Effeminate men, androgynous folks, butch women and trans folk of every stripe embodied this concept. The word tomboy was central to so many of the stories of the people I had found empathetic siblinghood with.

Eventually I was a woman to the world. And I found myself hemmed in by that too. My body had changed but the way I walk and talk was still basically the same. The clothes I put on when I turned my back on maleness were the same ones I was still wearing. I was loving being able to express my femininity and I was finally able to embrace my masculinity. Nail polish on calloused hands. Having it presumed that I was a cis woman irked me though. I had been through a lot in my life and I wanted the world to recognize that and celebrate it with me. So I began to head back to a more androgynous style of dress. I began to enjoy when someone called me “sir” and then “ma’am” in the same breath. I wanted to be that obstinate question mark, that tomboy. I decided too that my birth name was too important for me to relinquish. Publicly I am Chris Jen but legally, and privately, I am still Christopher. I never did have legal dysphoria. I have too little respect for authority to care how I am seen by those who believe they have power. I saw at that point too that not only was my gender expression tomboyish but my gender identity was trans tomboy and that until my gender marker on legal documents could be changed to reflect that (a T perhaps) it did not matter if the system saw me as M or F. It gave me power too, which is something I have never really had. Sure, I was once offered the power of a white athletic man, but that felt so wrong on me it was no privilege, it felt like a burden. Now in the world I am seen as a woman, perhaps a questionable woman but a woman nonetheless. When I need to use a debit card or show some form of identification I get to find out who is a bigot and who is not. The cool folks shorten Christopher down to Chris without me asking. Some folks enter into conversations about gender with me and I get to learn from them and they sometimes learn from me. The bigots call me “sir” and refuse to look at me or speak to me. I have successfully challenged their assumptions and disrupted their view of the world forever. I have created change.

To me that is what being a tomboy is all about. Yes, there are the two binary genders. The girly girls in their hobbling footwear, skimpy clothes, caked in makeup basking in their weakness. There are the macho men too. All stubble, dirt and funk. Reveling in their power and prowess, dominating all comers. Those are well and good. They are reference points for the rest of us, the bulk of humanity. They help us define and explain our endless variations, subtractions and combinations of gender identities and expressions. Cis, genderqueer and trans. Binary and non-binary. Those who say “this is what I am” or “also this” and those who prefer to say “this is what I am not” The multitudes of different bodies and minds that experience the world in a way that no one else can. The tomboys. 

Tomboy! A Declaration 

Thankful and Transgender

This time last year I was house sitting for a friend so he could go off to be with family. I spent the holiday alone for the first time in my life. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It is so much about coming together, sharing and giving thanks. But I was nearing the end of a long confusing road full of hurt. I was about as alienated from my own existence as one can get. I was still in the closet and just thankful for the time to be alone without the assumptions of the world. It was just me and a couple of cats, they don’t assume they just merely expect. I also realized in that time alone that it was high time I confronted my deepest fears. It was time for me to learn to give thanks.

In the year that has followed I have found true acceptance of who I am as a person. I have found that instead of finding more pain as an openly trans person I have found a level of joy I didn’t know I could have. The other day I was looking through old photos. Often a hard thing for we trans folk. I found a series of photos my Mom had snapped of me, my brother and my father on the stoop of our home in New Jersey. When I used to look at it I would see my Pop and brother looking very male. And in from the side, baseball hat in hand as a token of maleness, I saw the awkward kid who I could never understand. I would wonder why I couldn’t be like them no matter how hard I tried. But now just before this Thanksgiving, I saw the same photo through new eyes. I saw the goofy tomboy I have always been, leaning impishly on my Poppa’s knee. I thought I looked cute!

  
My life makes sense to me now and quite frankly I have learned a lot from all the pain I have been through. My teens and twenties weren’t all bad but I have gotten to reconnect with that impish, goofy tomboy I had been so long ago, before testosterone and before I repressed my soul out of fear. Now I get to share that oh so important goofy tomboy part of me with the world every day. 

Yes, I am so glad to be trans. So very thankful that I have been able to embrace it at last and that I can celebrate it as a fact. I can look back on my life with joy and tears alike. I feel so complete! Even more so I can look to the future with a new hope and purpose of being. I truly am most thankful to have been born transgender.

Thankful and Transgender