(Apologies for being late on this one. Regular scheduling will resume this week, though!)
This is a short (4-6 part?) series that will post weekends until it’s done. This is a personal history, the evolution and experience of my gender. As such, this series will contain frank discussion of sexual maturation (specifically of the FAAB body & its genitals), gender dysphoria, expressions of dissatisfaction with body shape, disordered eating, direct physical self-harm, depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, and similar issues. Other topics mentioned include unsafe chest-binding practices, alcoholism, heterosexism, cissexism, and related. (I hope this note is unnecessary, but: many of the views I express in this segment are negative and not what I believe now at all. I have learned and grown and accepted myself & others since then. I still think it’s important to air all of my dirty laundry, in the hopes that someone fighting those deep-seated ideas can find some strength to overcome them.)
Having faster internet access (and on my own computer, rather than a shared family computer) in high school had allowed me to learn about all kinds of things. I’d heard about The Gays (yes, capitalized, and with a heavy dose of othering and heterosexism) when I was an older child, but I had no idea that bisexuality was a thing until I was 14. (Thank you, fandom! Also, more on how much that screwed me up in a potential future series.) Crossdressing was something that only pedophiles did. Being intersex was a medical condition to be pitied, but heaven forbid you do anything other than stick with the binary gender assigned to you at birth. I honestly had no idea that anything like the trans experience existed until sometime around 16 years old. Until then, all I had was feeling like a freak, with no words to express myself and no idea that it wasn’t completely unheard of.
I chose a male name – not one I liked for visual or auditory aesthetics, not one related to the name of any family member or friend. I chose Richard because there was a musician I liked with the name, and because I felt like not having any particularly strong personal connection to the name meant that it was okay. If I never felt like it was my name, I was still “normal”. (As “normal” as a suicidal depressed academically-advanced cutter with body image issues could ever be, that is.) I became Richard in a few online forums. I even posted some pictures – it’s amazing what Ace bandages and a loose tshirt (and a box on your head while you pretend to be a monster, or a black shirt wrapped around your head for maximal ninja-ing) can do to make your body close enough to what people expect.
I can remember the first time I told the “truth” to someone who’d met me as a guy. I remember what a visceral reaction I had to typing the words I’m really a girl, because that felt like just as much a lie as taking on the Richard persona. I remember feeling so sick for admitting my birth-gender that I threw up. I can’t imagine what I would have done if the person I’d told hadn’t been so wonderful about it. I still didn’t know about the trans* community & experience, but I was getting there. Slowly but surely, I was getting there. By the time I graduated from high school, I knew enough to know that I’d better never say transsexual or transgender near most of the people I knew, so I backed off and closed the entire door for a while. I had enough to be getting on with anyway, between classes and living with 100 other teenagers and nowhere near the emotional support & supervision we really needed and the absurd court battle being waged over my already-minuscule free time.
It still seems a minor miracle that everyone in my graduating class lived through high school, but we did. We all went home to suffer through our families for the first extended period in two years, and then we all fled with relief when university started. I was with several of my old friends at a state school, and we stayed a relatively tight-knit group. Scholarships gave me enough spare money to buy some new clothes, and I flipped “gender norms” with my choices.
Still, it wasn’t until the second year of university that I felt safe enough to try anything more than “tomboy”. I lived essentially alone; my more conservative roommate friends spent the majority of their time with their boyfriends, keeping the dorm just for appearances to parents. I was left with the two closest friends, the two I’m still in touch with now. I cursed the infinite downsides to Ace bandages and bought an actual binder, and my excellent two-friends helped me try it on for the first time and took some ridiculous pictures and doodled a nice doodle of boyish-me and just generally kept on living life the same way, whatever shape my chest was any given day.
I didn’t use any of the still-scary trans* words. I didn’t talk about boy-mode. I didn’t think about what my gender was, didn’t entertain the notion that this was anything more than crossdressing to pass the time. I was cis. I had to be cis. Nothing else was safe. But I knew that wasn’t right, and I knew I wouldn’t be facing the issue any time soon, so I picked up an alcohol habit at 18 that would, somewhat ironically, take me until age 21 to kick.