We won't get into the joy (who has the time? Or actually gives a shit, other than my family and friends?), but we will get into the fear, the colorful cocktail of self-loathing I've shaken-not-stirred up for myself these past few months. You see, I got into this name-changing business in pursuit of permission-- permission from myself to explore, to embrace the parts of my being I couldn't reach from the uncomfortable confines of cisgender girlhood, to see if getting out of bed got easier each morning I woke up with the knowledge that my world heard me call myself a man. But, as it turns out, gender is a dark, hairy maze (quite literally, in my Jewish/Armenian case), insidious in its structured self-policing, and somewhere along the way I lost the sense of permission I had felt when this whole damn thing started. Somehow, I even lost the sense of permission I'd worked hard for as a lesbian.
Just before I came out as transgender, and for all my life before that, I didn't really 'get' dysphoria. I did know what it was like to learn to hate your body: I remember angrily shaving my legs in fourth grade because a male classmate had maliciously pointed out how hairy they were. I remember stuffing my bra in sixth grade before my first middle school dance because the boy I liked had asked me to go with him. I remember just last year, lying in my dorm room bed alone, crying over a girl that had blown off hanging out with me, refusing to take off the dress and makeup I had painstakingly put on in order to win her approval. Of course, this is not dysphoria. I did not hate my failure to live up to my conception of ideal femininity because I felt like to be feminine in this way reflected who I was on the inside. I hated my failed attempts at performing femininity because in my mind, I was a girl, because that's what everyone told me I was, and if I wasn't good at being who I was nobody would love me. Unsurprisingly, my early life was defined by deep-seated social anxiety, missing school as often as I could due to imaginary stomach aches I begged my parents to count as real, and a sense that I was irrevocably different. It was a difference beyond language, beyond understanding, save for the understanding that this difference was bad.
I remember those first few days when I started going by Max. All sound converted to radio static. The people and places around me became two-dimensional. I received support and encouragement in my transition warmly, graciously, but I felt no real joy at hearing my name, the pronouns I thought reflected who I was. I didn't feel anything, except for the previously unfamiliar but nonetheless crushing gender dysphoria. I understood it, now. In some sense, perhaps it had always been there, lurking beneath the surface, or maybe it was learned, just like before; whatever the case, I hated all parts of me that the outside world insisted on reading as 'girl'. At one point, I'd come to love my feminine body, my high-pitched voice, my wide hip bones, my tiny hands, my legs when they were shaved. Out of nowhere, this self-love was gone, or buried, and replaced with a sense of betrayal, that my appearance was telling a lie. I had expected, after my name change, an internal celebration, some hidden key uncovered to answer for my anxiety, my general sense of discomfort, my long-time affinity for staring for hours at my bedroom wall, but nothing came. In fact, I had lost something I'd had before I'd changed my name at all. Undeniably, I had lost my sense of self.
I've come to realize that this overwhelming depression stems from the counter-intuitive pursuit of trying to become who you already are. Though I could only articulate it in jokes, in parodies of masculinity, I knew the sentiment was real: I saw myself as a straight dude. I wanted to date girls and be a boyfriend, not a lesbian. I wanted to be a husband, father, grandfather, Mr., sir, brother, son, grandson, nephew. I wanted to inhabit these roles, rather than decidedly feminine ones, because I knew they would affirm how I saw myself; but as graduation loomed and prompted me to consider myself an adult, I realized the way I was living contradicted who I understood myself to be, who I had always dreamed of growing up to be. Once I accepted that I felt that I was a dude but was living my life as a girl, the body dysphoria hit me like a truck. And thus, here we are, dear reader, blogging about my gender like the wind.
Currently, I wince when I'm misgendered as often as when I'm gendered correctly, because I haven't let myself believe that I really am a dude. I never knew it was possible for me to be one. Thanks to transgender activists everywhere, I am beginning to accept that if I say I'm a dude, I am, and each day I get a little closer to regaining that easy joy I could sometimes slip into identifying as a lesbian, where gender arose naturally: a predominantly masculine person walking around feeling masculine, knowing themself as masculine, and therefore not TRYING to be masculine. I am the same amount of masculine I have always been. Now I'm just toying with showing it off in a new way.
What I'm struggling with these days is the realities of living as trans: I had to stop wearing binders because, though they greatly eased my dysphoria, they were making the 'trying to be what you already are' debate get too loud in my brain. It sucks that my chest shows and that old creeps call me and my female friends 'ladies' on the street, but I feel more like myself, my DUDE self, when I'm not constantly worried about if I've hit the eight hour mark for binder-wearing yet and need to give the fellas a breather.
Right now my dysphoria is still pretty bad. I get angry at myself for having dysphoria; I want to logic myself out of it, because I know I don't deserve to feel this shame. Because I did not feel this concrete, specific dysphoria surrounding my sexed body parts until after I changed my name to Max, I also spent a long time panicking that I was appropriating a transgender identity, the surprisingly common fear that one is not 'trans enough,' even after experiencing hardcore dysphoria and thus fitting easily into the definition of trans. I refused to allow myself to belong to the cisgender or the transgender world, purely out of generalized fear of making a mistake in either camp. I wanted to change my name for the sake of liberation, but I lost sight of how to achieve liberation somewhere along the way.
I'm writing today, after not writing for so long, because I feel I've made a breakthrough on the liberation front. I won't lie to you and say that I've found a way to think my way out of having dysphoria, because I haven't; instead, I've accepted where I am in my process and am beginning to see more clearly what it is I need to do to live more fully. Simply put, as Emma C. Delsohn the Lesbian, I found a way to basically communicate who I was to other people. On some level, though, I always knew this method was flawed; rather, I knew there might be a better way for me to communicate who I was through my identity. And I knew I didn't like my feminine name. So, I changed it. And now, I must make a series of identity changes, changes that must operate as a cohesive unit, to convey who it is I really am, to reinforce the image of myself as a kind, worthwhile person. As I grapple with which changes to keep and which to abandon, I can only hope I ultimately arrive at a place a little less chaotic than this one, with a richer perspective on who I am and how gender otherwise functions in society. Since my transition I have already felt my patience and compassion bend and stretch in wonderful ways. No matter where I end up, I know this transition is a big part of my development into a person I can be proud of.
Only now do I realize how much I once avoided claiming agency in my own life. It's hard, and scary, especially when the way you want to live stands in direct opposition to everyone you were close to growing up, every message you see on the TV screen and every song that you hear on the radio. I became comfortable navigating the world with a sort of learned helplessness, refusing to believe I was worth more than pity, than reluctant attention. Nevermind that I didn't like my name; I was just glad someone noticed me at all. No more of that. I am alive for a short time, and a lot of shit is really fucked up. I'm going to be a force of change in many ways, including, but not limited to, through living example. And god forbid I actually enjoy myself along the way.
Today is TransPride in Seattle. As much as I want to be there to stand in solidarity with my community, I didn't think twice about heading back to my scalding hot room on the third floor of this house to stay in on a Friday night. I'm exhausted from this week, and want to be alone, and I give myself permission to hole up like a weirdo while queers everywhere celebrate their awesome presence in this generally hostile society. As an expression of my pride as a transgender person, I know my place tonight: it's here, behind this occasionally-malfunctioning keyboard, writing my goofy, indulgent blog and spewing my feelings, telling the truth about what it's like for me: your pasty neighborhood trans guy.
And that's another thing that helped me write this post-- getting the fuck over myself. As a white masculine-of-center queer, my privilege is enormous, and so much of my suffering right now is self-imposed. Trans women everywhere, especially trans women of color, are harassed and murdered every day in their honest expression of their gender. Nine transgender women have already been murdered this year. If anything I've said in this post has moved you in some way, your next clicks should be towards educating yourself on the violence being perpetuated against transgender people everywhere, especially trans women and trans-feminine people of color. For instance, take a minute to learn how you can support trans women of color right now.
All right, Internet world. That's it for Max today. Hopefully you got something out of what I said, and if you have any questions/constructive feedback, please don't hesitate to send 'em over. I'll be in my room trying to decide how I feel about these new cargo shorts.