I remember being corralled into segregated bathroom lines in preschool. Instinctively, my brain said “Why am I with the girls? I shouldn’t be in this line, I should be with the boys.” I remember being pulled out of the Boys’ Room by my arm and told “little girls shouldn’t be in the boys’ bathroom”, and I was confused. I was uncomfortable using the Girls’ Room… why did my discomfort not matter?
I remember first grade and hanging out with this boy, who told me I was too much like him, and he stopped hanging out with me. I remember being 7 or 8, digging a mud hole with my cousins in their backyard, filling it with water, and the three of us tossing our shirts aside before jumping in because we knew our moms would kill us if they got stained…. and being pulled inside by their mom, in a panic, because “little girls shouldn’t take their shirts off”. I remember being confused; that if my cousins – who were essentially the brothers I never had – were allowed to have their shirts off, why couldn’t I?
I remember shortly before my adolescence, looking back on pictures of a younger Me. I would say, out loud, “I really do look like a boy with long hair”. Or I would point out that my baby pictures looked more like a baby boy than a baby girl. My sister looked more like our mother, while my features favored our father. My mother would step in, defensively, and assure me that I was beautiful — assuming that my acknowledgement of how I saw myself was a declaration that I was Ugly or Unlovable because of these boyish features.
Though, it’s not wholly untrue… I did resent my appearance as I was being told to look, but I didn’t have the words for it. I also resented being “One of the Boys” in all of my friends’ eyes, because it meant that my female peers would tease and berate me for not being more like them… it meant that my male peers didn’t want to “Like” me, in any childhood-romance sense, because I wasn’t really a girl to them.
I remember watching my body as it went through puberty… I saw my chest, and thought to myself “I’m not supposed to be looking at these… I don’t understand why I have them.” I knew what they were for, by that time, but it was irrelevant because I didn’t want to have children. Why was my existence as this not-girl child, who was growing into a girl’s body, also being punished with an incurable disorder that made my Natural Cycle more miserable and painful? for the eggs I never planned to fertilize? for the children that I used to beg God nightly to never force me to carry? The thought of pregnancy was a literal nightmare of mine that made me feel less Human, less Myself — because I felt dehumanized by the narrative that tried to force a feminine life on me, that my only purpose was to birth children into God’s world. I felt dehumanized by my family and peers who would shun and shame people who expressed themselves differently from the Status Quo, and claimed to do so in a loving God’s name.
I remember being taught that God loved me unconditionally, but with very specific conditions.
That if I didn’t present myself as the quiet, proper, well-dressed, brightly-colored Girl that He so beautifully and wonderfully made, that I was asking for ridicule. That I was less lovable.
I know they didn’t realize that this was what they were teaching me… but it was the lesson that I internalized.
I remember when I reluctantly put myself to the side. I remember the awkwardness and uncomfortability that I felt as I thought “Maybe if I wear more skirts, maybe if I wear makeup, maybe if I bleach highlights into my boring hair… maybe people will treat me better.”
I remember feeling relieved, glad, the first time a classmate called me Pretty. The first time one of my crushes referred to my appearance and behavior as Adorable. I remember thinking “Maybe I can make this work after all”, and building upon those features.
I remember when people continued to call me weird… strange… fat — how they continued to criticize me even with the efforts I had made to be more likable.
I remember feeling defeated, switching to baggy clothing to mask my shapes, to hide my body in.
I remember wanting to balance the two, saving the more effeminate looks for when I wanted to express them on my own terms. I remember my mother’s criticisms and protests, and that praise seemed to be earned when I abided by her image of me.
I remember when I hyper-feminized myself because my first long-term partner helped me feel loved and beautiful for whom I was intrinsically, and not just how I looked physically. He gave me space to grow and learn about life outside of the conservative roof I was raised under, he celebrated my successes, and comforted and coached me through my failings. He helped me see the LGBTQIA community as beautiful, as human, and as natural; in doing so, he helped me come out as pansexual. He helped me grow from simply tolerating the gay community, to seeing that community within myself and embracing it.
I remember not long after we broke up, a friend posted about gender-fluidity, and I looked deeply into transgender identities and labels. We socially started our journeys at roughly the same time, but he gave me the words that I was missing for how I felt. I began challenging my expectations of my gender expression. That I wanted to be both masculine as well as feminine, and both of these voices wanted to be heard. I realized that I had silenced my inner boy’s voice, that I never gave him the chance to grow.
I remember my mother telling me that she would never see me as her son. I remember her telling me that she always thought it was a rebellious phase I would grow out of. I remember how she would frequently forget when I would talk to her about wanting to transition.
I remember her tearing apart my chosen name, judging me for my decision and demonstrating that it was too easy to bully. I tried another name, one more Family-relative that kept my original initials; but I remember the night I dissociated in a spiral of anxiety, and feeling worse when I was called by this new name — it wasn’t mine, and it wasn’t right. My name is Máni; I chose this name to reflect the moon. The moon, who sheds light in our darkest nights and gives us hope. The moon, which goes through many phases, but every four weeks shows itself still whole.
I remember putting myself into yet another box, to appease the Status Quo in a different way… I purged most of my effeminate clothing, and tried to reshape myself into a Bro figure. I told myself that “I can’t REALLY be trans if I hold onto girly things.” I started challenging every nuance and fashion choice, wondering if the wrong presentation would give away my secret identity… and I found my growth feeling stunted again. It took a long and heavy question for me to figure out how to handle this:
Why are binary gender norms so important to me?
The short answer? They aren’t, because gender is a spectrum.
Once I found that answer, I started playing with makeup again. I called my dresses and skirts Drag. I feel a sense of euphoria not only from presenting – and being recognized – as male, but also from being nearly indistinguishable from male or female.
I remember the first time a kid saw me and asked their mother if I was a boy or a girl. The mother said, “Why don’t you ask them yourself?” I remember their affirmation and acceptance when I said that I was a boy, and the realization that The Right People aren’t going to care about what you were born as – they’re going to care about the person you have grown into.
I remember when I met Euphoria. How he embraced my Dysphoria, and told her that she didn’t have to be alone in the dark. He guides her into being the man she always knew they could be together, and assures her that it’s healthy for both of them to have a voice.