I Am Trans: Reese’s Story
CC image courtesy of Flickr, torbakhopper
Hi. Name’s Reese, like the peanut butter cups.
I first realized I was trans FTM in college, I believe. I read some post or another on Tumblr (I know, I know), and it got me thinking: Was there such a thing as being agender? It sort of fit in my head, because I’d never liked girly things, like Barbies or nail polish or even the color pink.
(Which is a perfectly acceptable color, by the way.) It ate away at me for years, being non-gender conforming. I hid it behind jokes and feeling generally uncomfortable in my own skin.
“Oh, I don’t wear nail polish, it makes my fingers feel weird.”
“Oh, no thanks, I can’t walk in heels.”
I mean, these are very highly gendered things that shouldn’t be gendered, but at the time I felt like I was…failing to be female.
I really didn’t understand anything LGBT+ during pretty much my entire life until college. I was raised in a fairly strict Christian home, and was homeschooled K-12. I do remember pseudo-teaching myself to read, with some “help” from my mom, who was my teacher. We used the A Beka Book programs, starting out with just textbooks, then moving on to the videotaped classroom experience.
At any rate, I discovered Tumblr around 2010-2011 (which was… an Interesting Time, as it were), at first because of the Broship of the Ring comics by Noelle Stevenson, and then because of the Doctor Who/Sherlock/Supernatural craze. (Yes, I was a SuperWhoLockian. No, I still haven’t forgiven myself for it.) But there was a whole lot of “Gay is good!!!!!!! Because boys kiss!!!!” nonsense going on, which struck me as odd, but I went along with it.
Fast forward to 2014, when I first started feeling like being agender was being truly and honestly myself. My mother “found” (snooped in a notebook that I carelessly left out) a coming out letter where I detailed my plan to have a hysterectomy/top surgery, because I wasn’t their daughter anymore. (I also came out as biromantic/asexual, but that’s another story.) I was working midnights at the time, so I woke up at around 1:30 PM to a phone call from my sister-in- law, who was literally shaking as she fed my infant nephew his lunch. My mother had gone completely off her rocker. She took the letter she searched for (how did she know to look in that notebook? Should I have left it out? Was she just looking for a piece of paper?) directly to my brother and sister-in- law, because I had mentioned that I’d told them about being biromantic and asexual.
She literally said to them, “The next time I see you, I’ll have a gun.”
She threatened them with violence, because she thought we were “hiding” things and “lying” to her, and (her favorite word for a while) “deceiving” her. She turned out to be mentally ill, and that overshadowed the emergency family meeting we had later in the day. Fortunately I had the night off, so we could have a meeting. I was shaking and sobbing the entire time. To quote my father, “We’ll talk about what’s in the chair later.” Guess who was sitting in the chair? Yours truly. My father, the man who I thought understood me the most out of all the adults I’d ever talked to extensively, called me a “what.” Not “her,” or even “who.” “What.”
I’ve never felt so dehumanized, so belittled, so Othered than at that moment.
Most of the “family meeting” consisted of my older brother talking about forgiveness and something else that was probably really good and important, but I was just too shocked to listen. I was numb. How could my mother do this? How could she be so completely mad that she threatened her own son, her own daughter-in- law, her grandson, with violence? What about me? Was I going to be kicked out? I was making minimum wage at a McDonald’s and barely paying off my student loans.
What the hell was I supposed to do? Where was I going to go?
“You’ll always be my daughter.”
That pretty much ended my closeness with my father. I’d always wanted to be like him, to be book-smart and goofily funny and able to fix things with my hands. But after that conversation, I just wanted to go bury myself in a hole somewhere and feel the crushing weight of earth on my body. It would’ve been better than the crushing disappointment, the feeling of “Who you are isn’t wanted here.”
I’d been tentatively feeling my way around the gender spectrum, first finding solace as an agender person, then realizing that I felt more masculine than anything. I don’t doubt NB folk, but I know who I am and what gender I am.
I haven’t exactly come out as trans to my parents.
My mother, as I said, is mentally ill and refuses to seek treatment for it, and my father is at his wit’s end as to how to deal with that, so I feel like starting T and changing my name/gender and/or getting top surgery would be something that would, well, be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. So I’m waiting to come out.
I have very fortunately either learned to completely shut down my dysphoria, or I have very minor dysphoric symptoms, but there are days (since I still present as female in public) where I have to steel myself, grit my teeth, and say, “Okay, they’re gonna call me ‘R;,’ and it’s not ‘Reese,’ but it’s close enough, right? I can do this.”
To this day, I still don’t like little stupid things, like hugs, or buying women’s shirts (because they’re SEE THROUGH, dammit, and that shit WILL NOT STAND), or even washing myself in the shower. I have been wearing baggier clothes to work, ones that don’t flatter my figure or make me look feminine, but it’s been hard. I work at a Christian-based company, and it’s… it’s a bit like being homeschooled again, which is nauseatingly comforting, or rather nauseating because it’s comforting. Nobody swears, nobody really takes the Lord’s name in vain, none of that. And it’s a nearly all-female crew, which makes things even worse, in a way, because I have to use my girly-girly customer service voice, and I have to withstand people saying “God bless you” when God either blessed me with his Holy middle finger or simply forgot to do the whole “blessing” thing.
I mean come one, nobody blesses on Wednesday!
(I was born on a Wednesday. Y’know that one poem, “Monday’s child”? About the days of the week? Well, the line for Wednesday goes, “Wednesday’s child is full of woe.” I would like to thank God and also Jesus for that little bit of whatever-it- is.)
My self-image has always been skewed, since I was basically born with major depressive disorder, and apparently when you’re born like that you don’t get the mandatory Self-Esteem package. And of course, not being able to come out safely has been worse because of that. But at the same time, I take comfort in the fact that I know who I am now. I am Reese, and Reese means… me. Will I ever be okay in my own skin? I don’t know. I honestly have no idea. I just know that I’m more comfortable with myself now than I have ever been, and I hope that I will only get more comfortable as time and money and legal changes allow. I mean, it’s fairly difficult some days more than others, but I’m not out, which is both blessing and curse. I don’t have to deal with slurs being thrown my way, I don’t live in a metropolis, so I don’t have to deal with any kind of sexual harassment, and to top it all off, I’m so shy and awkward I either wouldn’t notice unless it were blatant harassment, or would notice and would (in my head, anyway) get increasingly snarky about it until the other person got uncomfortable and shut up. (In reality, I think I’d nod and smile until they left/I left that environment, and then I’d go home and cry. Or possibly kick myself for not being brave enough to stand up for myself.)
As far as community support goes… I don’t really talk about being AFAB, except on my sideblog/private Twitter, so. My online friends (which are, come to think of it, for the most part either LGB or trans men themselves) have been nothing but supportive and kind About my issues, going so far as to respond to my over-emotional posts about whether or not I’m “really” trans (because let’s face it, if I’m not out in public, if I don’t “act masculine” at all, if I’m not taking T and/or immediately planning surgeries, am I “really” trans, or am I just some stupid Special Snowflake Tumblrite who really desperately wants to be “different” in order to “fit in” with the “different” crowd?) with kindness and Compassion.
My two brothers have sort of expressed support.
My older brother in particular has been kind and accepting, and my younger brother has been at the very least reading my emo tweets and going so far as liking some of them. I really can’t say about my sister-in-law, and I’m quite sure my grandparents would possibly die of shock if they knew.
My mother… is mad, and I don’t trust her as far as I could throw her. I fully intend on coming out once I get the money/financial stability to say, “Oh hey guys, by the way, my name is Reese and I’m a dude, LOL bye see you in Europe” (where I plan to move once I can get a job lined up).
As far as faith is concerned… being depressed sort of killed all positive aspects of faith for me. I thought God hated me. I thought I was sinning somehow, because why else would I be sad? I must have been making God angry, and that was why He was making me sad. And so on and so forth. My faith officially died during my sophomore year of college. I was exhausted, and I kept up appearances until my second attempt at getting my degree, at which point I threw all pretenses out the window. Knowing what I know now, I wonder that I was a believer as long as I was, because if God truly loved me, if he really really honestly wanted me to be fulfilled, why would He have put me through this?
Am I supposed to be held up as an example of what to do when suffering?
If so, what is the point? Honestly, it boggles my mind that people who suffer are expected to take their pain and turn it positive, like some kind of twisted Pain Olympics.
“Aaaand here comes Van Gogh around the bend, painting away! Oh, he is going so strongly! Oh wait, he shot himself. Well, at least we got some pretty pictures out of him, eh folks? Naturally, we’ll only like them after he’s been dead for a while, but hey! Ahead of his time, am I right?”
I know for a fact that being bitter is a bit like being a robot with internal rusting, where it eats and eats away at your infrastructure until you collapse/implode, but really? What if I want to be whole, and not in pain? What if my pain is preventing me from creating? What if I don’t want to do anything anymore, because everything hurts? Why do we prize pain over anything else? Is it a learning experience? Yes, of course. Should terrible things happen? No, but they do. Are you “not really” something because you don’t suffer from/for it? Absolutely not. Creative people, or people in general, exist and create in spite of and in active resistance against the pain they experience. Does pain make something more precious? Is that why we value it?
If anything, pain is a handicap.
Is that why we cheer so loudly when someone in pain produces something?
“Oh look at him, he ran 300 yards with a broken leg! Never mind the fact that because nobody fixed his leg and waited for him to get better that he’ll be crippled for life, he ran 300 yards on a broken leg! Amazing!”
I digress. Basically, faith, while nice and good and generally not an objectively terrible thing (honestly, it’s what you do with and about and because of your faith that makes it terrible), I don’t really see any value in it. I’m biased, of course. But what can I do?
The hardest thing about self-discovery is honestly other people. I’m a sheep, I’ll say it now. It is very difficult for me to have an original thought. I tend to agree with sensible people, so I must have some modicum of sensibleness, but I am as unoriginal as a stick figure comic on the Internet. (Can be original, but it has to try really, really hard.) I have heard many differing opinions about trans/NB-ness, from openly trans/NB people no less. I’ve heard trans men staunchly discredit NB people as “trying to be special” and “taking away from our legitimacy as a group.” I’ve had NB people completely not respond to me when I asked for reassurance in my gender identity (though come to think of it, they were probably the wrong person to ask).
Overall? It’s been confusing. The language we use to talk about ourselves has been changing constantly as we do more research and learn more about the human body/brain and gender in and of itself. I really honestly don’t know what to think of myself nowadays. Am I a man? Am I a deluded female who has internalized so much misogyny that she doesn’t know what to do with her female aspects? Is my rejection of stereotypically “feminine” things a reaction to having “femininity” shoved down my throat because I was born with certain genitals? Am I honestly a trans man, or am I dishonestly trying to “steal” another identity because I want to “be different/cool”?
And so on.
On good days, I know I’m trans and male and I read my friends typing my chosen name, not my deadname, and that makes me feel…not content, but fulfilled.
On bad days, I type angry Twitter rants through my tears and try not to cry too loudly.
I suppose the impact of not coming out has been…well. I’m honestly not sure. It’s been easy in that I don’t really have to deal with being outright rejected and/or cursed up and down for who I am (yet), but at the same time, I get no support from my family (which I really doubt I’d get to begin with), so. I’ve been sort of stunted, in that regard. I always get surprised when people are nice to me and use my name. As far as emotions… I’m going to sound like a lame action hero, but I prefer not to have them if at all possible. I’m an avoidant sort of person, which means vulnerability gets paraded around as either a horrifically self-deprecating joke, or, if I can’t get away from facing my emotions, I get Too Real and make people uncomfortable.
This is very rambly, for which I apologize. I honestly don’t really have a hopeful message here. It can be hard, it can be easy. It all depends on who you are, where you are, and how you are, as well as who/where/how other people are with regards to your gender identity. I think of a Terry Pratchett quote, from The Wee Free Men, about trusting in yourself, and believing in your dreams, and following your star.
And if you do all that,
“…you’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”
I suppose that’s the best advice I can give.
You have to put in the work.
I have to put in the work. We have to put in the work. And we will screw up. I’ve probably screwed up at least a dozen times (badly) telling this story of my being trans, and I will probably continue to screw up until I’m dead. But it’s the trying, the incessant reaching for and struggling towards a goal, or a series of goals, or just getting through tomorrow. That’s what’s important. If you’re going to do anything, you have to keep moving forward. (A shoutout to Meet the Robinson’s, which was a very underrated movie, in my opinion.)
Never stop reaching.
Thank you for having the courage to share this. I had a similar experience with mental illness and a mentally ill mom (who was also emotionally/psychologically abusive) and was homeschooled K-12. I had such a weird journey figuring out my gender identity and like you, I constantly question it because I can’t be out at my job or most places actually. And even if I was I don’t even know how I’d explain it. I’m AFAB transmasculine, but I consider myself closer to genderqueer than being a trans man. But then I’m like “am I really a guy who’s just confused? Am I really a girl who’s just a stupid special snowflake?” But honestly, I finally realize after 30 years of life that a lot of this questioning comes from a lack of self esteem and not feeling like it’s ok for me to claim my own identity. And that nonsense all comes from how my mother treated me, along with my own mental illness. Well….I guess I shouldn’t blame all of my problems on other people and things, but they certainly contributed to my inability to feel like it’s ok for me to claim and tell others about my masculine identity. There’s also so much shame I’ve had to get rid of over the years because of how my mother has vocally expressed her hatred of trans and other queer people. And definitely I could never come out to her. I tried to come out to my dad, but his response was basically “I get that you’re different but I can’t support you in front of your mother because…” Basically the message was “you not being a cis woman is a betrayal and no one who claimed to love you has your back.” I’m sorry this is so long winded but I’m just really glad you shared your story because it really boosted my confidence knowing that there are other people who are on sort of complicated journeys with unsupportive parents, the inability to be out, the feeling of invalidation (“am I trans enough”?) that comes with an inability to get surgeries or lack of desire for all of them, the conservative background, the log journey nailing down your identity and not following that trans narrative of knowing exactly what we were at 3 or something. I’m sorry you’ve had pain and that you have to present as female often and that you’re still on a long journey and I know a stranger on the internet telling you “hey me too!” wont make everything perfect. But I just wanted to tell you you’re not alone.