I thought my male identity came out of nowhere. I couldn’t put my finger on any thread of maleness that ran through my whole life. I couldn’t remember ever saying I was a boy. All I remembered was a thick uneasiness, a sense of something wrong, a sense of being different.
This really bothered me at first–I wanted to find the proof, the sign, the memory. I wanted to know I’d been trans my whole life.
It happened slowly. A shadow here, a twinkle there. Onionskin layers of pain and non-comprehension fell away from my life. And it happened. The memories came flooding in to me. One of the sweetest gifts of my transition.
It was nothing I had actually forgotten–more like misfiled. Early hints of my maleness lost in folders labeled Birthday Parties, birth to age 9 and Summer evenings, childhood. I deciphered their secret language, and suddenly they all came rushing out, together for the first time. Only together was their meaning revealed.
Here are two of them.
I was about seven. I was at a friend’s house; it was a hot afternoon. We were playing in an inflatable kiddie pool in her front yard. I had forgotten my bathing suit–I have some dull sense that maybe I wanted to forget it. So I asked if I could swim in the shorts I was wearing. My friend’s mother looked at me kindly, with mild concern. “Sure, if you want to,” she said. I did want to! I remember how I looked and felt, standing in just shorts with the water up to my knees.
“You aren’t embarrassed?” the mother said to me quietly, gesturing at a group of men doing construction across the street. It hadn’t occurred to me to be embarrassed. “No,” I said, with what strength I could muster, but her question made my face feel hot and most of the fun was over.
I was about twelve. It was one those end-of-year camping trips we used to do at my school. I was on a hike with a small a group of students and teachers. Making conversation, I remember that one teacher asked, “If you could live in any historical time period, which would you choose?”
I found the question irritating at first. I don’t remember what anyone else said. But when my turn came, I couldn’t resist answering. An image filled my mind, complete and wonderful. Quickly, with the purity of conviction of early adolescence, I said, “The Renaissance. Then I could live as a man and be a painter!” I was charmed by a vision of myself in fancy, puffy clothing, painting portraits of important people and consorting with women. It was the most comfortable, natural image of myself I had known.
I was so happy with my idea, I barely noticed the moments of silence, the look of confusion on the face of the teacher.