What I used to be

A friend linked to this post recently and it really rang true to me. I don’t recall ever having someone correct me in the way the author describes, but sometimes I do feel odd when I’m talking about my past, because I will refer to “when I was a girl” and don’t know any other way to talk about myself (at certain points in my history) that would make sense to listeners. There are times when this can be tricky: at my last job, where I worked for almost a year, I was only out as trans to one co-worker. I wasn’t trying to explicitly hide it, but it never came up and I never felt like it was anyone’s business. But this meant that when a co-worker was complaining about birth control and I said something about the low-dose pill I used to take… she thought I just wasn’t paying proper attention to the conversation and was talking nonsense.

I have ways to tell stories that help me avoid outing myself if it’s not the right situation: I talk about being in “scouts” instead of the Girl Scouts, and if I’m discussing boys I dated when I was a teenager I might let someone think my high school was really progressive for allowing me to openly bring them to prom. But ultimately when I do those things, I feel like I’m misrepresenting myself – not lying, exactly, but omitting enough that I’m not giving my conversation partner an accurate view of my life.

The person I’m talking to doesn’t know that I was extremely jealous of the long hikes, camping trips, and high ropes courses my brother got to experience as a Boy Scout while my GS troop did almost no outdoor camping.  I can’t explain to them that my high school principal said “if I allow any student-created clubs I have to allow them all; if I let you have a prayer group then gays and satanists could have clubs as well” to my face. It’s not always vital information, but I have a hard time omitting what I see as a large part of my life without feeling like I’m being dishonest about what I experienced in my life that turned me into the person who’s now trying to figure out the best way to tell his own story.

Ellie in the post I linked above describes it this way:

the point here is that i was once a boy. i have a lot of history there, some of which i absolutely cherish. Out of respect for myself, i own that and fiercely challenge any attempt made to assimilate my experience. My past is a part of my present; it’s a path that brought me to this now. It’s a path that i’m very much still on. To disavow that past would feel like lying to myself, lying to others.

This comes into play especially when I’m talking about some of the issues I’m most passionate about; I know sexual assault, reproductive/sexual health, body image, etc. aren’t women-only issues, but often the discourse is focused on women and their experiences and I don’t want to mansplain my way through relevant discussions. I want to be able to say, if it comes up, that I understand the stress of pregnancy scares, of coming to a decision about whether or not I would choose to abort if I did become pregnant, of hating my body so much I’ve had stretches of time where I’ve lost all sense of what it looked like and how to care for myself in a healthy way. I want to be able to say “actually, I do have experience with [issue x] as a woman” while also being aware of my current status as a not-woman and not dominating conversation.

It’s difficult for me to really sort out my gender history; I know a lot of people are able to point a finger at their past and say “see, it’s clear that I was always [x],” but while I can look back from my queer vantage point and see signs that I, as a straight-identified middle/high school girl, had crushes on female friends that I wasn’t quite aware of at the time, there’s nothing I can point to at any age before eighteen or so that gives any indication that my gender identity would stretch and shift.

As the distance between just-starting-to-question-his-gender-me and current-me grows larger, my already unclear understanding of exactly what made things change becomes even harder to remember and pin down. It’s been more than ten years since I started questioning and trying to understand my gender, and things are still changing in ways that surprise me. The surprises are more welcome now than they used to be, at least. And while I don’t quite know where to draw the line between my girl-self and something-else-self, I do know that the girl experience is real and not something I can reach back into the past to rewrite or erase.

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