- Academic Departments
- Et al. Journal
- Volume VI: In My Own Words 2016/2017
- Embrace Yourself
Figuring out one's identity is a major turning point in growing up. We spend most of our teenage years getting a grasp on who we are, what we're interested in, and what we excel at. It is a difficult time for most people, filled with ups and downs. As a communal species, many of us seek acceptance with others and base some portion of our self-worth and identity on how others respond to us. For those that deviate from the expected norms set by society or their familial group, things can be even harder. It's important to remember that even if the world doesn't understand us, we can still be happy with and proud of who we are.
I was one of those people growing up who was not exactly an outsider but definitely on the fringe. I struggled with my sense of self for a long while – too uninterested in traditional "girly" things to fit in with the popular crowd but not exactly nerdy enough to fit in with the geeks. So, I kept mainly to myself and my online social circle. The Internet was a wonderful refuge, where I could explore and simply be myself without worrying too much about what I looked like or how I acted. I was prone to spending many hours just looking things up out of curiosity.
It was because of that aimless curiosity that I stumbled upon a page about transgender people, a relatively unknown term back in 2001-2002. In short, it detailed information about people suffering from gender dysphoria, a condition where one's mental gender doesn't match up with their physical sex. I sat for hours, hyper-focused, reading accounts of experiences and struggles with gender identity. Despite the fact that much of the material regarded women trapped in men's bodies, I still felt deeply touched. I was struck with a thirst for knowledge, so I took to searching for pages about the possibility of men being trapped in women's bodies. Soon my efforts were rewarded; I discovered there were cases of that happening as well.
I had found the answer to a question I hadn't even realized I had been asking. You'd think that sort of information would take a while to sink in, but as I read, everything just clicked into place. As happy as I was to have suddenly found something to identify with, I held the information close to my heart. I remained quiet, mulled it over, and embraced my new perspective of myself in private. The new information helped me figure out feelings I had been experiencing for a while but had no name for.
After a year and a half or so, I simply couldn't handle it any longer. I wanted my parents to know; I wanted them to see me the way I saw myself.
Through my online research, I had found a site that had documents to help parents of transgender children understand what their child was going through. Since I knew I would have a hard time expressing myself verbally, I decided to print the pamphlet out and left it in a conspicuous place in my parents' room. They could find it, read it, and go from there. I know now it likely wasn't the best way to go about things, but it was the best plan I had thought of at the time.
It was a cold winter night, sometime in 2003, when I had accomplished my mission. I had snuck into my parents' room to strategically place the pamphlet. Their room was cramped but comfortable, and the robin's egg blue of the walls contrasted well with the dark cherry wood of the furniture. The center of the room was dominated by a huge king-sized bed, cloaked in a downy comforter. Flanking either side of the massive bed were solid wood dressers. The shiny lacquer finish was smooth against my fingers as I sat the pamphlet down on the dresser, next to my mom's bible and her collection of family photos. As soon as I set the papers down, I bolted for the living room.
In comparison to the tight space of my parents' room, the living room was downright cavernous. It was rather expansive, large enough to house a sizeable couch set, entertainment center, and fireplace. I retreated to the large leather sofa, flopping onto the soft cushions and immediately grabbing a plush blanket to huddle under. My heart pounded anxiously in my chest, a rough staccato that reverberated in my ears. My mind wandered over the possibilities of what could happen, and what their reaction might be. To distract myself, I turned my focus to the TV which was playing some science channel reruns. The large screen was set inside a wooden entertainment center, lavishly carved and decorated with a variety of knickknacks collected by mom and fishing memorabilia from dad, with some family photos thrown in for good measure. The drone of the TV helped drown out the nervous cacophony of thoughts blaring in my head.
It didn't take long for something to happen. In fact, the short amount of time made me think they hadn't even bothered to read the information all the way through. Mom was the first one to come out into the living room, her slippers making soft shuffling noises against the plush carpeting. Her brown curly hair was pulled up, and she was swaddled in an evening robe, clearly ready for sleep. Dad followed after her, barefoot in a t-shirt and sweats, face stony and cold. Mom took a seat next to me, leather creaking underneath her. Her eyes were red and moist, and her expression was grave as she leaned over to take my hand in one of her own. Dad stood to the side, arms folded over his chest, looming and silent.
"I don't understand," she began.
That wasn't so unreasonable, I thought. I certainly didn't look masculine. Short, heavy-set and cursed with curves, I had an extremely feminine physique. Despite my efforts to shop in the men's section, my clothes did very little to hide what I was born with. Nor did I attempt to cut my ginger hair, as I had long fancied men with glorious manes and wanted to count myself among them. In that sense, confusion was understandable, and briefly, I tasted hope. Perhaps if I could tell them how I felt, they would understand—
By the time I opened my mouth to explain, she "shh"ed me softly and squeezed my hand. She leaned close enough for me to smell what little perfume clung to her after a long day at work.
"God made you a girl for a reason." Her voice was weighted with finality.
Now, I wasn't really surprised by this reaction – my parents were fundamentalist Christians after all – but I still was unable to say anything in return. What does one say in response to something like that? Millions of people die every day due to preventable reasons like hunger or cancer, so was that God's will too? Anger and confusion washed over me, heavy and stifling. I pulled my hand away from mom's and tugged the soft blanket around me even tighter as if it could somehow act as a shield against the judgmental gaze of my parents.
I was still reeling from the sheer absurdity of her statement when dad spoke up.
"You like boys, so you're a girl," he muttered. Skepticism was written all over his face, from the scowled twist of his mouth to the narrowed slit of his eyes.
"Yeah, I like boys," I agreed, neglecting to add that that fact really had nothing to do with anything.
"I think it's demons making you want to be a boy," He said after a long drawn out pause, his brow furrowed, lips tight.
I was stunned into silence. Anxiety pooled, leaden in my chest, causing my sternum to ache. Any hope I had melted away, leaving behind only shock and frustration. My tongue refused to work, weighted with my outrage and coated with the tang of bitterness. My parents took my inability to speak as compliance. I stared numbly as they stated they knew I was a good "daughter" and would be praying for me to get through this "rough patch". Mom reached out and gently touched my cheek. Though her smile was unsteady, the corners of her mouth trembling slightly, her expression was full of conviction. She patted my cheek once before moving to stand, following dad out of the room. Somehow, the silence made the sound of their retreating footsteps deafeningly loud in my ears.
Seeing as they never brought it up again after that night, I'm sure they thought they had scared me back into being "normal", but they didn't. I simply built walls to protect myself.
My parents didn't understand how or why I identify as I do, and that was something I struggled with for a long time. Family members are supposed to be there to love and support you; if they deny you being you, then that really isn't love or support. I responded to my parents' rejection by withdrawing into myself and presenting an "acceptable" outward appearance, though doing what I could to make them happy didn't bring me any joy. In the end, being happy with yourself comes from within. Once I got out of my parents' house and learned about the great LGBT+ community, it didn't matter as much whether or not my parents believed in me. It was okay to be me; it was okay to be different.