The hardest part of coming out for me, once it was done, turns out to be accepting what has already come before. We can change our futures, but the past is set in stone and it becomes a matter of learning to accept this. They can be our ghosts or guides, the choice is up to us.
I’ve made mistakes, stupid decisions, said the silliest things and not done the right thing, more times that I can fully remember. But for most trans people, it brings up who we had to pretend to be. We don’t get to come out, clear our past and begin our lives. While we might feel we a brand new lease on life, most of us come with a lot of years behind us and hopefully some wisdom was gained during that time.
My own issues with my past are the regrets of not acting sooner in life and being able to look at the few photos of me in the story of my own life. I’ve lamented enough in previous posts about how I wish I had acted sooner, come out so much sooner in life, so I won’t rehash old news. There is nothing for it, I have lived a good portion of my life wearing the mask of a man. So, every action I have done, from an outside perspective, will be remembered as performed by a male.
As a 5 year old, who threw a fit and hid in the cabinets over moving from our first real home after being shunted from one military base to another for several years. The 13 year old who kissed their first girl. The (I think) 15 year old who lifted a (supposedly) 300 lb tombstone off their best friend when it fell on him. The 16 year old who sat with that same best friend and wondered out loud about their future lives, laying on the hood of a 1976 Buick Lesabre while looking at the stars. The nervous 17 year old who signed up for the military. The 19 year old who swam with hammerhead sharks in Diego Garcia. The 20 year old that kissed their first man. The 20 year old who went to war. The 21 year old who returned from that war, a bit broken. The 22 year old who left the military, disillusioned and lost. The 23 year old who fell in love with her, now wife…
It goes on and on like this until I came out at 45 years old, to family. Then and only then did others start forming memories of who I truly am, but even then not as a woman but as a trans woman, specifically remembering me as a TRANS woman. It’s akin to forming a memory of a person only because of the color of their skin. It’s not really you that they remember, it’s the other-ness they remember. Too introspective, too worried about others’ thoughts of me? Perhaps, but we are not only the memories we make, but the memories we make in others. When I die, it will not be me who remembers, it will be in the people I have interacted with in life. That is a real concern for me. I don’t want to be remembered as the man that never existed, I want to be remembered for the woman I always was. We don’t always get what we want and some people have sadly left the stage, never knowing because I never learned to trust people enough to tell them. I don’t see it as a failing on their part, it is my failing.
So, looking at photos of myself… There are few photos of me to be had in the first place. Sure, the occasional drunken party pic, because alcohol makes you stupid. For the most part, I tended to avoid photo ops, I just couldn’t look at myself. With the exception of those photos of me as a very young girl, each photo is like seeing only a “halloween masks” version of the event in my mind. And I cringe, thinking that others saw me as “him” in any capacity. Because as I lived my life, my thoughts never strayed to “him”, I performed each action, stupid, silly or awesome, brilliant, brave, as me which was never a “him” in my head. I’m not sure I will ever be able to convey this thought properly to cis people. The duality that is experienced by seeing these photos, it’s never been comfortable, which is why I avoided photos of myself most of my life.
I have a photo album from the late 80’s and early 90’s, some photos from my military days and some from civilian life. It’s the only photo album I have ever made, I was in that period where I was trying desperately to conform to what everyone saw, what I was expected to be. The photo album was supposed to show “normalcy” to others, for me it was a rock, trying to beat the “normal” into my head. The album contains good memories and bad, but they also contained a version of me, a version I was never able to be. I was tempted to throw it away more than once in my life. It still sits in our bedroom, unlooked at for years. I don’t see the album the same way anymore, it’s become a symbol of a fear I have left behind, like a nightlight.
When I post these photos here, it is because I am owning the issue, not because I am comfortable or enjoy it. I am almost in tears right now, just thinking about the photos I will be going through later tonight to pair with this article. When I take selfies, such as the instagram photo I will be using as an announcement of this new blog article, it’s not from vanity, ok a little vanity, but mostly it’s me yelling down my dysphoria daemons, letting them know that while they live here, they don’t get to own me.
Owning my past isn’t easy, but I think that I would rather struggle with that past and attempt a reconciliation than to try to forget or pretend it never happened. Some memories are so worth the fight. Cooking Thanksgiving meals with my mother. My mother, sitting in her apartment with me, telling me with tears in her eyes, that I was so wise and how proud she was of me when I asked her to sign my early-entry paperwork for the Air Force while explaining why I needed to do this. – Whew, I don’t think I’m ready to talk about her like this yet. I had to walk away from my keyboard to collect myself. My mother isn’t a passive memory, she is actively missed and it even now causes a lot of pain, as it should I suppose. My point stands, these memories should exist and I should be able to share, to look back at it without there being “him” as a censor block across my face.
I know a lot of trans people would rather forget the past, but the past provided the fires from which I am forged. I am stronger now, annealed by the pain, quenched by acceptance. Instead, I will embrace the memories, even those which cause me grief. The photos will show a girl who did her best in a world that wasn’t quite ready for her. Even if they can’t see this, I will. I cannot change others’ memories, to reflect the truth. However, I can provide new memories, ones they can rely on to be a true reflection of me. And in time, perhaps they will only see the girl they knew.