Dear Past Me, You will Survive and Thrive
You knew you didn’t like leg hair from the first downy patch. It’s all part of growing up so you just learn to live with it. You can just never wear shorts ever again, right?
You hang around after school with some real good friends, most of whom are girls. You go to the harbor and walk along it because there’s not much else to do. You just wish grandparents and other friends would stop asking if you were seeing “your girlfriend” in that weird voice.
Are you gay? No, don’t look around the changing room. Everyone says you’re gay both as an insult to your face and a fact behind your back. But you’re not one of those people. You don’t do the voice. You like girls and you’re perfectly normal, thank you.
It’s the first time. You and her fooled around with your tops off. She was gorgeous and you have never felt so… uncomfortable. How could she be into you the same way you’re into her? It messes up your head and you need to cut things free. Shitty first drafts, right?
You know by now that you don’t like men. You’re not even sure you’re attracted to yourself. People still insist you are gay, to your face. You’ll take it if it means you get to be the gay best friend— it’s at least safe— no need to make things complicated than that. You take the label and squirm under it’s uncomfortable fit.
It’s the longest you’ve ever kept up a relationship with someone. She introduces you as her ‘boyfriend’ and everyone you meet through her assays you with a critical eye and makes innuendo. She tells you you’re strong and sexy. You know you’re strong- your leg muscles don’t fit your favourite pair of old skinny jeans. All your shirts are tight as you become toned rather than skinny. Crushed in the ill-fitting clothing. You are trapped. Is this what everyone wants?
When you break up with her, she tells you that she was just starting to love you. You sat there on her bed for an uncountable length of time. It felt like aeons before your last bus home. How can you feel so little heartbreak? Your mind anxiously scrabbles for what went wrong. It was undeniably when you had sex. She was gorgeous and every time you caught your own body in the dark you cringed at the basic facts of this male form. You will never be as attractive as her. You want to be as attractive as her. Do you want her body for yourself? That’s unsettling. You monster.
The pattern is clear and it terrifies you. Maybe you should just never date anyone again. You’ll only end up breaking their hearts. It’s always you that breaks things. It’s always because something feels wrong at the rotten core of you. Is that it then? Will you remain without a partner forever because “oops it just doesn’t work”? What is wrong with you?
You help a friend through a rough time, giving advice and listening to them rant about relationships and feelings and health, especially the problems of being asexual in relationships. Within twenty minutes you are deep into an article on the AVEN wiki, where you stay until two in the morning. At least there is a name for it. You are an aromantic asexual. Deep breath as you lean back from the blue lantern of your computer screen. You’re not broken. Not completely.
The eyeliner sits on your eyelids like a fuzzy napping caterpillar. You modelled it after an idol of a best friend who does flawless cat-eyes— you asked her for her technique. Looking in the mirror at the over sized sharp makeup you see beauty staring back. This is going to be a brilliant cosplay.
The convention has come and gone. You felt sharp, boss and (for the first time) sexy in the cosplay of death from the Sandman series. You decided to keep the eyeliner. It’s not a dramatic as it was for the cosplay but the skinny flicks that emphasise your deep gray eyes make you happy looking in the mirror. Even if your lips turn down the flicks stay up. Your eyes are the first part of your appearance you have ever felt beautiful for. And it’s not weird if you only do it on nights out. You’re the drama lad of the bunch after all.
It’s the closing party of the Fringe festival. Somehow your exhausted and anxious self went to the staff party, mainly to dance. Everyone you had made friends with over that month has already gone home. Sitting in a purple-lit room in the winding down of too many too drunk people, you decide to try to do what you feel you are supposed to one last time. A woman puts her arm around your shoulders, so you put your hand on her knee and look over to see her laugh and say:
“Honey, only gay guys wear eyeliner”.
You slink shamefully home soon after. What were you thinking? That was creepy. What would you have even done if she had been into it? You monster.
Your head is full of fog and popcorn thoughts. Staring into the mirror as the morning birds begin to sing you contemplate the night as you wipe off streaked eyeliner. Your one friend who was awake because she lived in Canada received a long list of confused messages. She listened which was step one– you’re not crazy, the messages are there for proof. Tonight she and you learned that maybe you aren’t a man. She says you should sign up to the university therapist. It’s your last thought as you collapse onto your bed. You’re not a man. Okay? Okay.
By the time counselling starts these quiet assertions from within your anxious head have become statements of identity that swirl throughout your skull. You are not a man. It’s terrifying and liberating. But what are you then? Talking all this over it finally makes sense why you ruined every relationship you touched. You were lying to yourself and to them. There was a script laid out for you as ‘the boyfriend’ except you couldn’t fill that role any better than a fish could dance ballet.
Standing behind a locked door in your bathroom long after your flatmate has gone to bed, the harsh yellow light reflects your improved makeup skills and a cheap skirt and bra. You are transfixed by the suggestion of a new shape to your body. Don’t look at the face, or the legs. Just let me forget for once. The shivers of euphoria make the two hours of nervous shopping for these clothes worth it. You begin to live for these tiny pockets of post-midnight joy.
You’ve still not told anyone. You doppelganger between nights out where you can wear a little makeup and the regular life of the man everyone sees you as . Capacity is a bitch. You’ve only just began to get to know yourself again and it’s spilling out. You are living with an old mask that doesn’t fit and it’s paper-thin facade is suffocating you. If you can’t break free you feel like you’ll burst. Or die. You could die without anyone ever knowing more than this fake you.
Telling your best friend feels like jumping off a cliff with an invisible bungee chord. But she accepts. Telling the next one feels the same, but she says it makes things make sense. Coming out always feels like going over a waterfall in a barrel, but you are lucky- your friends call you the name you chose when you’re together and it turns you into giddy goo when they do.
Your mum cried when you told her. Your dad didn’t understand. Your heart pounds until you finally find some sleep. The world didn’t end. You’re not lying to them any more.
Sudden and sharp you change everything over. You can’t hold it in any more. If one more person assumed you were a gay man you’d probably slap them. You are a woman, scared and formless but alive. You dress like you want most days and hide your shaking nerves under jackets. It feels like you put a cheat code on life.
You’re a woman. You know this. And you are ugly. You know this too. You used to be able to hide it, but now the demand is there and everyone serving food or chatting on a break or talking about your gender should refer to you as such. And you really expect that to just work? Look at your barrel-broad shoulders. Your creeping shadow of facial hair as night falls. Try not to look below your belt. And you expect people to call you she? You don’t fit. You monster.
Happy birthday. You sit with the pills you have been waiting for over two years. You hope they will fix the horror of your own naked flesh. Nothing else has yet.
You’re in the rainstorm which failed to kill Edinburgh’s first Trans Pride. You wear a beautiful dress and makeup. Finally surrounded by others with the same experience, you talk with them into the night. You make friends, join networks, you glow and draw them to you- power. More than that- community. You are not alone. After the pride events you see all of them are safe on their way home before making your way back home only to run into another group that haven’t stopped rolling yet and getting Chinese food and being so effervescently queer and proud together.
You are suddenly not so sure that you are aromantic. You’ve been hanging out with this girl a few times for the last few weeks she is there in your head. Is this a crush? It’s hard to tell after four years of running from relationships.
This must be a crush. You look forward to seeing her on the train home from seeing her. Is this how this works? Can this be how it works? How will you manage to mess it up this time? You should run.
On your first date you two go to see Bohemian Rhapsody, possibly the gayest thing it’s possible to do in Shibuya at that time. You can’t stop grinning like an idiot as Queen plays and you try to sneakily hold her hand under the seat-arm between you.
After the movie, the two of you get lunch at a restaurant that seems much fancier than it is. Talking with her in the no-borders way that happens with queer folk you realise something. Previous relationships never worked because you were being loved as a man to a woman. And that is a far cry from lesbian relationship.
Maybe you don’t need to keep running. Because you’ve told yourself you shouldn’t date, or that you don’t feel romantic. You waited for the crushing break to come, to feel the fuzzy warmth of new romance wilt like an orchid in the path of a flamethrower. It never comes. And in her arms you rest without fear of this break, or fear sex, or expectations. You two are together and for once your rabbit heart slows as it’s nervous twitch subsides.
Maybe you will always feel like a monster. But the bits that shot through your heart and crippled you have changed. You are different. You have learned to love yourself as sexy, strong and well-dressed. Because you made yourself this way. Sometimes you still choke and gag on your own dysphoria. But finally you are a monster ready to use this darkness, the power you learned just to survive, the experience you gained and the people you have helped. You exist. You are a woman. You will not be denied, not by yourself and not by anyone else. And you’ve finally learned to stop running from the mistakes the boy you lived as made.
It takes blood and tears, tearing down yourself and rebuilding brick by brick. And that’s why I have Pride. That’s why we need Pride. To show anyone else who feels like this that they are not alone. That they can be powerful and most of all real.
Happy LGBTQ+ history month everyone. Don’t let it just be this month. Carry Pride with you and remember that it is an essential part of you, and all of us.
Lena B. Avery