I just want to be seen

So I was watching BoJack Horseman this morning. I’m in Season 5 at the moment and I was watching the episode “Free Churro” where BoJack is at his mother’s funeral and is giving this very bitter eulogy based on his childhood trauma. But at the end there is this moment where he says something about how we all just want to be seen and the saddest part of his mother’s death is that he no longer has the opportunity for his mother to see who he really is. And even though I was only half paying attention, I start crying. And I’m crying again writing this out. Because ultimately, that’s what is most important to me too. I just want the people in my life to see who I really am. Not see my body or the person they thought I was based on how I was born. But the woman I truly am. And my mother is the person who I yearn to see me the most.

So when I talk about the pain of being misgendered by my family, it’s not actually about them making a mistake. It’s about the fact that when they do that constantly, it feels like they don’t actually see who I really am. They still think of me as the boy they thought they were raising. They probably still think this is a phase or that I have been corrupted by liberal society or something. And they can’t seem to successfully convert their brains to seeing who I truly was all along.

I have largely given up on my dad. I don’t think we will ever see eye to eye. But I guess I still hold out hope for my mom. And more than almost anything in my life, I want her to see who I am. I want her to embrace me as her daughter and give me her approval.

In my family, there is a middle name that started with my grandmother and has been passed down three generations in the women. It is my mom and my sister’s middle name and since in many ways, our family is not so secretly a matriarchy, it is a very important symbolic name. As I think about changing my name to make my chosen name my legal first name, I have been thinking about what I want my middle name to be. And a large part of me is drawn to choosing that name because of the symbolism. But I feel like I need to be given permission to claim that heritage and while I have gotten that from my aunt, I still feel like I need my mother’s seal of approval. And I know it probably won’t happen as long as she doesn’t see me as I am.

Most of my trans friends don’t have that relationships with their families anymore because they have either been rejected by their parents or they choose to distance themselves because of the pain that being constantly misgendered and deadnamed causes. But I keep trying to invest time into my family and I remain close to them even though it is painful because I want that closure. I want to be seen. And I truly hope that before my mom descends into alzheimers, that I get that moment with her.

Gendered Clothing

Figuring out clothing in a gendered world is so complicated. There are so many things that I found before I began transitioning that are comfortable and look good on me but that I hesitate to wear because of how they are gendered or perceived. I wish I could just wear whatever felt good to me without having to worry about overcompensating on my gender expression in hopes of being read more accurately in the world.

Every choice I make about how I dress impacts how people see me. If I was a cis woman, I could take advantage of the full range of clothing and most people wouldn’t question my gender. But being a non-passing trans person, I feel like I need to dress a certain way to signal to both cis people and other trans people that I’m not a man. My options are opening back up a bit more now that I actually have more feminine curves but I still have to think about it daily. Is what I’m wearing going to be perceived sufficiently feminine to legitimize my identity?

Growing up I had zero sense of fashion. There were a lot of reason for that. For one, I was homeschooled so I didn’t have a lot of examples of what other kids were wearing. For another, there was a lot of pressure to fit the mold of conservative Christianity and I was constantly being told to put on collared shirts or cheap slacks which wouldn’t look good on anyone. And to this day I can’t stand to wear navy blue bottoms with white shirts because that was the cult uniform. But mostly, I was just awkward in my body because guess what, I was trans!

Whenever possible I would dress down in sweats or jeans and a tshirt. Mostly that was because so much of the time I had to dress up for church or to be presentable at some event and when I did so I was deeply uncomfortable. Because the more “dressed up” you get, the more gendered clothing becomes. Suits and ties are a strong indicator of gender (or sexuality depending on your body). And because that was the wrong gender, I felt very awkward in my skin whenever I wore them. I was constantly complaining that I felt strangled by ties and I hated wearing suits. I rationalized those by telling myself it was because I had a wider neck and got hot easily. But really, I was chaffing at the expectations that came along with them.

Once I became an adult I cycled through many different styles trying to find a way to be comfortable and still professional. Most of the time I ended up looking rather preppy but rarely was I what you would call fashionable. I started to get there towards the end when I was dressing more like a flamboyant gay man. But I honestly have no good sense of straight male fashion. I wanted to wear what the beautiful women around me were wearing.

Rarely do I wear high femme outfits like fancy dresses and heels to work. Because that’s not the kind of person I would normally be. And when I do wear something to an event like that it is often because I view gender as a costume or I’m overcompensating for how the rest of my body is perceived. For so much of my life I thought I was a feminine boy when really I was just a tomboyish girl. I just wish I could dress that way without being seen as a man.

On losing friends

Something I talk about less, mostly because it’s hard to dwell on, is how many friends I’ve lost over the years. So many former friends have either actively or passively rejected me over the years because of various turning points in my life and a lot of it ties back to gender.

I grew up in a very conservative household and for all of my childhood, that was my only circle of friends. Being homeschooled I didn’t have much opportunity to meet people who weren’t like me. My entire social sphere were also Evangelical Christian and very socially conservative themselves. So when I started to become more liberal in my politics and thoughts in college, particularly around supporting sexuality, I lost most of my childhood friends, even my best friend and the only cis man I was really ever close to.

Of course since I am a very extroverted person, I made a lot of new friends in college, particularly in the first couple years. But many of those people were also Evangelical Christians because of where I went to school and who I was when I started. So many of them slowly drifted away as I went further left in my thinking or because of my relationship to my very toxic ex spouse who I met in college.

The third round of loss happened when I decided to get divorced because of the emotional abuse and incompatibility with my ex wife. Many of our friends at that point either took her side because of the lies she told or didn’t know how to respond (because women can’t be abusers, right?). I also lost most of my communities during that time because I could no longer go to the same church or spaces for fear of running into her.

To be quite honest, if I hadn’t already started building polyamorous community and met my now spouse before that time, I’m not sure I would have survived. I had been deeply depressed for a long time and I felt very betrayed and isolated. And because of how my ex treated me and controlled our money, I had no savings and no self worth. The final straw in that marriage was me starting to awaken to my queerness and gender and she wanted me to remain closeted for her convenience because she was ashamed of her own asexuality.

But I rebuilt and kept going. Partly because I am an obligate extrovert and I had no other choice. My new partner’s friends and chosen family took me in and were so supportive during that time and they are still my closest friends. During that time I also started building new romantic relationships with my partner as we dated together.

Unfortunately a couple years ago in what we now call “the summer of hell,” I lost a major relationship of 2 and a half years. The person I had been dating decided that instead of breaking up with me cleanly, they would say they wanted to be friends but then behind my back spread rumors and distance themselves emotionally. And when I brought it up, they tried to blame me for that distance. Unfortunately we had intertwined our communities and polyamorous households so much at that point that I felt like I lost half of my family when they betrayed me. And even over a year later, I feel that loss of community very deeply.

But again I threw myself back into relationship building. I joined a trans community group on the path to becoming a nonprofit on their board. I invested a lot of time and energy into trying to create the type of community I wanted to see. Then a fellow board member turned on me and very aggressively painted an inaccurate picture of me that cause many other community members to take their side. They set me up in a way that I couldn’t defend myself without seeming like the aggressor myself. And while there were many people who showed private support during that time, public opinion was so soured that I couldn’t see myself ever trusting that space again. And so I lost more friends and another important community space.

I’m still working on rebuilding from all those losses. And I haven’t given up. But it is hard to trust people when you have been betrayed and abandoned so many times. The thing about trying to live authentically is that you make a lot of enemies along the way. When your sexuality and gender are so politicized that living openly is guaranteed to piss some people off, you lose people. And that constant tension breeds emotional vulnerability that also plays out in inter-community trauma.

I’m still working through my fear and trust issues related to all of this so I can’t say that I have reached the other side yet. But I am extremely grateful for my spouse and the chosen family I have built that have stuck by me and supported me through all of this. I mourn the lack of community but yet I still have a deep desire to build a space where trans people can support each other without the fear of attack from within or without. I don’t know how to do that yet but I dream and I take the steps forward whenever I find them.

The power of support

Have I mentioned recently how amazing my chosen family is? I am incredibly lucky to find myself at this point in my life surrounded by the queerest, most supportive friends and partners imaginable. And I want to take a moment to acknowledge how much that support means to me and keeps me going.

Do you know how wonderful it is to come home every day to a house full of amazing queer and trans humans who have chosen to make me a part of their lives? I live with my spouse and anchor partner of 4 years, a bold, proudly fat and femme, queer cis woman who supports me in all the little ways that matter so much. I never feel like an oddity or burden when I’m around her because she has shown repeatedly that she can handle the hard stuff, saying the right things to reassure me when my brain is being mean and holding me close when I’m depressed. Not to mention providing fashion inspiration!

My household also includes my spouses partner, my metamour, a sweet Southern transmasculine person who joined us last year, as well as an amazing queer woman who defies categorization filling simultaneously best friend, romantic-turned-platonic partner, and close chosen family places in my heart. Life isn’t always easy when you live in a house with a bunch of queers with anxiety disorders but we hold each other up and support each other both emotionally and financially by sharing expenses based on how much we make relative to each other. Sharing a house together holds so many perks, especially knowing that when you have a hard day there will be someone to talk to and hold close.

Then there’s my chosen family and friends who cheer each other along as we stride through this world that isn’t always so friendly for us. I have so many queer and trans friends, and a few token cishet ones, who show up for the hard work. When I’m down I know that support is only a message away and that helps a lot. And being polyamorous, there’s plenty of people that blur the lines too. My life is full of former partners, either of mine or my spouses, and budding new relationships with other nonbinary folks. The best part is that I’m never lacking in cuddles!

I’ve talked a lot here about some of the hard parts of growing up in a conservative religious family but for all that my parents have been far more supportive than I could have imagined. Despite some incredibly vast ideological differences, they have stuck around and showed me that they do love me even when they don’t understand me. They live close enough that I get to see them at least once a month and they have opened up their hearts and home to all my partners and friends as well. They still struggle with pronouns but are slowly getting better and have grown so much in the past dozen years.

I am so sad that every person doesn’t have the kind of love and support in their life that I have found but I want to offer some proof that you can find that even if things seem bleak at the time. I went through some very isolating years in my previous marriage where even when I had friends, there were very few I could truly be honest with. I’m really lucky that my best friend from college survived all my ex’s attempts to sabotage our attempts to stick together. I’ve lost almost all my friends several times now but seeing who sticks around when it’s hard does help you find your true friends.

I know it sounds cliche but the point is that you need to keep trying. It does get better. And it’s because of all the support that I have gotten as far as I have in my transition.