Trigger Warnings: mentions depression
I was never a particularly feminine ‘girl.’ I was also never particularly social, both by being put in so-called advanced supplement programs from early elementary school and because my family moved every few years. When I was little, I played with whatever my older sisters played with. While they were way more rough-and-tumble (I mean, we raced the original My Little Pony ponies through ditches and they have scars from each others’ teeth) than the stereotypical city girl, there’s never been any doubt that they were indeed female. Of course, there was never any possibility that a person could be something other than what society said their bodies said they were.
I didn’t live within city limits until I started university and I never really hung out with anyone outside of school. It was too much bother, too much to organize, and too likely to end up involve personal things. My family never talked about personal things, private things. No one ever said that talking about them was bad, they just didn’t do it and therefore doing it would be weird.
I didn’t think about gender until puberty hit, and then it was shoved very abruptly into my face. Society just loves using things like menstruation to affirm a person’s femininity. I remember telling myself – literally telling myself in a mirror – that I had female parts that did female things and that I was therefore female. I still have scraps of paper with this conclusion on it, since that was when I started writing creatively. I needed an outlet, I guess. I still write, but not for the same reasons.
I didn’t have a lot of friends through middle school, even though my parents had stopped moving so much halfway through elementary school. I did make a few, and I’m still friends with them even though I haven’t seen them in years and I currently live in a different province. There were some entertaining things over the years, like when one friend told his dad that he was dating me to prove he was straight – we both still find that extremely funny, even though he still isn’t out to his parents and I imagine they don’t know about me.
My school district did have a sex ed program, and it wasn’t bad for heteronormative stuff. It didn’t make sex out to be a horrible, disgusting thing so much as a fact of life, and while gay men were only mentioned in the sense that they were at higher risk for STDs (which were quite well covered, I must admit), at least they were mentioned. Bisexuality was mentioned at least once, since I did end up considering it towards the end of high school, but there was very little on anything else and especially nothing about gender identities. Gender was sex and nothing more, or so I was casually taught.
I wasn’t interested in sex or other people (humans in general kind of weirded me out) while everyone around me started following along with the societal bombardment that high school students date and have sex and experiment with all of those not-quite-bad-but-not-blatantly-perfectly-acceptable things. It never occurred to me that I might be asexual – I’m not entirely sure I knew asexuality existed at that point – and I just assumed I was a ‘late bloomer.’ That was a perfectly acceptable thing for girls, apparently.
In the meantime, I kept writing. Looking back over all the various worlds and stories I worked with, I can see now that every single lead character was female (because it never occurred to me that a ‘girl’ could write from any other perspective) and every single one of them was fighting against what society said she was. I had dragons forced to be royalty when they weren’t interested in it, elemental humans shunned just because their element wasn’t the locally preferred one, and werewolves who were told that they had to submit to some human (ideally male) and live their entire life by that person’s will.
Definitely pretty obvious in retrospect, that, especially the societal issues in the werewolf story. Even there, though, while I was trying to fight against what society said, I submitted to its heteronormativity because I couldn’t see any other possibilities. It’s kind of like trying to see what’s past the end of the universe, I guess.
About halfway through high school, I came across an otherkin community on the internet. That was the start of chipping a hole through to the other side of society’s blinders. I have always associated myself with dragons, or at least dragon-like creatures, and I actually found a community I felt I belonged to. Belonging has always been a feeling in short supply for me. Being otherkin isn’t something that can be ‘fixed,’ though: there isn’t really anything you can do to make yourself into what you are supposed to be. I wanted to, though. I started working towards becoming a geneticist so that I could find a way to change my genetic code and become a dragon. It still didn’t occur to me that I didn’t HAVE to be female, but the dragon I always saw myself as did not exactly have female genitalia. Androgyny was still safer in my head however.
Otherkin is also something you can’t really tell your family about either. I tried; in the werewolf story, I included an otherkin character and mentioned him to my mother. She laughed at the idea and suggested I send him to a psychiatrist. Six, seven years later and I still have a hard time trusting her with anything personal, much less anything that doesn’t fit nicely into a standard society box. I certainly had a hard time telling her when a guy asked me out (I didn’t realize at the time that that was her ‘proud’ face, because look I was growing up into a proper girl finally!) and definitely didn’t tell her when spending time with him made me think I was less straight rather than convincing me that I was a proper heteronormative girl. I went through all the sexuality labels I could, even forcing myself to look at girls and try to figure out if I felt any attraction to them. That might have been easier if I had a better grasp of what attraction WAS.
I did tell a friend that I was otherkin, though, about half an hour before I moved from the province. She was cool with it, and that was the first time I had actually had a non-negative response to bringing up something personal. We didn’t talk for a long while after that, though. Moving from BC to Manitoba, from coastal mountains and temperate rainforest into semi-arid prairie turned into city, well, that was pretty hard on me and I probably went from subacute depression to diagnosable depression. Only probably, however, since telling a parent so that I could talk to a psychologist was completely out of the question. I suffered through a year of university, wading through a heavy load of english and creative writing courses. The next year was better: I realized that I hated cities and that an english degree would pretty much guarantee I would be stuck in one for the rest of my life. I switched to biology and eventually transferred to an agricultural university in another province. In that second year, though, I came across a term, girlfag, I didn’t recognize and went to look it up. It turned out to mean a female person who liked gay guys. I wandered around the site for a while, and then came across transgender. I went to class that day with red eyes, though I had stopped crying by then.
See, transgender was something I could DO something about. I didn’t have to live in a prison of my own inappropriate skin for the rest of my life. I still saw myself as a dragon, and still had a hard time staying in high places with sky above me, but there was something I could FIX.
I made myself go to a party put on by that university’s pride centre that fall. I was not and am still not a party person. It was a mas”queer”ade ball, so I dressed up to satisfy my mother (and could recognize it as drag now, and felt kind of awesome about it). I was actually recognized there: apparently one of the current heads of the centre was in one of my biology classes. We chatted a bit, I most definitely did not talk about WHY I was there, and she encouraged me to come by the centre. A while later, I did, and met a couple of other trans people. I eventually started talking about myself, and even ended up telling a complete stranger while volunteering at an information booth for the centre.
Things definitely started to simplify from there, though it still took over another year before I could talk to anyone in my family (my dad by email, and while at my trans then-partner’s house, whom my parents knew nothing of, much less that I spent quite a few nights over there) and I could only talk to him in person about it a few months ago. He’s working on my Canadian-conservative mother, and I intend to be out to my siblings by the end of the summer; one of them I’m pretty sure thinks I’m at least lesbian, and tried to get me to use an online dating site, and the other is proving to be even more of a hermit than I am. I’m not depressed anymore, though I admittedly still have bad days when the weather (such as the current -50 c spell that has me locked in my house all weekend), lack of mountains, lack of humidity, or excess of people get to me, and I regularly volunteer for my current pride centre and co-facilitate a gender discussion group. I’m not afraid to buy things online that help me be read as male in public (still a little shaky, since a lot of the people around me first saw me with longer hair and first impressions are hard to change) or to explain my situation to people who happen to ask about it.