How I Found My Identity | Dear Baby Maybe #2
Dear Baby Maybe,
Some things in my last letter may have confused you. I mean, you received a letter from your future self who goes by a different name and looks nothing like you imagined you ever would. So I’m going to start with the basics and explain how we got to this point.
So right now, you’re 12-years-old, you’re in 7th grade. You’re growing into a different core group of friends, but they won’t last that long. At this point in your life there’s already at least five different people you thought were your best friend. (Spoiler alert: none of them currently are.) This feeling of displacement, the feeling like you don’t belong with your surroundings, is something you have grown accustomed to. Sure, one group of friends let you be as silly and girly as you wanted to, but they also all loved sports and were super competitive. You find girls who have the same interests as you, but you’re not really able to get to close to them; they get territorial because you’re not like them. You’ll get invited to a lot of parties and things with all girls there, and you’ll be constantly pointed out as the other. You’ll have to leave before the sleepovers happen. You won’t get to be part of the Girl Scout Troop. You had to be the “Sk8r boi” instead of Avril Lavigne in the 5th grade talent show. You will grow to find that you spend most of your time being left out of things or missing opportunities because of how people perceive you.
High School will go on to be very much the same. You will perform in musicals, but never play the parts you really want to try. You’ll be very largely bullied for the femininity you are unable to hide. You will start to feel completely out of place around men, in the locker room, in choir rehearsals, and every social interaction you have. You will, however, discover yourself to be attracted to men and call yourself gay. You’ll think that’s what’s been missing this whole time.
“You’ll remember all of the times you felt happiest and most free were also times that you were wrapped in femininity.”
But soon you’ll find that calling yourself gay is just a bandaid. But it’s like a bandaid you try to get to stick on a fold of your hand and it keeps flopping off and never really fixes anything. Around the start of college, you’ll find that you’re still uncomfortable and don’t really have an answer to why. You’ll start thinking about the things that make you happy and the person you want to be. You’ve always been closest with the girls in your life because you think more like them and you feel like you’re supposed to belong there. You’ll remember all of the times you felt happiest and most free were also times that you were wrapped in femininity. You start to think about doing drag, but that’s much too big for you. That doesn’t feel right, though you start practicing your makeup late at night. But it’s more about the makeup, it’s not about the glitz and glamour. It’s about who you are, and that’s turning out to be a thing not many people have words for. Then one night, after you’ve sat with it for a while, you’ll tell your boyfriend what you’ve been thinking about. I honestly don’t remember if the word transgender was used, but I know I told him I was a girl. And he recoiled. He wasn’t too keen on getting to know us as Michaela. And just like that, we were back to square one. But not because he rejected the idea. We’re smart enough to know when someone is wrong about who we are. Saying it out loud just didn’t feel right. Being a girl is not the right answer.
You’ll start to think about what being a girl means to you. And in that thinking, you’ll come to the terms with the fact that womanhood is not actually a thing you aspire to. There are parts of it that make sense, just like there are parts of boyhood that feel okay. But maybe that just means you’re meant to be an effeminate gay man, even if you feel incredibly detached from gay men. It’ll be rather unnerving, feeling like you finally found community and then finding yourself wishing you could actually feel like you belonged there. You’ll sit in Psychology classes that talk about how women interact with the world as opposed to how men interact with the world. About eight times out of ten you’ll agree with the “women” side. But there’s also hardly and research or statistics on gay or queer people, so you don’t really know what that means for you. All you will know is that you are definitely and decidedly not a man.
The next year, after you’ve broken up with that boyfriend and transferred to a different school, you’ll be sitting in a classroom talking about gender. (You’ll later find this to be a common occurrence, so pay attention when this happens.) There will be a Judith Butler article to read about how gender is a construct and how all the things we think about it are made up. And something inside of you will start to feel alive. You’ll leave that class and fall into a black hole of gender theory and the queer side of Tumblr and Kate Bornstein and find yourself discovering words you never knew about yourself. You’ll read about people like you and ideas like yours and thoughts that you’ve had. You’ll start using words like transgender in ways that mean more than being a woman. You’ll discover that there’s a whole world out there of people who identify their genders and their sexualities in ways you’d never even considered. And you’ll realize you’re one of them. And you will feel the pain and the strain of living a life for everyone else floating away.
You’ll learn to start enjoying your inability to fit in. You’ll find yourself laughing at the ways you used to try. You’ll find people you do fit in with, and learn you are the same because you are similarly different. And that’s where you’ll find community. You’ll keep cis men at an arm’s length. (There are a few who will make themselves known to be important.) You will stop trying to fit into ideals set up for cis women. Your body will be at ease without an internalized expectation to look a certain way. (This is largely influenced by the fact that we’re thin and white, so let’s be clear about the privilege that comforts us. More on that later.) You will feel stronger than you ever thought, freer than you ever were, and youer than you ever knew.
I can’t wait for you to get there.