The Satirical Edge
The exact point where people can’t tell if you’re kidding or not. Like that time I went around telling everyone I know that I’m transgender.
The experience of gender dysphoria is one of near constant uncertainty. It’s not a lack of information, but rather the result of excessive and conflicting information. Pretty much everything in my life has been experienced with polarized feelings. Ambivalence is a good word, I use it a lot when explaining what it’s like to be a girl that looks like a boy, or as some might put it, a boy who thinks he’s a girl.
To me the distinction between those two statements is academic, two different ways of describing a singular phenomenon that neither phrase fully encapsulates. Am I a girl who looks like a boy, or a boy who thinks he’s a girl? Anyone who expects a solid answer doesn’t understand the question. Both phrases mean the same thing, and they don’t really mean anything.
Maybe it would help to start at the beginning, or at least as close to the beginning as I’m able to recall. Once when I was very little my mother dressed me up like a girl. I may have asked her to, I don’t remember. That incident was clearly the root of my dysphoria, or at least that’s what some theories would suggest. And I believed those theories for a long time. Although I didn’t actually believe them at all. And while I don’t remember asking my mother to put me in a dress I kind of remember asking her.
I remember wanting to wear the dress, or maybe that’s just what I want to remember. I don’t remember how I felt while wearing it. What I do remember is how I felt when my father and older sister saw me and began to laugh. Is there a psychological thing where emotions are linked to parts of the body? What I felt in that moment was deep in the gut, not a physical pain so much as an awareness. But definitely gut focused.
Anyway I lied when I said I don’t remember how I felt in that dress. It felt wonderful, and I felt awful. Now you’re wondering if any of what I’ve said is true. And that’s kind of what I’m driving at. This has been my life. My whole life. Every single thought and emotion was conflicted. Many things felt right that I knew were wrong. For example I always liked the wrong music. Imagine hearing your favorite song and immediately hating yourself, because of the feels.
This duality is something I’ve learned to cary, in fact I find it strange when I encounter someone who is unable to accept uncertainty. Likewise the people I trust most are the ones who can say ‘I don’t know’ with confidence. I’ve come to accept that truth is a black hole, invisible, understood only by the untruths that surround it.
Am I a girl who looks like a boy, or a boy who thinks he’s a girl? The truth is somewhere in between, and ultimately unknowable. What I do know is that I have always wanted to be a girl, and I have always wanted to not feel that way. Rather than answers I’m going to focus on the questions I’ve struggled with over the course of my life.
The first question is naturally why? Why did I feel this way? Maybe it was because of the dress thing I mentioned earlier. Maybe it was because I pulled a deep frier on myself at one point. Maybe it was a result of the verbal abuse I suffered. Maybe it’s because most of my early friends were girls. Maybe it was because my family moved when I was in second grade, and I had to move to a new school where I didn’t know anyone. Could it be something as simple as the fact that I was a girl trying to navigate a world where I was treated and expected to act like a boy?
That was crazy talk. Literally. I learned this from watching MASH. Klinger wasn’t crazy, but he wanted people to think he was, so he dressed like a girl. Because men who think they are girls are crazy. I learned of a book called catch 22, the idea was that a crazy person doesn’t know they’re crazy, so if they’re able to recognize that they’re crazy, it means they’re sane. By the way that’s utter nonsense and not actually what the book’s about, but that was my take away as a young child.
So I was crazy, but recognizing I was crazy meant I was sane, or maybe I could become sane. Maybe I should have talked to someone about it. But then they would have told me I was crazy, or they would have told me I was a girl. I didn’t much like either prospect. I decided it wasn’t something I could self diagnose, so I waited. Per the rules of Catch22 I needed someone to tell me what was wrong with me.
Which is exactly what happened, except instead of being crazy or female, I had ADD. I always thought I should have been diagnosed ADHD. Apparently I wasn’t hyper enough, which isn’t at all how I remember things, but then what do I know, I’m crazy.
My name is June, formerly known as David. Or Dave. Or whatever. I never much cared what people called me. But I absolutely love it when people call me June. I can’t explain this, just like I can’t explain why I’ve always felt like I was meant to be a girl. I mean I can totally explain, or at least I can repeat snippets of some of the stuff I’ve read that I happen to agree with. Though to be honest I try to focus just as much on the stuff I don’t agree with. Duality you see.
I feel it’s more important to understand the things I don’t agree with. Many of my life choices have been based on things I don’t agree with. The big one of course being my own gender. One question that comes up often is “how do you know you’re really a girl?” My response to this question is always “Exactly.” Uncertainty is a difficult thing to communicate, people have a tendency to assume that if I disagree with what they’re saying then I’m automatically taking the opposing stance, when what I’m trying to say is that neither of us knows as much as we think we do. Which of course leads them to assume I’m an arrogant jerk.
Oh yes I should mention I’m an arrogant jerk. Also I have self esteem issues. That ones not a contradiction, most arrogant jerks have self esteem issues. When I was young grownups kept telling me how smart I was. Usually this was done in order to coax me into doing homework. It’d be nice to say that my lackluster academic performance was somehow tied to my gender issues but really I was just lazy. Or maybe I told myself I was lazy and in fact had difficulty focusing because I was always worried about gender.
Whatever the case I’ve always felt like an underachiever. As if I should be doing more with my life, but no matter what I tried none of it ever fit right. Is that something I can pin on gender issues? Did spending so much effort on denying my deepest desires make it impossible for anything else to hold my interest? In the months before and after coming out my thoughts were consumed with transition.
I was ravenous, driven in a way I had never really experienced. I was finally starting to let go, and realizing my grip wasn’t nearly as strong as I’d thought. People at the time remarked that I was moving very quickly, despite the fact that I was doing my sincere best to hold on. Ok that’s a lie, I wanted more than anything to move forward. Even now I don’t quite have the words to describe it.