I grew up in the church. I was seven when one of my uncles died suddenly of a stroke and my father started worrying about his own mortality. My mother had been raised in part by her grandmother and two twin aunts of the Oneness Pentecostalism persuasion, a sect that doesn’t believe in television, that made men and women swim separately as the body was scandalous, that didn’t allow make up, or even for women to cut their hair. Returning to religion, then, was easy for my mother, especially the relaxed form of Southern Baptism they finally found. My father took to it easily though he hadn’t attended church in his youth. But possibly it was a genetic disposition, most of my father’s side of the family being now a distinct and unbearable breed of American Christian: white, middle class, Republican, with a resolute belief that this country was founded for god and for the Ten Commandments.
I was like this for a long time too. From the age of seven, I was raised believing in god as a fact. I never doubted his existence, but it was never emotional for me as it was for others. I was never much of a prayer or a tither or a hymn singer, but I leaned on the sermons weakly as boring pep-talks which continued my faith. Well, faith is a bad word for it; it was little more than that sense of superiority we all possess–of absolute rightness–when we engage in any form of faith or non-faith, of being convicted that we know something about a world or a god or a life after this that may or may not exist. This saw me through my childhood, through my teen years, and through my very early twenties, before I had any true qualms with it. My best friend in high school had renounced his faith junior year, his issue being god damning his children to hell for not believing in him, though he claimed to love us all unconditionally. Mine, what started the slow unravelling, was homosexuality.
I don’t want to get into a religious debate, as I’m not here to convince anyone of anything and faith is the most personal of things. But the Bible speaks more about gluttons and adulterers than it does homosexuals. The true sin of Sodom is up for grabs (some interpretation defines it as inhospitality, not homosexuality) and the verse in Paul citing homosexuality as sinful was only translated to include the word “homosexual” once the term itself was coined in the 19th century; earlier translations reveals it to be about utilising young male prostitutes. On top of this, the anarchist in me realized that any true Christian would understand that gay marriage was not their issue, as the government was not their true master, since it was a government created by the world instead of by god, and therefore it wasn’t just not their place to intervene, they were free of the burden of intervening, or even obeying.
I never shared these thoughts, not close enough to anyone in the church to be bold enough to speak them. They were borderline heretical, anyway–gay is a sin and Christians vote. If you say anything different in many, but not all churches, you’ll be fervently prayed for, possibly confronted–“in love”–to mend your ways. If you don’t conform, the Bible demands that you be kicked out, but all with the smugness that, even though you are now a lost sheep, you’ll someday find your way back to the flock.
This brought me to about twenty years old. I was high femme at that age, nothing but pencil skirts, heels, bold eyeliner and normal hair. That’s what I was after, after all. Trying to be normal. Trying to grow up. Trying very, very hard to finally be what I thought was a woman.
Then I found Tumblr.
Ahh, yes. Tumblr turned me gay.
I grew up in the countryside, deep in the heart of what I call California’s Bible Belt–Central California. There are churches, and there are horses, and rumours of the KKK. There is still, even in 2014, inconsistent access to high speed internet. We had dial up at my house until 2008, which as a teen I got to use for only an hour a day on the family computer. It wasn’t until I left home for college that I experienced high speed in all its glory. But then I dropped out and moved back home. And the internet was sluggish and I was still a good Christian girl and Tumblr was shocking.
I didn’t join for quite a while. Instead I poked around random tumblrs, reading posts and watching videos and being slightly shocked by porn gifs. Time and time again I gravitated toward blogs of an LGBT nature, finding, through them, personal stories by people describing themselves as things I’d never heard of–genderqueer and genderfluid, pansexual and asexual–and expressing their gender in alarming or confusing ways. The most prominent memory of this phase I have is of finding the blog of a queer transman (which is–and this is the punchline–what I am) and being just utterly confused at how, if this person was born female and they liked men, that made them gay.
I didn’t really believe it, yet I was, in a way, completely dazzled. I kept going back, learning everything I could about this queer world I’d never seen or heard of before. What I knew when I saw this was that maybe finally maybe I was going to be like everyone else. I had always been strange and inexplicably different, but in finding the queer world of tumblr, I knew I’d found a home, and I would finally fit in.
As someone who wanted to evangelise to LGBT youth.
Yes, you’re allowed to groan there.
If you’ve not been in a church group, especially as a young person, you may not realise that they are cliques, just as in any other group. The popular kids are still the popular kids–extroverted and good looking–and their sport is often evangelizing. They’re sparkly, bright, fun people with big passions–big hearts, big callings–for third world orphans and third world widows and third world refugees. If I was being so drawn and so invigorated in this LGBT scene, maybe that was my “thing.” Maybe I’d finally fit in. Maybe I’d finally feel like a real person.
Then our pastor left the church our little group of twenty-somethings was hosted in, and the group dissipated. I believe this happened in late 2010, though it may have been early 2011. I’ve battled depression my entire life, dipping into suicidal tendencies every few years since about middle school, and these years were steeped in major depressive episodes with brief reprieves, and chronology is hard to remember. What I do know, though, is that 2011 is when I first started batting queer ideas around. As the year progressed I became more and more depressed, and more and more convinced that I was possibly… genderqueer? Why I was cursed to be depressed I never really knew–I thought, even, at one point, that god had healed me. But he hadn’t. And in 2011 I became suicidal enough to realise I needed help.
Help did not help.
I went to therapy for a few months. I was depressed, I knew that, and I was also emetophobic and I’d been sexually abused as a child and I knew myself and my problems very well. Being an emetophobe–that’s being afraid of throwing up–means you don’t want to take any medicine. Nausea is seemingly a side effect to pretty much everything in life, at one point or another, but medicine seems a sure fire bet of it. But I went against my own judgement, thinking it was time to grow the fuck up and take care of myself, and agreed to take anti-depressants.
This kind of help destroyed me. The first anti-depressants made me violently nauseous; I took it once and in two hours I was lying on the bathroom floor sobbing on the phone to my mother because I was frightened. For two weeks afterward, even though I didn’t take it again, I became ill like clockwork. I spent every morning shuddering in bed, having a panic attack, yelling at myself internally that I was going to be okay, I wasn’t going to throw up, I would be all right, I would be all right…
We’re taught in the church that we can give our burdens to Jesus. That we don’t have to worry. That when we worry, what we should really do instead is pray about it, and god will take care of us.
God is either not real, or he has never dealt with mental illness before.
The next anti-depressants gave me panic attacks out of the blue. I was never prone to them before, but for two months when I waited for this one to kick in, I’d have two or three panic attacks a week. Usually while I was driving, or hanging out with a friend, or grocery shopping. After a while I realised, like god, that these weren’t helping, and I stopped taking them, but I was already well on my way to agoraphobia. Depression wasn’t an issue anymore. Instead, I couldn’t leave my house.
I was finally done with god. With believing and praying and thinking my mental illness was punishment. And my old body, the church body, I would never return to.
Giving ‘evidence’ of being what you say you are as a trans* person is a tricky thing, as it involves leaning on binary gender stereotypes. And if you’re a non-binary transsexual of some sort like I am, you don’t really acknowledge that binary except to identify against it. And sometimes complain about it on Twitter. Being trans* is like being anything else, I suppose–it’s something you just know.
What I thought I knew at first was that I was genderqueer. I was femme and had a queerish yet mostly heterosexual lust for boys–and girls–but there was something very attractive and comfortable about the idea of absorbing maleness into my own identity. I grew up with my closest friends being male, felt most comfortable in all-male company, and segregated activities–women’s Bible studies and baby showers especially–filled me with a kind of inexplicable rage. Deep down. Being forced to sit in a room of women like I was one of them. We are raised to believe ourselves to be cisgendered, and thusly claiming to be not like “other girls” is generally seen as internalised misogyny, as if you are not like them because you think yourself to be better. I spent my entire teens and early twenties knowing I wasn’t like other girls, though I couldn’t have ever told you why. I could never talk about it because I didn’t have the words to. I knew the interpretation would always end up as misogyny, so I kept quiet. As my genderqueer identity evolved and I continued to discuss it on a now-defunct Tumblr, I kept quiet about something else that was coming to light, something I had unknowingly been taught to be ashamed of as if, again, it was evidence that I hated women so much that I didn’t want to be one. After a vague and kind of sad post about sex, a friend asked on Tumblr just what kind of sex it was that I wanted, and I couldn’t come out and say, honestly and simply, that I wanted a penis.
The business of bodies is strange. So much of me is right, and beautiful, and in perfect working order. What’s between our legs doesn’t define us in so many ways that it’s almost inconsequential, except for when it just isn’t right. There’s no way else to put it. It’s not that I think any set of genitals is better than the other. It’s just not right. It’s not me. This is my body, yes, in the way that I am hosted in it, that I live in it, but it’s not my body. The expression of myself as a body is stunted. The information feed is all wrong.
Late summer of 2013 was when it all finally clicked. I’d spent my entire life lusting after men as well as being terrified of them, as sexual involvement of any kind was triggering and riddled me with anxiety. I chalked it up to being sexually abused as a child, and thought of myself as a hopeless case. Sex didn’t make sense. Dating didn’t make sense. But I took a risk and sexted a boy that summer, but he kept talking of fucking me like I was a girl, despite my constant reminder that I was genderqueer, that I wasn’t a girl, I was not a girl. Years of an online male alter ego, years of imagining myself as the boy in sexual fantasies but never the girl, years of an uncomfortable straining when anyone referred to me as a woman, and it finally all made sense.
I spent a little over a week in a fit, worrying, obsessing, somewhat terrified because I was in a place I never, ever though I would be. I was transsexual.
Coming out as transsexual to my friends that know of Paulie, my alter ego who’s been very active, and very convincing as an actual person on Twitter since 2010, hasn’t been much of a shock to them. I’ve been expressing myself as a man for years, even when I thought I was a cisgendered heterosexual girl. And now I know I’m more him than I ever thought I was. I’m more of myself than I ever though I could be. I’m a queer transboy, not punished by god with mental illness, not damaged by the man that sexually abused me, and more, far more than my body, or any body I have ever had before.