A brief note of business first: I’ve created an email account purely for communications regarding my blogself, and I would love to hear from you. It’s firstjamiethenjames (at) gmail (dot) com, and I’ve also listed it on the About page.
I have a tendency to do things on my own. It isn’t a matter of pride; far from it. This tendency is an overpowering demon, ugly and almost comically stupid. It doesn’t give chase; it doesn’t wave its arms or roar. It is just a lumpy, warty, unbelievably heavy monster. In times of stress, it lumbers out of my head and sits on my legs so I can’t move. Unable to reach for help, I do all my work in almost-solitude, staring into the blank, drooly face of my own inane inertia monster.
With varying degrees of success over the years, I’ve tried to overpower it. There have been occasions when I’ve lifted it up far enough to roll out from underneath. Somehow, though, even after twenty-two years of education and socialization, I still haven’t found a way to sidestep it in the first place.
Thus, it is almost always on my own that I write papers, lift weights, put together furniture.
It was also on my own that I came into my own transness. Since then, I’ve heard tell of an utterly foreign phenomenon: it seems that some people actually talk to other people when they’re teetering on the edge of a gender identity revelation. Not so for me. Thousands of people were being trans and talking about it on the internet, in discussion groups, even in my own school’s GLBTQ resource center. And I was wedged beneath my monster, watching Queer as Folk on Surf the Channel, thinking, I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something weird about how I can’t stop watching this show.
Everything worked out okay, though. I marinated in Queer as Folk until I figured everything out and then I made a beeline for Express Men. I learned to tie a half Windsor from the perforated card included in the Macy’s tie packaging. I carried that card around for a few weeks in case my tie came undone and I couldn’t remember how to fix it.
A year later, I had loosened up enough to wear t-shirts some of the time. I was living in a new city, had made new friends.
One evening, I was out studying when a friend called to ask if she could stop by. She was out with a visiting friend of hers, and she wanted us to meet. I knew a little about the guy from anecdotes: his name, his alma mater, that he was trans.
They came by to say hello. He was shorter than me, slight, wore thick black plastic glasses frames. His beard was full and dark. It was clear that our mutual friend very seriously wanted us to get along.
So the three of us strolled once around the campus center. I am not usually particularly bad at carrying on everyday conversation, but this meeting came at the point in my life right after I had decided to start T. My brain was on a constant loop from facial hair to low voices and back to facial hair.
And, of course, my new acquaintance had a very serious pair of sideburns. These sideburns probably yield more hair than the combined efforts of all the men’s faces in my entire family, great-grandparents included. I was stuck marveling at his hair follicles and wanting to know how to groom mustaches and wondering if his chin ever got tangled. Unable to come up with a non-weird way to explain all that to someone I’d only just met, I had to make do with whatever generic observations I could make about our immediate surroundings.
“That room back there is really orange,” I offered.
“Yeah, like orange all over.”
“No kidding. Oh hey, there’s a coffee place over there.”
“Coffee? I like coffee.”
“Me, too. I like coffee.”
“Holy crap! That girl has a lot of books!”
Once we’d cycled through the orange room, coffee, and books one more time, we’d arrived back at my studying spot, so they took their leave. I hoped my friend would explain to him that I am in reality a titillating, imaginative, witty person and this evening was just a momentary fluke.
It only took a few moments after they’d left before I realized a strange warm feeling in the bottom of my stomach. Something inexplicable was buoying my spirits up.
Slowly, I realized how good it felt just to see that someone else out there was out in the world being trans like me. In spite of my own lackluster conversational efforts, I’d had a fantastic time during the fifteen minutes we’d spent walking around campus. There was something undeniable about coming into contact with a physical talking laughing thinking being who’d survived the pronoun battlefield, too.
It isn’t that this guy was the first trans person I’d ever met or even that we shared an especially deep conversation (as you may have noticed). He was the catalyst, however, that finally made this lesson stick.
I have no idea what this person’s transition was like for him. I don’t know if we have anything in common at all, except for this one word—which isn’t even a word, really, so much as a prefix—“trans.” But sharing that one word means sharing something very real. Something ineffable; something that can’t be reduced to hormones or to doctor’s appointments or to therapy sessions.
Meeting other trans people makes being trans feel less like a malady. This gender isn’t something unfortunate that befell me, like a broken arm or a car accident. Being trans isn’t something I have to accomplish in solitary silence, like math homework or plucking my eyebrows. This identity is difficult, touchy, and frankly heartbreaking sometimes. It’s easy to start thinking that my transness is just mine, just a fluke that gave me hips and made me self-conscious in customer service situations. But meeting other people who are trans like me reminds me that it’s also fucking beautiful. It does not have to be just another battle I fight on my own.
So conclude my Tales of Very Hairy Men. The moral of my stories? People with lots of facial hair stick in my memory. If anyone ever wants me to learn a meaningful lesson about life, they should employ a person with a beard to teach it to me. And for those who are wondering, I do in fact still pluck my eyebrows. It makes my face more expressive.