They say everything is clearer in hindsight and I knew which journal entry I was looking for.
When I was 17, I watched Boys Don’t Cry. The movie stars Hilary Swank and is based on the story of Brandon Teena, a transgender man from Nebraska who was raped and murdered in the early 1990s.
I had never before been exposed to someone who is transgender, someone whose gender identity does not match their assigned sex or who does not relate to the conventional notion of gender as binary. I had never before had the language to describe that sort of self-knowledge.
Watching Swank’s character deeply disturbed me. After the movie ended, I walked into the bathroom and shut the door. The eyes looking back at me from the mirror were full of tears and turmoil. I don’t want to be a boy, I whispered to myself, and it became a chant. I don’t want to be a boy. I don’t want to be a boy.
That night, I wrote those same words in my old journal. I needed to see them again because I desperately wanted to talk myself out of the confession that had been prickling my heart. I never found them. Instead I found entry after entry after entry of confusion and pain, evidence of thoughts and moments I had completely wiped from my memory.
Even as I had deliberately forgotten the past, I was presently living these same issues, working daily through the same emotions. And suddenly it became too much work, this wretched dance of feeling and forgetting, always spinning and never knowing peace. I wanted to confess my truth.
I quietly tested out the words. As I got braver, I tried them a little louder. When I knew I had them right, I told the people closest to me. Last week, I told everyone.
My truth is that I am transgender. My truth is that I do want to be a boy.
Despite finally accepting this, I am not at the point where being trans seems like something beautiful about me, something that I can embrace. I live in a community where people will stare without hesitation. I have been pointed at, laughed at, the kind of laughing where eye contact is sustained and the point driven home. I know what some people think of me; I know it can be a scary world for a trans person.
It is hard to get an accurate picture of the country’s trans population, partly due to the disproportionately large amount of reported discrimination that trans people experience. One report estimates that only about 0.3% of the population of the United States openly identifies as transgender. To give that number some context, 3.5 percent of U.S. adults identify as gay. Yet when one compares the murder rates of trans people to the murder rates of gay people, statistics show that trans people are murdered at a 50 percent higher rate than those who identify as gay.
It does not end there, unfortunately. Trans people are three times more likely to experience police violence than non-trans people. About 20 percent of trans people have experienced homelessness in their lifetimes. And only 19 states have anti-discrimination laws that explicitly protect trans people’s rights to employment, housing, and public accommodations.
Alaska is not one of those states.
The knowledge that this column is being published under my soon-to-be legal name is terrifying. I would like to imagine that this is one small stand I can take to make a positive change, but the power of Google search is enough to beat down the optimist within me. It is not, however, enough to silence me. I tried to do that to myself for so very long and no amount of force or willpower made this body anymore my own.
I am off on a journey. I have lived my life ashamed and closeted, and I know it is going to take time to learn self-acceptance, self-love, and appreciation for all the wonderful varieties of human experience. I also know that it is going to take time to learn how I relate to the world as an openly transgender person. This is not the person I grew up being, but it is the person I grew to be.
And this is my first step.