I’ve been out as bisexual/Queer (depending on my company and the makeup of my system host) since I was a teenager. When I came out, most of my friends told me flat out that it was a phase. My girlfriend threatened to break up with me if I didn’t recant. My father’s violently homophobic rhetoric around the house kept me from even trying there. It was a mess. It forced me back into the closet, and coupled with the policing I was starting to receive as I branched out into skirts and women’s wear, it forced me into my second closet as well.
Or my third. I’d known I was neurodivergent for as long as I was alive because my family kept telling me so. Usually, with adoring words that propped up my ego without challenging me or helping me develop my skills, words like “you’re so smart.” Other times, though, they would make allusions to people in my family who had developed anxiety disorders and who could no longer live on their own. My own mother began to have severe mental health problems when I was very young, and in her more lucid periods she would pile on the trauma of seeing her when she was out of control with statements about how if I wasn’t careful, I would wind up in exactly the same place she was.
“Be good even though I abuse you, or else you’ll become an abuser too” is a hell of a thing to put on a child.
I didn’t kill myself when I was 15. I told myself it would get better. I made a deal to forget what I was again, like I did when I was six or seven, and I disappeared until things got better.
Out of the Dark
When I was 27, I began to break through my own armor and come out to myself again. Other than a short, two or three month break when I was 24, it was the first time I had open conversations with myself and made plans for the future based on being a woman. I was in my second year of graduate school. The health and housing markets were both a mess. It was the end of the Bush years. I had survived over a decade of dissociation.
Then the housing market collapse and the other market collapses led to a collapse in funding for careers like mine, a massive unemployment problem that got in the way of retraining into a field with a high demand, and I gave up. I detransitioned, and I changed hosts again, and I was gone. Around that time, I also became aware of the fact that I was driving a system.
It hadn’t gotten better.
Luckily, detranisition did not take. In fact, other than a short 18 month period where I was literally trying to eat myself to death because I didn’t care about anything, I didn’t even dissociate from what I was. Instead, I had to feel it. I spent three years surfing the internet anonymously, looking at other people’s transition timeline and reading everything from personal blogs to trans feminist manifesto writers to trans-written erotica, just trying to explain myself to myself.
I got into Queer theory.
It got into the Tumblr theorists.
I attempted to get academics to deal with Tumblr the way Tumblr was dealing with them, but academics are hopeless when encountered en masse.
I lived. Despite myself. Again. And I encountered the “It Gets Better” campaign. And I believed it.
It Got Better
For about three or four years. I managed to come out to my partner. I convinced myself that it was time when we were about two years out from the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces, when we had successfully purchased a home she could afford to keep even if something happened to me. I figured it was safe. We were safe. I had provided the kind of security that two disabled people could rarely afford in America.
It took a long time for me to be ready to tell her. I was still so horrified by the combination of forces that had made me forget what and who I was that I lacked the language to make things clear quickly. And I tried to give her benefit of the doubt as her fears pushed me back toward the closet and my own physical needs began to pusher further from my bed.
In the end, it had not gotten better. I had gotten the strength to assert myself, but every single act I needed to undertake to help myself feel like staying alive was resisted, and when I asserted myself anyway, I was criticized. Other people, not just my partner, attempted to make my transition about them in various ways, from hijacking my process and attempting to feminize me to making professional demands that they knew would require money I had saved for transition.
I made it out anyway.
I Got Better
Refusing to kill myself for years made me tough and mentally wiry, able to slip through the constraints imposed by things like language, so that I could keep some sense of myself alive on an animal level. While Monday was working to assert our femininity, I was tearing us apart literally and figuratively, using behavior as communication to force the dominant fragments of our mind to acknowledge me and my place as the core of our being.
I took my life. I didn’t end it. I reached out and grabbed it. I was unable to bring my partner with me, because there was only so much benefit of the doubt I could extend before it was obvious to everyone in our lives that I was being worked to death in a very literal way and that all she could do was put more demands on me. I had a major health collapse, and I lost the ability to work more than a couple of hours at a time without major panic and anxiety attacks.
When I tried to push further and ignore those attacks, I developed a seizure disorder.
I made it out, though. My estrogen is above 120. I’m here. I’m getting my skin covered with ink, I’m living the life I want to live, and very shortly now I will be able to enjoy the kind of financial solidity that very few Americans can boast of. But my healthcare is at risk. I am rushing to get my testicle removed and my dead, undifferentiated lump of intersexed gonad excised before anything changes on that landscape, but I fear I will not be able to plan for bottom surgery because it would take me most of 45’s first term to save up for it, and a lot can happen to healthcare between now and then.
You have to plan for that. Because it doesn’t get better. In 1996 they said I was a fake. In 2007, they destroyed the economy just as I was reaching a point of having the skill set to participate in it. In 2010, while “It Gets Better” was picking up steam, a virulent right-wing movement of tax denialists that included large portions of my own family demonstrated the beginning of their half-decade plus commitment to not understanding basic mathematics in the service of taking services and resources away from poor people, disabled people, and people like me. The year I finally accessed hormones, the country elected its first openly fascist president and my sister tried to explain to me why it “wouldn’t be so bad.”
Even when I thought it was getting better, it wasn’t. I mean, some things did. But overall? This trash fire of a society still smells like wet, runny rubber being sucked up into a giant gassy death-cloud.
It Doesn’t Get Better. You Do.
You learn to take inspiration where you find it, even if it means stealing from Joan Rivers. You get angry. Your angry makes you mean enough to take the things you used to ask for. You learn that doctors with five month waiting periods will find time for you next week if you make it clear that you have already transitioned full time and that you need estrogen because you fear for your safety if your body doesn’t change more than you have been able to change it.
You learn that those vaguely threatening ways of discussing things that people have always used to make transition sound impossible to you can make anything but transition sound impossible when you wield them against the people you don’t understand you.
You get sharper. You study the people who have had to be their own role models before you. You get used to never seeing yourself. You find bits of yourself in cultures that you don’t belong in because they welcome you when your own did not. You learn new dialects, but you learn them like a child, taking up language that populates your world with concepts you were forbidden before.
You grow. Literally. Your hips expand. You realize you need to learn to walk again because the joint pain you experienced came from literally being taught to hold your body wrong after injuries because you looked “lazy.” You get angrier.
The angrier you get, the queerer you get. You stop picking fights with homophobes and start picking fights with monogamous people. You stop resisting the idea of living as a gay stereotype and start resisting the idea of breaking character in front of the straights. You learn when drag is a joke and when it is power. You take the power, but leave the drag.
You find space for yourself. You give up your home. You become a razor, honed, unable to breathe without dismissing queers who encourage people to stay in the closet for their own safety. You understand that there’s nothing wrong with protecting yourself, but you also understand that choosing to die again and to let the shell form back around you would not be protecting yourself.
Was not protecting yourself.
You make peace with your abusers and resolve not to see them again. Except the one you can’t leave.
Hormones take him out of the mirror.
You can not encourage people like yourself to stay in the closet, so you get queerer again. You watch the baby queers who were afraid stop whining and get angry. You see them get their first tattoos. You scare them into realizing that they, too, would have been less safe if they had been invisible. You find space for them. You draw fire. Your scar tissue keeps you from feeling it anyway.
You tell that lie to the baby queers every time they see you take a hit.
It doesn’t get better, but you do. You get louder. You burn bridges. Eventually, you burn cop cars. You get bigger. You cover yourself in black. You get louder.
You start to be more than one body.
It doesn’t get better.
It takes force.