I remember being born my senior year of high school. It was February, and I was headed to the library for my final period of the day. The teacher never seemed to check attendance for the class, so most of my classmates would skip the period and go home early. On this particular day, I was completely alone and wasn’t very interested in doing homework so I decided to look around the library. After a while, I found a queer fiction section. This wasn’t the first time I had come to this part of the library (I did so almost every week since I figured out I was queer). On this particular trip, I noticed a book: Jeff Garvin’s Symptoms of Being Human. I looked it up, and found out it starred a genderfluid protagonist, something I had never seen before. When classes ended that day I checked out my new find and went home. By the end of day (well, technically, by like 3 AM the next morning) I had read all 352 pages of that book and was in the middle of a serious identity crisis.
Looking back on it, I’m kind of embarrassed that Symptoms of Being Human was the cause of me figuring out I was genderfluid. While the book is for the most part well written, it has some issues. The book is too obsessed with the trauma of its main character, constantly putting its main character through horrible situations (including an unnecessarily explicit sexual assault scene towards the end of the book). Also, Riley, the book’s protagonist, is way too sure of their gender every time they wake up for me to find this a realistic depiction of genderfluid experiences. For all of its issues though, I’m glad Symptoms of Being Human exists and is a popular YA book; It was very helpful for my lost 16-year-old self.
Being trans can be hard because our society forces you to become two people. One person, your real self, is forced to hide while another, created self, who is more socially acceptable, takes over your body. This fake person not only acts as a facade for society, but, until we learn of the existence of our real selves, they become who we think we truly are. Thus the fake identity becomes the frame by which we experience, learn, and process the world. This means that when we come out as trans, we not only realize who we are, but start a process of finding our fake selves, and evicting them.
This has always made me wonder what to do with my prior experiences, knowledge, and thoughts that I had before coming out. As more and more time goes on, and as I become Angel more and more, I feel increasingly disconnected from those experiences, as they feel like they’re inherited from someone else who is dead now. And the problem with having someone else’s life in your head is that it is so hard to keep it all coherent. How can you figure out which emotions go with which memories, and in which order, and for which reasons, and what is valuable to remember? More importantly, I often ask why I even try? Maybe it is better to let that life disappear.
I remember choosing to grow my hair out. I was in 6th grade and, like any normal cishet boy, was noticing that my short hair made me feel like shit. See, ever since I was very young, didn’t like having short hair. I would see all of these people, mostly girls, with long hair and really wanted to look like them. How nice it would be to have long hair that could blow in the wind, that I could play with, that I could experiment with. But, it had been beaten into me that I was a boy and boys have short hair. It would be “unprofessional” and “dirty” otherwise. So little Angel remained constantly sad, really hating how they looked, but with no way around it.
But then, an amazing breakthrough happened. I started listening to metal music. Specifically, 80s metal music. All those amazing “larger-than-life” hair metal bands, and loud, angry thrash metal bands. But, beyond the music, the thing I gravitated most towards was the aesthetic of metal. Specifically, the feminine appearance taken by many male metal musicians. This provided me with a few things which became useful for myself. First, a template to base how I wanted to look that wasn’t the same masculine figure I saw everywhere. But second, and probably more importantly, these were bands my parents grew up listening to, so it gave me an excuse to experiment with my appearance. Specifically, it gave me an excuse to grow out my hair (“I just want to headbang Mom!”).
It turned out this excuse has worked for, well, eight years now. I mean, I’ve gotten my fair share of lectures about how listening too much angry music will ruin your life, or make you do the most heinous acts like getting a tattoo, but on the whole I’ve been left to be myself. I’ve consistently grown my hair out since then and it has become a part of my appearance to the point where I don’t really remember what I looked like before. And I doubt I really would want to. I just really wish I knew if it is the look I’m afraid of, or the person.
In 1556, Vitoria was arrested by the Portuguese inquisition for sodomy. Vitoria was taken as a slave from Benin to the Azores, where she became a sex worker. After her arrest, she insisted to the inquisition that she was a woman and had the anatomy to prove it. The inquisitors who arrested her didn’t accept this, and demanded to know if she created her anatomy, or if it was the result of illness. Vitoria said she was born with it. Not satisfied, the inquisition conducted a medical examination, with the doctor declaring that Vitoria was physically a man. The inquisition convicted her of sodomy, of being a man for sleeping with other men, and gave her a life sentence.
Vitoria’s sentencing is often cited as an important piece of history. It was one of the first records we have of European norms being applied to a gender non-conforming person. It tells us about how slavery criminalized African culture. It tells us that centuries before transfems existed, we were being arrested for sex work. What really stands out to me, though, about this case is the questions Vitoria was asked. The inquisitors want to know how she identifies, and what caused her to be this way. And when she gives answers they don’t like, they throw her in jail, ignoring her reality because she doesn’t fit their way of understanding.
The way I’ve described Vitoria’s story here makes me uncomfortable; it feels almost false. Vitoria wasn’t just arrested, she was forcibly taken away by a group of authoritarian murderers. Vitoria didn’t just insist she was a woman, she was a woman. And she was convicted on a bullshit charge based on a legal concept which never should have existed. I say all this because I love every one of my gender non-conforming siblings, including Vitoria. I want her to know that, even across this much time and space, she is loved and accepted. I want her to know that because I can’t provide her what really matters: I can’t promise her that she no longer has to answer questions about her identity. Because I don’t know if the historians will ever stop trying to figure out her gender identity, and how she thought about herself.
I remember my first perience with “gender euphoria.” I had just finished 7th grade and, over the summer, I decided to volunteer for a local festival. My parents had been pushing me to find something to do the summer and, well, I loved my music, so there I was. I didn’t really understand what volunteering meant, I was excited. Excited at the prospect that I could get to hear music for free and pat on the back for being a good person. Anyway, I entered the check in area for volunteers and was quickly to an old woman who was telling volunteers where to go.
were a lot of volunteers so it took awhile for her to get to me. So long, in fact, I started ignoring her and, by the time I was mentioned, I facing the opposite direction. When she tried to tell me where to go, I at first didn’t register that being talked to. This was because the of me this old woman came up with was “young lady.” When I realized what she called me, I was confused and, silently, went where I was told to. After a few moments though, I became quite happy and couldn’t quite explain . I think my mind at the time just ignored the connection between what had happened and my mood. Needless to , I had a great day after that and ignored that my assignment, which was telling people where to go, was neither some great moral accomplishment nor allowed me to listen to the music.
I think about this memory a lot now, but I also used to think about it a lot before I came out well. I even used to say that I, as a clearly person, had been misgendered and, therefore, understood it was bad. To fit this argument, when I would retell this back then, I would say I didn’t like being called a “young lady.” As far as I know, I did actually believe I didn’t like . And maybe there were parts of that memory where I wasn’t happy being called a “young lady.” After all, it would be convenient if I was trans and had this memory of a time which proved I was always trans. At the same time, it was convenient for me before figuring out I trans to feel like I didn’t enjoy it. But, regardless, I would probably have forgotten about this moment entirely if it wasn’t for my pseudo-liberal values in high school.
I remember telling my parents I was queer. It was the summer after my junior year of high and I was talking to my mother. I had been dreading this for awhile as I wasn’t sure how my parents would react. I had to the realization earlier that year that I was , and had been about to my family. “Coming out” is an odd process of way to boil down your into a quick explanation. It can be difficult as you need to find way to say everything you want, realizing that you stop, whoever you come out to will probably to ask questions, tell you their feelings, and just generally take all your power in the situation. I thought , I had figured all of this out, and could give explanation to my parents that would for them.
A few minutes “coming out,” I wanted to run away . I was instantly cut from discussing what it meant that I was to be asked like “are you sure?”, “how do you know?”, etc. It was nearly impossible to answer these questions (was I really going to explain to my the ways in I had explored my sexuality?) and I’m not sure of exactly what I said. Every question just weaved head into this oppressive knot that stuck head. It ended, after about two , with my mother giving her only good piece of advice, that I my father anything about this. It has been years since , and my queerness has never mentioned once in my family.
In a 2014 analysis of Trans YouTube, Laura Horak coined the term “hormone time” to describe how trans vloggers will document their time on HRT. Specifically, Horak is identifying that these vloggers will start recording their journey as they begin HRT, and then will title subsequent vlogs based on how long it has been since they started HRT. Horak goes on to construct “hormone time” with both “transitional time,” the complex, many directional temporalities that encompass trans experiences, and “queer time,” the anti-future nowness that can be produced through queering.
Horak also points out that “hormone time” is based on a Christian temporal structure, beginning with a moment of major change and going forward towards a future utopia. Horak makes this point, and leaves this discussion here, but I think it is important to question why this happens. Why borrow a Christian temporal structure? Well, because it is communicable. Hormone time creates a method by which the effects of HRT can be easily communicated in a society where Christian norms are the baseline for most people’s worldview.
And really this isn’t just limited to hormone time. Today, people are obsessed with trans stories. They want to know everything about us, about our struggles, and about how we experience things. This is especially true of cis allies who are always interested in centering trans people’s lived experiences. But that only works if the trans people can explain their narratives in a way which, one, is understandable, and two, is seen as trans. The easiest way to show one’s transness is through trans experiences before you came out. If I don’t know I’m trans yet, but I act trans, then I’m clearly trans. At least, that is what was constantly beaten into me when I was early in transition. The thing is, to tell you about an experience of being trans before I came out, I have to remember it. This can be especially hard because at the time I wasn’t thinking about how trans an experience was. This is all to say, to remember such experiences, you need a few things. To be alive (privilege), to not be traumatized (privilege), to not be scared of talking about your identity (privilege), and to have had the space to process your experiences before coming out (privilege).
I remember dropping out in 3rd grade. It long summer and ready for again. But, , I was informed parents I not be going back . I’m dyslexic, and . Even basic words were still giving me difficulty, behind all . On the other hand , math, I had even been bumped up the year . Since the school hadn’t dyslexia, just assumed , or at least that is what the teachers informed my parents. This situation took an end of year English, and I . More specifically, I got a , the score in . According to the results, my English abilities were . , the school wanted to a year . Instead of doing that, my parents decided to homeschool me.
Or more accurately decided to homeschool me. really only had two interests, drowning from work and being overwhelmed by alcohol, process. So, informed me that I wouldn’t . I didn’t really understand at the time, . It was also difficult for me new friends. I wasn’t very social, and my . I didn’t want to have to .
I’ve always wondered happened if . I a I I a . independence, ability control learn. Maybe at times that was harmful, from properly upset, but I how to learn. On some level, school is always about puzzle solving, not reality, and I’m thankful for n o t . I just wish that it hadn’t come at the cost of any stability in my life.
I remember school’s career sophomore year. I had to figure out applying to college me. See, homeschooled for most . And, homeschooling form hard for capital and state to control, hard get accredited . So, make sure I would be recognized. But, , questions about activities, grade , and colleges .
initially helpful, use for college apps . Things stopped going well got . trouble , grades weren’t doing great. , recommended colleges interest i not reasonable, instead. I very angry , looking back, . I was b , life not realistic. , unsurprisingly, well. always expectation family “top-tier” “superiority.” Well, I’m now at the University of Michigan, so I guess I did get into a university that was classist and racist enough to please my parents.
I once heard, I don’t remember from where, that history is a mental illness. When I was told this, I don’t think I understood. History is, after all, just the past, how could it be part of our mental health, much less a mental illness? Recently, though, I’ve had a change in perspective. History is a form of narrative. It is based on characters, themes, conflicts, and all the other things which make up a narrative. And, as a narrative, history is an object of the mind. Our minds are where narratives are, not anywhere else. If this was a philosophy essay, I would probably not provide you with some pretentious definition of history. Something about mental schemas and temporal politics. Truthfully, though, I don’t care to provide you with one. What good is a definition for something as fucked as history anyway?
But, anyway, history is a narrative. And narratives are objects in the mind. And objects in the mind exist within the present, meaning they are subject to change. In other words, history is always subject to change. Always interpretable, always being imbued with new meanings. Instead of embracing this and trying to use history in ways that can help us, we attempt to make history “correct.” We construct linear narratives, then use them to define the boundaries of “truth,” and then argue that they are correct because they have “good evidence” to support them. This way of doing history, one that is currently dominant in the West, is a mental illness. A disease which we don’t recognize and yet it controls us, bends us to its will. We even let it control how we think of ourselves. We come up with so many storylines to explain ourselves in ways which align with “history.” We even made an entire form of literature, biographies, based on this practice of mining and selling parts of ourselves as stories. Tell me, have you ever questioned it?
I remember head . It was in Boston and I was at . old slide . I am not very certain why, . So, , I up, tripped. The metal railing was really hot and I took my hand off, after which I lost my balance. My head went forward the stairs . . Quickly, my mom was called and I was taken away. I don’t remember I’m told that I . Afterwards, I returned home and calmed down.
The scar. still , though anymore. of it, even I need to search to . only reason I still know memory. . Especially in recent years, it seems the memory has become much more vivid. Who knows, maybe those details are a reconstruction from what I’ve been told. It scares me to think that one of my few remaining connections to innocence is (literally) constructed.
I remember in my year of school. It was Thanksgiving break and my grandparents were visiting. I had been having a , . I had been having trouble in multiple classes, by taking , and was lacking counseling ten . , I was having trouble and couldn’t find . My just i c e and me desperate and grasp . Eventually though, my grandparents left for break.
A few later, I spiral , surrounded by . I’ve always had problems with letting my thoughts run wild. I found limit , like to keep focused, doesn't . , . On this particular day, thoughts . , , . had left, so I was all alone. I decided that would make it easier .
I’ve thought about e . n d many times, written before I , . planning wasn’t unexpected. Actually and moving was. . stopping isn’t clear . fear, regret, suffer kind. reason, after . Hopefully I can keep that trend up going forward
You won’t be seeing this, , at least not in any way that will make sense, so now mention that . , i , can’t remember . , why remember? And ? , . , , a . , , a , . , , i , , m , . , h , h , , .
You know, this story (and I would guess others like it) are for you. It is so you can understand, you can experience something new, you can bask in a new experience. Always about you. I may get some benefits, maybe you will start treating me like I’m a fucking person, but my benefits are only incidental here. You, my lovely, dearest reader, are a consumer, and I mean that literally. You consume everything, take it all for yourself. You take my experiences and stuff them somewhere in that mind of yours for whatever purpose you have. And then you come back and demand more. You will tell me that I didn’t explain this well enough and that I made this too difficult. I’ll be reminded that you have a short attention span and need to be hooked and given more and more and more; otherwise, you will leave me alone and let me wither away. Why? Why do you need all of this anyway? Why is my life, my trauma so interesting to you that you prime me to want to write about it. Constantly being told that you need to write personal narratives, personal stories, write from your own experiences! You come from your privileged position and tell me how to explain things to you (“could you define asexuality more clearly?”), how to express things (“I think you could include more queer experiences here”), even how to think of myself (“You shouldn’t use your deadname to discuss your past self Angel”). Funny how easy it must be for you, who can always remember, who always wants to remember. Is that why you feel so entitled? You think that it isn’t hard for you to tell me, so why should it be so hard for me to tell you?
But it isn’t entirely fair for me to blame you, is it. Because I don’t want you to leave, but I don’t know how to make you stay in a way which won’t hurt me. I, like you, think in terms of personal narratives. I, like you, have been conditioned by Western standards of history to regard my life as this chain of temporal events. To become a continuous person, a consistent voice, an intact human whose life makes a story. I try to take moments of my life and make them into something meaningful, something connected and whole. But, I never get the end result of satisfaction I’m told I will find. Instead, I feel lost, I feel myself flailing trying to fix it. What is it? I don’t know, though I really wish I did. How do you describe a whole which is both lost forever and never existed?
I wonder, and I hope you do as well, about how we can escape this conundrum. I’m not sure of the answer, but I have a suspicion that we should start by rejecting history’s claim to objectivity. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as historical treatises, and remember we are people. We don’t need to prove our lives to anyone, to give them lives as they understand it. We aren’t only made up of moments, but of emotions, of ideas, of interpretations and so, so, so much more. If we remember that, does matching up a specific timeline of events matter anymore? Do the specific events still hold their same stranglehold on us? What the fuck am I even asking of you?
I don’t know. I don’t know… I don’t. I