Finding ground, Remembering essence

Authored By:

Charlie W.

I have been here now for over a month. I don’t flinch as much from car horns. I know exactly how fast I need to walk to get to campus in time. I can cross the street without shadowing a local. I’ve seen wild boars and peacocks and monkeys and also people, so many people. People begging. People bowing to me. People rushing onward. People staring. People who become friends. People giving me the “what gender are you” look, the kind you get when you’re trans and not passing.

There’s an ease now. I’m not quite as hypersensitive to the traffic and overstimulation of city. I know many names of the people I see each day. I can better predict when I’ll encounter a gendered security line and subsequent pat down. I know what outfits will cause people to gender me “he” 70% of the time and which ones will give me a 50-50 mix of sir and mam. I know when it’s extra important I get the “sir” part right. I know none of what I wear would ever get me through the women’s restroom without being stared at, scolded, or asked to leave.

I review again the reasons I came to study abroad. Some of them probably cliche - to be immersed in some place new, to find myself, to see what remains of my sense of self when I am in a completely new place, where I know no one, what remains and what will shift in a new environment. So far, the words I use to describe myself have stayed consistent - composer, activist, healer, shapeshifter, witch, genderqueer. I’m just more selective in what I share in certain spaces.

The first few weeks here I felt guarded and dull. When navigating public spaces while trans, it feels like I always have to be aware and emulate a certain performance of “man” lest someone stare too long and question. Probably 80% of my thoughts and emotional energy during those first weeks were going towards thinking about gender. I was spent by the end of each day, emotionally exhausted. Now it’s maybe closer to 40%.

Back home I am bright and mercurial. I make art that tugs at people’s heart strings and I bring them closer to themselves. That is my gift. At first here, it was hard to imagine how I could bring others closer to themselves, when I myself felt distant, leaving my own body whenever a security guard brushed his hands over my bound chest.

Luckily, for me, something translated. After my second class of Art, Aesthetics and Society the person next to me turned and said “do you know much about the non-binary movement in the United States?” After I said yes she asked “What are your pronouns?”
“I use they/them in the States…”
To which she responded, “I knew it!”
And thus it began: the queers started finding me.

A couple weeks later I was getting tea with someone else from that class. I had a feeling that I wanted him to know I was trans. It was clear after the first week of class that most of my classmates thought I was a cis male, and now it’s stressful to ensure they continue thinking that way. Having a couple friends who knew, who could share with me glances of support across the room felt necessary, and I thought this friend might be able to hold that space with me.

I spent the afternoon sharing poetry and uninterrupted eye contact with him. I didn’t tell him I was trans but I did - somewhat unintentionally - come out to him as witchy, starting to offer him reflections of what I saw in his eyes, intuiting the pieces of him. He seemed impressed and I had to admit the fear in me - could he tell just in my eyes and in his intuition that I was trans?

When I got home that night, he sent me a screenshot of the latest performance art I’d posted on my Facebook several months earlier - a piece where I used recordings of my voice since going on testosterone which are played through speakers while I enact various gender performances on stage, culminating in a live injection of testosterone. He sent this screenshot with a handful of shocked emojis and “that. Was brilliant!!”

He said he knew before we’d gotten tea, sending me messages like “To me you’re clearly a boy,” and “Your eyes speak volumes. They have this sense of child-like wonder, ready for everything that life has to offer,” and “I was completely convinced you were a boy. And when I found out, I didn’t want it to change a thing. Seeing your art gave me an ethereal understanding of this celestial being I have had the honor of sharing experience with.”

It felt like my could breathe deeply for the first time in weeks, such joy filling me - or, more specifically - gender euphoria. I didn’t have to tell him I was a boy, an approximation, who would never become a man. He sensed it anyway. I didn’t have to tell him of my witchiness or my preferred method of communing with people - long eye contact and poetry. He knew anyway and read into what felt like something of a deeper self, reminding me of something in me that was limited in my watchfulness the first few weeks. In some ways this was astonishing to me because I felt like I had receded into timidness, to being shy because it protected me, because if I got too close to people they would discover I’m trans.

Part of this journey inevitably will be the paradox of its longevity and liminality, but through these friends I’ve received a piece of validation about who I thought myself to be. To experience the joy of those parts of myself that are so powerful they are tangible. Not only to someone who knew about non-binary people but to someone who sensed me, felt beyond the dull exterior I felt I was projecting, to sense something of an essence.

There will be more vulnerability, more ungroundedness and questioning, but at least for now, I trust in my essence.