Immutable Fact

“I’m a man. I’m a trans man. I also want to do gender the way, like butch lesbians do.”

Transcript for Immutable Fact

So I grew up in Wisconsin in a suburb of Milwaukee. And it was everything that a suburb is, like a deconstructed city. It loses everything that makes a city, like, nice; it loses all of its walkability; it loses all of its, like, neighborhood feeling; it loses all of its individuality. Like my suburb is full of eight to twelve lane roads, and just pavement, strip malls as far as the eye can see, and they’re all, like, all of the different chains.

I grew up in a family of, like, introverts, so we didn’t necessarily get up to much. So for the most part, like when we were at home, it was just my brother and I, up until, like, high school is when we did that thing where we grow apart before we grow back together again. You know, I had this one group of friends that I made in middle school, like the core group, all the way through the end of high school. If I went and hung out with someone, I hung out with them. 

School was difficult—elementary school specifically was difficult in a way that, like, I couldn’t have articulated at the time. I mean, like, it was the kind of bullying that is so hard to, like, pin down and then, like, address. I’d, like, put my head down on my desk, and they’d just sit there and talk about me and how stupid I was and how silly I was being. And, you know, kids are kids and kids are mean. I’m not even sure, like, at the time I would have realized I was being bullied because we had all of those like anti-bullying seminars or whatever, but because it never looks like it does in those things, you never, at least for me, I’m not even sure I realized that was what was happening until I was older, probably like sixth grade, and, by then, then the bullies are smarter.

I was very much like your classic, like tom boy. Weirdly, in a way that I’ve never really fully unpacked, I preferred having male friends in elementary school, probably because it was mostly the girls that did all the bullying. I was on like the coed soccer team up until I was told, like, you can’t really be on the coed soccer team anymore. You know, I wanted to stay on it; I was gonna grit my teeth and be, like, I can totally keep up with the boys, puberty be damned, but I switched over. You know, later, when I ended up coming out, it was, I think, really difficult for my mom to understand why I was something other than just tomboy because the way that she thinks about gender is very not defined. You know, when I said,” I don’t want to wear makeup,” she’s like, “I haven’t worn makeup since you were born,” and I said, “I don’t want to wear dresses,” she’s like, “I haven’t worn dresses since you were born.” So, like, it was actually kind of difficult in that way to explain to her why I’m transgender because it felt like everything I said to her, she had already sort of discarded internally, anyway, which is like, great, like, I’m happy for her, but also it’s not quite the same. 

So my transition feels like in retrospect, like, it was very messy. It’s such a difficult thing to figure out and define and go through, like you’re looking for some sort of definitive proof for yourself as much as for everyone around you, who you also need to prove that this is true to. For me it started with my sexuality because I knew that that was the, I mean, I grew up in a mildly homophobic and a very transphobic household, so that was the thing that I accepted easiest first: yes, it’s okay for people to not be straight. And so I knew I was some flavor of queer, but I sort of, like, cycled through sexuality labels. For a long time I couldn’t figure out what was missing. It was not my sexuality, but my gender that I was searching for. 

It started sophomore year in college. I had been, like, your regular, like, casual member of the LGBTQ group on campus, and at that time it was led by, at the time at least he identified as a trans man. And just sort of like watching him do gender and listening to him talk about his gender, I think started unlocking aspects of myself that I hadn’t previously, like, had access to. And I also did a lot of personal growth in other ways, so I did the whole “go to college become a leftist thing” absolutely, it’s not because of college, it’s simply because I no longer lived in a house that listened to Fox all night. My first and, like, primary social media, was tumblr, which, like breeds a very specific leftist, queer, like kind of audience because I was there for other things, but, you know, the exposure to those ideas over time allowed me to mature and become more open minded and realize the world was not the way that I had been told it was.

So all these things sort of, like, came together, and I started exploring my gender. I bought my first binder fall semester sophomore year. One of the things that had made me decide I wanted to buy a binder, transition at all, was I experimented in the mirror with just, like, just with my hands compressing my chest. And that was such a specific and, like, evocative moment of euphoria, that I did it over and over, I was so, like, delighted by the idea of wearing a binder, you know, having top surgery, it was so alluring.

It’s actually, wearing a binder for the first time for me is kind of a funny story because they sent me the wrong size by accident. It was one size too large, but I still managed to get stuck in it. So it was just really comical. And a friend of mine had to come get me unstuck, which is kind of, like, this, like, moment of, you know, ridiculousness. But, you know, being able to laugh at something that can be, like, so emotionally charged is also really good, so I remember that memory very fondly.

So I bought my first binder, and then I went to Cambridge on a study abroad trip, like, almost immediately. My mom and I actually had a big fight about what clothes I should bring cause, my brother, he dresses very nice when he wants to—he’s taller than me now, but at the time he was about my height, so he, like, gave me a lot of the things that he wasn’t wearing anymore. And we had sort of had this, like, evening, when it was just the two of us in the house, and we like pulled out all the stuff that he was going to give me, and I tried a bunch of different stuff on to see what fit and he, like, taught me how to, like, wear them and stuff, I was just like experimenting with the idea, and I think we both, like, really enjoyed the opportunity to do that together. And so I had a—when I was packing to go abroad—I had a big argument with my mom about bringing a bunch of that stuff, and she didn’t think it would, like, look good on me, sort of like “girls shouldn’t wear guys’ suits” sort of way.

Went to Cambridge, introduced myself as my dead name. Less than a month later, I went up to the professor who ran the program, and I was, like, actually… And he was really supportive. Like the next day, he and his daughter and I, like, had a meeting to sort of talk about how I wanted to go about, like, addressing it, because I was just, you know, this baby queer, and I had no idea how to do anything, how to tell people. Coming out for the very first time is so hard. 

We had these like name placards that we put on our doors that had, like, pictures of places in Cambridge, and she had remade mine with “Sawyer” on it because she wanted to make sure that I felt comfortable and welcome and included. It was one of the, like, first moments of joy, of you’re here for me, and this is who I am, and I get to have this and experience this and share this in a positive way.

And I got to come out, like, socially in this little bubble, there were like twelve of us. And I came out to my significant other. She had known that I was experimenting with my gender, so this wasn’t a huge surprise for her. All of my friends took it really well, and I came out to most, if not all of the rest of the family. It’s always difficult. Some took it badly. Some people took it really well, and I knew that they were going to. I am the godparent of one of my cousin’s first kid. I was, like, concerned about all of that. And in a very, like, characteristic of her kind of way, she was just like, “Okay, what do you want my kid to call you, and like what your relationship to her should be? And okay… you know, thanks for the visit. Please come back,” like, not in a push you out the door kind of way, just in a… not a hurdle, not even like a curb that we have to step off of, just a “we’re still going forward, like, we can roll with this.”

You know, as part of the community, I’ve heard a lot of stories about people who transition partially or transition only to a few people, decide not to socially transition at all, but for me it was very much, like—I’m an all or nothing, goal-oriented type person, so, like, by the time I was done, like, experimenting with the idea, I was like, “Okay, well, if we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna fuckin’ do this, like, let’s go.” I came out on Facebook. I came out to all my professors, and you had to email the professors and be like, “This is my name, and these are my pronouns, and I look forward to having class…” Jesus Christ. I had this friend who’s like a year or 2 older than… I think she’s a year older than me, she went to Madison, and she’s like, “Oh, yeah, when you introduce yourself in class, everyone just tells you their pronouns.” No, they don’t! Your experience is not universal but, my God! I wish it was. 

A lot of people tell me that coming out as trans is harder than coming out as gay or bisexual or whatever, sort of in the “parents will take it worse” kind of way, which I found was true. I had come out as not straight, probably about three or four years previous, when I was in high school. I told my mom by herself. George, he had this like weekly… he’d go to a bar and play cards with some guys, and so I told her while he was there. Normally, I’d go pick him up, because, like, obviously, he can’t drive, but Mom went and picked him up and told him. I had gone to bed at this point, but when they got back, he came in, and I don’t remember the word he used, told me he was angry, disappointed, whatever, that I hadn’t told him to his face, and I always wanted to tell him, never did, that his response was the reason I didn’t tell him to his face. But I told him I was a guy to his face, and he left. When I was done with my little spiel, he got up and walked away. You know. “Okay, you need space? Fine, whatever. I sort of cajoled you into listening to me, and I knew we’re having a shitty day…,” but it never got better. It only ever got worse. I call my dad, George, by his first name, because that’s the half of the family that I’m estranged from, and I decided that if he wasn’t going to call me by my name, that I wasn’t going to call him by his relationship to me.

My mom, she’s done the work. Like I don’t know if you’d say that she understands, but she accepts. It’s something that I can, like, talk about with her; it’s not something that we need to, like, pussy foot around. And our relationship is actually really good. I remember her telling me several times like when I was in high school/college, that her worst fear was that her kids would grow up and never want to speak to her again, so I think she was, like, extremely motivated to get over it.

My mom is still with George, which I only recently realized, like, how difficult that experience is for her. Whenever I go back to my hometown, I have a friend who still lives there, and this friend’s mom adopted me. I have three moms because I’ve got my biological mom, I have my adopted mom, and my inlaws. So I go stay with my adopted mom and her daughter, my friend, but while I was in town, my biological mom and I went and got lunch. And she talked a little bit about how difficult it was for her to have a relationship with me cause, I guess, he told her that he doesn’t want to hear about me, ever, anything. So it’s like, “Who are you gonna have lunch with?” And she lied. My mom’s getting older, she wants to plant flowers in her flower bed, and she’s not, like, really physically up to being on her knees all day, so she wanted to invite my partner and I back to do it for her, and she can’t, so it’s really difficult.

Trans is a thing that I am, just like redhead is a thing that I am. I view them as both, like, immutable facts, and they have, like, shaped my experience, you know, they’re part of my identity. I’m a man. I’m a trans man. I also want to do gender the way, like, butch lesbians do. It’s all like a big circle, and it’s just labeled masculinity, and I just sort of like pick and choose.

For a long time I was really happy to be trans because I felt like being female was, like, an experience that I valued, but also, like, it’s not… “Nice visit; don’t want to live there.”

I remember telling another trans guy that I just wanted to have, like, a positive experience with my gender, like a place or a thing or an event where I, like, experienced my masculinity in a positive way. I grew a beard during the pandemic. I sat down and I went, “No one’s going to see my face for, you know, weeks, months, whatever, perfect time to try to grow a beard,” and I have never shaved it off. Cis guys come up to me, and they like, “Your beard is so good,” and I’m like, “Fuck, yeah, it is.”

When I first transitioned, I felt, like, a lot of pressure that was both… I mean, I think it was internal, but it was sort of motivated by external factors: to be as masculine as possible, and forgo everything feminine. I think, you know, since I have attributed it to, at least in part, the desire to prove to people that I was a guy, and so I did things like throw out all of my nail polish, and throw out all of my makeup, and all my, like, high heels and all that stuff. And I’ve since come to regret a lot of those decisions because I had a really big nail polish collection, and that was a waste, and I want it back because I want to wear them.

It feels like a pendulum, like I swung very hard in one direction because I felt like I had to. You know, slowly, over time, my life has stabilized, and as I’ve learned more about being queer, and, you know, the concepts of gender and gender presentation, like I’ve been able to incorporate some of those, like, things that are traditionally considered feminine back into my life. And I really enjoy them. I was a pirate for last Halloween, and I bought heels that were probably, like, this tall. They were big like motorcycle boots, and I was so enthusiastic about them. I have only ever worn them on Halloween, and I love them so much, I need another excuse to wear them. It’s been nice over time to re-access the things that I lost in this process, not because there’s something wrong with the process, but because there’s something wrong with everybody else who makes the process weird.

You know, sometimes, as I got older, I’d find myself wondering how I would be different if I had been assigned male at birth. But also, you know, as a queer person, I get to inherit such a vibrant and diverse and incredible community. I think I value that more than anything, like, you know, my elders, the people who’ve come before me, like, living in community with other queer people, whether they’re trans or not, has just been such, like, a positive experience for me that I’m happy to be here, and I’m happy to be part of it, and I’m happy to be queer, and I’m proud to be queer. 

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