This piece by Marco Seiferle-Valencia originally appeared on The Toast.
When I came out to myself as trans two years ago, one of the first things I said was that while maybe I preferred men’s clothing and haircuts, I (probably) wasn’t “trans enough” to want surgeries or to change my pronouns. Two years later and I’m counting down the days until top surgery and telling people they can call me Marco, and that she/her doesn’t really refer to me anymore, if it ever did. To explain this change, I’ve had to get to know how much we can lie to ourselves in the name of protection from our deepest desires. I’m marveling at how, despite this, the universe, God, fate, whatever you want to call it, will ask you to awaken to yourself over and over, and how that process is never what you’re expecting. It’s impossible to forecast that type of joy.
Growing up gender non-conforming meant arriving at school, exiting my mom’s car, and immediately hearing a chorus of teasing voices calling out in sing-song unison: “Are you a boy or a girl?” This happened virtually every day from kindergarten to seventh grade, when I developed large breasts that, I guess, answered the question. In all those years, I never had anything to say back and was sort of stumped by the question, if I’m totally honest. In retrospect this fact would become one of hundreds of entries in a circular file called “Definitely Have Been Trans Forever.” Nowadays, I feel like those kids knew something about me, something it would take me 25 more years to figure out, and I now know what my answer would be. These days, when pre-teens stare and jeer and point and laugh, I flip them off, pointing at each in turn saying “Fuck you, fuck you, specifically you.” I’m not sure this is a victory, but it feels better than the stoic silence that was really my own confusion and pain.
Before I was trans, I understood basically nothing about trans-ness. When I’d see other (visible) transguys, I’d understand them as queer-like-me-in-some-way, and try to offer the same extra friendliness I always extend whenever I see someone in one of my minority in-groups. But privately, transguys made me nervous. They made some part of me vibrate the same way I’d vibrated in the past when I’d see lesbians in a movie or Ally McBeal making out with Lucy Liu in that one episode. But whereas lesbianism was a complicated morass of feeling both represented but also still weirdly invisible (if turned on), transguys made me nervous in just the opposite way. This wasn’t erotic attraction — though in my internalized transphobia, I was hoping for a never-to-materialize into-butches phase. It was something else. It was as if their visibility called out to me in a way I couldn’t answer yet, so instead I just got really awkward and had to run out of the coffee shop. It wasn’t a good look.
I wish I could say I suddenly educated myself, or came to my trans-ness through pure self-enlightenment or something, but, in actuality, the universe still had to drag me along. When my now ex-girlfriend started dating a person she’d probably been cheating with (sorry!), I was extra, extra toasted by said person’s gender queerness. I was roasting alive in the fires of jealousy, and finally it got hot enough for me to get serious and ask myself what the heck was really going on. After all, I’d been cheated on before, by people I’d loved more (not sorry!), but this was a whole ‘nother layer of hell. Fortunately, I’d been doing a shit-ton of meditation and inner growth shit, and for the first time in my life I knew what the something else was: it was envy. Waking up and throwing up every morning for the past six weeks had suddenly been worth it because I understood that I wanted what ___ was, not what ___ had.
You might think this is when I came out, but you’d be wrong! Despite realizing this, I still refused to identify as trans. I thought that if trans had been an option to me back in 1997, maybe I would have chosen that instead of gay. But as it was, I was too old and too late for the party. This argument lasted a shockingly long time for such spectacularly shitty logic. It wasn’t until six months later when a dear friend told me about their transition and I heard so much of my story in theirs that something shifted. Maybe I wasn’t too old, maybe I should try?
Change still came slowly. On a dedicated shopping trip, I crept to the men’s clothing section, remembering how, as a teenager, I’d been super stoked about men’s Old Navy t-shirts with gaudy, masculine emblems, and how I’d consciously turned away from them when a girl I liked in college called me a “fat, ugly lesbian.” In the men’s section of my local Target, I’d think of things to say to people’s interrogating glares — not out loud, just to myself — “don’t worry, they’ll think you’re shopping for your boyfriend,” or “they’ll just think you’re gay.” These thoughts were a comfort and a cut, and made me see how far I’d have to come to learn to actually live with myself.
I spent most of my first year of transition wondering a lot about what it “meant.” As a practicing Buddhist who subscribed to concepts of no-self, non-duality and universal impermanence, spending so much time fretting that people could see my boobs seemed silly and un-enlightened. Still, it resonated when I read Buddhist mythology referencing Nagas, powerful protective creatures known for their enlightenment, and, oh yeah, tendency to genderbend. As I developed a genuine sense of compassion for myself, a curiosity about myself followed. How could I claim to really want to know myself and deny this kind of lurking truth? How could I ever have the type of relationships centered on connection and seeing one another, when I couldn’t see myself?
Every big step I’ve taken in my transition was a leap of faith that felt like an experiment, with the results always bringing me further into focus to myself. I can’t describe the feeling of seeing myself after each of these changes — men’s clothing, binding, cutting my hair — except to say that it’s the purest, most relieving sense of joy I’ve ever felt. It’s made me able to understand why people are happy to be alive with themselves for no reason other than the pleasure of their own company. It’s also highlighted the ways in which the picture is still blurry.
I want to call back: “I can hear it, and I am here.”