I remember being ill when I was a kid, maybe five or six years old. I had a fever, and to see if I was delirious my mum asked me, “What’s your name?”
I thought about it. I started to panic. “What is my name?” I cried. She told me all three of my names, my first name, my middle name, and my surname. I still remember the relief as I heard them, as I recognised them, and realised that I had known them all along. “Oh,” I said. “I knew that.”
Tonight my phone rang, and someone I didn’t know called me by those same three names, but this time it was the opposite of a relief. I froze. I was aware of myself sitting there doing nothing, my mouth open, not responding. I didn’t know what to say.
I’ve read that some trans people have always dreamt about themselves in their identified gender. Normally the question of gender identity doesn’t arise in my dreams – I’m just me – but last night, somewhere in the trajectory of a narrative about an entanglement with a morally dubious lounge singer, I looked in a mirror, and saw my dream-brain’s construction of me, post-transition. What I saw was, more or less, this:
David Mitchell as snooker commentator
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of David Mitchell, but I don’t think I could honestly say that this is his strongest look. So here are a couple of suggestions, brain: if you’re going to imagine me in five or ten years’ time, couldn’t we go for something a bit more like this:
David Hockney, by Cecil Beaton, March 1965 – NPG x14108 – © Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, Sotheby’s London
Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice
Or, you know, maybe even this:
Robert Downey Jr vs lederhosen
Meanwhile, when I’m awake, I’m seeing myself in the mirror as a guy much more often, which feels great. Once again, the dream-brain just needs to catch up.
Since transitioning socially, I’ve had fairly regular anxiety dreams in which my hair has grown back to shoulder length and “turned me back into a woman”.
Again? Damn it! Where are my clippers?
Last night, however, I had a new kind of anxiety dream:
I’d used the wrong public bathroom. Unfortunately, there was no show-down as pictured above, just a sense of guilt and embarrassment. But at least my dream-brain seems to be working out where I’m supposed to be.
In other news, thank you to the pharmacist who “ma’am”ed me repeatedly this evening; the dysphoric feelings helped me switch off the self-doubt for a while.
(CONTENT NOTE: SELF-HARM)
I’ve been reading (well, listening to audiobooks of) Stephen Fry’s autobiographies; Moab is My Washpot was wonderful, and I’ve nearly finished The Fry Chronicles. At some point (in the latter, I think), Fry talks about finding a teenage diary in which he had poured scorn on his future, grown-up self, condemning the adult that he thought he was doomed to become as a stuffy, emotionless conformist. This reminded me of a discussion on Russell Brand’s radio show of Richard Madeley’s comment to Morrissey on what would happen if present-day Morrissey could meet his younger self: ‘You’d strangle you, wouldn’t you?’ While Brand and his co-host, Matt Morgan, delighted in the absurd proliferation of the second person singular pronoun, I was wondering which ‘you’ was which. Would old Morrissey strangle young Morrissey for being so consciously odd and flamboyant? Or would young Morrissey strangle old Morrissey for having become such a staid old fart? I’m not sure if teenagers feel things more acutely than adults do, but I recently found something I wrote seven years ago, when I was nineteen. I don’t know if I recognise myself in this pretentious detonation of emotion; the person portrayed here seems like someone else, yet I remember some of the intensity of feeling. I’ve published it here unchanged: a museum piece, a memorial to another one of ‘me’s that I no longer am.
My transition so far has involved a lot of looking forward: When will I? When can I? When will I be? At the end of 2014 I represented how I felt by drawing myself hanging from monkey bars, not moving, just hanging on. I can see what is ahead and I want to move forward but for now I have to wait. The steps ahead are big, and they are both exciting and terrifying: how will I change? Who will I be? Will I be me? Who am I?
When I started changing my gender presentation I remember a friend telling me she thought I was brave. I didn’t agree; what I was doing might have been nerve-wracking sometimes, but it wasn’t brave. I needed to move forward because it was better than staying still. Staying still would have been harder.
Now I’m doing a different kind of staying still. I can see the path I want to take and I’m waiting for it to be possible. This gives me time to consider the steps I have taken so far. I might not want to think of myself as the person with the name I had before I was called Blake, but I have to be grateful to that person for getting me to where I am now. Looking back, realising who I was and what I needed to do and then beginning to make it happen seem like enormous steps. It does seem brave. Not a brave thing I did, but a brave thing someone else did, someone I used to call ‘me’.
Some common transition narratives seem to involve wiping out the past. I’m keeping on looking forward, but sometimes it helps to look back too, and be grateful to the past for making the present and the future possible. So thanks, past. Thast.