Trans Geek Girl Meets Mundane World

20160613_192613The following is a presentation I prepared for a Pride event at my workplace. The format of the event shifted, and I won’t be able to give my speech, so I’m posting it here.

My name is Samantha. I speak from the shadows.

The year is 1976. The place is Kenai, Alaska. I’m at a school Halloween party, wearing a blond wig, blue blouse and white skirt, along with a calico superhero cape I made myself and a green mask. Mom insisted I wear the wig, blouse and skirt. I think she knows they’re the exact pieces of clothing I’ve been sneaking from her closet and wearing whenever I’m home alone. She probably thinks she’s teaching me a lesson, and she is, though not the one she intended. The mask is a paradox – I’m not concealing who I am tonight, I’m revealing it. For the first time I can remember, I feel free. Nobody sees me as a boy, or if they do, they say nothing of it. Being a girl is effortless. I’m shedding a pretense, not putting one on. I feel more myself than I have since they started giving me crew cuts and wrapping me in the polyester and corduroy of seventies masculinity.

The night ends too soon. I don’t have the words or concepts to explain myself. The clothes go back in the closet. I step back into the shadows, silent.

The year is 1998. The place is Seattle, Washington. The event is called “The Prom You Never Had”. My first wife and I are there to support and celebrate our friend Alan, who just a year ago was lying in a hospice, waiting to die from AIDS, when the first anti-HIV combination therapies gave him back to us.

But it’s also an excuse, and I’m taking full advantage. My prom dress is pink satin. My wife bought me a corsage to go with it, and pink heels, and a purse. I’m in my mid-thirties, but I feel like a seventeen-year-old girl.

I’m on the patio having a cigarette when a man walks up and tells me how elegant I look. I duck my head and blush. I don’t much care for men, I never really have, but I’ve never fielded a compliment from one before. My wife rescues me from my awkward response. We dance. I’m a prom queen, a fairy princess, I’m all the wonderful pink and frilly and feminine things I was never allowed to be.

But again, the night ends, and again, the clothes are hidden away, never to be worn again. My male façade feels brittle and fragile. So too, as it turns out, is the relationship. We divorce a few short years later. I step back again into the shadows, silent.

The year is 2014. The place is Eldersburg, Maryland. It’s about a month after Christmas, and I’m staring at my computer screen, transfixed. My gift this year, from my much-adored second wife, was a trip to Pennsylvania to see a photographer and cosmetologist specializing in transgender portraiture. We’ve just got back from a blissful weekend, and I’m looking at the pictures, well over a hundred of them. And looking back from the screen, with a sly smile, is me. Happy me. Real me. Female me.

I see before me the person I always was, the person I was meant to be, the person who for half a century I tried to deny and hide. And I know, this time I can’t push her back into the shadows. I can’t make her be silent. She is who I am. And she is who I must be.

The year is 2016. The place is Baltimore, Maryland. I’m in the ladies’ room, washing my hands. I’m wearing my work clothes; blouse and slacks, neither elegant nor glamorous, but well-suited for everyday wear. A woman walks up to me and says, “I just wanted you to know, I think you’re very brave.” I smile and murmur thanks. But I don’t feel very brave. I had many opportunities to take a stand, to be a leader, to fight for my rights and the rights of people like me, and I let those opportunities pass and went back into the shadows instead.

I’m still in the shadows, in some ways. I’ve always been and probably will always be introverted, quiet, slow to make friends. To talk about these things is still awkward and stressful. I’m not a leader, not a superhero, not the prom queen, not the brave woman standing tall and proud.

But for every superstar, every transgender actor or model or athlete or business professional, there are hundreds  like me, women and men and people with no gender and people with many, people who live in the shadows, and all too often, die there as well. And if by telling my story I can touch those people, just to let them know that they are not alone, and that there’s hope and love and joy out there for them, then I must. For my sake. For the sake of all of us.

My name is Samantha. I speak from the shadows.


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