32

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[CONTENT WARNING:  This piece contains pretty explicit references to self harm and suicidal ideation.  Please don’t read it if these topics might alarm or harm you]

The year is 2020. I was born in 1988. On the day I was born, doctors and medical staff observed my body and made a few judgement calls. First, they marked that I had a male body. This was partially correct. In strictly sexual terms to say I had a male body is an objective truth. Because of the way society sees male and female to mean man and woman, this designation put me on rails that would determine the remainder of my life. 

On the other mark, they noted that I had a cleft palate. Nothing was done about that.
By age 5 or 6, I was expressing dysphoria. By age 8, I was already waiting to die. I had, at some point, discovered the idea of reincarnation at this age, and I was elated because it meant maybe I could have the right body next time. Sometimes I think of the weight of that, that eight-year-old me was just waiting for this to be over so maybe the universe could get it right.

My life has been waiting for that, and it’s been punctuated by impatience at times. When I’d get stressed, my go-to technique to soothe myself was suicidal ideation. I could choose not to be here. I didn’t have to do this anymore. I could reset everything and try again. I mostly stayed out of guilt if I’m being honest.

Fast forward to 2020. I’m having my 32nd birthday this year—my first birthday legally as Evey Winters. I have waited 32 years to have this. And in those 32 years, I have missed so much.

Elementary School

Flashback to the 90s. The girls are having sleepovers. I will never get to go to one of those. I’ll never have the experiences that lead to all those crappy photos of us in our pajamas on the couch with chocolate on our faces grinning like maniacs for some exhausted parent’s film-based camera. I will continue not having that experience every day for the rest of my life.

They’d started to separate us into boys and girls teams during this time. I hated it. I hated the boys, and I hated people thinking I was supposed to be with them. I wasn’t like them. 

Middle School

Flash forward to the early 2000s. The girls are all bonding over painted nails, body scents, and musical tastes. I hang out mostly with the girls who are into hard rock or emo music, I can share their taste without people realizing who I am or thinking I’m gay. This establishes a pattern of me trying on things the other girls are liking musically or stylistically.

I get my first taste of New York in the year 2000. I see Ellis Island with my father and that’s a happy memory to see where our family came from. I will never forget the fashion I wasn’t allowed to talk about. My memories of growing up are all like this: happy memories, good memories, important memories are all undercut by having to be someone else. Those good things happened to a person who wasn’t really me.

I discovered porn around this time, too. It was the first time I’d seen trans women. I thought they were born that way. It upset me then that I wasn’t even that lucky, that my body didn’t look like that at the very least. Two wrong observations formed in my mind at this time: trans women were a sort of third sex, and that all trans women were sex workers. I was clearly neither of these things. These observations drove me further into the closet. I was profoundly unlucky, and I had no choice but to live with my misfortune. Those wrong observations would somewhat stick with me until I was out of college. 

High School

High School is a blur. My mental health suffered. My grades were flagging. I was hospitalized when my suicidal ideations bubbled to the surface and couldn’t be ignored anymore. My home life was almost entirely suffering. I felt constricted and trapped. I made some friendships that have lasted until today, though. I had consensual sex a fair amount. I tried my best to be a guy and to do all of the things that meant I should do. Masculinity didn’t come naturally, and the costs were so, so high. I was programming around this time. I was good at it. I’m still good at it.

There’s so much life that was denied to me in high school. I will never get to go dress shopping for prom. I will never know what it was like to sit in salon chairs next to my girlfriends, getting our hair and nails done to go out for a mediocre party at a small high school followed by disappointing sex and alcohol poisoning. There were a lot of dances and events like that. 

I never got to go through awkwardly figuring out my fashion style. I never got to have my scene girl phase, which I definitely would have had. I never got to sleep over with my friends and rapid-switch between pining over boys and hating them. I never did get to find out which scent from bath and bodyworks was going to be my regrettable signature for the next 4 years. When I crushed on boys I stayed silent.

College went some better. After my stint in the hospital, I made an effort to perform masculinity better. I wanted to avoid ever going back there ever again. I kept my plans on how to kill myself in encrypted folders on my computer: which I could afford because I was working. 

College

In college, I kept busy. I knew I would die eventually. I knew one day I was going to need that folder, but now I was obsessed with having had some value before I used it. I needed this to mean something. I studied hard. I barely had time for socializing, but I found time for women and occasionally men. I ran student organizations, got three degrees at the same time, and I still hold high scores for my exit exam scores in history and political science at my college (when last I heard). People called me intense. People talked about me as an aspiring politician or a lawyer, I didn’t correct them. I mimed that I planned to go to a law school — in reality, I didn’t plan to be alive.

I adopted my dogs during this time, too. Caring for them gave me meaning. I enjoyed being a mom to them even when they frustrated me. One of them is still with me, and I love him with every breath in me. 

I wish I could have stayed in the dorms with the other girls. I wish all those accolades I earned and degrees didn’t have a name on them I can’t display. I wish I weren’t ashamed of how I treated people while I was trying to be a man. I wasn’t just intense, I was an asshole. I patterned myself after famous men, all of whom were deeply flawed and so I reflected their flaws. I thought their cruelty and coldness were their strengths. Maybe they were.

 My regrets about college aren’t about the things I missed. I missed so much, but I’d given up. Everyone was maturing into the person who they were going to become. People were growing and changing and forming alliances that would buoy them through relationships and jobs and life. I was maturing into a story of someone who was going to die. Everything I did was done with an eye towards what was going to be said at my funeral. I wanted to die as a person full of potential. Everything about my life had been made up until that point — why should it be any different in my death? 

 I didn’t plan ever to tell my story. I never intended to talk about who I was at all. It didn’t matter. Nobody ever asked me who I was. Nobody cared. From the beginning sentences of my life till now, other people had written who I was, and they handed me the pen to finish a story I didn’t want to be involved in. So I wrote a story I thought would sound ok in a eulogy. Geniuses were allowed to be assholes, and they were allowed to die early. That seemed ok to me.

I think it was during this time I first saw Laverne Cox. She was the first trans woman I’d ever seen who wasn’t sexualized or hidden. Seeing her changed my life and fixed a lot of my observations about trans women. She also planted seeds in me that grew into me starting to read about transition. 

After College

After college, I tried my hand at being entrepreneurial. I had dogs now, so I couldn’t just kill myself. I had to take care of them, and I didn’t trust anyone else to do it well. I don’t know how many times my commitments to those two kept me alive.

Business didn’t suit me. I was lonely then. I kept in connection with the college, but my health was flagging. I had my first major bout with my autoimmune disorder. It nearly killed me. It’s funny, I regretted going to the doctor but kidney failure was not the way I wanted to go, apparently.

I’d gotten into a groove then. I existed primarily behind screens and my entire identity was wrapped up in my work — whatever work that was. I needed to do something. Death was waiting for me, but I needed to tell a story that had an ending that made sense now.

I started therapy. I thought maybe it’d help. It did. We talked about trauma and grief and transition. I wanted a place to leave my frustrations. I didn’t think I could transition. West Virginia wasn’t safe. I started with a support group at that time and I met other trans people. I’m friends with two amazing men from that group now, they make me smile. I don’t regret that. When I started therapy after college, that folder full of well conceived suicide plans and letters had over 600 word documents detailing different ideas for how I could opt-out of living. I deleted it when I started to feel better after transitioning. 

Not long after all of that, I moved to Maryland. I know I moved here to be closer to doctors and better health care but I really wasn’t convinced I was going to transition. I kept holding that off as a pipe dream. A fun thing to think about but a reality I could never have.

29.

This was the year things broke. I couldn’t do it anymore. I just couldn’t hide anymore. It was killing me. My bodyweight had gone up dramatically. I was drinking entire liters of whiskey in single sittings. My health was failing. Everything was falling apart.

I decided to transition. I didn’t think it would save my life. I meant to transition as a middle finger to the universe. 

I planned, when I transitioned, that nothing could save me, but I wanted people to know who I was when I died. I wanted them to see who they buried with their words and ideas about me. I wanted to be a cautionary tale to a world that forced me to stay hidden under threat of abuse and assault. I wanted to spit in the face of a world that told me who I was because of my chromosomes or my body and then say, “I quit.” 

And nothing in my research about transition indicated to me my life would be better. I knew my life would get worse, in fact. People would hate me, disown me, spit on me, assault me, degrade me, and despise me. 

When I decided to transition, I was angry. And now I regretted every moment I pretended to be a man. 

30.

I start coming out to people. Most everyone is accepting and to be honest I’m shocked. It feels good for people to accept me. It felt amazing to have people where I could just put down the act. 

I start hormone therapy this year. I still plan to die, but it can wait a little longer. Now I’m curious about what I can do and who I can be. I start dieting to lose the weight, I’m taking care of my body better, and with every passing day I slough off more and more of the story other people wrote for me to uncover something underneath. 

I like this person I’m discovering. I like Evey Winters. And I’m living as her when I have my 31st birthday.

31.

I’m doing advocacy work now. I’m telling a story but I don’t want to die anymore. Now I’m telling my own story. Now I’m helping people to understand people like me. I have unearthed a person who is so much stronger than I know — and her strength isn’t in her cruelty or her drive or her focus. Her strength is in all of this love she has and the tears she has for a life she never got to live and the one she was forced to suffer. 

This person adores children. She loves waving at neighbors and learning their lives, even if she can’t remember their names. She loves to be kind.  She loves to teach.  She loves so much that sometimes she just cries out of happiness, she gets overwhelmed because she didn’t know she could have a life like this one. She still has sadness. Sometimes she sobs into her stuffed animals thinking about the childhood she’ll never get to have and how different her life could be if she’d had it.

 And I’m proud to be her and I’m not even angry anymore. When I look back on the me from my childhood, I have enormous grief for all those moments that little girl never got to have and will never get to have. I’m never going to have those embarrassing photos with her friends. My entire past isn’t mine. It was taken from me. I started a new life at 30. I have so much to learn and to experience, but I think birthdays are hard for the way they mark the time I lost and the memories I never got to make. 

I don’t know if that’s a grief I can heal, but I know it’s one I’m prepared to live with for a very, very long time. I mean to get old and have a family, and I mean to have children and to give those children all the memories I never got to have and to teach them to write their own stories. If I get to do that, that’ll be enough for me. 

So here’s to 32, I guess.

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