When I was a little girl in West Virginia, like really little, the nearest big toy store was about 45 minutes away. I didn’t really want for material things when I was a kid. We weren’t rich, but I never lacked. I was lucky that way. My father worked very hard and I had plenty of toys and ways to entertain myself. So, I didn’t really find myself wanting anything new — until someone put the thought into my head, that is.
Then it was go time. I’d get excited and go leap into my parents’ bed to spur them to action at some ungodly hour in the morning. And every time they’d say, “Oh we’ll go later today.” It kinda got to be a fun game. And so, with some coaxing, my father would rise from his slumber and make us a ridiculous amount of bacon — I liked mine very crunchy — and probably some waffles or eggs and — eventually — we would go to the mall where the toy store was.
But the thing about being promised something in the future is that the present, which was sort of OK a few hours ago, is suddenly unacceptable. I registered my impatience with all the forces a child can command — I was both persistent and very annoying. It usually worked. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right?
This might seem like a frivolous thing, but I’ve been thinking about that sense of dissatisfaction and discomfort from the in-between times lately. A few weeks ago my endo took a pause during our session and casually said that he felt I was ready for surgery. I hadn’t dared to dream of that before. Surgery? Me? How? He asked what operations I’d like to have, we discussed the three major options: Facial Feminization Surgery, Breast Augmentation Surgery, and vaginoplasty. Of the three, we selected two that we felt I needed sooner than later: FFS and vaginoplasty.
I wonder what it felt like to be a blood cell in my body right then. It had to be something like a Mario Kart race. My stomach sank and flipped upside down, but in reverse. My insides became the Rainbow Road. I felt hopeful. Alive in a whole new way. I was vibrating so hard in my own body that you could have stuck a USB cable in my mouth and charged my phone. The future, in that moment, looked so bright and clear to me. I could see it. I was going to have the surgery. I was going to be complete. And I did what any girl in my situation would do, right? I texted my partners, made a post on Facebook, and sobbed like a child.
That night I went to sleep and I had the first of many dreams about mundane things. I dreamt I was underwear shopping and didn’t have to pick out underwear based on what I could safely wear. Another night, I had a dream about sitting on the side of a pool talking to my partners and another man — I wasn’t worried if he was looking at me or me. What’s it like to look in a mirror and see my face for the first time in my whole life? Intoxicating. I had dreams about what it was going to feel like to get to live; live without dysphoria; live without fear; live without there being another thing on my transitional checklist to do. In those dreams the only thing I had to worry about was taking care of my kids, which I had.
I felt like Sarah in Labyrinth, having just eaten the peach Jareth offered her. For the first time in my life, I had a vision of what it meant to be me and to be whole and to live. Most of these dreams were amazing. I never wanted to leave them. Then I woke up. That’s been happening to me a lot. I wake up, and my dysphoria is so much worse. Nothing materially changed in me, but now that I had a vision of a real me, seeing this body and face in the mirror stings in a whole new way.
My mind keeps racing off to a drive in theater where footage plays of a day next summer when I can go to the beach in a bikini without fearing my tuck has come undone because a wave rolled me. I’ll walk down the boardwalk in an oversized beach shirt and bikini bottoms with my partners and get Thrasher’s fries. Instead of watching everyone’s eyes to see if they’re inspecting me or looking at me with disgust, I’ll see myself reflected in my partners’ eyes for the first time. A man will flirt with me, and I won’t scurry off as quickly as possible hoping he didn’t clock me. There’ll be pictures of me building a sandcastle, followed by pictures of me pouting because a wave destroyed it. I’ll run to a stranger and ask them to take a photo of my partners and me. And then my mind crashes into a guardrail and I come-to in this body.
Dysphoria is a syncing error, a disconnect between external forces and an internal sense of self. Now, my conditions have really spotlighted that syncing error. I’m getting these brief glimpses into a world where that’s gone replaced by a clear and synchronized version of me. Those brief moments of release make the disconnect all the more apparent.
I keep crashing back to this reality and it doesn’t hurt less each time. I tell myself to be patient, but now that I know there’s an end to this agony it’s like I can think of little else. It shows up as a desperation. There are so many pieces to this puzzle, so many gates being kept, so many phone calls to make and dates to schedule. I keep hoping I’ll find the magic one that’ll set everything in stone. No luck so far.
It’s just like when I was little. But now instead of my father making me breakfast, I’m submitting myself over and over and over again for inspection. I submit myself to therapists to be picked apart. To insurance agencies to be scrutinized. At every step of this process I can feel the watchful eyes of a system that begs me to step one single hair out of line. The pay off, if I’m a good little trans girl, is that I get the body I was willing to die for. The risk is that I might end up dying in this body exactly how it is if I don’t make everyone involved in this process happy.
I am desperate, but I can’t appear to be, but I need to appear to be — but I have to be the right kind of desperate. I have to dance the right dance for the cameras. Otherwise, the system will turn this car right around, and we’ll just go home.
This is the part nobody talks about. This waiting. The anticipation and the way it sets off the dysphoria. For the first time in my whole transition, I’m responsible for everything but in charge of nothing. There’s no step left for me to take in my personal life. There’s only this. My entire future is in the hands of insurance companies and doctors and therapists who, ultimately, have to watch their liabilities and bottom lines more than they care about making me whole.
These liminal spaces, the little moments in between, are the invisible and unrecorded moments of a transition. We know they’re there, right? But they don’t show up in our timeline photos on Reddit. Transitioning is quite like being a skipped stone, smoothed against the water with every strike. We fly from one point to the next, each contact wearing off just a little more of the person we pretended to be. We have many such points: legal name changes, starting hormones, the first time we take off our assigned identity and then never put it back on.
Like a skipping stone, I find myself in midair right now. I’m not in control of my path and I’m hurtling towards the surface again. When I make contact this time, will I sink or fly? And why don’t I have more say in what happens next?
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