Gender is 20/20

I’m going to begin this by giving you a fact that seems benign, which it is. But by journey’s end it’ll be the kind of benign that makes sense. See, at the time of writing, I have a sunburn on my legs, my shoulder and part of my arm. This is the benign part. Now, lest we get into a back and forth about best self-care practices when it comes to the sun and its relationship to skin, let it be known that I did apply sunscreen to myself, on at least one occasion, to try and prevent such an event. This is still best described as “dull and of little consequence” in the grand scheme of things. What is interesting is that I bothered to use sunscreen to protect myself with in the first place.

Let’s go backwards before we move ahead. When I was a kid, I felt ostracized. I was a loner by nature and lived in fear of it getting worse. I also had, in accordance with the stereotype of nerdy child, terrible eyesight. My concern always was that I would be further removed from cool society if I had to wear glasses, so I did what any normal child would do: I cheated. See, the way the eye exams used to work at school was once or twice a year, the optometrist would come in, all the kids in your class would wait in a line outside the door to the optometrist office and you would wait your turn to go in and be tested. I knew that if I failed the test, I would be found out and made an example of. I would have to suffer the slings and arrows that came along with wearing glasses. So, while I waited in that line of children standing patiently in alphabetical order, I would listen to each student read the cards with letters on them in descending degrees of font size and perfectly memorize each card. Surely there could only be a small number of differing cards, so I memorized the patterns in each one such that when I read the top of the card, in actuality the only letter I could see, I knew what else would be on the card. I cheated on my eye exam so that I could blend in with my peers, live the life that was expected of me. Cue recurring theme music.

I had the same approach to my masculine identity. I knew that if learned to adopt the behavioral traits around me, then I could blend in with the crowd. I could deny myself in favour of blending in. Maybe that way, people would stop making fun of me, talking about me. Giving me wedgies so bad I bled and had to go home, ashamed. I was bullied not for being different, but for not being the same. At least to me. Who knows what lurks in the heart of children so unsure of their own selves that they feel the need to lash out at those they perceive to be easy targets. My whole life has been centered around not being a target. Don’t make waves, don’t be different. Be as the crowd. So I looked around and created a narrative based on my perceptions of what was expected of me as a living male. There’s something to adopting character traits from a group you don’t yourself belong to that leads one to making assumptions without asking questions. Don’t make waves and all that. I saw taking care of myself as decidedly non masculine and resolved to be as masculine, and thus as lackadaisical with self care as possible.

My quest to unlock what I thought was just my dormant masculinity led me to working in skilled trades. Now, I will preface this by saying that working trades is not at all quote unquote masculine work. Gender does not relate to one’s ability to work with their hands, fix things, build things, etc. However, having worked in skilled trades for close to 20 years, I can tell you there is no more masculine an arena than it. My specific trade is glass, I am a journeyman Glazier, which is the fancy booklearnin’ way of saying glass worker. As you can imagine, working with glass leads one to hurt themselves a lot. In fact, I have nearly died three times at work doing that job. This is not hyperbole, I was inches from death. I have been to the hospital numerous times, and will have scars for life on specific parts of my body forever: the place I cut my knee open. The few places my hand was split wide. The invisible scar of the concussion I suffered falling 8 feet off a ladder and hitting my head on the ground 2” away from impaling myself on a piece of rebar. Fun life I used to live. But here is where I learned to be dirty. I didn’t wear gloves, those wouldn’t make me look tough. If I was going to memorize the male traits, I was going to be the best at it. It’s like copying facts out of a book written in a language you don’t know. Nowhere were men saying: “don’t protect your hands or your eyes, be a man”, but that was the underlying subtext I adopted. I dehydrated myself, my hands would be dry and split. My hands actually became so used to handling sheets of glass with my bare hands (holy shit, right?) that they no longer got cut on the sheer edges. I pushed so hard to be male, because this is what I thought everyone wanted for me, that I ignored all the warning signs along the way.

My bathroom at home was a sight to behold. One soap – bar. Shampoo and conditioner – head and shoulders combo pack, For men (you know, they put the male energy right in the bottle). Nothing that contained the words “moisturize” or “protects”. I told myself that it was manly, tough, to avoid protecting myself. Maybe deep down inside I was just hoping that by not protecting myself I would go away. My body was like a hotel room. Sure I was in it, but it wasn’t really mine. Eventually someone else would come in after me and clean things up. Sadly, I relied on relationships in my life to do this work for me. Far, far too many of my former partners have been the clean up crew for my life. Picking up the pieces, coming in when I’m asleep and trying to clean things. Leaving helpful hints. I’ll never forget the day a former partner of mine asked how I cleaned my face. I replied that I didn’t. I took showers, water runs down my face. Face cleaned. Simple. I also had a thick beard, which really adds to the look of “fallin’ apart, but lookin’ good doin’ it”. When you present as male, look as much like you don’t care as possible.

This held for a while, until I started to crack. When I started to wear fitted clothing. Underwear that fit properly. I owned a face cloth. I had shampoo and conditioner that came in separate bottles all together. I didn’t comb my hair for the first time until I was, no word of a lie, 30 years old, but then I committed to wanting a style. When I really got into fashion, and cultivating my look, deciding who I wanted to see in the mirror, is when my feelings of transness came back, and came back with an agenda. I used to wake up before my live-in partner every day, partly because I’m an early riser and I love my quiet time by myself, but more so to scour the internet for things to affirm my gender. Out of curiosity I told myself. I would look at pinterest boards, read reddit and ravenously read news reports about famous trans people. I started to wonder if I could learn photoshop to remove my beard in photos, just to see what it would look like. I would scratch away at this itch, forgetting all I knew about the best way to make an itch go away.

Eventually, we know how this ends. In the waning hours of November I told my partner that I was a woman, somewhere inside this mess of rough hands and untrimmed beard. Flash forward a few months to my bathroom exploding in a mess of products; cleansers, moisturizers, masks, creams. My reddit journeys are through skincare routines and ways to ensure my skin is healthy, that I look after myself. This body is at long last a treasure, and it matters to me that said treasure is polished. I want to look good, and feel good, to myself, at long last. I owe it to this body, the one I injured time and again. Let it crack in the sun and fall in the dirt. It deserves to be loved and cherished and held in high esteem. My body is a piece of art that had been sitting out in the open, unnoticed or cared for, until I had reached a point where it was “I should see if this thing is worth something, otherwise I’m just going to get rid of it”. Imagine my surprise to find immense value there.