A poem I wrote this morning:
Carried Aloft Shadow cast across my face. Ancestor that never was, Silent friend and forgotten enemy, I put down my knife poised at your image. Dearly Beloved, that strived bravely in the dark, How do I call you now? How do I hold you? How do I know you when you never were? I remember the way you looked at me When we thought that I was a man. When you rushed to help build the supports Under the filigree towers of my imaginations. Without grounding now, he floats. May you be carried aloft, dear one, To dance with the stars.
My oldest friend from childhood is currently visiting, and the other day he asked about how to refer to my past self. Is it wrong to refer to that person as my dead name, Dylan (he/him)? My mom asked something similar last week, although less directly. To both I told that when a person comes out as trans, it's a discovery and a personal recognition of something that has always been true. One doesn’t become trans. One is and has been trans. However, one does come to the discovery and understanding at some time after birth. This begs an interesting question, exactly what was that person before they figured it out?
A short and reductionist answer might be that they were repressed. This is certainly accurate, but I think it misses the complexity of trans identity pre-transition (or more accurate pre-realization, since transition of any kind is in no way a prerequisite or even indicator of transness).
I told my mother and my friend that although it feels inaccurate to me to refer to my past self as he - since I’ve always been trans - it also feels inaccurate to refer to that person as she, because that person did not identify in that way at the time. Therefor I felt both were understandable
During my morning writing today, I had some additional and contradictory thoughts to my original statements that I’ll try to reconcile here. Consider the following thought experiment.
A person grows up adopted. Later in life, they go looking for their biological mother. Having found her, they learn about her life. In conversations later, they relate stories of their mother’s life to a friend. In stories told of their mother's life before the end of their estrangement, they are still referred to as their (perhaps biological) mother.
The comparison I’m drawn to make is that the realization of trans identity is similar to the end of estrangement with our theoretical mother - the end of our estrangement from ourselves. The person that was before, regardless of their unknown identity, is no less the person with that identity. I was no less a little girl in my youth because I, and everyone around me, thought that I was a little boy.
This exposes the inherent violence of the repressed trans experience, one I think we might wish to hide and diminish in a view of the past self as having the identity assigned at birth.
And yet there is, and was, something. How do we reconcile our personal image of this self that never was? Who are they to us? Who were they to others? Do they still exist? In our attempts to forget, deny, or reject them, to whom do we do a (dis)service? Is this person dead? How do we mourn their passing both personally, and with the community that knew them, especially when that community may only be beginning to come to know the person we are becoming?
I have often thought of the process of transition as a stripping away, rather than a process of change or of building. While it may be appropriate to use the metaphor of rebirth, I don’t feel that my identity now is anything particularly new. I have always been this person, I have always had these interests, there was just a layer obscuring them from myself. In the process of my own unmasking, the work was to identify and then uproot, piece by piece, the myriad stray threads that did not connect to my new understanding of center.
Once, I felt a deep shame and revulsion thinking of my past self. Yet the revulsion has always been from a place of alarm and awe at the desperate confusion and frantic searching without end or respite. For the years of work that never yielded anything that felt real. Pour soul. I mourn him now, my little brother.
Rest, my darling. You will always be a part of me. You were never a part of me. I see you. You are invisible. You will never be. And yet you were. I love you. May you be carried aloft to dance with the stars.