I remember the first time I heard the word “lesbian”. I remember because it was in a conversation I had anticipated for days. I was 7 years old; just a few months shy of 8. My mom and I were almost home and she was driving slower than usual; another indication of the dreaded inevitable.
My mom’s friend and her daughter used to live with us. Let’s call the daughter Samantha. Now Samantha and I did what almost every Jamaican child has done at some point – we played “house”. House is a past-time in which one person was the mother, the other, the father, with the “children” being dolls or simply imagined. During these games I was always the father as it just felt right to me. Every “day” I would “go to work” while Samantha stayed at home and fulfilled her “wifely duties”. It was during one such session that we got caught.
We used to play in the garage and we’d shut the kitchen door that led to it so the adults couldn’t see what we were up to. One fateful evening however, wi dolly house woulda mash up. Samantha’s mom burst through that door and we couldn’t quite part our lips quickly enough. We were busted.
She all but dragged us before my mother where she proceeded to relate how she caught Samantha and I kissing for yet another time (the first time was entirely unbeknownst to us) and I stood there in silence while Samantha blamed all our activities on me; which was ironic because she was the one who assaulted my lips the first time.
Forgive me while I travel down memory lane here, but I remember that too.
Our mothers were in my mother’s bedroom and we were left up to our own devices in the living room. We were sitting beside each other on the couch; Bold and Beautiful was showing on the tv screen and I was busy button smashing on a borrowed Nintendo Game Boy (Damn I love that Italian plumber). I glanced up at the tv after succumbing to a rather nasty piranha plant and glimpsed a scene of Ridge kissing Brooke. The next thing I knew, Samantha’s lips were dead smack on mine. Frightened out of my mind I almost jumped out of the couch, but the initial shock was quickly replaced by feelings of wonder and pleasure. I couldn’t wait for us to do it again…and boy did we. We did it every chance we got. We kissed and groped and gyrated against each other and it was divine. But anyway…
“Kleos”, my mother said in the softest voice she could muster, “Do you know what a lesbian is?”
“It’s a girl that likes other girls.”
“You’re not a lesbian are you darling? “
I desperately wanted to tell her with every bit of my 7 year old being that I wasn’t; to tell her that I was doing what any other boy would do, but I was paralyzed by the magnitude of hurt I heard in her voice.
“Mommy doesn’t want you to be a lesbian. Tell me you’re going to stop okay?”
I was filled with consternation. I knew I would never be able to stop. After all, I had been loving women all my life – my kindergarten teacher, prep school principal, Taylor from the Bold and the Beautiful. I wanted to tell her that it was normal for me to like girls, that this was who I am so I opened my mouth and said
It was to be the first of many times that I would attempt to change who I was for someone else. I was successful for years too; until I started high school; until I met Danielle, Rochelle and years later, the first woman I fell in love with, Amanda. And so, I labelled myself a lesbian for years. It was by no means an apt description of whom I was, but it was the closest thing to whom I knew myself to be.
I remember the day I first read the word “transgender”. I was going through the existential crisis of my teens and was researching all things LGBT. I read the definition “an individual whose gender identity differs from the one associated with the sex they were assigned at birth” and a light bulb went off in my head. I felt like I had finally found something I could identify with, something that finally described my particular situation; what I was experiencing. I spent subsequent hours reading about gender dysphoria, FTM transitioning and researching medical services that would enable me to get the body I have always wanted; the body type I identified with; the body I believe I should have been born in.
In all my excitement however, I paused to consider whether any of this was actually achievable in Jamaica. When I realized that it wasn’t and wouldn’t be for a very long time, my heart sank. Much like the time I was watching my father shave, aching for the day on which I’d be able to shave my beard too and the realization dawned on me that it would not be possible. I was, and allow me to be dramatic here, devastated; and I buried my heart’s desire so deep within me that I was certain it would never again surface to see the light of day. But I was wrong.
Not because I had chosen to “discard” my identity as a transgender man and abandon my dream of manifesting my gender identity in a physical manner, meant that my daily struggle with my body ceased. I recall someone asking me “So how do you feel about your breasts?” and realizing that I’ve never thought of them as mine. They weren’t my breasts, they were collections of fat on my chest that I desperately wanted to get rid of; so much so that when I looked in the mirror at myself it was as if they did not even exist. Neither did my female naughty bits. Any part of me that identified me as female was treated with blatant indifference. It was as if a filter was cast upon them when I stood in front of the mirror to obfuscate them from view.
Then one day, my friend Angel and I were having a conversation and she asked me if I had ever considered myself to be transgender. I hesitated. And in that split second I was faced with a decision – do I continue to lie to myself and pretend that I’m okay with being female or do I grow some balls and stand in my truth? Well, given that you’re reading this blog, you’re already aware of my decision.
It takes a different kind of courage to stand in your truth; to embrace yourself wholly and stand resolute in your identity. It can be in fact quite scary, but lying to yourself, not fully embracing who you are and denying yourself the opportunity to live a full life is by far more horrendous.
I recollect how I would cry every time I spoke in depth with someone or spent one minute too long pondering my gender identity. I recall standing in my shower one such evening, when I was going through a particularly intense bout of depression. The water was flowing over the naked body I thoroughly wish I didn’t have and so were my tears. My feelings of despondence were overwhelming. Slowly I sank to the floor and assumed the fetal position; rocking; my arms around my knees as I clutched them close to my chest. I was tired of crying. Tired of feeling so hopeless, like liberation would never come. Here I am stuck in an unwanted body and there was nothing I could currently do about it. I posed a question to myself “Why do you keep crying?”. I rocked in silence while I thought.
Because I’m sorry.
“Why are you sorry?”
Because I wish things were different. I wish I didn’t have to go through this. I wish I could stop disappointing my mother and hurting her; the person I love the most in the world.
“You’re apologizing for who you are. Stop. You can’t be anyone other than who you are meant to be. This is the path you are meant to walk. It is yours.”
But why me? Why couldn’t I have just been born a male? Life would’ve been easier then.
“Because you can handle it. You’re strong enough to deal with this.”
I stopped rocking.
“You’re apologizing for who you are. Stop….You’re strong enough to deal with this.”
The words echoed through my head and struck a chord in my heart.
I got up off the floor repeating the words like they were my new mantra. I decided that regardless of my physical circumstances, I was going to love and appreciate myself for the amazing person I was. That decision propelled me onto a path of greater self-discovery. I determined that self-acceptance was mandatory despite my qualities, both good and bad; and you know what, I’m much better off for it. I’ve gotten to know myself so much better and I have become greatly more appreciative of the person I am.
We could spend our entire lives agonizing over the things we don’t like about ourselves; our qualities, our careers, our love lives, our bodies; but it is all just wasted time. Time we could have spent loving ourselves instead. Time we could have spent liberated from the shackles of low self-esteem and diminished self-worth. For you see, when you own your identity, no-one can use it such that they incite negative feelings within you; you transcend all of that. You are now free to live your life the way YOU choose, not the way they dictate. Free to make your own decisions, undaunted by their opinions and lack of approval. Free to be the awesomeness that YOU ARE.
Feel free to leave your comments/questions below. You may also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading 🙂