I have a lot of sorting to do.
I have an underwear drawer to sort. I have a closet to sort. I have a bathroom to sort. I have habits and patterns and assumptions and expectations to sort. I have friends and relatives to sort.
I have twenty-seven years of memories to sort.
A few days ago, I took the most public step so far in my social transition and I changed the gender line on my Facebook profile from “male” to “female.” From now on, Facebook will not misgender me: people will be prompted to post on her wall, look at what she has posted, tag her in photos. I made a life event post out of it, and the collected well-wishing of 150 people of varying levels of closeness to me was a welcome reminder that, where I go, I do not need to go alone.
I needed that. The self-actualization on which I embarked a few months ago is the single most terrifying thing I have ever done. A dozen awkward courtships, becoming an atheist, admitting my disinterest in medical school, moving 1600 kilometers away from my family, enduring being grilled by professors until they were impressed enough to turn my nascent MSc into a Ph.D. in waiting, learning the hard way that one of Mom’s six siblings is too toxic a person to have in my life any more than absolutely necessary, recognizing my autism without a formal diagnosis—none of that compares to the thrumming, thrilling existential terror before me now.
I have to pace my disclosures. I have to figure out whether and when and how to assume my authentic self in context after context. All of my in-person friends know now, even the ones I was too scared to tell in person. As many of my social outings as I can manage happen in my female presentation. But I am not ready to face the world this way. The world is not safe for people like me. I do not know that I have yet reached the point where I can withstand what the world does and says to women whose voices are a deeper and more monotone, whose chins and lips are a little stubblier, whose wardrobes are vastly more limited than the world demands of all women but most insistently of those it thinks are just “playing” at femininity. My heart is on my braceleted sleeve, and every sidelong glance and snigger and double-take shoves me into that dark place where I almost believe them. I have to figure out whether to socially transition at work/school now that my supervisor suspects something’s going on, or to keep living this familiar charade until the end of my degree, while knowing that transitioning at work means that my parents will also learn no later than my thesis defense. I have to figure out how to tell three generations of Catholic and evangelical Hispanics who stopped thinking about non-cishet people at Ricky Martin and Walter Mercado that there is a trans lesbian in their midst, wondering just how much darker this news will make their view of the resident standoffish sensitive autistic liberal socialist unpatriotic atheist scientist with muddled Spanish who prefers Ottawa to Miami.
I have to sort out whether dropping the masculine façade during my future out-of-town conferences is a danger to my professional prospects, a necessary intermediate step, a balm for my dysphoric mind, or all of these. I have to sort out whether that means I should disclose my transness to Ania’s family, now that their opinion of me is bolstered by how well I take care of her during her illnesses.
I have to build my wardrobe. I have to buy and accept and receive clothing to build on the small set of cherished blouses and skirts that started me on this journey, items that should have told me long ago that my future was not in suits and ties. I have to turn a natural, poorly cultivated sense of how women’s clothing best works into something resembling a personal style I can be happy with long term in far less time and with far less room for experimentation and error than any girl should ever have to, and I have to do it with hand-me-downs and errant foundlings. I have to figure out which old items I can send on their way to make room for new. I have to figure out how much men’s underwear I need to save so that my laundry pile during my next Miami visit doesn’t out me. I have to decide on a role in my new reality for the 31 printed t-shirts I cycle through in my boy-mode day-to-day, when the women’s clothing I currently wear looks nothing like them. I have to build the same mental database of possibilities I currently have for my incipient new closet, so that I don’t have to relearn my whole inventory every time I try to make things match. I have to get some more pieces that are functional at -20°C. I have to learn how makeup works well enough to intuit my way through unfamiliar colors and brushes…so I have the option to not look like a ten-year-old girl who hasn’t figured out subtlety or blending.
I have an Internet-generation’s heap of photos to contemplate. I have 27 years of pictures of me in suits and goatees and dozens of other tells that I didn’t always look how I’m going to look in two or three years. I have hundreds of images of fond and not-so-fond memories that took place before I recognized my chronic, confused discontent as gender dysphoria. Those pictures now bring up a welter of mismatched emotions as I figure out which ones to purge and which ones to leave in place to remind me of how far I’ve come and how much I enjoyed, or didn’t, the path here. The ones on my parents’ walls will bring up a far more tragic set of feelings once my parent latch onto them with funerary zeal.
I have to settle on a name. I have to decide how close to keep the decades of legal documents and writing credits and school assignments under my soon-to-be dead name. I have to sort out my feelings about Alyssa and the dozens of variations of Alyssa-with-more-letters and other names that start with A. I have to remind myself that I need something that starts with A so that my curriculum vitae can still easily reflect my past achievements. I have to sort out how immigration services feel about someone who will be changing their name and similar legal markers after getting lots of paperwork settled. I have to decide whether I like the sound of Alyssa Alyssaandria Celestino Gonzalez as much as I think I do.
I have to sort out how to think and talk about my past. I have to decide what to do with the times that I called myself “male,” “a man,” and similar errors, whether to go back and change them or leave them as a record of my then-current thoughts.
I have to sort such a huge fraction of who I was and who I am that it’s easy to forget just how much—the fish, the books, the writing style, the trivia, the board games, the Latin food—stays exactly the same no matter what.
I have a lot of sorting to do.
But I’m very good at sorting.