At the end of April, you wrote me this:
“Please get a hair cut and take that nail polish off, I gave birth to a boy six pounds five ounces on November 27, 1987 and it was the most glorious day of our life. We love you and went thru a lot to educate you and try our very best, best, best to love you and cherish and supported you in all of your accomplishments. We are extremely proud of you but we cannot accept this thing that you are going thru now. Please dont let Yeyo see you with painted nails and long hair, hes 86 years old let him remember the way you were when you left to Canada.”
Six months later, it still hurts. It would still hurt even if you hadn’t brought it up every few weeks since then. It would still hurt even if you didn’t invoke the specter of saddening Yeyo most of those times. It would still hurt even if you hadn’t shouted at me about how I should just go ahead and start wearing dresses and makeup, if I was going to do absurd things like grow my hair or paint my nails. It would have hurt even if I thought you were keeping this knowledge away from Dad out of trying to protect me, instead of out of shame. And it still hurts.
It hurts because I’ve lived with how you talk about men and what men are supposed to be and what it means to be a man in this world, in this culture, in this family. It hurts because I was born knowing I would never, ever live up to that standard and the only happiness I have ever attained was from deciding that I wasn’t going to try any more.
It hurts because of everything you didn’t know, everything I was going through then without knowing what it was, everything I thought I knew about myself and then didn’t.
It hurts because I’ve heard how you talk about people who don’t fall into that line, people you’ve decided don’t deserve equality before the law, people you don’t think should ever be around children because their very existence is, to you, obscene. I’ve heard how you talk, and I’ve heard how the people you vote for talk, and it terrifies me.
It terrifies me because I don’t know what to expect after you get to the end of this letter. I’m scared of what happens when you see where this is leading. I’m scared of what happens when I add this to the list that started with “is never, ever going to be a medical doctor” and until now ended with “will marry a fat disabled white Canadian woman,” the list of all the things you wish weren’t true about me and will try to convince me aren’t happening. I’m scared of the denial and the insults and the recriminations and the shrieking that everything I do is to make things harder and more embarrassing for you, when I have done more than I ever should have been asked to do to make sure that everything strange and ill-fitting and unwanted about me would never again benight your telephone.
But this—this one, there is no hiding. There is no pretend, no clever lies, no story to make the relatives less embarrassed by the weirdness in their midst.
You howled that I should just go ahead and wear dresses and makeup if I’m going to have long hair and nail polish. It was supposed to change my mind. It hurt.
It hurt because I do wear dresses. I do wear jewelry. I don’t wear makeup much, because I’m putting off spending money on a shade of foundation that can cover a beard shadow without looking pale and mismatched. I have a large and growing collection of heels and skirts and leggings and cardigans and lots of other words I’ve paid vastly outsized attention to over the years without knowing why, accumulated thanks to a set of caring friends who understood what I’m about to tell you.
I am transgender. I am a woman. And it took me 27 years to figure it out.
Twenty-seven years of feeling miserable in my skin. Twenty-seven years of not recognizing my reflection because everything about it felt wrong, felt not me, felt like I was looking at someone else whom I would never, ever understand. Twenty-seven years of thinking I was just weird and strange and awkward and just bad at being a human because I could never fit into the masculine ideal I was provided. Twenty-seven years of people swatting away my awkward attempts at femininity until I kept it entirely secret, something I suppressed in terror and shame but could never put away forever. Twenty-seven years of being too soft, too small, too gentle, too slow, too weak, too all the things I actually wanted to be. Twenty-seven years of you complimenting my slim waist and me feeling joy and then discomfort and then shame, because I delight in that waist and that is not a thing that men do, because I knew that those curves were not something I was supposed to want. Twenty-seven years of not knowing why exercising my oblique muscles and cultivating masculine straightness in my waistline made me sad and angry, and doing pushups to add heft to my chest made me happy.
Twenty-seven years of not understanding why nothing ever felt right or mine or like it was supposed to feel. Twenty-seven years of trying to discover a version of masculinity that would let me have the things I wanted, and never finding one.
Twenty-two years of not saying anything to anyone about this.
And one year of exultant, ebullient knowledge.
I am transgender. I am a woman. I am attracted to other women. I wear dresses and skirts to school. I’m on medication to mitigate what a lifetime of testosterone poisoning has wrought on my body and give me the body I have forever craved without realizing it. When I get married, I will wear a dress and I will feel beautiful in ways I can only dream of today. An entire class of incoming biology students knows me only by the name everyone else now uses, the name I chose for myself: Alyssa.
The sense of honesty and liberation is magical. I have never felt more at ease, more natural, more myself than I have in the past year that I have recognized this, and the past month that I’ve been Alyssa everywhere but you.
That’s my name now: Alyssa Alexandra Celestino Gonzalez.
Alyssa, because I like the way it sounds. Alexandra, to remember the past and so I can keep publishing as Alyssa. Celestino, in continuing homage to the finest grandfather the world has ever produced. Gonzalez, to link me to history that goes back to before Spain was Spain or Cuba was Cuba, and to you.
You have three children: Christopher, Melissa, and Alyssa, who was born on November 27th, 1987 and weighed six pounds, five ounces, who had a best friend named Enrique in elementary school that she still talks to sometimes, who resents the University of Miami for not honoring more of her International Baccalaureate credits, and who didn’t realize how desperately she missed chickadees until the first time she saw one in eleven years.
That’s my reality now, and yours. One son, two daughters. One daughter who will be finishing her doctoral degree soon and needs to know that you’ll be there for her at her thesis defense to watch her claim what she has spent the past six years earning, who needs to know that you won’t stop beaming with pride at Alyssa’s accomplishments just because they’re Alyssa’s, who needs to know that you will support and defend the weight of her journey into herself against the familial and political hordes who will tell you that she’s an ungodly abomination who’s going through a phase and needs to be kept out of all public washrooms.
It would be easy to steel myself now, and build walls to make sure that your refusal to accept the person now before you does not hurt. Those walls are already half-built from how much of me you already expect me to pretend into nonexistence for your benefit. It is harder to stay open and vulnerable and waiting for the touch that might be a hug and might be a stab, and not know which it will be.
Alyssa Alexandra Celestino Gonzalez.
That’s my name now.
It’s time you knew.
It’s time the family met their daughter.