I wrote in my review of Kim Fu’s “For Today I Am a Boy” that one of the most emotionally resonant incidents in its protagonist’s life is when she, upon encountering her first transmasculine person, experiences a fit of inchoate, perverse jealousy: “Give me your girlhood, John, I thought nonsensically. You don’t want it? Give it to me. I want to be the woman you would have been.”
I claimed in that review that this feeling is common among transfeminine people. The truth is, I have no idea if indeed this sentiment appears in many of us. What I do know is, it has long gripped me.
When I encounter pre- and post-hormone photos of transmasculine people, I become emotionally distraught for hours. Jealousy, horror, and self-directed anger stew uncomfortably. I feel a variety of thoughts that bring me shame to even name. I have trouble imagining that someone could ever want what such people pursue, that the endpoint they seek is at all desirable compared to where they started. I put myself in their position, but the specifics do not invert and I instead imagine a version of me that could have known herself as female from the start, and been femme from the earliest, and cast this impossible fortune aside in favor of the same hirsute roughening I despised for so long about my own body. I look at their softness and feel much as I would feel to watch a painting burn, only it is infinitely more visceral, because in that moment, I am the painting.
Some part of me imagines a life in femme as a gift some people just have and others have to fight for, and cannot process someone having it without wanting it.
Call it a trigger, perhaps.
It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. I resent my brain for subjecting me to this in what should be celebratory moments with friends and acquaintances. And, with a little help from my increasingly dear friend, The Orbit’s own Luxander Pond, I think I see a way out.
My ordeal is surprisingly simple to characterize. As an avowedly femme-for-femme trans lesbian, I have rejected masculinity about as thoroughly as a person possibly can. As someone still fighting for recognition as basic as getting her family to utilize her preferred name and pronouns and eagerly anticipating her next medical and cosmetic improvements, the wounds of my own delayed ascent into femme are rawer than I imagined. I spent a long time privately remarking on the improbable luck of the cis women near me, to have the option of femme with so little challenge, and the corresponding tragedy of my own separateness from it. My most intense reaction so far was after learning that a friend’s pre-transition aesthetic closely resembled what I have taken up since finally finding myself; this rejection became painfully personal. Someone eagerly seeking what one finds traumatic is never an easy thought to process.
I have been unkind to myself.
It is not their girlhood I desire. Theirs was an illusion and a gilded cage, affording no more freedom then mine in corrugated steel. It is my girlhood that I missed out on, and the tragedy is that they and I can never trade. I will be long gone from this world before I can trade my tracheal cartilage, voice box, and brow bones with someone who resents the smooth softness of their own and receive their demure gift in turn. No time-spanning magic will replace the already-forgotten dullness of my fifteenth birthday with something like the lavish celebration my sister received, nor can I replace the awkwardness of my adolescent friendships with the cheerful honesty they might have had if those friends had known me as a girl all along. Chances are, no humans will ever live out dreams such as these.
My next dream is to outlast the trauma of claiming myself, so that it can no longer taint my celebration of all of my fellow transgender people’s self-actualization. My dream is to enjoy all of these girlhood experiences, femme formalwear and quinceañeras, pierced ears and stuffed toys, free affection and childish cuteness, even as they happen far later than they should have. My dream is to never again hear myself think, “But you were so beautiful,” in the same way that I would resent knowing someone’s reaction to me was, “But you were so handsome.”
Audrey shouted at John in her own mind, “Give me your girlhood,” but there was no girlhood to give. For Today I am a Boy never quite lets us know if she learned this lesson. I intend to do better.