By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
I am sitting on the bedroom floor, tarot cards spread out in front of me. I’m not sold on this approach to knowing, but I figure if anyone’s capable of reading my mind it ought to be me. And so, I take a deep breath and hope that I inherited some magic from my great-grandmother, the medium.
I don’t remember what the cards told me, only that the answer didn’t satisfy. I wanted Magic 8 Ball clarity — for the truth of who I am to be decidedly so, without a doubt, yes — but the mirror I held up to my still foggy mind couldn’t deliver.
I’ve never been good at making decisions. The 50-50 probability of choosing incorrectly haunts me every time. Approaching a yellow traffic light gives me a tiny panic attack. Do I embrace risk, hold my breath, and speed through? Or do I slam on the brakes at the last minute, potentially frustrating the forward motion of those behind me?
The tarot cards were not my only cop-out attempt to answer what is arguably life’s biggest question — Who am I? I took online surveys, analyzed the pros and cons of embracing one option over another, asked people who had struggled with similar questions how they knew.
Meanwhile, I wrote a column for Query a Queer attempting to answer that very question for someone else: “How does someone know if they are gay or trans?” the query began.
My response — which at times danced around the issue by focusing on the fluidity of identity and diversity of individual experiences — ended with words I sorely needed to hear:
Identity is like a relationship with yourself. Some folks are lucky enough to meet their true selves early in life. Others don’t make that connection until later, after going through some failed relationships with themselves.
I knew my relationship with myself wasn’t serving me. I felt like I hardly knew myself. I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror. But change is scary. So is letting go. What if the new me can’t live up to the me I’ve grown used to?
No matter how we come to understand our identities, what matters is that we strive to be honest and loving with ourselves and others. If we do that, everything else should fall into place.
Falling is what it feels like. I close my eyes and trust that honesty and self-love will unfurl like a parachute at just the right moment. But sometimes, it takes stepping out into the sky to know what you’re made of.
(To be fair, jumping out of a plane is easier than this. You don’t believe me, but it’s true. I’ve done it. Signed my initials next to the repeated reminders that I COULD DIE and jumped out of a perfectly good airplane.)
And sometimes, you have to say a thing out loud to know if it’s true. The harder it is to say, the more true it likely is.
Unfortunately, you can’t keep secrets from yourself, so once the thought has been thunk, your subconscious knows what’s what. That’s probably why, even as I struggled to speak the words, “I am trans,” I began daydreaming about how I’d wear my facial hair, what style of clothes would flatter my finally masculine form, how good it would feel to never be called “ma’am” again.
It wasn’t until that future began to take shape in my imagination that I could recognize my path. See, I never felt a connection to my body. We always had a “Freaky Friday” sort of relationship. I figured I was just borrowing this body, so I did my best to treat it kindly and keep it reasonably well-groomed. Not because it was mine, but because that’s what you do when you’re bodysitting.
But over time, I started to long for the body I imagined I would one day have — you know, once I stood in a room with it and we said the magic phrase that reversed the swap. After the person who’s supposed to live here came back from vacation.
We weren’t always happy housemates, my body and I, but we did our best to ignore each other and go about our business. But that’s not authenticity. That’s not wholeness.
As much as part of me would like to travel this path in the dappled light of a secluded forest, I can’t deny the mountaintop I’ve been gifted. And so I stand here, in full view. Opening up to the world as it so generously does to me.
I am not brave, but I am inspired by those who give of themselves up so readily, speaking their most tender truths despite a history of hurt in the hope that someone, somewhere, will see themselves and breathe a sigh of relief.
This is the power of storytelling, the force with which the truth knocks the wind out of us, pops our hearts out into our hands, and lets us gaze upon them.