Burden to None

By D. Locke 01/15/18

The only man I wanted to get was the one I felt intended to be – to finally feel as though my insides matched my outsides.

A transgender person holding up hand with trans sign
The author reflects on their struggle with drugs, assault, and identity.

I have had a complicated relationship with gender since I was a child. A tomboy to the core, I reveled in spending time with my Dad doing “guy stuff,” outplaying the boys in my school, and excelling in subjects thought to be male-preferred. I wasn’t aware that I was physically different from boys until a painful game of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” and immediately fell into a subsequent state of disbelief. I developed breasts early, getting my period still decades prior to when I’d like to (seriously, could we just rain check?), and began noticing that I was treated differently because of how I looked. I loved war movies and wanted to serve my country – my parents were both in the military, as were theirs – when I heard that women couldn’t be Navy SEALs because they were physically weaker, and faced gender-specific risks if compromised, I was devastated. I had been raised to believe that I could do anything, go anywhere and earn what I wanted - how could I suddenly be so fundamentally different from my friends? And why did that have to mean I had less power? And what if I didn’t want to be what I already was, never mind what I was visibly further becoming?

Where I grew up, exploration of those questions was a non-option. There was no discussion of gender variance, few outlets for those identified as non-binary, and little leeway for its discussion (I didn’t even learn what those words meant until I was in my 20s.) So I choked back my indignation, sensing in a way that to survive, to arrive at a place where I could eventually more fully express myself, I needed to appease the cultural norms particular to the socio-emotionally repressive interfamilial and regional environments in which I was raised. I met my parents’ expectations to the letter; I had a beard in high school (a beard being a person of the opposite sex whom I dated to appear heterosexual); I did everything I could to appear as heteronormative and gender conforming as possible. It was continually reflected to me that I was such a pretty girl that I could get whichever man I wanted. The only man I wanted to get, however, was the one I felt intended to be – to finally feel as though my insides matched my outsides.

The fear and denial, the duality and dishonesty, of living what felt like a pretend life lent well to further stoking my addict predisposition. When I was a kid I would check out of reality with books, getting lost in imaginary worlds, pretending that I could arrive in them if I willed it hard enough. I poured my displacement into school and sports, hoping that if I worked hard enough, or was “good” enough, I could maybe feel more comfortable as who I was, or better yet – that who I was would match who people wanted me to be.

When I got older I began using drugs, and quickly did so more frequently with increasingly stronger substances. It started to quiet the mental and emotional dissonance I attempted to subjugate on a daily basis. With the prevalent marginalization of trans people throughout most of the national landscape, I also felt justified in deepening my “us versus them” mindset, and consequently also entitled to continue using however I wanted, regardless of the impact it had on those around me. Though that impact wasn’t explicitly identified until a few years later, my emotional isolation and unavailability progressed in direct proportion to the timeline of my substance use, and affected all of my personal relationships.

In applying for colleges I advanced through the acceptance rounds for a prominent service academy – a school affiliated with one of the U.S. military’s five service branches – and received the presidential nomination of then-president George W. Bush. I met all required academic and physical performance criteria, intent to join the ranks of my family and honor their legacy of service to country and sacrifice of self. My gender identity did not affect my intent to serve beyond qualification for the manner and specific line of service in which I might be qualified to do so.

Shortly before the time came to accept admission to said academy, I was sexually assaulted and a sexual assault scandal at that institution came glaringly to light on the national stage. The idea that my candidacy could effectively and immediately be rendered inert by the violent intent of the gender with which I most identified shook me to my core. The accompanying details of that academy’s attempts to cover up that behavior left me further unhoused; I subsequently swung in a direction diametrically opposite, landing in New York. There I felt as though I could live more transparently, but lacked the positive social supports that might have helped me to then process some of the shame that I felt, and more fully live as I felt intended. So instead, I doubled-down on my relationship with illicit substances for a while longer, experiencing their brief relief as sole comfort until I bottomed out a few months later.

Once in sobriety I spent several years “passing,” or living as male in a manner perceived as and accepted by others as so being. I went by male pronouns, was known in my personal and professional lives as a man, and used the men’s restroom (gasp!). My girlfriends referred to me as their boyfriend, I operated as I felt fit, and yet my sense of civic duty did not diminish. Amazingly and to that effect, I pursued a period of civic service to the city in which I lived for minimal pay, so memorializing the sense of responsibility I felt and continue to feel toward the communities that surround me.

I am not a cisgender person – I am trans to my bones. However I present, however I feel, however I adapt to survive a rigorously discriminatory sociopolitical environment, I actively, vocally buck heteronormativity at every turn; simultaneously, I actively, vocally defend the rights and freedoms of this nation, at every turn. My commitment to the wellbeing of the citizens of this country and its ideals is not contingent upon my gender identification, nor is it consequent of its edicts. And isn’t that the definition of the First Amendment – of freedom of speech, of self-expression? Further isn’t the upholding and honoring of the Constitution the definition of democratic action within a democratic nation?

Not identifying within the confines of that more comfortably described by a political majority does not preclude me from care for or investment in this country. If anything it only serves to further engender my resolve to help create a comprehensive space in which the majority might exercise their rights – even and almost especially if those rights are to disapprove of me, to commence the shaking of heads, to attempt to challenge my legitimacy and substantiated taking-up-of-space within the world. I am allowed to take up space – my doing so is not a burden. I am not a burden, and neither are you.

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