Happy birthday to me.
It wasn’t until I was on the train home after screaming out “kill the bill!” and “transphobia’s got to go!” and “stand up fight back!” up and down the central street of the city, surrounded by my siblings and allies, looked upon by inconvenienced commuters with mixtures of confusion, irritation, pity and mockery, that I finally cried.
I received a message from someone I didn’t expect to hear from checking in on me after the events of the past week or so where transgender, gender diverse and queer children – and by extension their adult counterparts – are once again being threatened, sexually harassed and politically handballed. My defenses were down, I was listening to Darren Hayes, and I had run out of “well besides this nightmare I’m actually doing OK” platitudes I had been distributing to other caring friends and strangers all day. What this person’s message was able to crystallize for me in being able to cut through straight to the heart and heal it, was that I didn’t feel I deserved to be cared for or checked in on. I felt like I should have been able to DIY my emotional state in the face of yet more public disdain for and denial of my life’s worth. I have been using my privileges as walls to keep love and compassion out – I’m fine I have a job I’m fine I have a place to live I’m alright I have good people around me I’m OK I’m healthy I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine. It can be true that I’m fine, stable, safe, and at the same time it can also be true that I still need love, I still need care, I still need companionship.
This message was the best early birthday gift I could receive.
I turn thirty-two today. I’m thinking about letting my gift of love from beyond me integrating to love within me travel back in time. On the train weeping I thought about five-year-old me, first encountering the school environment, whispering to her best friend that although she was born a boy she was actually a girl, but it was a big secret that she couldn’t tell anyone. How awful for a child to know as young as five that their identity is a secret, and have so much peace with her unacceptability to society that she develops the skill to keep the secret so deeply hidden that she manages to keep it even from herself. Imagine if she’d been free of that skill, that burden? Imagine if she’d known peace, known celebration, known friends and parents who could foster her evolving understanding of herself, wherever that led? Imagine if she knew why she needed so desperately to bind her genitals up before school, why she felt kinship with other girls and had the resources and support to respond to bullying and isolation. Imagine if she could make informed decisions and explorations about her expressions, mannerisms, states of dress, hair styling in a similar way as her peers could experiment. Imagine if she had an education experience that spoke to her humanity, that did not include assault or mass public humiliation, that encouraged her passions and talents rather than blaming her for the alienating consequences of pursuing them. Imagine if she could have a formative experience of an uncomplicated crush, if she could thrill in a butterflies foolish starry-eyed romance with any person she shared far-too-fast feelings with fuelled by a hormonal adolescent cesspool. Imagine if her first sexual encounter was consensual, communicative, emotionally intelligent, gentle and curious where pleasure was heightened by safety. Imagine if she could leave that fundamental environment prepared for the world beyond, confident in her pursuit of any industry she was passionate about, willing to expand her mind and social circle trusting in her faculties to handle new environments and social challenges, with access to her own community, her own understanding of how to manage money and her own sense of self-determination to guide her next steps as guided by her past thirteen years of growth and truth. Imagine, imagine, imagine.
Anyone who knows me knows I don’t do regrets, and I don’t play the “what if?” game – I’m too invested in the “what next?” league. I wouldn’t trade my challenging adolescence for anything, because I’m too appreciative of how I’ve responded and what I’ve chosen to do in the wake of it. At the same time, I recognise I’m a very lucky woman to have made it to thirty-two, for very few young people in my situation do live as long as I have. My own cis straight brother didn’t even make it past his second decade – we know between anguish and recklessness, we are all beyond blessed to age. Knowing how critical a part a few slight differences in my school experience could have done to my mental health and my lifespan, I acknowledge how violently I restricted, punished and silenced myself in order to survive as long as I have. Not everyone could be as cruel to themselves as I have been, and therefore have not made it as far.
My birthday is always accompanied by a note of sorrow, that I won’t be celebrating with my brother. On the day of his farewell I remarked how brave it is to age. I was ignorant. I’m going through my second puberty now; life has transformed into a terrifyingly vast high school, now without the benefits of a cloistered environment, a constant routine, daily surrounds of community, near-zero financial considerations, and co-habiting familial support. In the process of this puberty, as in the first, my hormones have fluctuated and I’ve experienced a bewildering alteration of my mental and emotional state – a difficult thing for an intellectual Aquarian to adjust to. As it transpired, one of my HRT medications I need to feel whole in myself, euphoric in my body and recognisably interfaced with society was also delivering a semi-common side effect of depression. Fantastic. For the past three or so months of my thirty-first year I couldn’t sleep or rise from waking, I couldn’t focus or keep down food, I couldn’t perform professionally at my job or perform stability for my loved ones, I couldn’t stave off suicidal ideation and I couldn’t resist turning to substances for support while I waited for my hormones to rebalance and my new medications to absorb into my system. I couldn’t stop myself from crying once I started, and I couldn’t stop taking the medications because I was too fragile for my body to turn back now. Every person living with depression and anxiety is more courageous than anyone living without them could ever fathom. It takes more strength, valor and doggedness than any mentally well person could muster. I barely made it three months and I have infinite respect for anyone who lives with it for longer, for years, or ongoing. Aging is nowhere near as brave as what mentally unwell, neurodiverse and disabled people do to simply get from one day to the next, and I can only be compassionate, apologetic and salute those who choose not to continue.
In my thirty-second year I am committed to becoming and becoming and becoming the woman that five-year-old dreamed about, and that eleven-year-old obsessed over, and that sixteen-year-old envied, and that twenty-seven-year-old was terrified by. Thirty-one saw me changed, saw me loved, saw me fucked, saw me seen, saw me respected, saw me heard, saw me paid, saw me saved. Now I feel a renewed connection to creative energy, community responsibility, erotic charisma, and long-view vision for a future I crave, cannot wait to move toward whilst simultaneously adoring being present in the slow fullness of each day. I am still sad about so much, I still struggle and suffer, and I yearn as much for that connection to myself and my reality to keep me striving for contentment, authenticity and enjoyment of joy. I feel a renewed trust in myself to accept what and who comes.
As I cast my memory back and shake my head in embarrassment at what previous birthdays and years evidence about my growth, I bow my head further to those I am most grateful my transition has introduced me to: trans people, queer people, poly and relationship anarchist people, First Nations people, people of colour, disabled people, neurodiverse people, people of oppressed faiths, older people maligned by society, people from rural backgrounds, people who have travelled widely and migrants, educated people with more knowledge than I about the fucked-upedness of this bin humans have built for themselves to live in when we had a perfect planet already. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know, and I was a selfish fool in my twenties – because that’s how capitalism configures it to be – considering myself sufficiently enlightened, suitably woke, not recognising how sedated I had been, nor how intensely much more room for improvement I had ahead of me. I still do. I always will. I have come to understand and resign myself to a terminal need for balancing sacrifice with satisfaction, making sure I am not compromising my basic needs nor pursuing comforts at a cost to equality. I will get it wrong, but at times I will also get it right. Early in my transition I was aware that my job, living conditions, relationships, race, able-bodiedness – as well as the acceptance for my gender journey I’d received from all of those privilege origins – endowed me with a duty to support and equip those who had fewer or none of those. My core belief now is that if you have the energy, you have the responsibility, if you have the resources, you have the liability, if you have any benefit then you have the duty to do whatever you can to endow those without. I’m not saying it’s easy – it’s fucking not – it’s heartbreaking, it’s self-effacing, it’s annoying, it’s bamboozling (achieving equality been designed that way by people in power for a reason). For all that it is hard and humbling, it remains vital. No matter how you try to come at it, having a social conscience is an unmovable mountain that you can only climb. Little by little, step by step, day by day, year by year.
Start or start again now. Happy birthday.