Trying to Remember
I know my body started changing through its own hormonal secretions, moving towards adulthood sometime in middle school. I know that changing time was weird and I didn’t like parts of it, like growing breasts, but most of that transformation is pretty hazy. So much of my past is hard to remember because while it was happening it was fucking terrible and my mind obscures memory to protect me from re-experiencing pain. Which leaves me feeling like my past is mystery with a few clues here and there to point the way to how I got to where I am. I can excavate some memories if I’m in the right head space, if I focus enough.
One of the other things that keeps me from remembering, aside from the fucked up shit people did to me, is a particular feeling and experience of reality. If I go back in time far enough in my mind, I can remember what my mom’s presence felt like when she was still alive. It seems like another world. When my mom died I felt like I entered a new reality which I still inhabit to this day. This present reality feels off, wrong in some fundamental way but remembering what it felt like to have a living mother is excruciating. As a result, I can hardly remember her, all the twenty years of my life when she was there as a living physical form. Because she was so intertwined with my existence, most of my life from that time is gone with her. So I end up missing my girlhood along with my mother.
I know she picked me up from school the first day I found blood on my underwear. I was in the eighth grade. I don’t remember why she was picking me up from school but she was probably late, like she usually was when she picked me up and she probably brought me a snack. I told her I got my period and she drove to a drugstore and bought me some pads. She told me that when she was a girl sometimes nobody told girl children about menstruation so when they started bleeding they thought they were dying. I remember sitting on the futon in my family’s living room, trying to ignore cramps and get used to wearing a pad while reading The Good Earth.
Also in the eighth grade, a girl hit me in the face because she thought I was looking at her while we were both naked, waiting in line to take a shower after gym. She hit me hard enough to knock my glasses off but not enough to leave a mark. It didn’t hurt much but it surprised me. She called me a lesbian, probably the first time anyone called me that. I forget the first time I recalled this incident as an adult but I realized then that I’d totally forgotten about it for years. Probably since it happened. Up until my mid-twenties or so, when the memory resurfaced, if you’d have asked me if I’d ever been physically attacked for being gay I would’ve said no and not known I was lying.
We were both sent to the office. I denied both that I looked at her and that I was a lesbian. The woman at the office, I don’t remember her official position, told me it was perfectly normal to be curious about other girl’s bodies at my age, while we were all developing and changing shape. I kept saying over and over that I hadn’t been looking, which as far as I can recall is true.
I had started looking at other girls though. During class, I’d often look around the room at the other girls and admire this one or that one’s face. I liked at least one girl’s looks so much that I wanted to hug her. I didn’t understand why I wanted to hug her and the desire confused me. I really didn’t think I was a lesbian. It never occurred to me that what I felt when I looked a particular girl could be anything connected to love or sex or attraction. I’d only just become aware that women could even desire other women and it would be a while longer before I connected that possibility to myself.
That same year or the year before, I’m not sure when, I went with my family to visit my sister at her college in New York City, where she was studying drama. During the visit, we saw a couple of student-written and directed plays. One was a comedy, I can’t recall much of the plot but there was a female psychic who for some reason conspired to get this woman to sleep with another woman while convincing the first woman that the second woman was her mother who’s she’s been estranged from since birth and then to shoot this man who’s supposed to be but was not in fact her father. They were playing fake gender-inverted Oedipus and I don’t remember why and I probably didn’t get what was going on or most of the jokes but this is how I learned a woman could sleep with another woman. It had never occurred to me before.
Eventually, when I was fifteen, I would look at a girl and think she was pretty and start to wonder if maybe I was attracted to her. She was in my gym class, was a senior and a dancer. For some reason she was nice to me and we hung out during gym. I eventually I decided yes, I did think she was hot.
Not long after that I cut my hair short for the first time and got mistaken for a boy. And started dating a girl who told me not long after that she was really a boy. I learned how it was possible to change my body with testosterone and surgery as my body was still in the middle of shape-shifting towards maturity.
I didn’t have to have breasts! That was exciting to think about since I’d never wanted them. I somehow didn’t think they’d happen to me until they did and then I tried wearing more layers to cover them up. I hated wearing bras because they felt so uncomfortable. After learning about top surgery I remember looking at boys’ flat chests in envy and thinking one day my chest could look like their’s.
It occurs to me now that I started to learn about lesbian life and culture around the same time as I learned about the possibility of transitioning. As soon as I started reading and researching, I learned about people who started out as lesbians and transitioned to male. The existence of transitioning and FtMs shaped my understanding of what a lesbian was or could be and my own sense of self as a dyke. I called myself a boydyke because I passed and saw myself as some kind of boy as well as a lesbian.
I remember telling my mother that I was a boy and she told me that when she was younger she wanted to be a boy too. So had her mother when she was young. I didn’t think what she was telling me had anything to do with me. Now I do. Now I wonder what else she could tell me.
What I’ve written about here are fragments of something I feel like I can hardly see or reach. They hardly seem like much at all because I sense there’s a lot more I can’t get to cause it fucking hurts too much and it’s exhausting. Dragging this shit up is hard work and my mind fights against it. I don’t like feeling my mom’s ongoing absence, realizing how much I’m still wounded by her death. I’m not even sure what exactly I’m looking for or what all I’m afraid of. It’s fucking weird when your past is a mystery but I don’t think I’m just looking for more memories. I want continuity. I want to feel a life force spiraling out freely and evolving from my origins into the future, not cut up in pieces. I want to feel like I’m all here.