I remember the first time I realized that the idea of a romantic relationship felt like a trap. It wasn’t until I was staring one in the face, right before I asked a girl out. I felt it, but I dismissed it. I remember when she said yes. I was laying on my bed and my blood went cold all throughout my body, but I couldn’t tell if it was from shock and excitement or dread. In the end, things didn’t pan out and it ended very badly, but I still look back on those two moments and think about how much my life has changed since then.
I am on the aromantic and asexual spectrums. I identify as lithromantic and lithosexual, which means that I experience romantic and sexual attraction, but have no desire for either of those types of relationships. I’ll focus on the romance aspect. For me, thinking of being committed to someone romantically feels like I’m trapped in a box. I feel like I have no freedom, can’t breathe, and a little sick. I can be in love with someone, but it feels like I’m being drawn towards them against my will, and thinking of performing romantic gestures for them makes me feel ill.
Growing up, I never knew any of this because when I liked someone, I only ever focused on how they made me feel. I never did thought experiments of what I would do once I was in one. I’ve always had a tendency to romanticize things, and I enjoy romance in fiction, so I’m obviously not romance repulsed, which is probably why it took me seventeen years to come to realize that I was on the aromantic spectrum. However, I’ve always found the idea that romance was more important than any other kind of relationship entirely ridiculous and hurtful. It greatly upset me when I was told that my brother’s wife was significantly more important than me, and moreover that that was how it should be for everyone. Friendship has always been of immense importance to me, and I’ve surrounded myself with people who won’t abandon me for a romantic relationship.
Being someone who experiences romantic attraction, but doesn’t like the idea of being in a romantic relationship, I have often felt like I belonged neither among people who are romantic nor among the aromantic community. Fortunately, the aromantic community has welcomed me with open arms, and I can almost always relate to jokes and conversations.
In many ways, however, it’s still a struggle. I want a girlfriend or boyfriend sometimes, but I just can’t. Liking people, but being afraid to express it so as not to appear to be leading them on, is a very difficult situation. Being someone who likes the idea of romance in general, but not one where you are involved, is something that is hard to come to terms with. It’s even harder to exist as such within a society that is run by sex and romance.
Sometimes, I don’t feel aro/ace enough. Sometimes I feel like none of my relationships are truly platonic because I get butterflies when they’re sweet to me or give me gifts. But I have been assured that’s not the case and that others have also experienced this, so I can now stop torturing myself by thinking about being in a relationship with them to test if I still feel sickened by the idea. I can just enjoy my relationships for what they are: beautiful, deeply emotional platonic bonds.
When you’re in a long-term platonic relationship, it tends to raise some eyebrows. Friendships generally don’t last nearly a decade, and they’re not committed, life-long partnerships. They aren’t celebrated like they once were. We are taught to prioritize romance over friendship, and a lot of people take their platonic relationships for granted. In a non-romantic committed relationship, people often try to guess how long it will actually last, or ask if you are dating, even accusing you of lying if you say no. People will try to tell you that no matter what, your friendship will eventually break apart, whether because of high school drama, losing touch after graduation, or the friendship taking a backseat to a romance. But the truth is, I’m happy with the relationships that I have now. I’m focused on maintaining healthy friendships and I don’t need a romance to complete me. I’m already complete, and the people I surround myself with make me happy.
For the record, Lauren, my best friend, and I are not in a romantic relationship. We’re totally platonic, and we are both very happy with that. This is not something that will inevitably turn into a romance, nor is it liable to end any time soon. And honestly, I can’t see that either of us entering into a romantic relationship would drive a wedge between us. Even if a shiny new relationship temporarily takes one of us away from the other (which could happen with new friendships, as well, anyway), we will always be by each other’s side. Because we find home in each other. Because we’re family. My complete loyalty will always belong to her.
We’re not dating, but we are in what is known as a queerplatonic, or, less controversially, quasiplatonic, relationship. It was a term coined by a couple of people who identify as aromantic, who don’t experience romantic attraction but may still desire a close, emotionally intimate relationship. The aromantic community was kind enough to share the term with those who aren’t aromantic, which is why we have decided to use the label for when people ask us if we’re dating. Platonic life partners, as we essentially are, share a bond that is different from friendship. It doesn’t hold more importance than my friendships, as I still love all of my friends with what one might consider an inordinate level of passion, which has led another of my friends to dub me as “passionate about friendships.” Neither of us values romantic relationships over either our relationship or our friendships. All relationships have the potential to hold as much meaning as the others. Unfortunately, society has convinced people that romantic relationships are the most important kind of relationships, and I’ve seen friendships disintegrate because of the application of this mentality. So this view of platonic relationships is not overly common.
When I first found out about the term queer-/quasiplatonic, something in my brain clicked, and after poking around on the internet for a bit for more information, I brought the topic up to Lauren, because holy shit, this was the definition of our relationship. Queerplatonic relationships generally describe a relationship that is platonic in nature, but in which the individuals involved have deep feelings for each other, and share an emotional intimacy and level of commitment that is generally viewed as beyond what is “normal” for a friendship. She agreed that it fit and that we had been this way basically since we first met. Our friendship began eight years ago, when we were in sixth grade, and developed, in my opinion, inordinately fast. We became close very quickly and were hardly seen without the other unless we had different classes.
To an outsider, it may appear that we are, indeed, in love. We have certainly openly performed romantically-coded actions, such as giving each other Valentine’s gifts, hugging and touching each other frequently, and I’m sure a lot of other things that people have used as “evidence” of our romance when I’ve explained that we are completely platonic. But just because we are platonic, doesn’t mean that we don’t care for each other deeply, that we wouldn’t lay down our lives for one another. Not being romantic doesn’t weaken our bond or lessen the value of our relationship. Our partnership means everything to me and is the safest, most secure relationship I could ever hope for. I have never felt so unconditionally loved in my life. Regardless of a lack of romance, it is a fulfilling and love-filled relationship, and I don’t think I could find a better relationship elsewhere, and I think that a relationship spanning nearly a decade is an incredible thing indeed.
I’m pretty open about the fact that I have Tourette’s Syndrome. In fact, I would go so far as to say I would be surprised if there was someone who knew me and wasn’t aware of it. However, one thing I’m not very open about is my own experiences with it. I believe awareness is important, I just haven’t been sure how to go about it. For now, let’s start with the basics, including its history and functions.
Tourette Syndrome, also known as TS, Tourette’s Syndrome, and Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome, is a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary repetitive muscle movements and vocalizations known as tics. Individuals with TS have at least two motor tics and at least one vocal tic in some combination over the course of more than a year, with symptoms appearing before age twenty-one. The onset of Tourette’s is generally triggered by a stressful or traumatic event, anything from a child moving or switching schools to the loss of a loved one. Tics commonly begin appearing between the ages of five to seven, with an increase in frequency and severity between ages 8 and twelve. In most cases, an improvement in tics is apparent in late adolescence, with about half of individuals experiencing a remission or decrease in symptoms as they get older. Tics range from mild to moderate to severe. They wax and wane over time, and regularly change in type, frequency, and severity. Sometimes these changes occur for no apparent reason, and sometimes in response to specific factors such as anxiety, stress, fatigue, excitement, and illness.
Types of Tics
There are two types of tics:
Motor tics involve involuntary movements of the body. Examples of simple motor tics are eye blinking and squinting, facial contortions, jaw movements, head bobbing or jerking, shrugging, neck stretching, and arm jerking. Complex motor tics involve the involuntary movements of multiple muscle groups or combinations of movements which are generally slower and more purposeful in appearance, such as jumping and twirling. Rare complex motor tics are:
Copropraxia: the making of obscene or offensive gestures. This is almost always at random and without context.*
Echopraxia or Echokinesis: The repeating/mimicking of others’ movements.
Coprographia: The writing of obscene words or phrases.
Vocal or phonic tics are involuntary sounds. Examples are throat clearing, hooting, barking sound, squeaking, shouting, sniffing, and coughing. Complex vocal tics are words/phrases that may be recognizable or not, but occur consistently out of context. Other complex vocal tics are:
Coprolalia: A vulgar or offensive outburst. It can be muttered or shouted, almost always* out of context and sometimes spoken mid-sentence, or uttered for no apparent reason from silence. It’s not always vulgar, but it is offensive, such as the use of racist, sexist, homophobic, or religious slurs. Despite incessant depiction in the media, this only affects about 10% of those with Tourette’s.
Echolalia: The repeating of other’s words, sounds, or phrases in an echoing or mocking fashion.
Palilalia: The repeating of one’s own words or phrases.
There’s also another obscure type of tic called a mental tic. It’s an internal tic with no outward appearance, but consists of an obsessive thought and an urge to resolve that thought, such as countering an unpleasant idea with a mental routine, like counting to ten repeatedly until the urge passes. They often involve mathematics and fascination with symmetry.
Tics are often experienced as an uncomfortable sensation, usually in a certain body part, such a buildup of pressure or tension, compelling the person to perform the tic in order to relieve it. It’s as uncontrollable as a cough or sneeze; it can be suppressed, but it must eventually be performed. However, the longer one attempts to suppress it, the more severe the end result will be. Some people experience a feeling of impending doom, which cannot be alleviated without performing the tic. Still others feel like they’re being controlled by an outside or internal force that they’re fighting against for the control of their own body. In the past, tics were often attributed to demonic possession.
Some tics can be self-harming, such as if one has to perform a tic in which the individual has to hit themselves in the side with their fist, or hit their head against something. Sometimes, though rarely, this can be debilitating and a major health hazard, even causing internal damage. Again, self-harming tics of this severity are extremely unusual.
Another type of tic is described by Rick Fowler in his book Tourette Syndrome: Beyond the Unwelcome Companion: “A person may sense an imaginary object and reach out to feel or move it, much like a mime touching an invisible wall. Although this type of phantom fixation may appear to observers to be triggered by a series of hallucinations, it is not. This action is driven by a vague yet convincing awareness that the phantom object, in some form, is there.”
Lesser reported are “tic attacks.” They are episodes of sudden bouts of tics and/or tic-like movements that can be full-body and/or look like seizure convulsions. They can last anywhere from five to fifteen minutes to even an hour or more.
Fortunately, tics can be momentarily assuaged by engaging in activities that requires one’s full involvement and concentration. Many people with Tourette’s pursue careers in fine arts, sports, even at least one person with tics became a fighter pilot, possibly for this reason.
*I say almost always because I suppose sometimes it could seem to be within context. However, this would be a mere coincidence.
As you can imagine, many tics are socially unacceptable, causing rejection by one’s peers, and just by society as a whole. This can be difficult for those who experience this rejection, especially children, to cope with the embarrassment and exclusion. These individuals may suffer from feelings of low self-esteem, anger, guilt, and frustration, as well as the feeling of constantly being watched and judged. This can cause emotional trauma. Children are often bullied by uneducated kids, punished by uneducated parents, and/or removed from school settings by uneducated teachers. The latter two are more common among undiagnosed individuals, whose caretakers are unable to access the resources, or who simply refuse to acknowledge something is happening. Even into adulthood, one’s peers can often be cruel to those who are different. It’s harder for those with more moderate or severe tics to get jobs and start careers, especially those in business settings, which is why we often turn to the arts. Some people’s tics are so debilitating that they have to rely on someone else for their income, or have to apply for government assistance, which they may or may not qualify for. Many are too embarrassed to venture into public often, and are in the same boat.
Regardless of who you are and how mild your tics, this disorder can be humiliating, lead to traumatic experiences, and inhibit one socially. Opportunities are limited and dreams crushed, obstacles are a part of daily life. Tics, especially repetitive tics, are exhausting, and some people don’t understand this. But we must remember that none of this is the fault of the person afflicted. The responsibility of this unacceptance rests on the shoulders of an exclusionary society. As time passes, more information is spread, we have more doctors being educated on this matter, more advocacy groups rise, more acceptance being spread. Things are getting better, even if we do have obstacles to overcome.
Fowler, Rick. Tourette Syndrome: Beyond the Unwelcome Companion. Silver Run Publications, 2012.
“What is Tourette Syndrome?” Tourette Syndrome Association of Australia Inc. Eye Visuals Pty Ltd., 2014. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.
“What is Tourette.” Tourette Association of America. Tourette Association of America, n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2017.
“Tourette Syndrome.” BrainFacts.org. Society for Neuroscience, 1 Apr. 2012. Web. 2 Jan. 2017.
Some of you may wonder why I chose writing above any other fine art to pursue. I have other skills, and I pick things up very quickly. I could have chosen to pursue art, music, or many other things. I have some art and singing talent, which I have made efforts to hone over the years. I still have a passion for singing, and art was fun while it lasted, but both have really dwindled down to hobbies. But writing has stuck with me after all these years. And some of you may be wondering why. It’s not really something I’d given much thought to until the other day when I was having a phone conversation with my friend Raven. She’s an artist and I’m a writer, and so naturally we talk about these things.
During this conversation, she told me she had received a schmancy student sketchbook in the mail that she was excited about, because it was better paper than her other sketchbooks. Which got me to thinking about the attitudes of the artists I’d grown up around, who were generally far more advanced and had more money than I ever possessed. I remember hearing about people talking about professional art supplies probably starting around middle school, and how expensive they were and complaining (bragging) about the buckets of money they’d spent on Prismacolor colored pencils. I spent a lot of time at school seeing all these kids who, by definition, were amateurs, but were way better than I was. I also grew up with an uncle who’s a brilliant artist, and has been for as long as I can remember. I never really saw any of these artists produce anything that was as bad as my art was, so it was really discouraging. Another thing I’ve picked up is that a lot of artists don’t really talk about how they started from the bottom and had to work tirelessly to get where they are now unless you ask them. I never heard about famous artists failing at their craft and pursuing it with determination until they were successful. So, I grew up around all of these art gods who seemingly effortlessly produced masterpieces and called them doodles. Clearly, I know that’s not the case now, but I was kind of dumb as a kid and assumed that some people just had natural talent to that degree. This was all very intimidating, and my Tourette’s slowed me way down. In art classes I was perpetually turning in assignments far later than my peers, even when I worked overtime. I felt like I was constantly being judged for this, and letting down my teachers. On top of all of this, you have the attitudes of the elitists that think one is superior if one has “proper” materials. While this was never said to me, this was the message I gathered from the attitudes of various people. Needless to say, art was just uncomfortable for me.
Music, on the other hand, was my second passion. It was the second most comfortable thing I ever experienced. It gave me a sense of comradery and belonging I have experienced in very few places and within very few circles. It gave me some of the greatest times of my life. It required hard work and dedication, but there was never a dull moment. I never felt like my Tourette’s was holding me or anyone else back. The work I put into choir required intense focus, which helped assuage my tics for long periods of time. Miss Bonfiglio, later known as Mrs. Schmitt, or Ms. Bonschmiglio, was my teacher for three years of choir, and is one of the best teachers, and one of the best people, I have ever had the honor of knowing. She always pushed us, and me personally, to give our all, to push our limits, but also made sure we didn’t strain ourselves. She trained us in a professional manner and where other teachers might have been condescending she always treated us as equals. I never once felt as though I may be less important or beneath her, and the lessons she taught have stuck with me, and will for the rest of my life.
I want to pursue choir, at least on a local level, because it is something that is very dear to me, and I am still passionate about. However, it doesn’t seem possible at the moment, since I have very limited transportation options. I hope to continue choir in the near future.
That brings us to writing. I grew up reading and being read to, and I have always loved books. Even when I couldn’t read, I would stare at the words and grow frustrated. In fact, learning to read was the highlight of my first-grade year. While most children dreaded Virginia Young Author time, groaned and wrung their hands in despair at their plot hole-riddled outlines, I thrived on it. I won an award in either first or second grade for my story, and again in fourth grade. Fourth grade was a surprise, since, for one reason or another, I’d only completed the rough draft and barely gotten around to my final copy. I was probably sick a lot. But my teacher, Mrs. Parrish, read it and loved it and decided to send it in anyway. I won on a rough draft. That was probably my biggest achievement of elementary school.
There was a time when I didn’t even really know that writing was a thing. As I’ve previously mentioned, I was kind of dumb as a kid. So, instead of realizing that people wrote them, I had always imagined that books simply sprung up in a meadow somewhere like glorious flowers and were harvested to be distributed. As I got older than, say, three, I obviously came to realize this wasn’t true. And while most people may have been crushed by this realization, like finding out Santa Clause is really just your parents, I was thrilled, because this meant that I, too, could write stories and be published one day. I don’t remember exactly when I started writing, but it was shortly after this realization.
Growing up, I heard about how J. K. Rowling had been homeless and wrote the entire first draft of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on coffee house napkins, and how both she and Hemmingway were turned down repeatedly. I never felt like I was being looked down on for writing in a plain old spiral-bound notebook or the back of a classroom worksheet, or that I became a “real” writer when I fulfilled my dream of owning an old typewriter, or wrote on a computer instead. In fact, I have always thought my writing is better when I use a pen and paper as opposed to staring at a mind-numbing computer screen. I never felt like I had to have anything other than a pencil and a piece of scrap paper to get my ideas down.
In short, I stayed with writing because it feels like home. I don’t need specific materials for it. My writing isn’t going to be any different on a receipt than it is on copy paper, or sound better written in gel pen than it does in pencil. The writing community has never made me felt like I’m not welcome, even when my writing was mediocre at best. I haven’t really encountered much elitism beyond those who think you’re not really a writer until you’re published somewhere, or if you participate in fanfiction, which is quite frankly, a load of garbage. If you’re writing with anything, you’re a writer. But this sort of thinking seems to be mild and largely disregarded, thankfully.
I’m planning on going to community college in the Fall and taking classes in the vein of liberal arts. If I feel the need to further my education, I will go on to a four-year college. However, I feel like that won’t be necessary if I can become a successful freelance writer.
As for my career, I decided to not become a journalist. In all honesty, journalism was a job I reluctantly chose because I’d been told repeatedly that I needed to choose a “real job.” It’s not something that I think I would particularly enjoy, but I felt pressured into it. When people would ask me what I wanted to pursue, I would tell them, and oftentimes I received a negative response, saying how journalists were sneaky, conniving, and untrustworthy, as well as pointing out how corrupt and unreliable such an institution was. They would ask me why I wanted to be part of something like that, an industry that, in their misinformed minds, was made up entirely of gossip and lies. I could almost hear the unspoken “why would you waste your life on that when you have so much more potential?” One friend even listed all of the reasons why they don’t like journalists. When I pointed out that this was offensive to me, as this was my chosen career choice, they said “No, it’s not. I’m not talking about you, just the industry as a whole.” This was very surprising to me, as this friend is usually completely supportive of my ambitions.
Eventually, this became too much. My real dream, aside from being a published author, is to be a freelance writer. As previously stated, I was harassed for this, also, but I’m more passionate about it. I’ve wanted to pursue this career since I about twelve years old. And I’d rather be given shit for something I truly want to do than for something that I’m not passionate about at all.
So, if any of you have experiences with the art, writing, or choir communities, I would love to hear about it. If you’re going to criticize my career decisions, however, please keep it to yourself.
Some of you probably know already that I’m genderfluid. Many of you do not. If you’re family, there is a strong possibility that you are not aware of this. I apologize in advance that I didn’t tell you directly, but really, it’s better this way. Here I can explain it more eloquently and concisely than I ever could in person. Maybe this is kind of risky, with the possibility of very conservative family members and friends finding out about this, but I am just so tired of keeping secrets to the point that it’s dragging down my mental health. So, if you’re a conservative family member or friend, I hope this won’t change anything between us. And if you feel like this is something that changes things significantly, please keep in mind that I haven’t changed at all. I’ve always been like this, it’s just that I didn’t know until recently.
Genderfluid is a gender identity that exists under the transgender umbrella and is defined by the gender wiki as “a gender identity which refers to a gender which varies over time. A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities. Their gender can also vary at random or vary in response to different circumstances.” For me, this means I am male most of the time. Sometimes I identify as neither genders (in which instances I identify as gender-neutral or neutrois), or as both male and female at the same time, which is about as complicated and difficult to explain as it sounds. Very rarely do I identify as female, and when I do, it’s usually obvious.
Let me explain to you the story behind all of this.
When I first came to the realization that I was genderfluid, I didn’t really question it while I was processing things. But after a while, a question arose in my mind. Where was this gender my whole life? This led to an internal struggle because, while I knew that what I was feeling now was real, I was also afraid to come out to anyone if it was temporary. After a while of this, I began to remember things that before hadn’t really seemed important at the time and so I hadn’t hung on to them.
I can now recall that I had no real concept of gender or gender roles as a child. Between the ages of three and four, I wore mostly dresses. My mother could barely get me out of them. But I was also pretty tomboyish. Over the course of my childhood, I would frequently run around the house shirtless, and I wrestled around with my brother and father. I would play with both traditionally boy and girl toys. I enjoyed playing football with my brother, but I also liked playing with dolls.
It wasn’t until I was about seven or eight years old that the line between femininity and masculinity became less blurred for me. It was about this time that I stopped wearing dresses all the time and began to prefer jeans and t-shirts. I was introduced to nail-painting, and while I didn’t really enjoy it, I loved spending time with my cousin, so she often painted my nails for me. And it was fun at the time. Nail polish began to feel uncomfortable to wear, though, and so did most cosmetics, but it was expected of girls to engage in such activities, so I went along with it. I eventually dropped off from this institutionalized manner of behavior, but it took a while before I stopped painting my nails when I was bored.
I remember one time when I was about seven or eight when I was talking to my mother and I said “I’m feeling more boyish today.” This is perhaps one of the strongest pieces of evidence, and one that I clung to the most when I was facing this dilemma.
I also remember dealing with gender dysphoria pretty early on. Gender dysphoria is discomfort or distress over one’s body not matching with one’s gender identity. For example, a male to female transgender person could feel dysphoria over their breasts and genitals. Genderfluid people can also experience dysphoria.
Before I continue, I want to explain that I’m really not hung up on gender roles. I believe it’s perfectly fine if a boy wants to wear a dress or paint his nails. I’m alright with girls wanting to do traditionally male things. But although I’m not a traditional person, I trend to experience gender in a rather traditional way, at least as a boy. As a girl, I’m actually still pretty tomboyish.
I don’t remember when I first began experiencing dysphoria, but at some point in my childhood, I started to hate having to wear dresses. I would rather wear slacks and a dress shirt, but I was stuck with dresses. Some days I would be in the mood to wear a dress, but that was rarely on church days or special occasions. They made me feel so uncomfortable, but I couldn’t have told you why. I didn’t figure out until years later.
As I grew older, it became even worse. Puberty struck and began a distressing period of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dwell on it, and I have good memories from being a teenager, but physically and mentally I struggled. While most girls were either excited about having breasts, or were only mildly annoyed at the inconvenience of having to put on an extra article of clothing in the morning, I dreaded them as soon as they began showing signs of appearing. I thought it was just because I couldn’t go shirtless anymore. The reality, though, was that I looked at my brother and saw everything I could never have. I felt like I was being left behind, losing something important to me that was irreversible, and it made me miserable.
When I was around twelve, my mother began talking to me about shaving my legs. I had been bullied before for not shaving, and while that nudged me in that direction, I really did not want to do it. I was fine with my legs, but it got to the point where I felt like I would be made to shave if I didn’t take matters into my own hands. So, I did it first. And I didn’t think it would be that bad, but I had greatly underestimated myself. Not having hair on my legs was extremely uncomfortable, and I practically cringed every time my hairless legs brushed each other. But after the first time I did it, I was told that it was pertinent that I continued. I couldn’t just let my leg hair grow back and mark it off as a life experience that I had tried once, disliked, and continued on with my life. I was stuck with this for life, and it probably caused some of my most extreme dysphoria. Again, I passed off this misery as being a tomboy, being raised in a family dominated by men, everything but what it really was, because I didn’t have any other explanation.
When I was about fourteen, I started feeling dysphoria regarding my long hair. I liked how it looked, in a detached sort of way, but I also just felt like it just wasn’t me anymore. I felt a need to make myself look on the outside how I felt on the inside. I just hadn’t realized what that meant at the time. So I started cutting my hair. It was kind of a shock, because it had been just past the middle of my back, and I cut it up to my shoulders, but I still liked it. But it eventually got to the point where it just wasn’t short enough for me, so I got it cut shorter. And then shorter. And then shorter. The most recent haircut I got was about a week ago, and it’s the shortest I’ve had it since I was nine. I don’t know how I feel about it yet, though.
By the time I was fourteen or fifteen, I definitely knew about transgender people, but I also knew I didn’t fit this category, because I didn’t always feel like a boy. I did know about genderfluidity at this time, but I really wasn’t educated about gender. This was all a passing thought, however; gender wasn’t something I was thinking about at this time.
By age seventeen, however, it became unavoidable. I was talking to one of my best friends, Raven, who identified at the time as female-to-male transgender. He was educated about gender, and the genderfluid identity had come up more than once. I spent more time on tumblr, and I followed several LGBT+ blogs. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I began to realize that I hated having breasts because I wanted to have a flat chest. Not only was having shaved legs uncomfortable, but I also hated how they looked because it made me look too feminine. The things I did like about my body were things that were traditionally masculine. My faint mustache. My eyebrows. My arm hair. I slowly realized that the things I hated wearing or doing were traditionally feminine. It was practically staring me in the face.
After I realized I was genderfluid, things just went downhill from there. I told most of my friends almost immediately and didn’t care at all that I was usually a guy. Raven actually told me he felt weird using female pronouns (she, her) to begin with, because a lot of how I moved and acted was typically male. Not very many of my friends were overly surprised, and they all let me know that it didn’t change how they felt about me. But other than that, I was afraid to come out to anyone else. My family is very conservative, except for the younger generations, and while I knew that the Episcopal church, the denomination in which I grew up and currently belong to, was accepting of LGBT folks, I didn’t know how accepting. I felt isolated. So, I kept up a very thin masquerade of femininity, while also fighting my mother on shaving my legs. It doesn’t sound convincing, but somehow, no one was suspicious. My depression worsened and my anxiety spiked from the combined stress of dysphoria and keeping secrets, as well as just general stress over school. I was constantly afraid my mother would find out before I was ready to tell her, which at the time was never. My junior and senior years of high school were already far from a walk in the park, and I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown before graduation.
Throughout all this, I was still struggling to accept myself. Then, during my junior year of high school, I was invited to go to a large-scale church event at an Episcopal-owned conference center in North Carolina called Kanuga. The event was called Winterlight and took place during the last week in December. Staff members are allowed to invite one participant free of charge, and one of them invited me. During this event, someone named Weston came out as trans to everyone there. I can’t remember the details, but I do remember that it helped me a lot just to know that my church family was extremely accepting and loving, and though I still haven’t come out to them, it still made me feel accepted. If I hadn’t been there, I don’t know how long it might have taken me to reach the point of self-acceptance I am now. I think about it often, and it gives me courage when I do.
I’m now out to my mom and brother, Lawrence. While Lawrence accepted it without a hitch, though confused about it, my mother still struggles. A very few people refer to me with male pronouns (he, him) and by the name Mara, which I prefer because it sounds more neutral that Margaret. It also holds value to me, as it was a nickname Lauren picked out for me when we were kids. My life has improved in some ways. I don’t have to shave my legs anymore. I’m going to a counselor, which helps some. I’m applying for jobs, and I’m going to college in the fall, both of which I’m sure will present further acceptance issues, but I’m not going to worry about that until it arises. I was out to a very small group of people. Now that I’m posting this, that group is expanding, and while I know I’m almost guaranteed to meet some resistance, I know that the majority won’t have a problem with it.
So. My name is Mara Canfield, and I prefer male pronouns. Thank you to everyone who has shown me and will show me support. I love you all dearly.
Most of you probably aren’t aware of how I met my best friend, Lauren. I mean, really aware. You all likely know the superficial details of how we met in gym class midway through sixth grade and became as glued to the hip as school would allow almost immediately. A lot of you were even there to witness it, but few people actually know how significant everything that went down was. Definitely a lot of people have called the nature of our relationship into question ever since our lame attempt at skipping gym class. But I feel like that’s largely due to the fact that most of you are not aware of the role she played in my continued existence. To fully explain everything, let me start at the very beginning.
For pretty much the entirety of my childhood, I was bullied relentlessly. I was never manhandled or beaten up or anything, but verbal bullying can be just as, if not more, detrimental to a victim. In short, I was dragged through the mud, and emerged on the other side with trust issues and no real idea how to have prolonged social interactions or even how to have one friend, let alone the many I have today—some of whom were once unkind to me, and whom I’m now glad to still be in contact with. Everything about my life currently was as foreign to ten-year-old me as the person I was then is to me now.
By the time sixth grade rolled around, I was emotionally and mentally exhausted. I had had a very small group of friends in fourth and fifth grade, and transitioning to middle school broke that group up entirely. I was completely alone, and I hit rock bottom. Twelve years old and just…over life. Very few joys were had for the first half of the year. I was so deep into the shadows of depression that I can recall very little of this period in my life, so a lot of what I do know of who I was has been explained to me by those who knew me at the time.
What I do remember of pre-Lauren middle school is mostly unpleasant. Due to a lack of education in mental health, I didn’t realize that what I was struggling with was a legitimate experience shared by billions of the world population. I thought I was completely alone, and lacked the ability to express these feelings. No one even knew what I was suffering, because I put up such a convincing front. Knowing what I know now, I can look back and say that I was severely depressed and suicidal. I had always had a fascination with death, especially cultural customs regarding all aspects of it. But this morbid interest was at an all-time high, at a personal, nearly interactive, level. I was living day to day, and didn’t see a real reason to continue living. I thought about dying often. I would write suicide notes in my head, and I thought about ways I could kill myself. I was somehow convinced this was entirely hypothetical, that I was too weak and cowardly to ever carry it out, that I was never in a position in which I was unsupervised for long enough to do the deed, and that any arrangements following a death would be inconvenient. So, while I felt like a waste of space and indeed longed to just be put out of my misery, I continued on.
I never thought of any of this in so many words, and my recollections of that dark time are a summation of my thoughts then and my ability to put it into writing now. I didn’t even really consciously realize how far gone I was until I was pulled back from that metaphorical ledge.
One of the few moments I remember vividly was the day that I actually met Lauren. I knew of her, in the sense that I had seen her around and quietly judged her for who she hung out with, but I didn’t even know her name, and she didn’t know me, either. We’d judged each other on a superficial basis. We were both convinced the other was stuck up, and neither of us realized how alone the other was until a common interest drew us together. I think we’re both indebted to Erin Hunter, because if Lauren hadn’t caught sight of the copy of a Warriors book I was carrying at the time, we may have never interacted at all. Then again, fate has a funny way of working things out.
I was tying my shoe in the locker room, getting ready for gym class, when someone approached me. I could feel them standing next to me, but I didn’t bother looking up, because I figured they were just waiting for the teacher. No one ever noticed me, and when they did, it was because I initiated the (usually very brief) interaction. So when Lauren did talk to me, I’m sure I looked at her like she was crazy.
“You read that series, too?”
Conversation followed this, and by the end of gym class, I had loosened up significantly. We may not have said it, but I think we were both less than pleased that we had to wait a whole other day to see each other again, since third period was the one day that alternated between two classes. So when we realized the next day that we band class together, we just about lost our damn minds.
Maybe I didn’t realize it then, but that first meeting marked the end of the excruciating period of loneliness, isolation, and suicidal ideation. I was in a sucking hole that I didn’t know how to escape, and couldn’t escape by myself. And then comes this girl who was a literal godsend to pull me out, dust me off, and show me how much life I still had in me. I was no longer viewing life as a chore to be completed, but as something to enjoy. And maybe for a little while, I was living just because of Lauren, but she somehow singlehandedly wrenched open the door that led me back to living for myself. For the first time in a long while, I reveled in life.
Seventh grade was probably the best year of my life. That was the year when I finally began standing up for myself, my confidence bolstered by Lauren, the year that I was finally happy for a while. I had Lauren and I felt like my life was under control. And whenever my life spins out of control now, I always have Lauren and some other very wonderful friends who love and support me unconditionally.
Throughout the years, Lauren has continued being a lifesaver, always supporting me and my endeavors. We’ve seen each other through a lot, and she’s been one of the few constants in my life since we were twelve. I can easily say that she’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Even without knowing at the time, she helped me up and showed me that this was not a prison sentence, that there was a reason to keep living. That reason was her, and then…it was everything.