The trouble had never been because I was ‘different’. It was because I felt the ‘same’.
Same as the girls giggling over Barbie dolls and flying ponies. Same as the girls bright-eyed about their first period and their first bikinis. Same as the girls hovering over manicured nails and cinched waists.
But then the world mistook me for a boy. They wanted me to spend hours hunched over Lego bricks or out playing soccer. They wanted me to be tough and hold my tears when all I really wanted to do was cry. They wanted me to kiss girls and wear hoodies.
And seeing me stroll into the girls’ bathroom, or writhe each time my hair was cut-it would simply drive them wild.
When I was 5 years old, I remember waking up every morning hoping that when I looked into the mirror, my hair would have grown long like my sister’s and my penis would have disappeared. And then I would tell Mom and Dad that they’d made a mistake after all and I was indeed a girl. Then Mary and I would both be girls, so I would be allowed to play dress up with her and be a part of her playdates.
Then my mom would have gotten me makeup and not a PlayStation for my 13th birthday and I would have been Daddy’s little princess. At 16, high school would not have been all that hellish-oh, can teenage kids be cruel.
I would have been just ‘normal’. But Fate was quite bored.
If the other boys in the neighborhood were meadow grass, I was a rouge poppy. My colors were just brighter and that made me stand out wherever I went.
And sometimes, they were just too bright for ‘normal’ eyes. And so they had to squint at me through their dense spectacles, which narrowed their vision.
When I hit adolescence, the world suddenly stopped rotating, and only my head did, around and around. The night lingered for longer than it should’ve, darkness splotching my insides. The clock no longer ticked, so I stayed in bed to avoid the dark. A Standstill.
A war was waged between my body and my heart, the two were old enemies. Cuts and bruises on my wrists, thighs, stomach, wounds, on my heart and on my soul-they badly hurt.
When I was 17 and a sophomore, I came out to my parents. Mom tousled my hair and Dad told me to find a job. He said it was a ‘phase’ that would pass and I shouldn’t bother myself.
When I was 20 and balancing a part time job as a waiter with university, I came out to my favorite professor. He said that these things often happened to aloof young men and I had to get married to distract myself.
When I was 25 and in an awkward relationship (one my parents were glad of), I came out to Ellen. She walked out of the little cottage we owned in Chesapeake, leaving the front door open. I fell asleep on the couch.
Ellen returned next morning and wept into my chest. And then I wept too. And then we drank herbal tea and watched ‘It’s a wonderful life’ for the sixth time.
“Ethan,” Ellen suddenly muttered, more to herself than to me. “I think I love you enough to let you go.”
When Ellen said that, something in me exploded. Darkness had returned for a swim in my veins. I excused myself and rushed to the bathroom, to puke everything out: everything I knew, everything I had to know. In a yellow lumpy slush lay all my fears.
Wrong. My life was wrong. I was Fate’s cruel laugh, I was God’s clumsiness. I looked into the mirror. The more I stared at the ominous stranger with green eyes, the more I felt like I was suffocating in my body. I was trapped and there was not a thing I could do to escape. I looked back at the person in the mirror and began to trace her body line. It was too flat, too masculine.
It was too ‘wrong’.
I was drowning in this unknown body and wanted to rip up everything that screamed ‘Male’ and step all over it. Maybe that way, it would feel right.
Maybe that way, I would be ‘right’.
And then I never looked back.
My life became a series for doctor’s appointments and surgeries. As I could not outrun my body, I decided to take a walk with it. Being born with the correct parts would have made things easier, but I did not want to be told that my body was wrong.
My parents were appalled at first but got used to the idea. Ellen accompanied me to the hospital every time I went. She also got married to a dashing young James Middleton.
In a period of three years, I successfully outpaced the stranger that had mercilessly latched onto me. I had transitioned, my body and my heart had made up.
Although I was yet to acquire a certain ailment called ‘normalcy’ (towards which humans had developed an affinity), being ‘right’ felt well.
Oh, and now I am a Bernadette. It means as ‘strong and brave as a bear’.
After going through all of this – changing my name, my body, my presence in this world and the way I navigate it, I can just say that I feel human. And I know what it means to be alive.
Hello, I am Bernadette and 30 years old. I am transgender.