My brother, on occasion, slips and calls me his “sister.” Like a good trans person, I correct him. But some part of me cannot admit that when he says it, I am sometimes comforted—not because I am a woman or was ever a girl, but because I remember the warmth and protection his voice carried when he said it to me, when I was small and still new to this world.
When he says “sister,” it evokes a memory—a very particular one—of blood. When I cut my head open when I was 13, and despite his undeniable phobia of blood, he held his breath and a towel firmly against the wound while I cried. He was brave and he was sensitive and he spoke so softly to me. Then, and many times over, I was so proud to be his “sister.”
I admit that I am still learning to be proud of being his “brother,” too.
Like many trans people, I am learning to reattach to new words and new parts.
Transition takes so damn much effort; both external, eg coming out to people, and internal RECONFIGURATION. Detachment from the familiar. Reattachment to the foreign.
You know how chemical reactions require activation energy to break apart existing bonds so that new, potentially more stable ones can form? Look I found a graph. There’s even a “transition state” labelled, lol.
I want to be on the right side of that graph, nicely settled into my gender and body, empirically more comfortable and requiring less energy than my birth assigned gender. But here I am still having to climb that cliff, moving away from the familiar discomfort into even greater unfamiliar discomfort, aka a rock and a hard place, aka the frying pan fire thing, but that’s enough metaphors in one sentence.
Example: I gag a bit whenever I try to think of myself as “she”. But at the same time it is so familiar, like very old shoes. It took almost a year and a lot of angst (SO MUCH angst) not only to get at least some people to use “they” at least some of the time, but also for me to hear it enough that it no longer feels unnatural and foreign.
In some areas I have “transitioned” and gotten over the hill and at least partially reattached. But then there are so many more people to come out to and have to constantly correct, new contexts to come out in, gendered situations to renegotiate… and I need to get used to all those things; recently it often feels like too much trouble to climb those hills.
My family calls me meimei (little sister). Sometimes when female friends call me girl I don’t correct them either. At work, where I am not out, people call me xiaojie when they are pretending to be formal, and when I do something dumb. When I buy things hawkers call me xiaomei and are nice to me because I am young. These words are affectionate. I don’t like being misgendered, but what gender neutral equivalents are there that hold the same emotional meaning? Even if there are words that I could start practicing using, they don’t currently have the weight of personal and cultural history, and there has to be all that effort.
I feel like the “good trans person” response is to correct all these people every time, because how else are we going to get to the other side of the hill? But I always let it slide, in order to accept and enjoy the connection that the person is trying to make with me. I don’t want to detach, and I don’t even know what there is to reattach to. That’s what you get for trying to transition to an avant-garde gender. There are ALL THESE THINGS to uproot and replant, and there is nowhere to plant most of them.
This is also how I currently feel about physical transition. What does that even look like if I don’t in any way want to look like or be read as a man, and what do i do with my attachment to my current body?
BLEAH it’s all so much EFFORT and I don’t! WANNA! OKAY??
But of course, dysphoria fucking sucks and transition helps, and I am always trying to avoid difficult things I know are prolly good for me. So I know that what I need to do is to give myself time and space, but also suck it up and be brave sometimes. It will get better. I will grow into my gender, even if right now I cannot imagine what that might look like. Bring a brick, not a cathedral. Okay? Okay.