My name is Maddy and I am a woman. Beautifully imperfect and proudly trans, I use she/her pronouns. And, like all of us, I can only share my own experiences and try to give you a better understanding of whom I am as a person in this world. These essays are hard to write, as I have to confront parts of me I tend to ignore, but my hope is that, by sharing my stories — maybe you can find something you can connect to and in some way relate to me, even if we come from completely different worlds. That being said, I want to emphasize that by no means do I speak for every trans person and I hope that you do not use me as a model of experience when interacting with other trans humans.
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I grew up with divorced parents. I consider myself lucky to not have a memory of them together, as my siblings tell me they didn’t get along. We lived in a small town; we went to church on Sundays. The kids you walked into kindergarten with were likely next to you on graduation day a decade later. So, when my mother bravely came out as gay, word traveled fast and what was considered a respectable family had a new illustration and the Mother of 5 with a heart of gold — the character everyone rooted for — was whispered about. Funny how that works.
We moved to a new city and when I was six years old, my Marine-conditioned father was strict and particularly frugal. I was his youngest son and I remember showering with him to conserve water and because he also wanted to teach me how to take one in two minutes or less. This is the first time I remember feeling dysphoric. What was 120 seconds felt like forever.
I had been told I would be as tall as him one day; that I would be just as handsome and just as strong. I could register that genetics were real. So when I saw him naked, I was terrified. Afraid that my penis would grow. That my hands would grow to be coarse, hair sprouting through every follicle, though my hair on my head would remain buzzed because “men need to look sharp.”
Younger me believed I was under some magic curse or that it was an unknown birth defect that a pair of scissors could fix. I considered it. Scared to upset my mom, I stuck with a prayer every night.
This single event made me scared of my dad and shaped our relationship. He would be upset when I came home from school with nail polish on. Tried to replace my beloved barbies with a GI Joe. He poked fun at how I walked; would tell me to stop rolling my neck when I spoke and to sound less like my sisters. He tried to train me on giving a firm handshake. I couldn’t order a Shirley Temple at the restaurant; no, no — that was for girls. If I want to enjoy that beverage I must ask for a Roy Rogers.
He actively was trying to suppress my natural yearning for what was classically considered feminine and I was doing everything in my power to reject it. I didn’t want my penis to grow. I did not want to be like my brother and my father. I did not want to be my father. I did not want to be my father.
The next few years in elementary school the ideas of cutting off my penis always came to mind. Would it reveal a vagina? Funnily enough, that’s usually the ignorant assumption adults have regarding my gender confirmation surgery. Like I just walked in for the big chop and not a five-hour meticulous procedure. Anyways, younger me believed I was under some magic curse or that it was an unknown birth defect that a pair of scissors could fix. I considered it. Scared to upset my mom, I stuck with a prayer every night.
The biggest challenge was never being one of the girls, but certainly not one of the boys. I didn’t get to go to the slumber parties girls my age were having and, at the same time, I was outcasted in my sports teams. Having to take my shirt off at the pool felt exposing and I was told I didn’t need to have a shirt on because I was skinny, which not only instilled fat-shaming ideology into my impressionable brain but would later lead to unhealthy crash dieting in high school. The fixation on body weight and self image from society but ESPECIALLY Hollywood is something that is still alive today, but was far more aggressive and unhinged growing up. I remember going online to play fun dress up or makeover games and would see other games titled: “Pin The Nose on Michael Jackson” or “Feed Amy,” where you try to catch as much food as you can and watch her gain weight. So not only were the tabloids chewing people up and spitting them out, they were influencing children to mock people.
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When I came out as transgender, I was in 8th grade. I had done research and knew I could medically transition, so I was set on my decision and I was confident in it as well. I am grateful my mother was accepting and immediately found me a therapist. My therapist was honest with me. People were going to judge me, and I would have to worry about my safety. I knew I was ready for that — people had judged me for 14 years in one way or another and I was ready to live day-to-day for myself. I was ready to feel free.
What I would soon learn is that I traded in being a kid for being openly trans. What I mean by that is, I quickly realized I was yet again “Othered” by society. I no longer got to walk anywhere without getting stared at, having photos taken of me. Getting off of the city bus ands running home after hearing slurs thrown out and suggestions of robbing the tranny. What could have been worrying about what I was going to wear to my first high school dance was worrying if my phone would die before getting home.
Maddy you are so famous that these people are staring at you, yet are so afraid to say hi. Oh, and those guys laughing and taking pictures of you? They are paparazzi.
And not just acts of physical violence, I was now seen as an object of fetish. I know every teenage girl has inappropriate and threatening interactions the minute she goes through puberty, but since I was a non passing trans girl, the focus on everyone’s mind when they looked at me was the fact that I had a penis. The only innocence I was ever able to hold onto was in my home with my family.
So you may be asking how does one handle this plethora of attention? I told myself I was famous. Yep. Maddy you are so famous that these people are staring at you, yet are so afraid to say hi. Oh, and those guys laughing and taking pictures of you? They are paparazzi. You see, I’ve always had a dream of being a star, so it was the lie I told myself that helped me walk out the door and look up, never to the ground.
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But then there are the guys being openly transphobic? Calling you a faggot? Well… you see, social media had started to gain more popularity and there were sometimes multiple of those guys from my neighborhood that would “slide into my DMs” after seeing me. I knew that there was always one person out of three who actually found me to be attractive, but was too afraid to be open.
And I don’t necessarily blame THEM. For the last century, media has used this “gotcha” narrative when illustrating trans characters. Movies and shows have men play ridiculous caricatures of “women,” followed by the character pulling off a wig and being met with shock and disdain and even people becoming physically ill. So when you then see a trans person in real life, the only thing you can relate her to are these images you’ve seen portrayed of us that leave you with the idea that we aren’t “real women.”
So straight men who find me attractive don’t want to be seen as gay. Thus DL culture is created. DL stands for “down low,” if you aren’t aware. I try to hold more respect for myself and don’t entertain men who only want to love me in the dark. I have spent years choosing partners who sneak me in and kick me out before sunrise. Left feeling gross and not respected. I just deserve to be loved openly, I know how great of a person I am, how much of a lover I am. If a man can’t get past his own fragility, how can he even handle the deepness and complexity that is me?
I actually am not as sexually active as some may perceive. I identify with my sexuality; I exude a highly sexual and suggestive image, but that’s my personal taste and display of confidence. I’m not asexual. I find men (and some women) very attractive, but I just don’t enjoy casual sex. I need to have an emotional attachment to someone to want to enjoy each other intimately.
We held hands and for the first time I didn’t worry whose were bigger; if he would notice the hair on my knuckles. He smelled my neck where my trachea points due north and he kissed me. I felt soft. I felt free.
But I’m also very afraid of letting someone see me that close. Hearing my inner thoughts and experiencing my most vulnerable side… being a victim of my weirdness. I tend to avoid someone wanting to get to know me out of fear if they DO see me, they will reject me. And as I write this I’m realizing maybe that stems from feeling rejection from my father as a kid. The one man who was supposed to love me unconditionally didn’t see nor understand me.
More often times then not when I have had sex I have been very drunk and quite performative. A way to ensure a man still sees me as a woman, but which leaves me feeling used and empty. Although I recently met someone who changed that. He looked me in the eyes and I felt seen. We held hands and for the first time I didn’t worry whose were bigger; if he would notice the hair on my knuckles. He smelled my neck where my trachea points due north and he kissed me. I felt soft. I felt free. I made a self-deprecating joke that his friends will give him shit for hooking up with a trans woman and he told me he simply didn’t care and he likes what he finds to be beautiful. It was a lesson that I don’t have to perform for a man to like me. That my true worth is when I’m just me.
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I used to practice holding a coffee cup so my hands didn’t look bulky. I would sometimes sit on them in public. For five years I didn’t go to the beach. I didn’t let my toes touch the body of water or even sand. I avoided my favorite place in the world because I didn’t want people to see my feet. My size 12 feet. In my mind, something that is quote a “manly” quality.
You see — self love is work I need to exercise everyday. But I simply have chosen that I can’t miss out on things that make life meaningful because my insecurities weigh more. I have to remind myself that I am a breathing organism, that I am as important to this earth as a tree. That insecurities were taught to me, not produced by me. A zebra isn’t insecure about their stripes. A giraffe doesn’t slump their bodies to feel shorter.
I never envisioned a life beyond 30. I’m only five years away.
I met a man recently who has since become a friend. He who told me a story of how he almost died in a car crash. He has one hand, two prosthetic legs, and fills up a room with his spirit. He is proof to me that the universe can take away your limbs, but your spirit is something you can always still hold onto for yourself.
It made me think how silly I had been about my body. My feet get me from point A to point B. My hands let me embrace the ones I love. There are times I look in the mirror and can’t believe the amount of grey in my hair, or how rapidly my face feels like its changing. But it’s a sign that I’m getting older, that nature is taking me through the experience of life. That I have survived. I never envisioned a life beyond 30. I’m only five years away.
And if I choose to dye my hair, If I choose to change something about my face, then so be it. In this one life we are given, I promise myself to be happy in it and vow to always chase that. When I want to love myself, I take deep breaths and let the air fill my lungs — that is the most beautiful act of body positivity you can practice. Just breathe.