I saw a sentiment on Twitter the other day, talking about a friend of mine. We have very different stories, but at our core there’s a lot we share in common. But the sentiment (from a friend of theirs) was this:
“She always looked so desperate and sad. Now they look happier.”
This was in response to my friend (I’ll call them Riley) posting a picture of them at about age 13, in comparison to them now. Since then, Riley’s gone through a massive series of changes: leaving a toxic and abusive home life, coming to terms with their sexuality and gender identity, getting married, having a child… The person in the early picture was almost a totally different person. And it’s evident, even just in those two shots, how much Riley’s been able to grow and flourish in the years since.
I didn’t know Riley quite that far back (at least, I don’t think I did) but I met them when they were still fairly young, and have been able to see all of this transition, and celebrate with them through it…and commiserate in the hard times.
Because that friend’s sentiment (especially the pronouns) spoke worlds to me.
I’ve been going by Rion, a shortening of my pen name, for probably something closer to 4-5 years now in person. I’ve had it a little longer online. But I wasn’t born that way, and legally my name hasn’t changed. I’m not really sure it ever will. I feel no pressing urge to change it, since I’ve had people calling me Rion for so long and I don’t have a problem with that (obviously) and I don’t want to legally change my name to Orion. (As cool as that might be.) So until I come up with a name that I very strongly feel associated to, I’ll still legally remain the name my parents gave me that cold morning in December. (I will note that as my parents were expecting an AMAB child, they did not have a AFAB name picked out. The name I have was the only one they could agree on. I often jokingly say that between these two things, they shouldn’t have been surprised when I came out as transmasculine and starting going by a different name.)
But I look at pictures of R (since my legal name also begins with an R) back then, and I see how unhappy I was. Not necessarily because of the gender issues, but because of so much else. Because of unhealthy friendships, because of undiagnosed depression and anxiety, because of self-image issues (which haven’t really improved, since I’ve only gotten heavier over the years), because I never really had a place that I believed I fit. I often say that it took me until grad school to finally find a group I considered my “people,” and that’s not a joke. I’ve never really felt like I had a place. In high school, I was the weird kid, the theatre kid, the smart kid–but not the one you wanted to hang out with, the one you mocked. Then in college, I was sure that I’d found my place. Somewhere I could be all theatre all the time, and everyone would just expect it of me. But even there, I felt a bit like an outcast. It was better than high school, certainly. But I was still the socially awkward one who didn’t know how to properly act around others–at least in their eyes. And they’re not wrong, really. I am socially awkward, though usually I can mask it. But somehow, even then, it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t a good enough actor.
And then I changed my major–to one that essentially no one else in the school had. I chose to complete it in a way that no one else had done before. I was going to take their Writing Studies course and flip it on its head: I refused to do a research paper at the end. I wanted to be an author! What godly use was I going to have for a research paper, when I wanted to do work in the realm of fantasy? Sure, there’s research to be had in writing, but it’s topic-specific. It was going to be way too complicated to translate that into something that the academics would approve it. So I bartered with the dean of the college of arts and science. I got myself a creative thesis: I wrote a 25-page paper (or something close to that) on different methods of character development, included all the different forms in my final paper, and then wrote a short story with each of the characters I’d created through those different methods.
It was fascinating. But it left me alone for my last year and a half of school. And while being a writer is a solitary vocation, it does no one any good to be without some kind of feedback net.
So I took some time off, figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up (answer: I’m not planning on growing up) and then trundled myself off to grad school when the rest of my life felt like it was spiraling out of control. And there, finally–finally–I met my people. I met the fellow awkward ones, the ones who didn’t care that I was bad at talking to people, the ones who understood. Who gave me a “writing sisters” bracelet, but not before asking if I’d be okay with it, because they wanted to share the sentiment but didn’t want to risk offending me because of my gender. It meant the world to me. It still does mean the world to me. And those people helped to change my life. They lifted me up where I’d never truly felt supported by my peers. They listened. They helped. And sure, there were problems some times. Nothing’s perfect, and I wouldn’t expect it to be. But it was so much better.
And now, I still have a bunch of issues. Previous interpersonal relationships have made my methods of communicating less than ideal, and I’m still working on fixing them. I’m still (moreso now) dramatically overweight, and I am an emotional eater, which doesn’t help when one is clinically anxious/depressed. But I’m working to get better at it. It’s slow going, but I’m trying. And the depression and anxiety are getting better, so now it’s just the “eating because I’m bored” and “stopping after one serving thank you” that I can work on. I’m a disorganized mess, but I know how to solve that problem. It’s all coming together…it’s just slow, and I need to remember that patience is a virtue, whether or not it’s one I possess readily.
But I’m still writing. I’m still talking to my grad school friends, and they’re still supporting me. I’m still figuring out who I am and who I’m called to become, and that’s okay. I’m looking forward to the process because for once, one of the things I’ve often said about myself doesn’t always seem true anymore. I’ve said that I’m homeless–not houseless, as I’ve always had somewhere to live–but I’ve never had anywhere that felt like home.
But now I do. It’s intangible and wibbly-wobbly…but it’s home.