I was in my car when a song by my favorite indie pop band, Rilo Kiley, started playing. My face lit up as I excitedly turned the volume all the way up, ready to sing along to this band that expressed itself with such powerful and exuberant femininity. I was shouting the lyrics at the top of my lungs.
I noticed that I was heading towards a red light, and it had always been protocol for me to turn the volume down and immediately stop singing. I was afraid that people in other cars would look over and judge me for being so openly feminine and flamboyant. But this time was different. This time, I didn’t turn the volume down.
Five days earlier, I began therapy and started taking antidepressants. As a result, I had increased self-esteem and my brain was completely lucid for the first time in years. With a clear head, I thought to myself, “Why am I turning down the volume? I’m singing, I deserve to be happy.”
I started singing even more loudly, not caring about who might have been looking. I was so full of life and unadulterated happiness.
And then the strangest thing happened.
I started getting goosebumps all over my body and began trembling. “Why have I been hiding this part of myself for so long?” I wondered. My entire life flashed before my eyes and old repressed memories began flooding in.
When I was five years old, I was at my cousin’s house and saw a miniature pink carousel set that I desperately wanted to play with. The adults saw me excitedly heading towards the carousel so they angrily put it on top of the refrigerator where I couldn’t reach it. They told me that this toy was not for boys. I was so confused why they were taking something away that would’ve made me so happy. I started crying.
My parents yelled, "Stop crying! Boys don't cry!” This, of course, made me cry more, because their lack of empathy devastated me before I knew how to articulate the words.
When I was 10 years old, I danced along to the 1996 Women’s Gymnastics team from the Summer Olympics because I had the hugest crush on Dominique Moceanu. I would mimic her moves in the front lawn of our apartment complex and it was so freeing. The adults in my family were livid and told me to stop acting this way.
And then I started remembering all the times I let my female friends paint my fingernails, all the times I’d leave my makeup on in drama class long after the play was over, and all the times I’d get excited when my female friends asked me to hold their purses.
I parked the car and began hyperventilating. “Oh my god, it all makes sense,” I thought. I had suppressed these memories of femininity, and instead, spent most of my life trying to “act like a man” and failing. I’d order pizza and watch football on Sundays and would begin crying around the fourth quarter, wishing that I loved doing this more. I bought UFC gloves and a punching bag to try and be tough like the MMA fighters I saw on TV. Everything I tried to do as a man made me miserable.
And here I was in the present, freely singing along to Rilo Kiley, and it just felt right. I was as happy as that five-year-old who first discovered the pink carousel before it got taken away.
I wanted to say it out loud, just to see how it felt, so I took a long deep breath and uttered the words, "I'm actually a woman..." and I began sobbing uncontrollably because nothing had ever felt righter. This was the most significant moment of my entire life.
I was ecstatic to finally discover who I am, but I became terrified about what this meant for my future. I was especially worried about telling my girlfriend because I had no idea how she’d respond.
I nervously messaged her, “Baby, I identify as a woman so much more than a man. Everything makes sense now. I love you.” She instantly sent me a smiley face emoticon and told me she loved and supported me, and I felt so unbelievably relieved and lucky. For hours, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, and everybody I talked to noticed that I had a radiant energy they never felt from me before. I was experiencing gender euphoria.
The euphoria lasted several hours before it began to subside and reality started sinking back in. I was overcome with a tremendous amount of guilt because I knew that I would be fundamentally changing the dynamics of all my relationships, and it felt so selfish. Since I had always been lying to myself about who I was, it meant that I’d been inadvertently lying to everyone I’d ever met.
I especially felt guilty that I was potentially risking my relationship with my girlfriend who I loved more than anybody in the world, all for the sake of my own happiness. I was making myself the most important person in my life, something I’d never done before, which meant that I had to make my girlfriend second place. I felt like a bad person for putting her second and felt like she deserved better. Even though she constantly reassured me that she still loved me and only wanted my happiness, I’d constantly apologized to her telling her that I know this isn’t what she signed up for. I felt horrible for ruining the old idea of “us.”
And I felt even guiltier knowing that if I had to do it all over again, I would do it in a heartbeat. As much as I love my friends, my family, and my girlfriend, I never knew what true happiness was until I was willing to throw it all away. When I felt like there was nothing left to lose, I finally experienced complete freedom.
When people ask me how I’m doing, I tell them that I’m finally happy with who I am, but I also tell them that this does not mean that things are easy. None of it is easy. I have to accept that most of my life and memories have been a huge lie, that some of my friends are going to abandon me, that I will never be able to walk into a grocery store again without getting dirty looks, and that certain family members would disapprove of and disown me.
When this all started, I had no idea that I would be the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, and I also had no idea that accepting myself for who I really am would be the hardest thing I’d ever have to do.
But through it all, I still feel like it’s been all worth it, because I get to face these obstacles as who I really am instead of who I’d always pretended to be.