Surrender the idea that you’ll be victorious.
Let it go. Give up. Surrender.
It doesn’t work like that, you see.
You step out the door, and they speak, but the wrong words touch their lips.
Girl. Woman. Miss.
I’m proud of my daughter, she tells you with love, and it’s a stab in the heart each time. It’s not love. She’s seeing something that isn’t there. Your mother, who lived with you for the first twenty-five years of your life. Your mother, who saw you spend years in jeans and hoodies, who saw you hang around with the boys (one of whom was a girl, but she couldn’t say that, then) because they were the only ones who ever came close to seeing you as something not the girl. Your mother, who encouraged you to don a white dress and dance with a straight cis boy in a suit because she thought it’d expand your horizons, but now you think she only said that in the hope that somehow you’d stop wearing jodhpurs and start wearing heels. Your mother, who should love you anyway, and if only she ever read your books you think she’d understand, but if she reads them she says nothing, and you’re afraid to ask what she thought about the piece where you talk about your preferred words and your dream of top surgery – your dream of making your body look and feel the way you want it.
(You give your life to the words and the cause, but you’re afraid to ask.)
Nothing is better than victory. Nothing is better than the crushing confirmation that you’re not real at all in her eyes, their eyes. Nothing is better than the threat of being told that if you’re not a daughter, you’re not theirs. They hurt you and confuse you, your family, but they’re all you have, so you hold onto these people with the desperate hope of someone afraid to let go. Better to have a family than none at all, surely?
You say nothing. You say nothing when every careless word hits you like a slap to the face, a slap you only feel when you return home to a world where you can be who you are.
This world is small. A few metres long, a few metres wide, three rooms. It contains the only bathroom you have where your gender isn’t defined. It contains the only mirror where you can look at your body and see a form of skin and breath that answers to the words you give it.
The only way to survive that silence, the bravery it takes to say nothing, is to live in the fantasy that one day, some day, she’ll understand that you’ve never been her daughter.
(You go and write your novel, then: another kind of fantasy, one where your not-girl-not-boy characters are seen as the unique and wonderful people they are. Escapism. You don’t care. Anything that allows you to step outside the world for a moment or two is an act of defiance and an act of survival. You wish with all your heart that you could find this book already on your bookshelf, that you can lose yourself in it when you are lost and lonely, but since you don’t have that, you write. You find shelter in your obsession. Your psychologist calls it an addiction, and you agree, but you don’t care, for who doesn’t want to be alive in the world as they are? If this world is one you create from your words alone, so be it. At least it is a world.)
The funny thing is that not even the boys, back then, were much better. The sad thing is that most of the things that are ‘better’ scarcely count as such. They saw you as The Girl (even the girl, although she later saw you as a guy, and then told you that you shouldn’t use the words that describe you because nobody will ever remember them): a person with a cunt, fuckable, girlfriend material. The Girl who could speak the language of nerdy, outcast, disaffected boys (and one girl), who could relate to their interests and passions, who could be not-a-girl and always and forever The Girl at the same time, because The Girl is an object, not a girl.
It is a bad thing to be a girl and The Girl all at once, and too many girls know that cruel torment of being less a person and more a sex doll, a repository of fantasy.
The fact that people expect our girls to be girls is cruel. Sometimes you wonder if you are not a girl just because you could not stand the pressure of being a girl or The Girl, and then you feel sick at heart for your failure to survive what many girls somehow manage to survive and even combat. They survived it and they fight it, so why shouldn’t you? You shouldn’t have to think this, but you do. Then you just shake your head in sadness, because why should you have to survive it at all? Why should you have to be a girl if you don’t want to? Why shouldn’t the wanting be enough? Why can’t being a girl or a boy or something else be some neutral thing?
You can wear red or yellow, dear, or purple if you prefer, or some hue we can’t name only visible to a butterfly or a mantis shrimp. Neutral. But no, you live in a world where being a girl is complex, and not being a girl is perhaps even more complex if it means you’re not a boy, if you’re one of those colours people don’t see.
They see you, sometimes, if you take hormones, if you cut off your chest, if you take out your uterus and a team of lawyers and doctors decide that yes, you have gone to enough terrible, painful lengths to be real. If you can’t afford this, if you don’t want this, if some days you want nothing more than testosterone and some days you want nothing less, you’re not seen. You’re not desperate enough. You’re not hurting enough. You’re forced to use the wrong bathrooms, but somehow you’re not hurting enough. Change your body, they say: that’s the logical solution. What if that’s only the smallest part of your pain? What if the thing that hurts you most is not your breasts and your cunt but the fact that you are not real right now, not real as you are?
What if the thing that drives you to madness is the fact that right now you are not real?
You feel lightning when it strikes. You feel it crackle through the air. Your sister does not. Your sister thinks you invent the very notion of feeling lightning.
The world tells you this every day of your life.
The world, in fact, doesn’t even have words to describe the ways in which you are not real, not when you’re not a boy and you’re not a girl – not when you’re just a person living in the twenty-five years before you happened upon that small portion of the internet that has words for what you are. For most of your life you did not know who you were or have the words to describe it, the knowledge that other people, like you, exist. Imagine that. Can you? Can you imagine what it is to spend most of your life not knowing who you are, what you are called, that there are others like you, that you are relevant and important and connected? That you can be something without the pain of pretending to be this thing you never were, this identity that rubbed at your skin and left you restless and scratching, left you looking at yourself in photos at a stranger’s face?
You can, and that’s the nightmare.
Why can’t it be a liberation? The glory of wearing your real skin, of not forcing your body and soul to match some frustrating definition that doesn’t suit you and never did? You don’t expect people to wear clothes that don’t fit them, so why does the world expect people to wear a gender that doesn’t fit, wear titles that don’t fit, operate in the world as a kind of illusion, a projection of expectation so overlaid across skin and soul that most people don’t see the person underneath? Why is it easier for you to scratch away at the girl’s clothes and words and expectations, to chafe under their weight, than it is for you to wear your true clothes and words? How absurd is that?
Why, you ask. Why? A string of questions, useless. The answers solve nothing. The answers change nothing.
This is why you have to give up on the idea that one day you are going to win this.
You’re never going to win. You’re never going to step into that world where everybody sees you for what you are and everybody defends your right to be who you say you are. You’re never going to live in a world where the only thing that matters is a person’s ability to pronounce, for themselves, the final declaration on their bodies and their identities. You’re never going to have the fantasy of familial acceptance. Victory is a cruel illusion, floating just out of reach.
Society likes to tempt you with the notion of victory, that life is something at which you can win. You see others achieving said glorious victories, so why not you?
Because they are not you, of course. They are not you.
You cannot win.
You don’t even have to try.
All you have to do is survive. If that means silence? If that means nothing? If that means the fight unfought, the retreat into fantasy, the addiction to words, everything that helps you survive the soul-crushing hell of being who you are in a world that will not acknowledge your right to be who you are?
So be it.
You don’t have to win, dear. You don’t have to go back to your family with a blazing sword and a pocketful of magics that will sway the ignorant. You don’t need to hold onto this cruel lie that poisons you more than any other falsehood you carry (and there are many). You don’t have to argue or convince or protest. You don’t have to fight if it is, in fact, all you can do to hold on, retreat, survive.
You are not a failure if you cannot win a game you were never going to win in the first place.
Victory is a mark of privilege, a tempting lie, an illusion, a promise: if you just do and say the right things at the right time to the right people, everything will slot together and you will finally, finally be a person. But what if those things never come together? What if you never have the right people, the right time or even the right words? Does the world ask that impossibility, that belief in a stroke of luck reliant on an assumption of possessing things you seldom have, of anyone else but the disprivileged?
So let it go.
Surrender to the world as it is.
Dream of changing it, sure. Write the words as though you can.
But dear, my dear, surrender to the world as it is, because you do not deserve to hate yourself for your failures to change it.
You don’t have to win to be real.
You don’t have to win at all.