Tonight, my set at Song Fight! Live went really well. There were some rough patches due to the usual nature of the beast but we managed to hold it together and afterwards everyone told me how great it sounded. I’m overall happy with that.
An “interesting” thing has been happening regarding how people deal with my gender stuff lately though.
When I first started doing Song Fight! back in 2001 (my songs are old enough to vote for themselves!) I was pretty openly trans. People played along and used she/her pronouns for me, although there was always a bit of a sarcasm to it. And all that changed when I finally worked up the courage to go to my first live show in 2003; people just immediately stopped acknowledging that and decided that the way I presented myself there meant that I wasn’t “really” trans or at least that I wasn’t particularly serious about it.
In the last two live shows I’ve been to (Berkeley in 2017, and Madison just now) people have been stumbling with my pronouns, which is understandable, but a lot of the talk around it from others makes it seem like this is a brand new thing. To a lot of them it is though, because I just kind of… dropped it all, I guess, back in the day. Because it just felt easier to let people think what they wanted to.
People don’t realize that I’d been on hormones for a while in 2005 (and stopped because I was using gray-market estrogen and got scared), or that I’ve been doing it consistently under doctor supervision since 2011. Because a lot of my medical transition was basically in secret, where I figured that if I couldn’t be accepted socially, at least I could use estradiol to make myself more comfortable on the inside. Which did help but wasn’t nearly enough in the long run.
Heck, I got my GRS before I’d “really” transitioned.
I never really felt safe transitioning, because I never felt supported. The people who I considered to be my support network were just kinda lackadaisical about it and didn’t treat it as a serious thing, and as such I internalized the idea that I didn’t really mean it, that I wasn’t really trans, that I had no right requesting people to respect my pronouns, that this was just a weird quirk that people would roll their eyes at.
And I’m not singling out Song Fight! folks in this. This is a pattern that was most firmly established with my family; I’d dig deep to try to talk to family members about it, and I’d get pushback based on the fact that I hadn’t tried outwardly transitioning before talking about it. Because I needed safety and understanding and help, not people judging my “choice” based on how well I was following through on it. And the same goes for every one of my other communities that I was trying to be a part of; I’d hide gender-related stuff, it would come out in some way, then I’d get ridiculed for it and I’d end up withdrawing further, burying it deeper inside of me, more and more sure that this wasn’t a path I could take.
Anyway, tonight in the car back to my hotel, I mentioned how funny it was how hard it’s been for people to readjust to this thing they’d forgotten, and Jeff said that, yeah, people just decided I wasn’t serious and he expressed regret at how much people even made fun of me for things and didn’t take me seriously and so on. That wasn’t even a thing I’d been considering but him saying that made me realize that… yeah. That was a lot of it, and it hurts. How much time, support, happiness did I miss out on? How much earlier could I have transitioned were it not for this tendency to gatekeep based on superficial understandings of deep issues?
So it felt good to hear him say that but it also felt pretty bad. And even with all that I’m feeling like it’s my fault for not pushing harder, for not being the one to go outside of my comfort zone (and safety) to do this thing I needed.
And I look around at the Song Fight! community and see so many things where everyone else is friends with each other on a level I never managed to find. They’re all a part of each others' lives, and I just ended up pushing myself away because I was just, like, in the same general orbit as them but I didn’t feel safe, or didn’t have that kind of friendship. Every time I hear about all of the relationships and weddings and birthday gatherings and so on that all of the other Song Fight! old-timers have done but where I wasn’t even aware of them until after they’d happened… it hurts, to know what I missed out of and could have been part of.
I could have done a better job of being friends with all of them, but at the same time I never felt like an important part of me was ever there and that just made this divide that felt insurmountable.
It’s never worth trying to second-guess history, and yet… Things could have gone so much differently.
And it’s not like it’s anyone’s fault, it’s just the background radiation of my life that things kept going this way.
The current common late-transition narrative is that someone as an adult finally figures out what was going on all along and then dives head-first into a rapid transition and everyone around them accepts them and sees it as a revelation and so on, but at least in my case, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I knew I was trans when I was a teenager. I desparately wanted to transition as soon as I could, but every time I tried to take a baby step in that direction, I got a gigantic push back from everyone I cared about. And when enough was finally enough and I had to push through it, I’m treated as if this is a new thing that fits that wrong narrative. It’s frustrating.
And I still haven’t figured out a presentation I’m comfortable with, and even now people have a hard time accepting it as “real.” Even people who have only known me post-transition, or people who knew me back when I was loud about it on the Internet and before I decided it was easier to just shut up about it.
The best acceptance I’ve ever gotten have always been from folks in the furry community, and even then it feels like it’s just like… a character that they see me as playing, and not the reality of my self. Even my fucking boyfriend in 2011, the last thing he said to me before he died invalidated my gender. This isn’t something I’ve mentioned publicly before, but yeah. He said “You’re my boyfriend and I love you.”
He only ever treated my gender stuff as an affectation or a quaint/charming thing about how I presented myself online, and was always weirded out whenever I talked about how it was me, not just a character.
I’m left with anger and regret and remorse and frustration, and I don’t think it’s even fair of me to blame anyone for it. So what do I do? Aside from cry myself to sleep and hope that this feeling passes, or at least that I can sublimate it into something else before it eats me up inside and I feel bitter about everything. There’s still one more night of Song Fight! Live, after all, and the whole rest of the time forward with these people who I always wanted to be better friends with but something always prevented that.
It’s pretty fitting that the song that’s stuck in my head is Cassettes, by Jeff.