can't you see it's me?
There’s always been a disconnect between myself and the other transsexual men that I’ve known.
Most if not all of that comes down to gender presentation. Overcompensation is the wrong word, but it’s the only one that makes sense for how I want to communicate this point; and overcompensation might imply that I do not understand why things are the way they are. When you are not born as you wish to be, overcompensation is natural. My closet is fat with “male” shirts that I bought early into my transition, that I no longer have any desire to wear, because my tastes simply do not skew male.
Expedited by the COVID-19 quarantine, I had almost settled softly back into a more feminine style and way of physical existence. My hair is long, nails painted most of the time. I arrive on campus wearing skirts or women’s overalls. I like “girl things”. For me, femininity is a fire that I continue to dance around, even though it feels like my existence ought to hinge upon the condition that I put that fire out. But it’s a fire that I want to keep feeding. It’s a fire that keeps me warm.
Key phrasing in that paragraph, though: almost settled. The path ahead has recently begun to curve, in a direction I wasn’t entirely prepared for, and the soft ground is once again a little unforgiving.
A friend recently (and lovingly) dragged me along to this gay, recreational sports league. And it has been really great. Truly. For the first time in my life, I’m friends with gay people who have only ever known me as Logan.
I am also one of only three trans people in the entire league. And nobody knows this.
Correction: a few people know. Four, to be exact. But for the most part, I blend right in. My disguise is air-tight. In this space, I am fully male; I am desirable, attractive, worthy of attention and intimacy.
It surprises me just how hard I’m working to maintain that misconception. I’ve started packing, even though I have never had the desire for “male” genitalia and I still do not. Suddenly, maleness feels like a test that I didn’t study for, and failing might have real consequences. I have to come up with lame excuses for why dating men is so difficult for me. And I am warping in the direction of what I should be versus what I actually am.
Every time I come home from these outings, I’m aglow with happy feelings. And I am also suffocated with the childish urge to just kill myself, because I know I cannot keep up this charade forever. Eventually, something's gotta give, one way or another, and until then, I have one foot on either side of a fault line that is destined to break apart. And I need to move, pick a side, or I’m gonna slip and tumble into whatever abyss lays beneath me.
Related to this, I have a hot take: Pojkarna is a horror film.
Pojkarna — more widely known by its English title, Girls Lost — is a 2015 Swedish adaptation of a young adult novel, a drama about three girls (Bella, Momo, and Kim) who discover a flower in their greenhouse which allows them to temporarily become men. But while this is a brief escape for Bella and Momo, this transformation unlocks something inside of Kim, something that completely unravels his world and sense of self.
Many people seem to view the film’s rigidly binary views of gender as a net negative: binary girls want to escape misogyny, and so they become binary boys. Every transformation is biological, total, absolute. But I would argue that, perhaps intentionally, this rigid viewpoint is the lynchpin of what makes the film so devastatingly effective.
Long before there is any transformation, the audience is told that Kim is transgender. He confides to Momo: “Sometimes it feels like I have a zipper somewhere. If I’m brave enough to pull it, there’s a different body underneath… that’s the real me.”
And so, the problem is not that Kim becomes addicted to a life as a male only because it provides an escape from societal sexism. The problem is not that it gives him the body and the sense of maleness that he has been quietly desiring for a long time. The problem is that it is temporary, and thus, creates a rift between Kim’s two identities: who he is when he is not under the effects of the flower, and who he is when he is transformed by the flower. Kim when he passes as female, and Kim when he passes as male.
When I originally envisioned this piece, I intended to talk a lot more about my pre-transition relation to this film. Because it is, frankly, a great film to communicate the stress of only being partially out of the closet. I could talk endlessly about how I see my teenage self in Kim; out as male only in select circles, but otherwise forced to return to a “female” body at the end of every day.
But as I wrote, I realized that I am once again living in this cycle. I’m not “returning” to any sort of forced femininity, but I’m stretching myself between two contradictory identities. I’m not a woman, but I am not the man they think I am, either. I feel like an in-between nobody thinks to consider.
The problem with Kim, likewise, is that there is no binary world that will accept him. In the “female” world, he is already an outsider before the possibility of transformation is even introduced. And, once he begins regularly transforming, Momo and Bella become actively hostile toward him; Bella makes no effort to understand Kim’s struggles, writing him off as “egotistical,” and Momo only attempts to when she believes that a change in gender will make Kim love her. When it doesn’t (or, at least, when she believes it doesn’t; their romantic attraction to each other is complicated), she burns the greenhouse to the ground, with the flower inside.
But up to that point, the binary “male” world is not any better. In part because while Kim might be male, he is not binary. He does not understand the complicated rituals that exist between men. He expects that intimacy between men will be as honest and freely-given as intimacy between women, and is brutally rebuffed from his male relationships as a result.
In either world, Kim does not fit. Every choice is wrong, every choice smears gray against a black and white dress code.
Pojkarna is a horror film disguised as a drama because it tells the story of a very real, binary society that would rather see a young transsexual dead than extend him any hand of sympathy. Transition implies transitory. You’re supposed to be going somewhere. Transition implies a life not yet realized, a life not yet achieved.
Transition implies impermanence. If you’re not careful, it all goes away in an instant. People will take it from you. Momo burns down the greenhouse, and suddenly Kim might very well never be Kim again. Suddenly Kim is locked into a binary that he was never meant to live within.
In my own head, I do not pass. My transsexuality is evident in everything. In the way I hold myself, in the way I speak, the experiences I draw upon and in the way I relate to others. But, if the way these cisgender gay men talk about transsexuals to me is any indication, I pass better than I think I do. My disguise is airtight. For now.
Eventually, though, they’re gonna find my flower. My zipper. And I have discovered just how easily I am willing to lie and skirt the edge and elude in the name of hiding these things. Even more frustrating is the way I feel that my femininity is like a neon sign, pointing to my greenhouse, inviting the gasoline.
I don’t have a good answer for why I’m suddenly running away from all the self-discovery and acceptance I had just spent so long cultivating. Besides the fact that I have seen how gay men treat me when they know I am trans, and I have seen how they treat me when they don’t know, and there is a difference. I’ve heard the way transgender drips from their mouths.
I can only say that I don’t tell these peers for the same reason that Kim did not tell his male friends that he had been born female: it would ruin things.
More than anything else, I’m mad that I view my own transsexuality as something that can “ruin” something else. I’m mad that I haven’t grown beyond self-deprecation like that. I hate that I can visualize the loss that has yet to come, but that is almost certain to arrive. My femininity will no longer be a feature of my personality, it will be a sign. It will be why they say “oh, I should’ve known.”
I spent so many years overcorrecting, overcompensating, trying to fit into a more “male” role that I don’t fit into. And I hate that I’m getting in my own way again. Even though I may say that the problem is fear of how others are going to treat me, I’m the one making the decisions that push me further and further away from who I want to be. I am male, but I am not masculine, and I am not binary. And yet I’m fumbling for binary masculinity like a protective shield, as if I need to prove to myself and these men that I am as male as they are.
The end of Pojkarna offers no solid answer to Kim’s fate. Most interpretations seem to assume that he is contemplating suicide, or that he has killed himself by the time the credits roll. These interpretations sort of make me queasy, but they’re not unfounded; Kim is left with absolutely nothing, rejected by both binaries, only in possession of the burnt roots of the flower and a reflection of who he was once capable of becoming.
Is he still capable of becoming it? Unknown. But the possibility of hope is something to cling to. Transition implies impermanence, and that goes both ways.
Right now, I am locked in a final scene inverted with Kim’s; I see my reflection, and it’s the girl I used to be. It’s what I assume that everybody else must see when they look upon me. It’s what oozes from my eyes and ears whenever I speak or laugh. It’s a funhouse mirror. And if I want to live with myself, I’ll need to start hammering out the edges. Tell myself that it’s not me, just a bad reflection.
Or I’ll have to break the thing entirely and get a new one. Why should I adjust my vision to accommodate a fucked-up mirror?