From Us As We Once Could Be
They say write what you know. I don’t know why I keep writing love stories.
I also don’t know who the nebulous “they” is in that phrase. But that’s irrelevant.
To be a transsexual is not to be unlovable. That’s an obvious statement, as well as a true one. My friends and I have known love in the past, and we know love in the present tense. But although I am told by everyone around me that I should not define myself by romantic relationships, I do. I find myself defined almost exclusively by the relationships I haven’t had as well. The love that’s slipped through my fingers like clumps of dirt. I find myself defined by an inability to find the love that my friends have known in abundance since they were teenagers.
My only real, true romantic relationship started when I was fifteen. It lasted until I was seventeen, just three months away from eighteen and several months into realizing that all-important transness. Realizing I was transgender was an exercise in emotional devastation, and there was no reason for her to want to stick around.
A few weeks after we broke up, a kid in my math class asked if wanting to have sex with “sissy boys” made him gay. Then he tried to ask me out. A few weeks after that, a close friend started sexually harassing me. She liked dating transgender men. I can still remember how hard I pushed my legs together, trying to keep her hand from going any lower after she had conveniently “fallen asleep” beside me. I was too scared of causing a scene to do anything, even though I ended up losing most of my friends as a result of the incident anyway.
To be a transsexual is not to be unlovable, but it does expose you to weird avenues of love, and poor substitutes for it. I was in my earliest stages of hormonal replacement surgery when I started dating again. I was still pretty; my face had yet to shift into its current angular shape. My first date was with a man around my age. We had a normal dinner, he kissed me after, and then we went back to his apartment. The fact that he had recently broken up with his girlfriend wasn’t a red flag until he suddenly told me that he loved me. I had him take me home, and we didn’t talk again.
On the drive back, I noticed a cross in his car. And I figured between the girlfriend and religion, asking me out to dinner must’ve been the easiest decision of his life. I called myself a man, which made me a thrill, but I was also still a woman in all the physical ways, which made me safe. I was a perfect concoction of risk without danger, a sexual adventure that you didn’t actually have to be afraid of. You could project anybody onto me.
After that, I went on a date with a girl in a coffee shop. We planned a second date, which I dreamed about until the day of, where she suddenly stopped responding to my texts, removed me from her social media, and disappeared.
Eight days later, I almost slept with my best friend. We didn’t, though, and we still haven’t talked about it. We ignore it, as well we probably should. Even now, years later, there is not one emotion I can associate with this. Sometimes it’s melancholy, sometimes regret, but mostly I just get mad at myself: for my naivety, for not knowing better, for opening myself up to one of my worst hurts in recent memory. I’m not wholly convinced that I wasn’t a fetishistic experiment for that friend as well, and the unknowing of that still sometimes keeps me up at night. I still love them, but I don’t think I’m capable of loving them again.
I stopped trying to date for a long time after that. Mostly because I stopped being pretty. I no longer looked like a girl. I got facial hair. The fantasy of both man and woman was gone, aesthetically speaking.
Most recently, a man asked me out for a movie at his apartment. Somehow, I knew disclosing my transness would stop things. And sure enough, it did. He told me he “kind of figured,” but that my lack of a penis wasn’t a deal breaker. It was. We haven’t spoken since.
To be a transsexual is not to be unlovable, but it sort of is. It has been in my experience. I am both repulsive and fetishisticly idolized; I am desired in theory, but no one dares to touch me. I am a series of Almosts, of Not Quite, of Nearly There.
Movies are my outlet for this sort of thing, and as a lifelong horror fan, it provides a real catharsis for the anger I’ve got in my core as a result of this constant feeling like an outsider. Horror is the only time I see transsexuals allowed to be angry, to be brutal, even if that brutality often comes at the cost of seeing some much needed humanity. It’s the only time I don’t feel shame in my frustration, in my embarrassingly intense desire just to be liked, let alone to be loved.
Der Samurai, a German film from 2014, depicts a man’s repressed transsexuality as a physical being: a woman with a samurai sword (known simply as the Samurai). The man, Jakob, spends the film in pursuit of this Samurai, trying to understand their connection and why she has dedicated herself to killing the oppressive townspeople around him. At one point, he encounters a woman, Karo, who is the only woman with which he is able to imagine romance. Then, towards the end of the film, Jakob comes across a fire started by the Samurai; within it, the head of Karo. He stares, unable to do anything to help her, before he dances freely with the Samurai. No matter how badly he wants love, he is always standing in his own way.
Sleepaway Camp, a slasher film from 1983, is all about a young transgender girl, Angela, who kills those around her as her femininity is picked apart and spat upon, as she is deemed a freak while simultaneously being sexually pursued by the men around her. When she finally decides to be intimate with a boy, she ends up killing him. In the interpretive eyes of many, what makes her murderous is the fact that she has been forced to live as a girl, a forced gender transition. “My God, she’s a boy,” one character states aloud, as the next shot shows Angela’s bloody, agonized face, frozen in a scream. To seek romantic or sexual love as a transsexual is to be a monster, even though all you wanted was just the simple human desire of being known.
My best friend wrote a poem about our near-miss encounter: “I cannot separate you as we were from us as we once could be.” It feels wrong and melodramatic to mourn all the relationships I never had, but I am heavy with them nevertheless. I have held love in my hands, my fingers have brushed against its warmth and security, and every single time, it has been ripped away from me. I have never known what makes me suitable for casual intimacy, but not for anything more meaningful than that. I’m unsure at what point I became a self-fulfilling prophecy, because surely I am the root of this problem by now. I cannot separate myself as I am — bitter and spiteful and hateful — from what I once could’ve been — loved.
To be a transsexual is not to be unlovable, so where is my love? When I was rebuilding myself, where did I put the lovable part of me? Where did I lose it?
They say write what you know. So I write anger. I write love stories built on rage and wrath. I write transsexual boys who find love in spite of their anger and their bitterness. I write monsters who are not so awful. I write and rewrite Angela Baker: unlovable but desired, quiet but wrathful, innocent but blood-soaked. Ripping the head off the boy she loves, because by now, the only love she understands is violence. My God, she’s a boy.
I don’t know why I keep writing love stories, but I suppose I must keep trying. There is the smallest chance yet that I might brush against love again, that I might feel that wanting from another warm body, and I would very much like to be able to keep it this time.