Sensitive Content Warning: contains strong language, mentions sexual violence, talks of suicide, and mental health issues.
Am I making the right choice? Last year I became homeless, and after a month of sleeping on my best friend's couch, I had worn out my welcome. I've been in the shelter ever since. My parents didn't approve of my decision.
The shelter provided me with a bus pass and helped me sign up for food stamps. I go to college full-time, and I work part-time at a fast-food restaurant. My grandmother pays my tuition. She doesn't know yet.
I feel bad, and I don't at the same time. Waiting it out until the last tuition check gets signed before telling her; knowing that, if she knew, she would take it all away. Does that say more about her, or me?
I graduate in two months, so it's now or never. I've skrimped, saved, gone hungry, and worked myself into unconsciousness for months preparing for this moment. After I do this, I lose everything. After I do this, I gain my freedom.
My parents didn't believe me when I first told them. I was so scared. I wanted to run away. In my mind, it was less scary to run away into the unknown than it was to face them. When I insisted, that's when the yelling began.
The yelling, arguing, belittling, and threatening lasted all night. My mother cried. My father made me cry. I had looked up to him my whole life. This was the same man who once pulled me aside, looked me in the eye, and told me, in all seriousness, that he would help me hide a body. But now, it was as if I was no longer his child. He unleashed all the fury I had seen inflicted on others over the years, but had always been immune to myself.
My family crumbled before my eyes that night. The memory of my happy childhood shone prominently in my mind, bright and vibrant like a stained glass window, and then it was smashed just as easily. I could feel the shards settle sharply in my stomach. I knew then that I would have to keep my life a secret, for now.
I was eighteen then. That magic number where all of a sudden you're an adult and have all the freedoms of an adult, right? Wrong. That only works in movies or for the independently wealthy. In reality, we are all tied to our families, jobs, and society as a whole. We rely on them to function; and, without their support, we are nothing. In hindsight, I probably should have waited to tell anyone in my family until now.
However, it would have been impossible to meet the requirements of my goal without telling my parents. I had been tested, poked, prodded, examined, and evaluated by multiple doctors and therapists. They still required one year of "life experience," as they called it, just to make sure that you are sure. One year living as a man, coming out to your friends and family, and choosing a name. Those were the stipulations.
One year of sheer terror. The stares, the questions, the discrimination, the insults, and the threats I received during that year were like torture. And I was one of the lucky ones. Somehow, I was never attacked, raped, or killed simply for being myself. Too many others aren't as lucky as I am.
I lost many friends. I lost my family. I lost my home. I spiraled into a deep, dark depression from whence I may never truly escape. I saw the true nature of the world when you choose to go against it, and it is monstrous.
Yet, I survived. I jumped over every hurdle thrown at me. I banged up my shins and fell hard so many times I couldn't count them all, but I always found the strength to get back up. So many nights I struggled to find that strength. I wanted nothing more than to give up and end it all. Ironically, I never found the strength to give up. I consider myself lucky in those aspects.
My thoughts are in constant flux. I know I am lucky to have arrived at this point, but I suffered every goddamn step of the way here. I have paid my dues, and I have earned this. From strangers looking me up and down and questioning what I am. To damn near pissing myself, waiting for someone to unlock the teacher's restroom at college, because the students didn't want a "tranny" using theirs. Or the inability to breathe after twelve hours in a chest compression vest to hide my breasts.
Then there was the day that I made my grandmother cry. She refused to even hug me and sent me out of her house... all because I had cut my hair. My best friend's parents wished me, in the most lovingly Christian way, to fall so far into despair that my only option was to reach out to Christ, forcing me to change my sinful ways. Strangers often told me to kill myself, or they'd do it for me.
To this day, the thing that hurt the worst was said to me by a family member. Not a particularly close one, but it stung deeper than any other comment made before or since. He said that, I had a vagina, and I was meant to get fucked. This short statement spat out like a cobra's venom, and the wound still stings.
At that moment, in the seething tone in which it was said, this statement felt like a threat. As if he wished harm upon me. This man, who had no investment in me, other than that he was married to my mother's mother, was deeply offended over my identity. My being a woman or a man did not affect him in the slightest way, and yet he wished harm upon me for it. This revelation still haunts me.
It makes me wonder what my real grandfather, who actually helped raise me, would have thought had he been alive. He, too, was merely married to my biological grandmother, but on my dad's side. You'd have never known we weren't blood. He raised me as his own. He taught me everything: how to read, how to ride a bike, how to tie my shoes, how to swim, and how to fish.
He was always kind, and I never saw him lose his temper. He was so intelligent. He also taught me how to use a computer back before having a home computer was commonplace. He was strong and handy and built things. He worked hard, was respected, made a decent living, and took care of his family. He was ambitious and taught me that you learn something new every day. He was funny, caring, loyal, and... just everything good in the world! He was my hero. He was the kind of man that I aspire to be.
Would he, too, have rejected me? Or would our bond that was stronger than blood have held fast? Would he have been the pivotable point in my acceptance? I have driven myself mad many times thinking about it. To have no answers for these questions honestly hurts my heart, and yet, at the same time, there's an odd bliss in ignorance that I cannot explain.
By signing these papers today, I'll also lose my grandmother; she is my main remaining connection to my grandfather. I won't be welcome in her home anymore, where he lived from when I was born to when he died. The home where I spent every Christmas Eve and where all the family albums with pictures of the good 'ole times reside. Where his chair at the head of the table still sits. I'll never again see his office where he would measure my height on the edge of the door for as long as I could remember.
After today, all of this will be memories. I'll be disowned and disinherited. On top of being the best person you can imagine, my grandfather was smart with his money. My grandmother, my father, myself, his ex-wife, their children, and grandchildren, all of us, were taken care of long before he ever got sick.
I still remember the day he sat me down and told me about how he had planned on paying for my first car, my college tuition, and my first apartment. He said he would take care of me in any way necessary so that I could grow up to be anything I wanted. If I wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist, or even an astronaut, he'd support me. I could go to any college I wanted, anywhere in the country, and he'd pay for it. He didn't want me to worry about a thing.
I couldn't care less about the money; what hurts me the most about losing it are his intentions not being honored. He wanted me to have the freedom to be whatever I wanted to be and was going to support me in whatever I chose. And in that respect, I find comfort in believing he would have accepted me. That's why I waited until now.
Until my grandmother signed off on my last tuition check, and I had saved up enough of my own money to file for my legal change of name. In two months' time, I will receive my college degree in my lifelong passion of art. And I'll be damned if it has the wrong name on it. I never really look back and give myself credit for how far I've come, but today, I get to celebrate: one more milestone, complete.