Selfie

published on Sep 07, 2021

CATEGORIZED AS: Trans | self-reflection

When I meet new people, they inevitably want to know what it's like to transition. That's hard to describe, but easy to show: just look at my eyes.

The story is in the eyes.

Yes, it's just another selfie. A pretty normal, everyday thing for most people. Simple, really: pose, snap, and share.

For me, it is a wondrous joy. A novel experience, its thrilling sheen still intact. This photograph amazes me, even now, nearly a week after being taken. It looks like me, and I love the me that's in it.

It hasn't always been this way. Quite the opposite, in fact. For most of my life, I despised pictures. Loathed them. It's difficult to overstate the amount of dread and apprehension I felt around pictures.

I would shift, squirm. I would try to duck behind the people in front of me. I never, ever wanted to have a picture made.

The reason I was so adamant about not having my image captured is that, inevitably, I would be expected to look at it.

And I hated the very sight of myself.

 

I didn't realize all of this at the time. I knew I hated to have my picture taken, but chalked it up to how I always looked awkward. I knew that the sight of myself caused me to recoil emotionally, but I just thought I was ugly.

My face didn't look right, no matter what I did. My body looked misshapen. And my smile was always... wrong. At some point, I even wrote an essay called "I Don't Know How to Smile."

But what I didn't notice until after I transitioned was the eyes.

They used to be dull. Empty.

They were a window into my soul, and they told the story: I was unhappy. I was in pain. And no one, not even I, realized it.

Here I am, having just screened my second short film ever at the 100 Words Film Festival, and spending the evening with my kid. And yet, where's the joy, the sparkle?

 

There are so many reasons why I didn't know what was "wrong" with me. The biggest is probably that, growing up without any framework or context for what I was feeling, I assumed it was normal — or, if not normal, gravely terrible and sinful (thanks, heritage of the American Puritanism). Even when I became aware of trans people, even when I advocated for trans rights, I didn't yet have the dots connected.

Even though I was aware from a very young age — at least 11 — that I was desperate to "be" a girl, I didn't have the emotional room, the cultural context, or the freedom to explore and understand it. In fact, I was a girl. I can see that clearly in retrospect, but, captured as I was by the conservatism and evangelical culture of 1970's & early 80's Alabama, that was entirely too far a leap.

(Isn't it funny how, as a culture, we are fascinated and romanced by this idea that we are more than our physical selves? From Star Wars to The Matrix to Ghost to Soul, we love to see stories about people escaping the confines of their physical manifestations. Which is, of course, exactly what trans people are doing: proclaiming that the arbitrary assignment of our physical selves does not dictate or overrule our true, internal, spiritual selves.)

In looking back through pictures of myself as a child and a teenager, you can see it happen: somewhere between 11 and 13 a shift starts taking place. The smile becomes forced. The face tends to look away from the camera. And the eyes. They're still blue, but they no longer shine the way they did before.

I didn't have the freedom to express my pain. I didn't have open (and non-salacious) discussions about what being transgender means.

 

Many kids today do have that freedom and they have the context thanks to growing societal awareness of trans issues, and greater emphasis on helping trans people become whole.

And these kids, they know. They know.

They know because, like me, they see in their reflections a grotesque mockery of who they really are in their mind, in their spirit, in the core of their very self.

They know in the same way that you know whether or not you like broccoli or twangy country music, or whether you are attracted to men or to women or to people who are non-binary.

They know because it is a fundamental part of who they are.

So it astounds me to hear people talk about taking away the ability for these kids to take control of their lives. I hear people — even many who claim to be trans allies — question whether we should make puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy available to kids. "Are they really ready to make that decision?" these people ask.

I wish in those moments that these people could deeply feel exactly what they would be consigning these kids to. To have them understand the longing for a childhood that never got to be (a longing that will never be assuaged). Get them to sit with me through the hours upon hours of white hot needles it takes to transition after puberty.

I wish that I could show them these two pictures and get them to really reflect upon those eyes.

 

Mind. Body. Spirit.

Dysphoria means, literally, "difficult to bear."

It is a punishingly wearing experience to walk through Life when you feel your body is constantly in active opposition to your mind and spirit. By its very existence, your body chafes on your soul.

Making the decision — and, importantly, having the freedom to follow through on that decision — to transition means more than name & pronoun changes and a new wardrobe. It is a profoundly transformative moment of revolution, when the mind and spirit proclaim they will no longer be subjects to the body.

It is a moment when we realize that we have hidden so much of our deep selves within the bars of our physical manifestation. We climb out of that cave and into the sunlight of the True us. It's overwhelming and euphoric and sometimes scary.

And it's powerful.

 

One of the surprisingly wonderful aspects of transitioning is that, eventually, I learned my body never wanted to rule. It was never in active opposition to me. It was forced into that position by the cultural and religious proscriptions of my childhood.

Once I freed it from that place, though, it was ready to change. It was eager to change.

My very wise and insightful friend, India, told me right before I was to have my surgery: "Your body knows the way. Trust it."

I'm working on that, trusting my body. It's a little strange and difficult after feeling at odds for so long. And... it's liberating. It frees me to be whole person for the first time in my life. Free to feel comfortable in a bathing suit. Free to dance. Free to look in a mirror or to take a selfie — with joy and love instead of overwhelming dread.

To see myself in my body. In my face. In my smile.

To see myself when I look into my eyes.

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Abigail Head


Improv nerd, geek girl. She/her.

Theater owner, actor & improviser, writer, filmmaker, minor league humorist, and generally-opinionated scuttlebug.

Lover of the em dash, proponent of the serial comma, and staunch defender of "literally" literally meaning "in the literal sense". 

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