Illustration: Pedro Nekoi
Like many others, I realized I was not a cisgender woman during the pandemic. After months of introspection, I chose a label that felt right to me: non-binary transmasculine.
Before, when I thought about the future, I just couldn’t see myself existing as a person. It’s not that I wanted to die; I just didn’t know how I wanted to live. But now, Grandpa, I can see the kind of person I want to be, and that gives me a glimmer of hope.
Sadly these revelations all came while I was living with my Indian immigrant parents who were completely drained when I had previously came out of like queer. They never accepted it, even after we reconciled, so I knew I could never talk to them about being trans. Also, my therapist at the time told me she didn’t feel equipped to help me with trans issues and suggested I find one with more expertise, so we parted ways. .
I processed all of these great emotions privately by keeping a journal and finding support from my friends online. Late last year, I started planning a move to New York, where I have a core group of friends who support me in person. Just a few weeks ago, I finally got here. I even went to a Pride event dressed in non-binary flag colors, and it was awesome.
But the truth is, Grandpa, I’m still terrified. Even though I’m thousands of miles away from my family, I feel like I’m still stuck in the little box of options they created for me. I’m afraid that living my dream will mean destroying my parents’ dreams, and I don’t know how to make peace with that fact or how to get their voices out of my head so I can finally experience my gender presentation in peace.
I fear being accused of selfishness for putting my happiness first. I’m afraid I’ll never make peace with this reality. I’m scared of all the hate out there and the rapid proliferation of anti-trans laws in this country. I’m afraid I’ve been locked away for so long that I can never look quite strange to be accepted in queer spaces. I’m afraid of never find a therapist including. I’m afraid no one will see me as anything other than the woman I’m not.
For months, I felt like I was in a cocoon of metamorphosis, a slimy, undefined version of myself, and I don’t know what the end state will be like. I am marinating in discomfort yearning to emerge from this process on the other side as a fully realized and visible being. non-binary person, comfortable in queer spaces and unapologetic about being myself. But I’m so scared of the process to get there and how long it might take, given the decades of repression I have yet to untangle.
So, Grandpa, how do you accept uncertainty and trust the process?
Thank you for sharing your journey with me. As a writer, I like a good extended metaphor. It can be meaningful to find symmetries between your experience and something out there in nature, like the caterpillar or the butterfly, those classic symbols of transformation.
I also like to disturb and undo metaphors, because a metaphor is an imperfect vessel for truth, and the truth is that you are nothing like a caterpillar. The caterpillar, you see, is aware of its marching orders as soon as it hatches. He eats, and eats, and eats, and never once stops to think, Why am I eating so much?
From there, the caterpillar cocoons itself and sets out to become – I imagine it doing this very factually, with a serious look on its caterpillar face – a butterfly, probably never thinking once in the darkness of his temporary home, I can’t wait to be a butterfly, or ask, But what am I, who am I, here in the phase between caterpillar and butterfly?
From the undisputed cocoon emerges the butterfly, the creature we draw, paint and point to in poetry, which has its own purposes: to make caterpillars. This beautiful winged animal, if it were to dream, would probably dream of the thing that we think about so beneath it, its less attractive lower form: it would dream of caterpillars.
The butterfly probably doesn’t feel like it’s lived its entire life waiting to become itself. The butterfly is simply a caterpillar that has managed to achieve its colorful finish. On average, they will die within a few weeks. This is good because, for the bug, the individual doesn’t matter.
Human life is a very different matter. We do not inherently know who we are meant to become. And indeed, what makes humans unique is that we each become something unlike anyone else. There is no moment of arrival, no moment when we realize, Hey, I have wings now! The metamorphosis, for us, is done in more subtle tones. We are (often painfully) self-aware, and as animals driven and drawn to storytelling, we believe the journey should mean Something. We have to go somewhere, to become something, to live towards a desired self.
And just as metaphors are imperfect, so are stories in general. Very few of us can attribute our lives to the outlines of a princess in a castle waiting to be rescued, or a bildungsroman, or that of a tragic hero. Reality, CC, for you and for me, there is no fixed destination. There is no definite point of emergence, when we can be assured that, yes, it is who and what we are meant to be.
In life, there will be times when you will have confidence in yourself, and your whole life will organize itself neatly into an arc of arrival: Look at all that I’ve overcome to become myself, to be where I am now. Then there will be moments of failure, when it seems like you took a wrong turn and found yourself far from where you wanted to go.
Our wings tend to fold for long periods of time. Our splendid colors fade away. The mission becomes unclear: What am I doing?
It’s even more pronounced, I think, among homosexuals. Many of us have embarked on journeys of self-discovery and transformation. We intend to take the basic elements of ourselves and rearrange them into something that more closely resembles our truth.
It’s a beautiful thing but also stressful. There is a real pressure to get as close to our big vision as possible, something we are destined to miss because the vision itself is not static. That changes with us, and the goalposts inevitably move. Butterflies don’t have Instagram feeds littered with prettier or happier butterflies.
As a human being, as someone who has gone through the long and arduous process of change with intention, you are doing very well, CC. I cannot guarantee that you will get all the positive feedback you are looking for, that it will be easy, or that there is a finish line to cross.
The butterfly is not a perfect model for you in this case, I think. You are human. You get to create yourself every day.
With lots of love,
Originally published on July 19, 2022.
This column originally appeared in John Paul Brammer Hola grandpa newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Buy JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Get Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.