A Life in Two Parts
I’m a trans woman. This, if you see me, doesn’t really come as much of a surprise. Between being six and a half foot tall, and the trans pride flag sewed to the sleeve of my school lab-coat, it’s fairly obvious. I started hormones around a year and a half ago, and, to be completely honest, I never thought that I would transition. I once told a dear friend in college that I would die a man. I was that positive that transitioning would never happen for me. But since I have, my life has changed in many, many, wonderful ways. I feel like I’ve gotten the chance to live two lives. But regardless of what life I’m living, Tamora Pierce’s Lioness Rampant is always there.
Lioness Rampant, the last book in Pierce’s The Song of the Lioness series, is the story of a young girl, Alanna, who wanted to grow up and become a knight in the kingdom of Tortall instead of a mage. She traded places with her twin brother when they left to begin their training, as knights had to be men but mages could be either. The story is about how she grew up pretending to be a boy while learning to be a knight. A few people find out along the way, but, in the end, she becomes a knight. Moments after her knighting she is outed to the kingdom and runs off to serve as a questing knight, far away from the capital where she trained. You can see why this story might have drawn the eye of a young trans girl that was always moving around, and who wasn’t very sure of herself.
A hero who had to hide herself in men’s clothing? It was the first story that I could actually see myself in.
I first read those books in elementary school. I was living in England, and loved the books the moment I finished reading them. But, all good things must end, and I started puberty, which was very hard for me. I moved back to the States and began to reread the books again and again.I figured: if she could succeed in keeping her gender hidden so could I, right? I began hunting for more stuff to read, which turned out just as badly as one might think in the early to mid-2000s. I started to identify myself as transgender then, but most of what I could find was porn. It really wasn’t what a young trans girl needed to see. These books depicted gender nonconformity during that time when trans internet resources were largely unavailable.
The lesson that I took from the Lioness Rampant series was that I could hide, that I needed to stay hidden to be successful at anything in my professional life. Which isn’t true, I know now, well on my way to becoming a psychologist. However this need to bury that part of me caused me to do things that I regret, like not starting my transition earlier. In college, I admitted to a few others for the first time that I am trans. Even then, I was steadfast that I would never transition, I would “die a man.” To be more respectable, to do what I wanted professionally.
After graduating from college, the feelings of dysphoria became worse and worse, trying to keep up the façade of being a man was becoming more and more draining. So I thought that I would have to reinforce my façade somehow. This lead me to join the navy, which, to anyone who knows me was a very silly idea, but at the time I thought it was logical. But in the Navy there were gendered uniforms. I still could not escape my assigned sex. I was in the Navy when I got my first chest hair. I started to really believe that it would be better to die than to keep trying to live as a man. At this point, I didn’t even think about the possibility of transitioning, as I had dismissed it long ago. I drank bleach. I didn’t care about anything, I wanted to be dead. Luckily, a patrol on the Navy base found me, and I was taken to the medical center. After my recovery, I was honorably discharged for a medical condition.
It was at this point that I realized that I had to transition. I also applied and was accepted into graduate school, where I am much more at home than I was ever in the Navy. I’m in the middle of my transition, now, and I’m constantly changing, and I’ve realized that the lesson I took from The Lioness Rampant, years ago, was wrong. It wasn’t that I should hide who I am — it’s that I must accept that I cannot pretend to be someone else, that I have to accept who I am. Throughout the book, Alanna struggled to pretend to be a man because she wasn’t, and I’m not either.
I wish I had more positive role models when I was younger. Now, at 28, I want to serve as a reminder to young trans kids that they can grow up to live full lives. Even if I woke up tomorrow and passed perfectly as a cisgender woman I would keep my trans flag on my lab coat. Because it’s who I am, and I’m proof that life does get better. You can be trans and do whatever who want to do. It’s part of who I am as a person, part of my own narrative. •
Here are a few of other my favorite gender nonconforming stories:
- The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag
- Being Emily by Rachel Gold
- Steven Universe, on Cartoon Network
- Rain, the webcomic by Jocelyn Samara
Anna Burns is a graduate student at Alabama A&M. She studies clinical psychology, specializing in sex and gender. She likes psychology, friends, otters and star trek. Find her online here.