How Samuel Got Their Swagger Back

            I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these, but the last couple months have been an incredibly busy, healing time for me. And I mean healing, literally. On March 7th, after a year of slogging through the system (I was fortunate that it only took a year) I had top surgery. I had an excellent surgeon, whom, given the opportunity, I’ll praise to the moon and back about her skill, as well as her bedside manner, and I’m ecstatic with the results and my recovery went well. My best friend, Sarah, wanted to come up from Oklahoma to help take care of me that first week after surgery when I would need the most care, but work commitments prevented her from doing so. So, to make both of us feel better about that shared time lost, as soon as I was cleared from surgery restrictions I boarded an Amtrak to Oklahoma, under the guise of going shopping for my new body, but really just an excuse to hang with my bff, not that I needed one.

            I’m sure you’ve heard it said that the journey is more important than the destination. While I argue the logic of that statement, especially when the destination is definitely somewhere I want to go, I can’t argue with the fact that every journey is a learning experience. And this journey on the Amtrak was no different. When you spend that many hours (30 hours going and 27 hours back) just sitting there, hurling through Arkansas during the blackness of night, not sleeping because you’re not in your bed and you’re surrounded by strangers, your thoughts are bound to wander. Before the trip started, I had already decided that I wasn’t going to use the bathrooms in the stations, particularly Ft. Worth where I had a long layover, because they didn’t have a unisex bathroom. I present as masculine, though my I.D. is still clearly marked with an F, a fact I haven’t decided yet whether or not I’m going to change. Those who have had to deal with bathroom issues already know what I’m referring to. For those who don’t spend your time in public risking a UTI because the thought of going through the hassle of public bathrooms is just not something you want to deal with, try to sympathize. The public bathroom debate still rages, particularly in the south. However, turns out my precautions were unwarranted.

            It started on the train. Everyone who had a reason to speak to me did so using feminine pronouns. Every. Single. One. I, of course, did not tell them that was my preference, because it isn’t. I prefer they/them. I often don’t insist on it, however, for transitory interactions, such as customer service situations or when I’m in a metal tube journeying through the night surrounded by people I will never see again. I have learned to pick my battles. I save those conversations for people who matter, such as friends and family, and my doctor. People I trust have my best interest in mind and need to know. However, being misgendered so much without even trying (I was dressed in old, “men’s” jeans, a button up “men’s” shirt, a black hoodie, and dark blue Skechers and I have very short hair), made me wonder what it was they were all queuing up on. Was it my voice? One gentlemen, whom I’d been on the train with for hours, and had rare occasion to speak with me, started using female pronouns as soon as he heard me answer a question he had put to me. The same with the station attendants when I had a question about my connection. It really started to get to me. Here, six weeks ago I lay on a metal table while one of the best plastic surgeons in the Midwest (or the country, as far as I know) removed my most outward sign of gender, I was dressed as described, and I go by a male name. What more did I have to do to really be seen? The obvious answer came to me at once, but it’s an answer I still haven’t accepted yet as an option I want to take. I know the medical risks, and I had my endo clear me for take off last year, just in case I wanted to take that step, and I know the side effects. I have practical, but somewhat shallow, reasons that hold me back from taking that last step. T, the final frontier.

            I’m not going to go into all my misgivings about it, because they are mine, and trans people don’t owe others an explanation into our thought process about what got us to where we are or where we’re thinking of going just so the outside world can understand and accept us. What I will say is that this journey had me thinking more and more about a question I thought I had put to rest a year ago. I had put the question to rest because I know (or, at least, think I do) that I’m not male. When my brother said, “Well, I’ve always wondered what it would be like having a brother,” I responded with, “You still don’t have one.” I wanted to express to him that, 1. I don’t see myself as a male, and 2. even if I did I’m still the same person he grew up with. My childhood experiences are those of a tomboy, not as a male. It’s complicated, and I don’t know that he completely gets it, but that’s ok, as I’m sure I don’t completely get it myself.

            What it has taken me until now to realize is that, despite how the medical establishment makes one feel that transgenderism is an either/or decision, it just isn’t. There are plenty of folx who take hormones but also maintain their nonbinary identity. It’s a thing I can do, I have the agency. So, is that where I’ve landed? Well, I haven’t landed anywhere yet. I’m taking my time, I’m allowed. But I am closer than I’ve ever been to making that decision.

            One other thing occurred to me on that train. Something else inside me has shifted, but not shifted away to a place it’s never been, more like back to a place it once was and is meant to be. I’ll try and explain. The post op me, who just recently discovered they like to go shirtless and is growing out my normally buzzed hair again and using pomade, is getting their swagger back. This is the same swagger I had in my mid-twenties, newly out and newly in love, trying to figure out this gay thing, and loving life. I identified as a dyke then, because I was reclaiming the word, even if I didn’t completely understand what that meant. I had a comb in my back pocket and Docs on my feet and my hair was slicked back within an inch of its life. Life was good. The differences between that baby dyke and me, however, are vast, and full of all the stuff that the twenty odd years that separates us could jam in there. My hair is grayer, I’ve loved and lost a few times, I’ve been through divorce and bankruptcy, my parents are gone, my first love is gone from this world, I’ve become a published author, my chest is gone, but I still have those Docs. They are a relic, a time capsule to the me I used to be, to the me I was meant to be. That is what top surgery has ultimately left me with: the realization that I’m not on the road to becoming someone new, but that I’m on my way back to being the person I was always supposed to be and would have been if life hadn’t gotten in the way. So, while I contemplate my next steps, I can rest easy knowing that every step forward is one I was meant to take.

            Gosh, I just hope I don’t end up looking like my brother.