Seeing the Signs: Coming out as Trans

This week is Transgender Awareness Week. In celebration, we share the story of writer A.R. Jardine.

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“We must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds”- José Esteban Muñoz

“You have to stop giving a shit about what other people think and start living your life”- Ruth Jardine (my mother)

This isn’t the letter I thought I’d be writing. I made a promise to myself a little over a year ago that if I still felt as miserable, as empty, as lost as I’ve felt on and off for the past decade, I would write a heartfelt suicide letter on my 30th birthday. I pondered the details. Should I include pictures? Song lyrics? For as long as I can remember, I was always drafting and redrafting my suicide letter in the back of my head and sometimes even jotting down notes on napkins or inside journals. I even, perhaps morbidly, imparted funeral instructions to my friends in passing:

“Fill the place with white lilies, Marie.”

“Kara, don’t let them read anything from the bible. Only poetry.”

“If I die first, Mom, please burn me up. You know how I hate insects.”

“Karla, please play ‘Nuvole Bianche’ by Ludovico Einaudi on the piano.”

To my surprise, months later, I spotted the sheet music on her piano bench. With my fingers trailing across the bars of music, I let my imagination wander off the page and to what my tombstone would look like—etched with a poem by Elizabeth Bishop. I felt relief. Finally, I would be able to sleep.

In the past year, a series of events placed themselves in my path. I am a believer in synchrodestiny, of the idea that the universe sends you signs and that you should listen (even when it feels impossible, especially when it does).

Sign 1.

My best friend transitioned from female to male. I watched his spirit change and grow with the shifting of his body. I heard a confidence and security radiating through his conversations, features that were absent when we were two lesbians scampering about the mountains of Victoria, BC.

Sign 2.

I watched two films: Laurence, Anyways and Mr. Angel (both available on Netflix). With my faced pressed to the wet pillow, I had two thoughts:

So this is what’s going on with me. I’m trans.

and

Oh, shit.

Watching these films made me re-examine memories—peeing standing up as a child, dressing in drag during university, and other too personal things to share.

Writer J.R. Ardine as a child

I still tried to theorize my identity. Until the day came that I couldn’t look in the mirror. For the first time, it was actually physically painful for me to examine my reflection. Looking at my hair, my breasts, my body, felt foreign. My eyes, I understood. They held all of me. Even still, I found myself intellectualizing this reality out of fear (like a good writer and academic):

Lots of women have trouble relating to femininity, they’re still women, I think.

or

The problem is the system of binaries, not me.

These justifications are true to a large degree. But whether or not these categorical boxes of “male” and “female” or “man” or “woman” are actually real or make sense or should exist doesn’t change the fact that we have to carry our bodies around in the world. And I couldn’t anymore. Not like that. Mine felt too heavy.

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Sign 3.

Life usually has a way of dumping everything on a person all at once. Struggling with the simultaneous illnesses of a parent and sibling, my own depression, and the financial and emotional stress of a graduate degree, I spent two days locked in my apartment, wondering how I could get out of this mess. So out of fear of hurting my family and friends, I planned to finish writing my suicide letter during Christmas break. And then the biggest something happened that I couldn’t ignore.

On December 29th, Leelah Alcorn’s suicide letter emerged on my Facebook feed. The words filled my eyes and pooled in my stomach, washing my heart along the way. In it, she said: “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was,” she asked that they be “treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.” 

I looked at Leelah’s letter and thought: That’s fucked up. I was heartbroken that a teen with so much passion, a person so likely to one day change the world, felt she had to leave it instead. It was incomprehensible. I thought about her parents’ religious fundamentalist response to her feelings and their outward denial and neglect of their child and I thought:  that’s fucked up. I thought about all the times I’d entered high schools as a diversity educator and heard activists talk about queer rights or women’s rights but make little room for trans or genderqueer discussions and thought: That’s fucked up.

Now, with a bit of space, I can also see that the fact that we often hear about murders and suicides of white trans individuals first is also very fucked up.  With this acknowledgement, I would still like to thank Leelah for changing keeping my life.

A recent photo of J.R. Ardine

To be fair, I don’t have the “typical” trans narrative if there is such a thing (and I don’t think there is). For my entire life, I’ve imagined that I was both (or neither) boy or girl and then man or woman. Whatever the case, I woke up and every day it was decided by society that I was a girl and at a certain point, I made the choice to keep the narrative going as a woman. At times it was debilitating. Other times it was joyous. Always it wasn’t quite enough for me. I know it is for some people. But it never was for me.

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