I wasn’t doing well.
This was the third or fourth night that week I had stayed up that late. I was still heartbroken over the end of what had been a deeply fulfilling relationship with a boy who had loved the parts of me that I didn’t know could be. He had only broken up with me twenty-eight days beforehand, on my parents’ wedding anniversary, and although my best friend on my study abroad program took me to get our nails done that Friday, and although I was in Argentina, and seeing and doing things I had never seen nor done—like working with transgender sex workers and dancing the tango, for starters—and although I told him when we Skyped that Thursday that it must, in fact, be for the best, I missed him. I had started laying the plethora of my host mom’s pillows alongside me when I slept just to remember what it felt like to have a human being breathing and wanting beside me, but even so, I was running out of things to hold onto.
Something else was nagging me too. As part of the Gender Studies Concentration I was completing as part of my program I was interning with Capicüa, a local LGBT grassroots organization. There were buena gente, all of them, and truly became a family for me while I was gone. I had chosen Capicüa to work with after reading about Argentina’s Ley de identidad de género, which enables transgender Argentines to legally change their sex on all their documents instantly, for free, and with no medical and/or psychological requirements. I was intrigued by the incredibly Catholic country that had somehow passed the most progressive law for transgender citizens globally. As a Gender Studies major, as a Christian, and as someone who had recently started identifying as genderqueer (I had recently for the first time seen the option when signing an online Human Rights Campaign petition, and decided it fit more than “male” or “female”) but without really knowing what it meant (but knowing that the now two times I had done drag, something strange—a familiar and unknown force of some kind—drilled an iron pipeline straight down through my ribs into the thick of something deep, dark, and small, and I felt truly beautiful for the first time), I wanted to study these Argentine transgender people, work with them, understand how it was they came into being in a country that didn’t seem like it would let them.
About half the staff of Capicüa identified as transgender, and not one of them had done all that “stuff” I had always associated with the term: hormones, surgeries, exaggeration, abjection. They were mysteriously happy, as they were, living and working and falling in love and fucking up and starting again, like anybody else, only living in the opposite gender of the one everybody told them to be when they were growing up.
But without having changed a single biological characteristic of their bodies.
* * *
When I was a sophomore in high school, I was still having crushes on girls. I emotionally pined after one after another, without ever finding reciprocation. I tried my best—with increasing failure—to ignore those irksome hormones, those that had for years already been sending me lusting after boys, which made no sense, of course, because I only liked girls.
After church youth group one Wednesday night, a realization dawned joyously on me that I had somehow developed a crush on Sam (–uel, not –amantha) over the previous weeks. The feelings I felt for him from across the basketball court or from the beaten-up sofa adjacent to his and wishing I were closer were not solely sexual, I understood. They were more. I wanted him in a full-bodied, rom-com cuteness, happily-ever-after sort of wanting.
“I can have crushes on boys?” I thought as I waited for my dad to come pick me up. “That makes everything so much fucking easier!” I didn’t have to be torn in two directions anymore, so I followed the one that fit.
The following week, I started coming out to my friends—slowly, secretly—as bisexual, and a few months later as gay. Things would never pan out with Sam but it didn’t matter in the scheme of things. I was already someone different that I didn’t know had been possible. I was thrilled.
* * *
After a few weeks of working with Capicüa, another very similar-feeling realization began scratching beneath the surface of the iron pipeline, pleading to be joyously dawned.
But I wasn’t quite ready for it.
* * *
At 8:43PM on Wednesday, October the 2nd, 2013 (only seven hours away from where our story begins), I began talking to a friend on GChat.
“oh i guess i should tell you something,” I typed. “i'm kind of changing my name / not legally / but like / in my life”
“to what?” asked Scott.
“b.” I said, explaining how I preferred its androgynous vibe.
“b it is,” said Scott. I thanked him.
“how are you feeling Genderwise?” he asked.
I told him about recently referring to myself with gender-neutral pronouns.
“i'm feeling pretty terrified,” I wrote. “every step i take in this direction is a terrifying one and i think about how much more comfortable is being [old name] and not shaving every other day as opposed to once a week like before”
He asked me how else these changes were manifesting themselves in my daily life. I told him about my growing hair and how I was finding new things to do with it. I told him how “i've been going through my canon of poems that i've written / and slamming them to myself / when i'm alone / but in a higher octave / just to see how they change” and how I didn’t really feel gender neutral like the pronouns I had tried but not really like a woman either, so until I had figured this conundrum out a little more I didn’t want to label it. We left it at that.
* * *
I couldn’t tell you what transpired over the course of the next seven hours, only that by four in the morning (and by now we have moved safely into Thursday, October the 3rd), when I still hadn’t gone to bed, something inside me—the iron piping, perhaps—at long last collapsed, and amidst the rushing substance now flooding throughout my frame that felt something like poison and everything like light, I said to myself,
“Well, that’s that.”