Thursday, January 8, 2015

Forever Bea*

“Wait, can I quote you on that for the blog post I’m gonna write about all of this?”

“Sure,” she says, laughing.

“Thanks,” I reply.  I repeat that which she said.

“It’s a scary thing…when trans women get self-esteem.”

* * *

Last Saturday, my older brother took me to a tattoo parlor.  As first a birthday gift and then a Christmas one, he promised me two of the permanent ink-depictions, and I couldn’t have been more excited.

I had been planning on getting a few tattoos ever since crushing on a boy last year who had several himself.  Once he had inadvertently planted this idea in me (before inadvertently breaking my heart), I began to think:

What is most important to me?

How do I want to present myself in public?

Who am I, really?

And what thing or things will continue to answer 
these three questions for the rest of my life?

After all, perfectionist-overthinker that I am, whatever I would eventually decide on would be there forever, right, so I better make damn sure I know what I’m doing.

It didn’t take long to figure out.

* * *

When we got to the parlor we met my tattoo artist, a larger, bearded, heavily inked man with mismatched gauges named Miguel.  I showed him the sentence on the left side of my ribs and the image I wanted on the underside of my left forearm.  He disappeared into the back to print the stencil versions of the designs and get set up, before my bringing my brother and me back with him.

We started with the rib-sentence so as to get the more painful one out of the way first.

Half an hour later, it was done:

German for “What you have beaten, to God will it bear you!”, it is the final line of text the choir sings in my favorite symphony, situated intentionally beneath a meaningful scar.

I caught my breath and drank some water while Miguel bandaged it up.  He put the second stencil on.

“No, not quite,” I advised, seeing it on my body. “I want the circle a little smaller, and like, to make sure the arrows are even.”

He disappeared again to go tweak the design and my brother went next door to get a cup of coffee.  I looked at the blue lines on my arm.   Time passed.

Miguel put the second, corrected stencil on my arm.  I liked it more.  I looked at it in the mirror.  I looked in the mirror more.

“What don’t you like about it?” he asked.

“Nothing! I really like this one,” I assured him. “Something just…I’m starting to have second thoughts, which is weird, ‘cause like, I’ve wanted this one for months.”

“Don’t get it if you’re not 100% sure,” he warned me.

And with that my brother drove us home, the stencil still on my arm, with the understanding that I would return the following day to finish it once I had sat with the decision for a little while longer.  I suppressed the urge to apologize to my brother, knowing I hadn’t done anything wrong.  But I still felt guilty, somehow; I could already sense that the something that inhibited me getting it was a something with which I would soon have to reckon.

“I already know who I need to call,” I told him.

* * *

At a brunch recently with about thirty women, all of whom I believe were cisgender, we aired out our grievances from 2014.  I felt self-conscious, only trans person that I’m pretty sure I was, and when I finally mustered the courage to share, encouraged by my friend next to me who nudged me during a lull, I began, “2014 was the first year of fully living as myself.”  In the grievances that followed, I never once uttered the word “trans,” assuming that they all knew from seeing and hearing me and so why should I have to speak it out loud as well?

More accurately, when a word that describes you, or reveals something about you, has so many so-called “synonyms” born out of hatred, and when it raises eyebrows, or furrows them, and when it calls to mind “related” words like mental and like illness, and especially together, in that order, and when you need to hide that word from your external appearance or otherwise they might say something, or do something, or worse, and when that word makes you too scared to apply for a job, or leave your apartment, and when it leaves unpleasant pink bumps along your jawline from where last you shaved too close, and when your Tinder matches see that word on your profile and immediately unmatch you time and again and once more and you still sleep fucking alone, and when that word makes you feel like your sanity is a bomb ticking downwards, and your sanity is a bomb ticking downwards, and you are a bomb ticking downwards, and you are ticking downwards, and you are down, you start to resent that word.  You start to wish that you could bury it in the blizzard raging outside your window at 3:39PM because you still haven’t shaved which means you still haven’t left your apartment.  You start to reminisce about before, when you were unhappy, and blissfully safe in your unhappiness, and you start to wonder why so much had to change, and all on the account of that one stupid fucking word.

* * *

“So what’s up?” my trans sister says when she picks up the phone.

I explain the situation.

“So I was gonna get the second tattoo, right,” describing how it would identify me as a queer and trans individual, “and the tattoo artist put it on my arm and I was looking at it and all of a sudden I had this weird thought, you know, like ‘Why am I really doing this?’”

“Well, yeah, it’s like marking yourself with your identity.”

“Exactly!   Which I don’t know if it’s like some kind of self-punishment thing, because I would want it to feel empowering but like, I always just assume that people know that I’m trans right away, anyway, and I don’t want to like, justify getting treated differently by marking myself with that.”

“Well I think the fact that you’re even asking about self-punishment is a sign you should give it another week to think about.  You know I’m all about self-care.”

“I don’t know, like, I do really like the design and I’ve been thinking about it forever, but like, the idea of having it on there forever is like, scary, somehow.  Like the first one was no problem, because it’s on my ribs so it’s less visible, and it’s also not like controversial in any way.  But there’s something about having this on my arm forever that’s kind of terrifying.  And especially as a non-op trans person, it’s like, I have to choose it every day, you know?  Because it’s not like I’ve developing breasts or doing anything irreversible.   And it’s so weird being able to go back any time I want to.  Like over the summer when I traveled as a ‘man’ for three weeks to make it safer.”

“Right.   Which I can’t really do anymore, but yeah, totally.”

“Yeah!  And I don’t know, I guess I wish it was like that for me sometimes, because being able to choose is such a shitty power to have.   There’s like this little voice in my head who tells me, ‘No, it’s fine, we can always change the documents back to male; never mind about how enormous of a hassle it was to change them the first time.’

“You know what, I think that’s it, I think that—I think that there’s a part of me that wishes the identity won’t last forever.  You know?   Like if I’ve changed the way I identify this many times already, maybe I’ll change it again someday and I won’t have to live as a trans person anymore.”

“Yeah, no, I totally get that.  There are some days when you just need to take a break from it all because it can get to be a lot!”

“Yeah!  And it’s stupid of me to think it’ll change again someday, because like, this is who I am and who my life has been leading up to me being.  It’s not like my gender identity is just going to whoosh away somewhere else.”


“And I don’t know about you, but I can’t even imagine the future anymore.  Because it’s not like there are lots of trans people in the media to show us, ‘Oh, this is what it looks like to get a job or get married or grow old,’ so the idea of keeping that identity with me in a real, visible way for the rest of my life…like of course that’s gonna be terrifying!  It’s owning my trans identity in a vulnerable, obvious way when the ways that it’s going to interact with other people and places is still really unknown.”

“Yeah, and we can’t know what that will all look like.  We just have to do it and see, and trust that we’ll find the ways to do it. But yeah, it’s definitely hard to wear that really outwardly.  It’s a scary thing…when trans women get self-esteem.”

“Wait, can I quote you on that for the blog post I’m gonna write about all of this?”

“Sure,” she says, laughing.

“Thanks.  ‘It’s a scary thing…when trans women get self-esteem.’”

“Yeah, and I think the tattoo can be really empowering and a sign of strength and something to carry with you into that unknown future if you let it.”

“You know what, just since talking to you I already feel so much better and I’m thinking so much more clearly.  I think I will get it after all.”

“Glad I could help, babe.”

“Me too.  I love you.”

“I love you too.”

* * *

The next day I returned to the parlor—this time with my dad—and Miguel did the second tattoo.  My arm now looks like this:

Here’s to always being trans.

Here’s to hard days of street harassment and ever rising higher.

Here’s to the families that we make.

Here’s to living authentically.

Here’s to actual happiness.

Here’s to feeling good.

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