Things That Go Bump In The Mind
Foreword: I wrote this last Halloween, but didn’t feel able to publish it at the time. A year on, while my perception of myself has changed somewhat and my writing style has changed a lot (this was one of the first longer pieces I’d written in years), I still think this is a really lovely captured piece of memory that I now feel able to share. ❤
There have always been monsters off the edges of maps.
Far smarter folk than I have mused at length on the queercoding of villains, on the kids who implicitly feel that they’re different identifying with the other, but at it’s (beating-in-hand) heart I always most enjoyed the holidays that allowed you to be someone else for an evening; to hide your true self in plain sight. It’s no surprise that Halloween has long been my favourite holiday.
The secrecy with which many transgender women undertake their first traipses into acting, dressing, sounding and looking the way we want (or how we’re required to, but that is for another day) culminates in a strange selection of memories. I’ve retained very few parts of my teenagedom as an adult woman, most of which is relegated to the parts of my mind that are only called upon when I stumble upon an old photograph, a diary entry or a My Chemical Romance track. What remain are occasional parties, marriage equality rallies, and late evenings alone with best friends; the few moments I could carve out of an existence of playing boy-pretend to say hey girl, remember who you are, remember where you came from, this is you.
You, the statistically probable cisgender reader, were assigned a gender at birth the same as I was and, without your realising, a great many of your life’s happenings have been affected by that gender. At its most simple, being transgender is being intimately aware of the interplay of gender in those experiences and how it can hurt, unsettle and disqualify.
When the prevailing experience is to not question gender, society bases itself on a diametrically opposed binary of identities and rules that exist to solidify uneven power structures, while in the process invalidating any identities or experiences that exist outside of these carefully drawn up rules. Saying “this experience, this gendered label is not mine” is an act of defiance, and like all rebellions, we start in private, occupying darkened rooms with subversive persons who share and allow each other the space not just to exist but to flourish.
This past October’s end was my tenth year celebrating halloween, I’ve counted. Growing up a ‘teenage boy’ who really entirely distinctly knew that she wasn’t a boy has given rise to thousands of memories of discomfort and regret. However October 31st has always been a night where things may not be what they seem, and in the hands of girls and boys like us that was a recipe for the best evening of the year. Here is one evening where that was the case.
October 31st, 2009
I had been invited to my first official halloween party by a close friend from school, and everyone we knew was going to be there. Several months prior I had seen the first psychologist of many, opening up to her about how I was actually, maybe, possibly, I think, a woman.
She asked an occasional question as I spoke for an hour, until I ran out of breath, and then brought my parents back into the room. “I think your son [sic] has gender dysphoria disorder [sic] and would recommend he [sic] start hormonal treatment”. I wanted to start straight away, my doctors and parents felt it safer to wait until the end of high school. Our compromise was me being able to wear what I wanted to this halloween party.
Next to our school was this shopping mall and in the window of an otherwise unsuspecting store was this beautiful purple dress. I had been eyeing it all year, and decided it was the perfect centrepiece for my witchy ensemble. A close friend, who’d accompanied me to buy it, laughed as I struggled with the zip and offhandedly suggested I join her and a few of our other friends to get our costumes ready.
To this day, involvement in acts that are so commonplace for cis women remain monumental in their value to me. There always exists sneaking doubts about my gender, about my validity as female, and inclusion by women into their (our) rituals and spaces take bigger axes to those trees in the road than I ever could alone. I doubt if those women who asked me to prepare for the evening with them will ever understand the importance of that entirely commonplace invitation.
The party was already underway across a large dark lawn from the streetside, and the five of us stepped from the car, smoothing skirts and flattening stray hairs. The nervousness that came from appearing as “myself”, as the way I had always wanted to be viewed, was abated by the comfort of the costume — that any mean spirited comments could be laughed off as silly indulgence on an evening of the spirits. We held hands and started our perilous journey to the hall across the way, a difficult journey as much for the trepidation as for the combination of our sublimely high heels and a boggy lawn.
I held my breath as we approached the first of our friends, waiting to be met with laughter, waiting to join in and validate their joke, waiting to not make a scene, but instead being met with “Who’s this girl? What school do you go to? How do you know each other?”. They didn’t recognise me. In that instant I lit up, and from that point no words could dampen me. The validation we most crave comes from those who don’t realise they’re validating us.
I met more and more friends and in turn was met by endless questions about who I was and who I knew at the party before shock and smiling-eyed amazement met me, feeling my confidence and my disposition heighten endlessly. One girl came up to me, barely recognisable behind a costume somewhere between generic sexy cat and catwoman, and said “I never would have believed it was you”. I smiled fully back at her and said thank you, thinking that I’d never really, truly believed it before either.
We paused for the host to award the trophy statuettes for the best costumes of the night, the music turned down low and the conversation stalling momentarily. I was admittedly not paying a great deal of attention, busy finishing a conversation with a friend up the back of the room when I heard my name called from the middle of the crowd; I had won the award for best dressed boy. I smiled automatically, knowing instantly how to hide any disappointment I felt, thinking to myself that this euphoria had to end somehow, someone had to remind me that for all of this I wasn’t really who I was pretending to be.
I approached the host, towering over him in my heels, and accepted the trophy with a hug and an over-performed kiss on the cheek to take my place next to the winner for best girls’ costume, instead finding myself next to a boy in my class. I looked back down at my award, at the host, at the party, not quite realising what had happened.
There have always been monsters off the edges of maps, but maybe I wasn’t liminal any longer. In a whirlwind moment of validation and cheering, something had changed: I’d been given the award for girl with the best costume.