The Lady of the Lake
I stood on the dock, alone, holding a metal name badge in my hand. “Christopher Bigelow,” it read, with the name of the library printed underneath and the college seal next to them both. I’d received it when I’d started my job, years ago now. At the time, it was a symbol of rebirth, of escape from my old life as a high school teacher. Now, though, it had become a dead weight around my neck, in more ways than I could possibly have imagined back then.
I should say something, I thought. The water rippled, roused by the wind. A heavy, oppressive heat made me itchy in my collared men’s shirt, and made me intimately aware of the sports bra underneath concealing my new, growing breasts (I’d begun hormone replacement therapy five months before). “Goodbye,” I said to the name badge at last, adding as an afterthought, “Thank you.”
I stretched my arm back, held still for a split second, then threw. The name tag arced out over the water with a shiiiing sound, and hit the surface with a dull splash. It reflected the light of the sun one final time before sinking out of sight forever.
Possibility and power swirled around me. “I name myself,” I said into the sudden stillness, and spoke my new full name. I felt the future click into place. There. Done.
It was my last day as a man. The next day, my colleagues at work would sit around a table and hear how their quiet co-worker was becoming a woman, and a few days after that I would walk up the walkway to the front doors to face the future, terrified but whole.
The scene by the dock was something I’d planned. I should do something to honor this passage, I reasoned as the time drew nearer. Everything was changing, I was passing from one life to another. Going what’s called “full-time” at work was the last thing I needed to do to live as Susan in every part of my life, even though I’d discarded my old “boy self” some months before everywhere else. This moment would mark the end of the strange half-life I’d been living for a year, and the beginning of a frightening, impossible new life.
It was also the fulfillment of a promise I’d made to myself, many months earlier. When I go full-time I’ll come back here, I vowed, I’ll come back here and throw my name into the lake.
Where did this gender-variance, this trans-ness, come from? I have no idea. It didn’t just spring up overnight, though sometimes it feels that way. I’d never been at home as a male, and I’d always found my body to be confusing and frustrating. Looking in a mirror was enough to make me angry and depressed, and it had been that way at least since I left college. I’d always been drawn to women as friends, primarily, and whenever I chose characters for video games, then a huge part of my life, I chose a female one. Even stranger was this lingering fantasy of walking through some incredible door and instantly becoming a woman. I don’t know when that started, but it got more persistent as I hit my 30s. Still. I was a guy, I could do nothing about it. Right?
Things changed when I became drawn to books about transsexuals, and began to read about their transitions. In many ways, what they had gone through as children and young adults was very different from my own experiences, but I began to realize that I desperately wanted to follow them on this path. I wondered why I called myself by a girl’s name, Susan, in my head. How odd! When had I begun doing that, a decade ago? More? But I put it out of my mind, like I always had. What else could I do?
Things came to a head when I was down on that same dock, in the hot summer of 2009, confusing thoughts swirling around in my head. Okay, let’s say it. Let’s get it over with. Let’s find out it’s not true and move on. I opened my mouth and this came out: “I am a woman named Susan.”
My world shifted on its axis; a simple statement had never struck me so powerfully. It was true, it was true, and now what? I had said it out loud, I couldn’t take it back, I couldn’t ignore it, somehow I had to honor the potential inherent in those words. I had entered a long, dark and frightening tunnel.
I promised myself, I would find a way out. I would walk forward until I found the exit.
A year passed, and, little by little, I became more solid. There are so many incredible, awful stories to tell about that time between those two moments on the dock: stories about marriage, friendship, family, hormones, coming out, therapy, self-discovery, and more. I found that I was far from alone. Instead, there was always someone else’s hand in mine, no matter where I wandered in that dark and lonely place.
Maybe the upshot is this: I survived. I emerged. I got to have my moment at the dock in the summer of 2010, where I threw my old self away and spoke my new identity into the heavy summer air. I did it. I kept my promise.
The moment passed. I stood there for a little while longer, watching the waves settle, feeling oddly sad. Well. I’d done what I came here to do. I turned around and trudged back up the hill to finish out that final day, and then go home to wait for a better world.