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It’s a dysphoria day.

I’ve been living authentically for almost ten years; I’ve been on hormones for just over seven. Two surgeries, four-and-a-half and three-and-a-half years ago, went a long way towards banishing these moments of disconnect.In my daily life, no one questions my gender. And yet, I still have days where question myself, where the dysphoria that once occurred daily rises up from the dark corners of my mind and makes itself known again. I can’t always pinpoint the trigger for these feelings. Today, though, I know exactly what caused it.

I’m letting my hair grow again.

Some context: At its longest, my hair has never passed my jaw. In fifth grade, I got it cut so that it brushed the tops of my years. Not a “pixie” cut either. Some of the earlier pictures show a bowl-style cut; later, I styled it by parting it on the left and pushing my bangs off to the side. I got it cut again right around the time I started hormones and have spent the last seven years sporting an almost Tintin-like style: short back and sides, with the front long enough that it flips upwards. Until I moved to Alaska, haircuts occurred monthly, although I would occasionally grow it out a bit for Halloween costumes.

Things changed a bit here on the tundra. My coworker Jenny cuts hair, but between her schedule, my schedule, and the cooler temperatures I’ve taken to going two or three months between trims.

As has become my custom, I got a haircut in August right before I returned to Nunap. My intention was to then grow it out for Halloween. I ended up buying a wig to use with my costume, but I didn’t get my hair cut right away. For a while now I’ve been toying with the idea of doing something different with my hair anyway, so I figured this was as good a time as any to start.

Watching my hair get longer again has been interesting. Some things are funny, like seeing my students exclaim over how it no longer stands up. Other things are annoying, like the two cowlicks in the back that won’t lie flat no matter what I do. (One advantage to letting my hair continue to grow: Said cowlicks no longer exist.) And some things I’d just plain forgotten about, like how much static charge can build up in this dry air.

At one point a couple of weeks ago, I looked in the mirror and realized that my hair has now reached the same length it was in high school and my first few years of college. Back when I was bullied for how I looked. Back when I avoided public restrooms for fear of the looks and words that would come my way. Back when I started living authentically and had to deal with people questioning each and every thing about how I presented. Old memories and feelings I thought I’d dealt with began clamoring for attention again. For the last two weeks, I’ve been coping with these demons from my past as I try to go about my daily routine, teach my kids, prepare for the holidays.

The loudest voice keeps telling me, “You look like a girl.” Intellectually, I know this is bull. My hair is longer than other men, about the same as others, and far shorter than some. Emotionally, the words resonate with a different meaning: I look like I did when the world identified me as a girl. And that was not a happy time.

I admit, once I realized just what memories were stirring, I nearly texted Jenny and asked for an immediate haircut. But I didn’t. Instead, I spent time thinking and reflecting.Part of me wants to keep my hair this length, at least for a little while. Yes, I have bad memories associated with it, but if I get it cut again right now, then those will also be the only memories and feelings I have about this look. I’d rather overwrite them with a more positive take on things. And what does it say about the society that I was raised in, that I worry so much about if my appearance and gestures are more “feminine” than “masculine”? Because it’s not just the length of my hair that can cause dysphoria; I still worry about the shape of my body and the way I gesture with my hands or sit in a chair.

So how do I cope with dysphoria days? I reach out to my support network. In this case,  I took pictures and posted them on Facebook, seeking validation from my friends. They responded with nothing but positive energy. I pull myself out of my body for a bit by reading or writing fiction. I watch some of my favorite movies or TV series. I work out. Or sometimes, like today, I pull on a favorite baseball cap (backwards) and t-shirt, park myself in front of my computer, and spend hours working out how to arrange my thoughts into an articulate blog post. Because the naming of the demons gives them less power over me. Because “shared pain is lessened”. Because I know I’m not alone. Because I want other people struggling with similar issues to know that they aren’t alone, either.

 

 

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Some other me asserted his male identity as soon as he could speak.

Some other me still hasn’t publicly said, “I’m a guy.”

Some other me identifies as female.

Some other me has a body that aligns with their gender identity.

Some other me hid how smart he was in school, so he could fit in better.

Some other me came out in high school.

Some other me had multiple girl- and/or boyfriends before he turned twenty.

Some other me went to Homecoming and/or Prom, at least once.

Some other me never went to college.

Some other me went to a different college.

Some other me made it to Australia for that semester abroad.

Some other me actually had a relationship with Her.

Some other me made a career in musical theatre.

Some other me plays in a symphony.

Some other me works as a zookeeper.

Some other me got the job running the Teen Docent program at the museum.

Some other me never even worked there.

Some other me turned that long-term substitute teaching job into a full-time career.

Some other me got a job in Baltimore or Denver.

Some other me worked in a bookstore rather than go back to substitute teaching.

Some other me still works in the labs at the university.

Some other me got a part in a Star Wars movie.

Some other me makes his living as a novelist.

Some other me actually managed to tell a person that I loved them, and had them reciprocate.

Some other me already has a significant other and kids.

Some other me never had surgery.

Some other me never met my best friends.

Some other me never got over his social anxiety.

Some other me makes friends with everyone he ever meets.

Some other me cut off all ties with his pre-Transition past.

Some other me never left my hometown.

Some other me always has a plan, for everything.

Some other me randomly jumps on a plane or drives with no destination in mind.

Some other me has the privilege of moving wherever he wishes.

Some other mes have it better than I do.

Some other mes aren’t nearly so lucky.

“If I met [him] I would ask [him] that one question we both fear: Some other me, how’d we end up here?”


This summer has brought a lot of changes with it, and it got me thinking about many “what if?” scenarios. The title of this post and the quote at the end come from the song, “Some Other Me” by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey for their musical “If/Then”.

Even though I now live three-thousand miles away in the middle of nowhere, I’m still active in the trans community of my hometown. (Actually, it’s likely because I live in the middle of nowhere that I’m active in the community….) I maintain the Facebook page for the Initiative for Transgender Leadership, and communicate with several members of other trans and LGBTQ groups. When I’m home, I try to get to at least one event or get together. In between times, I keep updated on various goings-on via Facebook and online news sources. Back in April, an article ran about the local school district’s plans to unveil a district-wide transgender non-discrimination policy (NDP). Based on the policy that’s been in place at one high school since 2014, the district-wide version merely sets things out in a such a way that every school in the district can also be accommodating of students who don’t fit into the gender binary. Prior to voting on the policy, the school board announced a series of three public hearings where anyone could speak their opinions on this and other policies or issues before the board. The first two of these hearings took place while I was still in Alaska, so I had no chance of taking part. The last, however, took place just this past Monday.

Preparing for the hearing actually began the week before, when I called the office of the board to state that I wished to speak at the upcoming hearing. I had to give my name, where I lived, and the issue about which I’d be speaking. In return, the person I spoke with gave me my number (I’d be the 21st speaker of the night), told me I would have three minutes, and requested that I bring 15 copies of my remarks for the board members.

I spent most of Monday morning writing, crossing out, re-writing, and editing what I planned to say. (Three minutes doesn’t seem like a long time until you actually try talking for that long.) I then spent time that afternoon worrying about what to wear. Polo or button down? Short sleeves or long? Tie or no tie? I eventually settled on an outfit I frequently wore while substitute teaching.

The school board’s offices are in the same neighborhood as my grandparents’ apartment, the natural history museum where I once worked, and the main branch of the local library. Even though I speak in front of groups a lot, I still get nervous about it, so my original plan was to park the car and then hang out at the library for a bit before going to the meeting. On my way from the garage to the library, I passed a van that bore the name of a local Baptist church, which didn’t seem like a good sign. Turning the corner, I noticed a sizable crowd gathered outside the main entrance of the board building, and my heart sped up. Could all of these people be here to protest or speak in support of the NDP? Would I have to talk in front of them? Would there even be room for everyone at the meeting? Mostly concerned about this last question, and curious to hear what (I thought) the opposition had to say, I decided to forego the library and approached the group.

Within a couple of minutes, I discovered that the group gathered at the door, which included the church group, were actually there about a completely different matter: the recent hiring of a new superintendent. My nerves calmed a little at that point, but I still felt jumpy at the thought of speaking in front of all of these people, especially as the crowd continued to grow as the time of the meeting drew nearer. Fortunately, I did spot some friendly faces in the mass: The leaders of the local LGBTQ youth theatre group and several of their actors. When the doors finally opened, they and I positioned ourselves as close to the front of the line as we could. This turned out to be a good move: The security guard who opened the door said that due to the amount of people speaking (85!) and the fact that the building had no power, they would not be able to let everyone attend the hearing. Fortunately, the theatre group folks and I made it inside.

Public hearings are held in one of the conference rooms on the second floor of the building. According to family who have been to these things before, normally the public sits at one end of the room, the board members at the other, and anyone who is speaking stands on the floor in front of the board and uses a microphone. Due to the power outage, this set up was changed slightly: Members of the public sat at either end of the room, and the board members sat in the middle, facing the entrance along that wall. Said entrance had been blocked off to create a sort of podium so that any speaker could be heard by everyone in the room. After making sure everyone was ready, the Speaker of the Board explained the procedure for the night: People would be called on to speak in the order in which they had phoned in in the week leading up to the meeting. Copies of the complete list were available for the public. The Speaker would call people in groups of 6. Those called would head out into the hallway to wait their turn at the podium. In a speaker’s turn came, a board employee would take the copies of their statement for distribution to the board members. Once you started speaking, you had three minutes. A bell signaled you had about a minute left; a second bell meant your time was up. Due to the amount of speakers, there would be a short break after number 40. “Are there any questions? Then let’s begin.”

By now, I knew that not everyone was there to talk about the NDP. Several people spoke on behalf of a local charter school whose charter is up for renewal. Others spoke in favor of proposed renovations for another school. The majority spoke for or against the new superintendent. And several other people spoke about the NDP. As I listened to each speaker, I scanned the crowd to see their reactions on each topic. School renovations and charter renewals mostly garnered polite applause. Pro-new superintendent speakers got huge rounds of applause from their faction (which seemed to be the largest in the room), while those who want the board to re-open the search garnered less applause and the occasional “boooo!” Speakers on the NDP also earned a fair amount of applause, and no catcalls that I could hear. Soon enough, the Speaker announce my name, and I moved into the hall to get ready.

After handing the copies of my statements to the staff member, I paced a little as I waited my turn. I’d recognized some of my former coworkers in the crowd; what would they think when they heard me speaking? There were cameras from a couple of local news networks there; would my face be on the 11 o’ clock news?

Soon enough, it was my turn. I walked to the makeshift podium as the copies of my statement were passed to the board members. With a last look around the room, I looked down at my own copy of the speech, tucked my hands in my pockets so no one could see them shaking, took a deep breath, and began speaking:

Good evening. My name is Cee Jay L. I have a story to share with you. In February of 2012, I was hired by this district as a long-term substitute for a middle school science classroom. In March, as the [standardized tests] approached, I led a discussion on basic genetics with my 8th graders. One of the students asked about what makes a person a boy or girl. My initial answer focused on X and Y chromosomes, but several students quickly jumped in with questions about terms like, “hermaphrodite”, “transsexual”, and “he-she”. So I took a deep breath, tried to calm my racing heart, and walked the students through the differences between sex and gender, and what exactly makes a transgender person. One student vocally struggled with the thought of making such drastic changes to her body, so I asked her to think about it like this: “Imagine that you were born in the body of a boy. In your heart and mind, you know you’re a girl, but because of how your body looks society tells you that you are boy and you can only do certain things.” All of the students got thoughtful looks on their faces, and then the student who had asked the question stated, “That would suck!”

I admit, I breathed easier at that point. For you see, I am transgender. As an adolescent, I fell squarely in the middle of your definition for “gender expansive” students: a perceived girl, complete with an “F” on all the paperwork, who neither looked nor acted like the other girls. Fortunately, I had friends and teachers and administrators who worked with me to make my time in school an overall success. As an adult, I’ve worked with organizations like the Initiative for Transgender Leadership and THRIVE to ensure that more students like me have equally supportive experiences. So tonight I am here to show my support for the proposed Transgender Nondiscrimination Policy. As you can see, your students already get it. I encourage you to follow their lead. Thank you for your time.

Applause followed me as I returned to the hallway. Other speakers waiting there offered me smiles and congratulations. I thanked them and stepped off to the side to take a few deep breaths and calm my racing heart before rejoining the audience to listen to more speakers.

Okay, so this likely was not my last visit to Athens. Yet because of the circumstances, this trip carried a certain finality.

It’s been three months since Yiayia passed. The whole reason these trips started was so that my sister and I could see our grandparents. When Grandpa died almost 10 years ago, I suddenly realized just how important that connection was.

I say “one last time” but this trip still brought several firsts, not least of which was the fact that I didn’t see Yiayia. We (I traveled with Mom and Dad) didn’t have to call her in the mornings to see if she was ready for us to come visit. In the evenings, we didn’t go over to the flat for dinner or to share the events of our day. In fact, I didn’t even approach the flat until our second-to-last night in the city. Of course, since no one lives there anymore I couldn’t get inside, but I could go to the building’s front door and stare for a moment at Yiayia’s name on the panel of doorbells.

This year’s visit to the Acropolis brought another first: waiting in line for our tickets. Normally we arrive as soon as the site opens and so avoid lines and too much of a crowd. Not so this year. I can’t help but think that Yiayia and Grandpa would’ve gotten a chuckle out of that fact. Still, I made one last trip around the top of the hill. I took photos of all of my favorite pieces and places, and Dad got a snap of me in the “traditional” spot at the east end of the plateau with the Parthenon in the background.

I had similar experiences at most every other place we went: the Benaki Museum, the Numismatic Museum, the shopping districts of Monastiraki and Plaka, hiking up Mount Lykavittos. Even swimming at the hotel pool felt different, because I didn’t have to get dressed again to go see the grandparents afterwards. As Mom stated several times, it seemed like ghosts were following us around.

The only place the ghosts didn’t follow was on our overnight trip to Delphi. I’d been to the site 2 or 3 times previously, the last of which occurred when I was in high school. I suggested it again because, if this was to be my last trip for the time being, I wanted to go someplace outside the city for a little bit. I remembered bits and pieces from our previous visits. On this trip, we did everything we’d done previously, such as visiting the Temple of Apollo where his Oracle held forth, and tried some new things, like hiking further down the road to the Temple of Athena.

We returned to Athens with one full day left before returning States-side. That morning, we visited the cemetery to pay our respects to Yiayia. D, her nephew, met up with us to show us where the grave was. My first impression on entering the cemetery was, “This place is HUGE!” (According to Google Maps, it occupies an area of roughly 640,000 square feet.) Thankfully, Yiayia’s grave is located relatively near the entrance. I had expected to start crying when I saw the tombstone; surprisingly, I stayed dry-eyed throughout our brief visit. D related stories of the funeral and the 40 day ceremony, noting that Yiayia was very well loved by many people.

We spent our final afternoon and evening in Athens shopping, swimming, and visiting the National Archaeological Museum. I got one more picture with my favorite statue, the Jockey, and took more photos of other favorite pieces. Back at the hotel, memories of the many trips over the years kept running through my head: Seeing things for the first time when I was ten, learning more with each successive trip; getting to know my grandparents; adventures outside the city to places like Delphi; how hard that first trip was after Grandpa died; getting to know Yiayia even more; coming out to her; her continued love and support. I may be done traveling to Greece for now, but the memories of the places and people I love will always be with me.

 

I’m afraid.

I’m afraid of being alone.

It’s not that I don’t have friends; on the contrary, I am blessed with many, spread around the world. And it’s not like I don’t have a ton of family members. I still talk to them on a routine basis, even though the closest is about a thousand miles away.

But I’m still afraid of being alone. You see, I have a secret: I’ve never had a romantic relationship. With anyone. I’m in my late 20s, and I’ve never even been on a real date. And the thought of continuing that way terrifies me.

It’s not that I don’t want a relationship. Yes, I’m perfectly comfortable being by myself. As I grew up, it was sometimes the safest place to be. Like many people, I got teased a lot in school, especially between 6th and 8th grades. In response, I retreated into my own world, built from the many science fiction and fantasy books I read and the Broadway musicals I listened to almost non-stop. While I would see people who I thought looked attractive, I had no interest in dating. (Years later, I learned that the school rumor mill frequently paired me with one of my few friends, convinced that the pair of us were in a lesbian relationship.)

High school changed things. For the first time, I had a crush on someone. She was in the marching band with me, and also participated in the spring musicals. I know that she knew who I was, but I doubt that she ever thought about me as anything other than a friendly face and a fellow band/theatre geek. Especially since she had a boyfriend.

If having a crush on a celebrity is a rite of passage, then 12th grade saw that item checked off. Of course, being me, I didn’t have a crush on anyone my friends would recognize. Nope, I had a huge crush on Amanda Tapping, who played Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter on the TV series “Stargate SG-1”. I distinctly remember the moment when, hanging out in the hotel room on a marching band trip, we found an episode of the show on TV. After watching a few minutes, my friends decided that it was a lot better than they expected. In the course of the conversation, I admitted to having a crush on one of the characters, but never specified which one. (If any of you are reading this and still remember that conversation, now you know.)

I suppose it’s not uncommon for teens to keep their crushes to themselves, especially if they worry that the people around them will disapprove. While there were a few out gay kids at school, I wasn’t one of them. Well, I never confirmed anything, anyway; I do know that rumors followed me around the school, many of which had to do with my sexual orientation and perceived gender variance. But for the first time in a long time, I had more than one or two friends who liked me for me, not because how I looked or based on who I was or wasn’t dating. In fact, several people informed me that I was “smart” to stay away from dating, for a variety of reasons.

The fact of the matter is, the idea of casual dating has never appealed to me. If I’m going out, whether to eat or to the theatre or the movies or wherever, I’d rather spend that time with friends than with a relative stranger. I think some of this comes from my teen years, when being around new people could be stressful in the extreme because I never knew how they’d perceive me. More than one person would be introduced to me and carry on conversations without realizing that I was (supposedly) female. As I frequently tried to present a masculine image, these encounters would be fraught with tension for me, as I dreaded the moment of being “found out”. (Years later, some of these moments have turned into hilarious stories, such as a college friend who knew me for almost two months before he one day realized that I was socially identifying at the time as female.) In contrast, spending time with friends meant that I could relax somewhat. While I’m a lot more comfortable meeting new people nowadays, I still prefer to spend time with the people I know best. If a friend invites a new person along, I don’t mind, but I don’t deliberately seek out the company of complete strangers on my own.

Going off to college turned out to be a transformative experience in more ways than I could have ever imagined. Not only did I get to start my Transition medically, but I also began to move away from the introverted shell I’d occupied since the onset of puberty. Being in a new environment with new people set me free to be more expressive about who I was and what I liked. For the first time, I felt comfortable admitting to people other than family that I liked girls. The news that I had a crush on an actress didn’t shock anyone; in fact, a couple of other people admitted to having crushes on her, too. After a rough patch during my sophomore and junior years at the beginning of my Transition, I finally found myself in a good place for the first time, if not ever, than at least in a long time.

I started senior year in quite possibly the sunniest state of mind I could ever remember. I had finally convinced my parents that I meant what I said when I said I was a man, and had started looking into both beginning testosterone and getting my name legally changed. The coming year would be an academic challenge, as AC (the college) requires an undergraduate thesis, but I had a great advisor and was working on a topic I found genuinely fascinating. Socially, I was sitting pretty: I sat on the executive boards of two student organizations, and had more friends than I could ever remember. I even had enough free time in my schedule that year to register for classes that just sounded like fun, rather than because I needed them for my major or minor. So I enrolled in Ballroom Dance I. And I met Her.

I’ve written about Her before, in passing. My senior year was Her freshman year; without Ballroom I, we’d likely never have met. I don’t remember quite how, but within the first week of class She became the person I always looked for when I got to class, the one I wanted to dance with the whole time, if at all possible. Disclaimer: I was a popular Lead during class because, as more than one Follow informed me, I had rhythm and didn’t step on their feet. Also, Coach, our professor, had the class set up so that we rotated partners almost every dance. But I still managed to dance with Her at least twice a lesson.

Looking back, I’m still surprised at how quickly our friendship formed. It didn’t take long for us to realize we had a lot in common. We both travelled internationally from a young age (She’s from Switzerland and has family here in the States), enjoyed Ballroom, loved to read, and shared a love of both Harry Potter and the TV series “Castle”. I was elated when She took my suggestion to start attending Swing Dancing on Friday nights (one of the groups I helped run), and when She attended events run by Queers ‘n’ Allies (QnA), AC’s equivalent of a gay-straight alliance (the other group I helped run). Barely a month after we met, I realized that I had a massive crush on Her.

It took me almost three months to tell Her how I felt, although I’m reasonably certain She figured it out sooner than that. While I originally planned to tell Her face-to-face, I never seemed to find the right time or place. In the end, I wrote Her a letter and sent it via intercampus mail. A day later, I got a text: “We should talk”. As you can probably guess, She requested that we just remain friends.

The next four years turned into a form of low-level torture. While my brain got the message about “just friends”, my heart did not. Every chance to see Her had to be taken; a missed opportunity or an unanswered text brought a mild depression. At the same time, I valued Her friendship too much to simply stop seeing her. Even after I graduated that spring and moved on to grad school, I visited AC regularly, both to see Her and my other friends and to attend events like the Wind Symphony concerts and things for QnA. In February of 2011, QnA held their first ever “Prom REDUX”. I’d never attended a school dance before, but now felt comfortable doing so. Even better, She agreed to be my “date”. And while it’s been some time since we were even on the same continent, I still value Her friendship.

As you might guess, being in love with someone for four years, even when the other person doesn’t reciprocate, doesn’t exactly put one in a frame of mind to meet potential partners. Add in my dislike of casual dating, Transition, grad school, student teaching, and work, and the fact that I was still figuring out how to navigate the world as a man, and I think it’s pretty understandable that I didn’t really pay attention to new people in my life beyond friendships or work relationships. Even once I finally felt comfortable saying I no longer loved Her, I was content to continue as I had been.

Every time I contemplated trying to start a relationship with someone, my mind started spinning scenarios, some good, mostly bad. At a young age, I didn’t want to date because I wasn’t happy with my body. Now, I didn’t want to date because I was worried that someone else would find my physique lacking in some way. I followed the news, and I heard the stories of trans individuals who were attacked for “deceiving” their so-called friends or potential romantic partners. Then there were the voices in my head, the ones that sounded remarkably like my junior high tormentors: They whispered that no one could love a freak like me, someone who not only loved science fiction and fantasy (weird) but also Broadway musicals (weird and gay), someone who still looked and acted like a kid. And, while I found plenty of people physically attractive, there weren’t any feelings that I felt confident enough to act on. Anyway, I didn’t feel any “sparks” like I had with Her, so I didn’t feel that maybe I had missed out on something.

For a brief period of time, I tried online dating. However, I found it to be a rather unenjoyable experience. Making connections based on a bunch of questions and a couple of photographs just never sat well with me. When I accepted my current job in Alaska, I deleted the account completely.

During my first year on the tundra, I didn’t give much thought to romance. The move, returning to teaching, adapting to my new home, and forging new friendships took all of my energy. My trips back to the Lower 48, at Christmas and summer, were more for a chance to relax and recharge than anything else.

Making the entire trip from the East Coast to Nunap in one day doesn’t really work. Instead, I typically spend the night in Anchorage with a friend, Michael. We’ll go out to dinner and catch up, and he graciously shuttles me back and forth to the airport. This time, he asked if I minded one of his friends joining us for dinner. I said, “Not a problem.” By the time we got to the restaurant, I was starting to feel loopy from the jet lag. I figured that at the worst, I’d just concentrate on eating and blame said jet lag for my minimal socializing.

But when we got in the restaurant and Michael introduced his friend, D, I immediately perked up. Something about her dark hair, dark eyes, and bright smile captured my attention in a way that I haven’t experienced in over six years. I enjoyed the conversation over dinner much more than I had expected. Topics ranged all over the map, including issues of trans rights (Michael and D met at a support group for transgender individuals and their loved ones). Already, my thoughts had turned to ways to keep in touch with D once the meal ended, because I couldn’t help but feel that my life wouldn’t be complete without her in it.

Barely two weeks after returning to Nunap, I found myself headed back to Anchorage for an education conference. When I learned that we’d be arriving in the city 12 hours earlier than originally planned, I immediately contacted D in the hopes of meeting up with her. Happily, she agreed. We started talking when I climbed into her car, and didn’t stop until almost five hours later back in my hotel room. Once again, the discussion covered a variety of topics, although this time we skewed a little more to “getting to know you” questions. I felt disappointed when I hugged her good-bye, as I didn’t know when I’d get to see her again. But we’ve been messaging back and forth all week. Every day, I learn something new about her, something that makes me like her just a little bit more. When I’m not talking with her, she’s still on my mind. I’m not sure yet that this qualifies as a crush, but it’s definitely headed that way. Maybe that fear of being along can soon become a thing of the past. I guess only time will tell.

I’ve always been fascinated by mirrors. I remember playing dress up as a child, standing before the full-body mirror in my bedroom and admiring how I looked just like a superhero or Robin Hood or Peter Pan or a knight. Or I’d stand there in my regular clothes, pushing my hair behind my ears, trying to figure out if I looked like a boy or not.

It didn’t have to be a mirror. I’d catch sight of my reflection in the car window and become mesmerized by the features I saw there: brown eyes, bright smile. My eyes followed the way my nose curved, the way my ears joined with my jaw, which then melted into my neck. I’d look at my hair and wonder if it was short enough that other people would know I was a boy. I’d compare what I saw with the image in my mind, and feel confused when they didn’t match.

I remember watching in the mirror the day I finally got my hair cut short. Both my head and chest felt lighter as the brown locks fell to the floor.

Post-haircut, looking in the mirror brought joy. Especially with clothes on, my outside matched my inside for the first time.

Puberty turned my relationship with mirrors into a love/hate thing. I found myself spending more time in front of the mirror when I’d get dressed, checking that my clothes looked good and hid the curves that had started to appear. I also started avoiding mirrors when I wasn’t fully clothed, or made a point of using mirrors that only showed from the neck up. Looking at myself in a sports bra and pants wasn’t too bad, but looking at myself shirtless guaranteed a rising tide of dysphoria that would drown me if I wasn’t careful. Thankfully, the bathroom medicine cabinet was high enough that I could only see from the shoulders up.

In public, I’d constantly check my reflection wherever I could, whether the mirrored pillars in the department stores or the windows of buildings I walked past. I had to make sure that other people saw what I saw. Dressing room mirrors could alternatively be heaven or hell, depending on what clothes had to be tried on that day. New cargo pants? No problem. New t-shirt? No problem. New dress clothes? Problem. Big problem. As I tried on blouses and dress slacks, I couldn’t meet my own eyes in the mirror, because this was not me.

The love/hate relationship continued even after I began my Transition, although the love started to overcome the hate. I’d use the mirror every morning to check that the Ace bandages I initially used to bind weren’t obvious under my clothes. The switch to actual binders a year later made life even better. The first time I stood in front of the dressing room mirror as I tried on a men’s dress shirt and chinos, I could finally meet my eyes in the mirror. Starting testosterone meant that I spent a lot of time scrutinizing my reflection, trying to see if anything had actually changed yet. Was that facial hair? My shoulders seemed to be getting broader. And was that an Adam’s apple?

If at all possible, I still avoided mirrors when naked. The bathroom mirror at the house I lived in in college showed most of my torso; I trained myself to not look below shoulder-level. Once I had on underwear and binder, however, I had no problem catching a glimpse of my reflection.

As a student teacher and a sub, I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror each morning, making sure I’d tied the tie straight and checking that my shirt and slacks looked good. Even on the weekends now, I had no problems checking how I looked before going out, whether to my museum job or elsewhere.

June 2012 brought a huge change: top surgery. I remember looking at myself in the mirror a day or so after the surgery, trying to figure out how I’d look when the drains and dressings disappeared. A week after the procedure, I finally got to see how I looked shirtless as an adult. Even with the still-healing incisions and grafts and my chest shaved, I thought it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen.

Nowadays, I love mirrors. Six years of testosterone, surgery, and consistent exercise have helped me get a body that matches how I’ve always known I should look. I’ll happily watch myself shave, put on lotion after a shower, or get dressed for work or play. No matter what, I can meet my reflection’s eye and know that finally, the world sees what I see in the mirror.

As July drew to a close, I began to feel a sense of unease about returning to Nunap. The past school year had not exactly been easy; I had several students with severe temper issues, and multiple members of the staff, myself included, had issues with other members of the staff. I especially had issues with our principal and our dean of students, often feeling unsupported by them when it came to dealing with the myriad of student concerns I had. On top of that, I felt like I had only just barely adjusted to living in the middle of nowhere, and dreaded returning there after a summer of being able to go wherever I wanted whenever I wanted. Add in tension about all of the new teachers and the fact that my own imagination kept running a scenario where I had the same class as last year, and it’s not hard to see that I felt a little anxious as my departure neared.

Thankfully, I can now look back on those worries and laugh. I’m still teaching third grade, and compared to last year’s group this class’s behavior is a walk in the park. (There are five more of them than I anticipated, but that’s another story….)  In contrast to last year, I no longer feel unsupported by the school administration; the new principal, Dan, has already impressed me with how he interacts with staff and students alike. For example, he has made a point of reviewing the transcripts of every high school student and meeting with each kid one-on-one to discuss how to make sure they graduate on time. (Given that this year’s senior class includes a seven-year high school student, a six-year, and a fifth-year, you can see why he wants to make this a priority.)

In fact, to date I’ve had only one interaction with one of the new staff that I’d categorize as bad (I wrote about it here). Having so many new people on the staff brings a breath of fresh air to the building; I honestly can’t remember the last time there has been so much laughter during staff meetings, or when the whole bunch of us made such a point of getting together outside of school. Lucas and Andy host pancake brunch every Sunday, and so far most everyone has come each week. Just last night, Mick, New Ted (not our principal from last year but our new middle/high school science teacher), and New Cole (not my former roommate but the new high school English teacher) had everyone over to their house for a potluck. The only people missing were the couple of folks in Anchorage; everyone else brought food and conversation, making for a great evening.

Transitioning back to village living hasn’t been nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I have a new apartment and no roommate, so I can have people over whenever I choose or can just shut the door and have the place to myself. In addition to my standard hobbies of reading, working out, writing, and practicing trombone, I’m also getting more involved in school activities, such as becoming the assistant coach for the cross country team. Between running with the kids during practice and just being back for my second year, I’m greeted by many more people when I’m out and about. Even the thought of leaving my support network back home wasn’t so bad, because I now have a support network here. Lucas, Andy, and Kelly are still great friends, and I’ve even come out to Aly, the new fourth-grade teacher.

Let’s hope that Nunap 2.0 continues to live up to this fantastic start!