Swish Voices March 15, 2012

The Carousel

Miranda Southwell-2

“This isn’t a dress rehearsal,” a friend once told me. We only get one go-around on this carousel, so treat it like it’s the best ride you’ve ever had. Regardless of your beliefs, none of us is certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is something more beyond this life. So, why live it as an extension of others’ expectations? That’s what I asked myself the night before deciding I would begin my transition from male to female in October of 2005 at the age of nineteen.

            I knew that if I didn’t risk the ridicule, and intrusive questions, the accusatory glances and ceaseless whispers, I’d be forever living the same shadow-life I’d been living up to that point. A life where, during childhood, I was forbidden by my parents from playing with the toys I really wanted to (like a Victorian-style dollhouse with real electric lights and fully-stocked fridge, yes I still remember!) and forced to humble myself before the very same male classmates who harassed me on a daily basis, begging them to let me play ball with them even though I didn’t want to. A life where, despite my intelligence, my progress in school was hindered by my inability to ask questions due to the chuckles and mimicry I knew would ensue upon hearing my “gay voice.” A life where the few friends I had in my Fundamentalist Christian high school would try to give me tips on how to be a more masculine guy, while I watched them do all the things I couldn’t but desperately wanted to...date boys, dress up, go to the prom. A life that was missing any depth or excitement. My life. Yes, my life which I’d signed away for far too long to anyone who wanted control over it.

            At nineteen, I was gay-identified and working as a make-up artist at a department store. I’d just left college to enroll in beauty school (as usual, per someone else’s suggestion) to start what I was told would be a promising career as a hairstylist, “on account of me being gay and all,” and the assumption that we gays had hairstylin’ in our genes. Not surprisingly, it was a wrong turn and led to nothing more than a few thousand dollars worth of debt and a cheap mannequin-head from Taiwan named “Brenda” I was now saddled with. Sitting behind that cosmetics counter, staring longingly at the brightly-colored tubes of lip gloss, I started realizing I wasn’t getting any younger. I examined my past decisions. Wrong turns always resulted when I followed other people’s voices. The thing was, I’d done that for so long, I’d forgotten I even had my own voice. After a failed suicide attempt at sixteen I’d managed to finally realize, a little, that I needed to stay true to this fledgling voice. The voice that told me I was different. At the time I just assumed I was gay because I had such a narrow view of gender and didn’t really know what being transgendered entailed.

            I began researching it on the internet, but the more I read, the more intimidated I became. It seemed like such a long, arduous process. Anyway, I was young, I had time...there’d always be tomorrow, right? I put the whole thing on hold and just made it through day-by-day...a little more open than I was as a child, but still uncomfortable in my own skin. There were dark days, days I broke down because of what I saw in the mirror. After one such episode, I realized time was not on my side. I was 19 and each day that passed, more male hormones would flood my body making a successful transition progressively harder to achieve with the best possible results. That night I heard my voice, louder, clearer than ever before. And it was beautiful!

            Throughout my transition, I’ve dealt with many things; Fear that I’d lose everything I had up to that point, my religious parents, (including a Grandmother who once proposed exorcism...she’s better now), the awkward initial stages of transitioning, the internal conflict between stealth and being open, the occasional inappropriate question, and the necessity society forces upon us to constantly explain and label ourselves. In spite of all that though, I never once doubted that I’d made the right turn. I was going to take my turn on this carousel and it was going to be a hell of a ride, because it would be mine...and, for the first time, no one else’s.

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