I think I’ve watched every “How I Knew I Was Trans” and “How to Know if You’re Trans” YouTube videos in existence.
A common theme throughout these videos is, “I feel like I’ve known for my whole life,” or, “I’ve always known something was different about me.” Of course, this isn’t always the case, but it seemed like almost every video I watched had some iteration of this.
Which kind of sucked, if I’m being honest. I mean, great for them. But not so great for a very confused and distraught me. Because I didn’t have that.
I didn’t know. I had no idea. No signs. No clues. No funny feeling. I just didn’t know. Until I did. And even when I knew, I wasn’t sure.
So, whether it was to validate myself, or to fit in, or to try and find a definitive “reason” of being trans, or a mixture of the three, I struggled to squeeze myself into that box of people who knew since they were kids or teenagers.
I came up with the brilliant idea of making a list. I would look into my past for the “common signs” of being trans as a kid; DUH! Of course I knew all along!! I forced myself to think as I struggled to come up with the clues from my childhood.
Making a methodical, finite list of traits and qualities, likes and dislikes, seemed easier to me than accepting that there is no list of finite traits and qualities, likes and dislikes, that could ever tell me my gender. Only I could tell myself. And that shit is fucking terrifying.
So, I made a list instead.
I never liked dresses. In order to convince me to wear one to a family event, my dad once told me that wearing a dress was the only way I would be comfortable during the car ride. I cried, but I did it. I told him I wanted to wear a tuxedo to my wedding. He said only boys could do that. I was upset, but not life-changing upset, you know?
I only wanted to play baseball, not softball. Baseball always seemed cooler to me because that’s what the Red Sox played. I was forced to join softball when I was 10. I loved it.
I cried one year on Christmas because my Nana gave me bras in front of everyone. I’mstill salty about this.
I insisted I only liked “boy” colors like green and blue in preschool. A boy told me I could only like pink and purple, which is why he stole my green marker. I told him he was being a butthead. I got put in time-out.
I had mostly guy friends (until someone made fun of me and my best friend for having “guy-girl sleepovers.” Then, I didn’t have any guy friends).
I was upset when I got my first period. Mostly because I thought that I was going to bleed out and die.
I didn’t like “girl” toys. I got given a Bratz doll for Christmas one year. My friend and I spent the next few weeks putting it in my driveway and laughing when it would get run over by my neighbor’s truck.
I triumphantly stared at my list (‘7 whole signs!!’ I thought to myself) for a good minute.
All of the things on this list did happen and are true. But this list doesn’t mean jack-shit about my transness.
So what if I didn’t like dresses? You know who else doesn’t like dresses? A fuckton of people of all genders.
So what if I cried when I got bras for Christmas in front of my family? What 9-year-old wouldn’t get super embarrassed opening underwear in front of their Uncle and his nice, but overbearing, girlfriend? Does that make every embarrassed pre-teen person who receives bras on Christmas trans by my list-logic?
So what if I was upset when I got my period? You know who else is upset they got their period? A fuckton of people of all genders. Perhaps especially every person who ever bled through their pants in middle school and had to watch people laugh and point at the stain in the hallway. Are they all trans by my list-logic?
So what if I had mostly guy friends? So what if I only liked blue as a 5-year-old? My cis girl friend Jessie’s favorite color was blue as well. Does that make her trans? And what about people who had those markers you blow on that sprayed out a mixed color? What gender does that make them, by my own list-logic??
I stared at my list for a little while longer as I methodically refuted each and every clue I had thought of. Each “sign” from my childhood crumbled away until I was simply grasping at straws. I think I might’ve cried in the library (not an uncommon occurrence during college, to be honest).
I crumpled up the list and recycled it. (I know it would’ve been cooler and more dramatic if I’d thrown the list into the garbage, but climate change is a real fucker, you know?).
I didn’t know I was trans. Until I did. Gender is something no single list, word or experience can fully articulate. On some level, I wish it were that easy. That way I could’ve saved myself a lot of angst and a lot of time spent watching “How to Know if You’re Trans” videos on YouTube (literally would give me days of my life back).
There’s no list to check off. There’s no experience you have to have. There aren’t any trans prerequisites. Even if you don’t know like other people know. Even if you don’t know when other people know.
There’s just what you know. Even if you don’t know quite yet. You will.
This is a ramble with little to no point or resolution. You’ve been warned.
I haven’t been feeling like myself lately.
What does that mean? I don’t even know. I just don’t.
It feels like everything that makes me “me” is a socially constructed façade. Would I really be funny or nice if being funny and nice weren’t good things to be in our society? Would I care about my looks or my fashion if I never saw another person?
Who would I be without the world around me?
I don’t feel like myself because I feel like I don’t have a self to call my own.
I feel like a fake person. I really can’t even elaborate on what the fuck that means.
I stand in the shower, staring at the wall, wondering why it is I’m in this body at this particular time with this personality and this general feeling of unease.
Can I blame this feeling on my depression? On my anxiety? On my transition? On being a 20-something year old? Who or what can I blame for feeling like a fake person besides myself? Does it matter if there’s something to blame?
I lay awake at night for hours, feeling like I’m watching myself from above. Who is that? I ask myself about myself. What do they want? Who do they want to be? Who am I if that’s me?
This feeling doesn’t go away with any amount of sleep or activity. It feels like I’m floating through life making no impact on anyone or anything. How could I when I can’t even make any impact on myself?
I feel like so much in my life has changed so rapidly that there’s no question that I’ve changed too. I know I’ve changed. But I don’t know what exactly has changed or if it’s a good or bad change.
The only thing that calms my mind is running until I can’t breathe. That way, my only focus is on the physical, the tangible. Physical exhaustion is the only thing that can combat mental exhaustion.
I have no identity that I can pinpoint. What does that mean? What even constitutes as an identity? Is it gender? Personality? Values? Favorite foods and books? Who you are when you’re completely alone? Surrounded by people?
Whatever it is for me, it’s changed so much that I don’t know where it’s gone or what it is. I don’t know who I am, and I don’t understand how to figure it out. How can you understand something that might not be understandable in the first place?
I promise I’m not high writing this lol. ~Or~AM~I~?? lol jk
The real question is if I can allow myself to have this “identity crisis” and experience it with curiosity instead of dull emptiness and sadness.
So I’m kind of bummed that this second installment of this series took forever for me to get to.
I was thinking I would do like 1 post of this series per week, but thinking back that is a little unrealistic for a couple of reasons.
First of all, I do have a job. People think that freelancing means a ton of free time, and sure it might mean some more free time than other types of work, but I still have to work.
Secondly, I am a fast reader, but I’m by no means one of those people who can scan a fucking page and then recite it back. I take my time while reading especially for things like this were I’m taking notes, trying to find meaning, staring at the same sentence for a few minutes for no reason, etc, etc. And not only do I have to read the whole book, I then have to actually write the post about it.
So one post of this series per week? Fuck no lol. I’ll aim for once every couple weeks, but we will see.
After that long ass intro, I still didn’t write what book I read for this post (even though it is in the title of the post). I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I’ve read this book a few times, and each time it was an emotional and amazing read.
Why I Bought the Book in the First Place
I’m going to try and follow a similar structure for each of these posts, but obviously it won’t be exactly the same.
So as I said, I have read this book before and I loved it. I’m always a slut for books about people dropping everything to go on a journey, especially ones that involve hiking.
But my journey with this book didn’t start with the book: it started with the movie. Usually I am that annoying person that smugly slips into conversation, “Oh, I read [insert book name here] way before it became a movie.”
However, that was not the case here. I saw the movie when I was a sophomore in college, which was around 3 years ago (fuck I feel old). The movie was great and it does a great job at adapting it to a film (except that Reese Witherspoon is deff not 26 in the movie like Strayed was on the trail). I actually saw it with my mom, which turned out to be good because a lot of the book/movie revolves around Cheryl’s mother, her mortality, and their relationship. Needless to say, I sobbed multiple times at the movie (I’m a soft kinda guy what can I say).
After we walked out of the theater, I immediately made my mom drive me to Barnes and Noble where I bought the book and read it in one sitting, through the night, until 3 am.
What I Would’ve Rated it Then
I would’ve given this book an 11/10 if that were an option. I was enthralled and read it multiple times in a row because of my love for it and its message.
Why was I so enthralled? This book tells the true story of a real person in a transition period of life, dealing with death, family, and her own identity. Sure, she was hiking the PCT and having adventures and misadventures alike. But the underlying message of personal growth and odyssey was so captivating to me.
This message of growth and transition was especially appealing to me at that time when I was going through this type of growth and change as well. I was just realizing my sexuality and queer identity, I was halfway through my college career, I was depressed and anxious, and I had no self-esteem. I was searching for meaning in my own life as I tried to understand myself.
Knowing that, it isn’t very surprising that I latched on so tightly to Cheryl’s story of independence and hardship. I felt so alone without any direction. Like Cheryl, I wanted to escape all of my problems and find a journey that would help me learn about myself. I wanted to walk and hurt and feel pain until I could no longer think about everything I was going through.
So I read. And I read this book. And it helped me more than anything or anyone else during that horrible time of my life. It wasn’t a super happy, uplifting book that made me feel better in that sense. It was raw and sad and painful and made me cry and laugh and feel scared and understand mortality. It is someone’s real life and it describes some of the hardest things we as humans have to go through elegantly with wit and raw emotion. It was a narrative that I could relate to.
Perhaps my own issues at the time didn’t really match up to Cheryl’s in Wild: I still had (and have) my mother in my life, I had many close friends, I wasn’t using drugs, my family was and is a constant support, and I wasn’t in a struggling romantic relationship.
But what was (and still is) so great about this book is that its truth extends past these particular struggles that Cheryl faced. Just because I hadn’t lost my mother like she had doesn’t mean I can’t read her words and feel a little bit of that pain. Just because I hadn’t lost my family doesn’t mean I can’t feel the fear of that loss, and the grief that I will have to endure. Our struggles were different, but the emotions are universal.
So, like I said: I would’ve given it an 11/10.
What I Rate It Now
With the previous description I just gave, it isn’t surprising that I’m still giving this book a high rating, but perhaps not quite an 11/10. I’ll give it a 9/10.
For all of the same reasons I listed earlier, I still love this book. I still felt the emotions, I still cried, and I still connected.
But it was harder for me to get into it on this reading. I feel like I thought too hard about which book I should read next for this series. It makes sense that I would read this book as I am yet again in a transition period: I am literally transitioning from female to male, but I am also just out of college trying to figure out my life. It makes sense to read this book about transitions.
But I think I overthought it. I didn’t re-read this book now because I felt like it or because the message truly spoke to me like it did when I first read it. I read it this time because it made sense for this blog post. I thought it would be a great parallel for my life, just like it was when I first read it.
And while it is a great parallel, I think that I am going through too much hardship in my own life currently to want to also read about someone else’s hardships. When I first read it, Cheryl’s struggles helped me feel less alone and helped to put words to my pain and my inner desires. But when I read it this time, it was as though I was feeling the burden and heartache of her life along with everything else that I’m going through. I still felt the raw emotions that make this book so special. But those raw emotions, instead of making me feel validated in my transition, made me feel worse.
I chalk this up to my worsening anxiety and depression and not because of a dislike for the actual book. My desire to have a romantic and poetic reading because of the ~parallels~ between my life and the book got in the way of me actually reading something that would touch me in that way.
Instead of reaching for something I truly wanted to read, something that called to me, something that had a message that resonated with me right now, I chose something that I thought should’ve done all of those things because it did in the past. And that is a mistake.
Why is that a mistake? I made a decision for my current self based on my past self. This might seem dramatic (It’s just a book Elliot jeeze) but it is the truth, and it’s something that I do a lot. I make decisions for myself based on how I felt in the past or how I think I will feel in the future. This will only lead to angst and struggle. My past self and my future self are not more important than my present self. I need to think about myself now and what I need to do to be happier now, not what I did to be happier 5 years ago or what I think might make me happy 5 years from now. I am important, right here, right now. I need to make decisions with that in mind.
So in the end, the actual re-reading of this book didn’t give me as much insight as the choice I made to re-read it did. Weird how introspection works sometimes.
Am I Keeping This Book?
If anyone remembers back to my first post, the reason I decided to do this “re-reading my bookshelf” series is because I am trying to focus on a minimalist lifestyle and only have things that really add value to my life. I wanted to clear out my huge stash of books because they take up so much space.
So am I keeping this book? Short answer: no.
But that doesn’t mean that this book didn’t add value to my life. It 100% did and has added value to my life. But just because it did add value doesn’t mean that I should keep it. It is a great book that I will always love and will always remember as something that got me through one of the hardest times of my life.
But this book isn’t something that I reach for to re-read regularly like some of my other books. Wild is something that I didn’t even really want to re-read right now, I just did because I thought I should and I thought it would help me. It has added value to my life in ways that I can’t even begin to try and put into words.
But the physical book itself didn’t add that value. It was the situation in which I read it the first time. It was me, crying about coming out and realizing I was queer, reaching for this book in a time where all I did was panic and hate myself, and reading it through the night. It was watching the movie with my mom, realizing how much I love her and how short life is. It was reading about the pain that Cheryl felt and thinking that my own pain was somehow being written down by someone else, and how that meant I wasn’t alone. It was me writing in my journal about how much I loved this book and how much it helped me start my own journey, just like Cheryl did. The value was how the story affected my life in a time when that was the exact story I needed to hear.
It was never the physical book. Until now, I hadn’t read it since I read it three years ago.
With that said, I can’t justify keeping the book. If the message and the story calls for me again in the future, I can buy it again or go to the library. But I need to make a decision for the present day me, not the future me. And I can’t see myself wanting to read this book again for a while.
That doesn’t mean its message and meaning have not given me something so valuable that I really, truly think I owe my current life to it.
For those who are unaware, this post is a part of a new series that I am going to be doing on this blog that I explained here. It’s basically a “Julie and Julia” type exercise except instead of remaking recipes, I am re-reading and reviewing books from my bookshelf instead.
This is this official first post of this new series! Sure, the introductory post is one thing. But when you’re depressed, motivating yourself to fulfill goals and actually do the things you say you’re going to do is fucking hard. So honestly, I’m proud of myself for following through, even if this is the only one I do (but I don’t think it will be).
I hinted at the first book in my last post, but for those who were still confused: I started with Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.
I’m still not 100% sure how I am going to structure these posts, so hopefully this goes well.
Let’s get right into the post!
Why I started with Twilight
I’m not really sure why I wanted to start with this one, but ever since I came home from my last year of college, I have had a craving for Twilight like Edward has a craving for Bella (I just died at that simile. That’s the only time I’ll do that lol).
The explanation I have come up with relates to my nostalgia I mentioned in the first post of this series. I started reading these books right around the Twilight heyday of 2007-2008. I would read the entire series over and over and over without getting tired of it.
So reading it now brings back memories of middle school and high school. While those were far from my favorite years, I do have great memories from that time of my life.
I made my very best, lifelong friends. I was actually considered to be above-average intelligence wise. I was playing softball competitively. I could eat anything I wanted and not gain weight or feel like shit after.
My idea of a great Friday night was sitting in my friend’s house eating Gyoza and listening to TGIF.
My concerns were small and unimportant, like whether a boy liked me (he didn’t lol), if my outfit was cool (uggs and basketball shorts ftw), and whether I would dance with anyone at the all-school dance (does swaying awkwardly with my friends as we all tried to look like we were quirky and fun for dancing with each other count?).
When you think about it, coming back from college for the final time and craving my childhood memories or the innocence of simpler times is not all that out of the ordinary.
Perhaps other people would flip through a photo album or talk about old times with high school friends, but I opted for reading Twilight.
Why I Bought the Book In the First Place
Let’s get into the background of this book. We all are aware of the Twilight obsession that swept the nation. Being around 12-13 when this occurred, I was no exception in the craze.
To put my own obsession into perspective, I went to the midnight premiere of Twilight and I also got the DVD the day it came out to have a Twilight viewing party/sleepover at my house. I tried to find a picture from that night but I couldn’t, although I’m sure it was a rager.
Just to give you an idea of who we are talking about here, I’ve included a couple of pictures of me and my middle school friends (sorry to all of them for rehashing these lost images).
I basically followed the trend of the time and really enjoyed it. It was an easy read, I was ‘boy crazy’ (meaning I would constantly pick out random boys in my grade that I “like liked” and my friends and I would create nicknames like “Milky Way” and “Eggwhites” so we could talk about them in public), and it was a generally fine book.
What I Would’ve Rated It Then
Solid 8/10. Would, and did, re-read. As I said, at the time it was a generally OK book with romance and teen angst, both of which I craved. I was not informed on gender and feminist issues, and I had not really read any “good” books besides ones I had read in school.
I was mostly reading dystopian young adult novels where there’s some mysterious illness people named Kai get when they’re born before they go through “The Trials”.
This means that I was blissfully reading through an abusive relationship with a completely unrealistic storyline/love-timeline and taking it as fantastic literature that was normal and acceptable. More on this later.
What I Rate It Now
A reluctant 5/10. The reluctance is that I wish I could rate it lower knowing that it is a shitty message given to young people, but I can’t because of the memories and nostalgia attached to it.
Explaining My Rating
Abuse and Sexism
Let’s get into the reasons for the low rating.
Twilight takes us through an abused teen girl’s relationship with her abuser. Now, obviously it is not said that this is what it’s about on the inside cover, but Edward’s manipulation and verbally abusive statements make it hard to see their relationship in any other way besides an abusive one.
The constant descriptions of Edward as perfect seems to gloss over the fact that he controls Bella’s life in almost every way (“Don’t be difficult, Bella”, Edward says in response to Bella not wanting to do something he never even asked her if she wanted to do), that he is insecure, and that he is manipulative.
Emphasizing his perfection places the importance of a person on their looks, telling young people it’s ok if they’re being abused by their partner, as long as they are attractive.
There are many more well-written articles on this topic, so I won’t go into too much detail. But part of the rating reduction is because this book teaches teenagers to not only accept abuse, but to see it as romantic and how real relationships work. That is fucked up, Stephenie Meyer.
I also came across a GEM of a sexist comment right near the end of the book:
“A man and a woman have to be somewhat equal [in a relationship] […] they have to save each other equally” (473-474).
OK WHAT THE FUCK STEPHENIE. First of all, relationships aren’t about SAVING EACH OTHER THAT IS FUCKED UP AND PROMOTES ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS.
Secondly, what the fuck is this “somewhat equal” business? Like, they should just be equal??? Not somewhat equal???
Also, Bella at one point asks Jacob if he, “see[s] anything [he] likes” in reference to women. Women are not objects, Bella.
I understand that realism might not be what you get with a book about vampires. I understand science fiction and fantasy, and that is not what I’m referring to when I say this book is unrealistic.
Their relationship timeline is just complete bullshit. I’m totally unconvinced about their being in love. They basically talk twice before they declare their love and all they talk about is how he is a vampire and how she is a clumsy idiot. Their ‘love’ and relationship just escalate so quickly.
How did I ever think this timeline was normal? Perhaps it was because I was an impressionable teenager who was being taught that this manipulation and rapid infatuation was not only normal, but also desirable! Who knows!
God awful Writing
I’m obviously no George Eliot, but as a writer and a reader, I can spot bad writing when I see it. As I’ve gotten older, written more, and generally become more well-read, I have also come to realize that the writing in Twilight is just awful.
For example, Stephenie cannot seem to find other descriptive words besides “perfect” and “godlike” when it comes to Edward and his vampire squad. Yes, we get it, he’s hot. Move the fuck on Stephenie.
The dialogue is also unrealistic trash that can be summed up in the following interaction:
“”I love you,” [Bella] whispered.
“You are my life now,” [Edward] answered simply,” (314).
WHAT THE FUCK LOL. But seriously who would ever talk like that besides characters on Shonda Rhimes shows after they’ve made a large, unnecessary, metaphorical speech?
Why My Rating Isn’t Lower
Even though this book is awful for many reasons, I still love it. Besides the memories it holds, the ridiculous plot, horrible writing, and atrocious dialogue makes it fun to read. I’ve certainly read worse books and there’s still something great about reading a bad book.
To sum up my reading experience, here are most of the notes I took during this re-reading:
This is so cringe it’s awful
I’m still enjoying it???
Bella is an idiot with no personality besides ‘clumsy’
Bella thinks she is hot shit for knowing the fucking cell cycle and having already read “Hamlet” and “Wuthering Heights” she is the definition of a “I’m not like other girls” girl
Stephenie Meyer is fucked up
But I’m still enjoying it?? what the fuck??
Describe Alice as a “graceful gazelle” or Edward as a “lion” one more time Stephenie I dare you
Bella’s life revolves around Edward which is so appallingly unhealthy
Now I want to watch the movie lol #kstew
Bella’s decision-making skills are those of a five-year old
This book includes the trope of the villain discussing their whole evil plan ultimately resulting in their downfall because they took too long lol
I feel bad for laughing at the torture scene but all I can picture is the scene from the movie that was just not well done and involved weird dog noises coming from kstew
Why would they make Edward suck out the venom?? Like Carlisle could’ve done it??
Describe Edward as perfect one more time I swear to god
Am I Keeping This Book?
In the end, I still like this book. It is definitely a problematic fave of mine. Kind of like how I know the show Friends is homophobic, transphobic, and fatphobic, yet I still like it. I think we all have those books and shows that we both love to hate and hate to love.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. Despite the awful writing, the plot holes, and the sexism, I found myself happier when I was done reading. Perhaps I didn’t learn any life lessons or discover a new philosophy, but while I was reading it I laughed and smiled, which is a triumph considering I’m depressed and anxious almost all of the time.
This re-reading taught me that you’re allowed to have favorite things that aren’t what people consider “smart” or “intellectual.” You can have things you like that you don’t have to call your “guilty pleasure.” It’s just something that makes you happy instead of something that makes you happy and ashamed simultaneously. I actually think it is good to have those things in your life.
As someone who studied gender, sociology, and sexuality in college, it is easy to analyze everything to a point where most things are not enjoyable because of the rampant sexism and homophobia.
And obviously it’s important to call out things that are sexist/racist/awful and create new entertainment that doesn’t rely on these things for humor or plot lines.
But sometimes it’s ok to have a problematic fave. Whether it’s Twilight, or Family Guy, or The L Word, let yourself have a pleasure that isn’t a guilty pleasure. Something that you can laugh at and that brings back memories from a different time of your life.
So crucify me if you want for liking this stupid book. Sue me. But I’m sure you can all relate on some level to liking something that is just so bad it’s good (looking at everyone who still thinks Grey’s Anatomy is good after 13 fucking seasons).
All of this being said, I am going to keep this book (I probably won’t keep the rest of the series, but having Twilight lying around is something I’m not ready to give up quite yet). Even though it is problematic and ridiculous, it added (and adds) value to my life.
I know I can return to this book when I need a laugh or to escape from depression, even if it’s just for 20 minutes.
This book was important to me for a long time, and it brings back so many good memories when I read it. It’s a book I’ll likely re-read many times just like I did as a ~tween~.
All in all, I feel like this exercise is actually helping me the way I wanted it to. The reason why I started doing this series in the first place was because of my drive to live as a minimalist.
But living as a minimalist doesn’t mean having 2 shirts and no furniture. It means living with less and having items that add value to your life.
So even though I am keeping this book instead of giving it away, I’m keeping it for the legitimate reason that it adds value to my life (I just remembered that I’m talking about Twilight and died a little bit. Oh well.).