Experiencing trans childhood to bring my adult self back to life

Experiencing trans childhood to bring my adult self back to life

This summer I turned 1 year old.

Just weeks after my 28th birthday, the sweltering heat of late July marked one year since I first smeared a cool testosterone gel pump on my shoulder, one of the many ways I choose to honor my transit. I had been opening up to change for a year as my shoulders broadened, my voice deepened, and the anxiety that buzzed like a house music bassline began to fade into the background.

Instead of a party, I went to a tattoo shop in northeast LA with a few friends to celebrate the occasion. I chose to get the Yiddish word for sparrow, sprl, tattooed on my right arm, in homage to the mother tongue of my paternal grandfather. As a birdwatcher, I have found myself fascinated by the mundaneness of house sparrows, those little brown songbirds that represent unruly freedom to me as they find ingenious ways to settle on almost every continent.

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I have been making a home in myself for years now. I never had an “aha” moment when the fog lifted to reveal the word “trans”. Instead, I spent nearly a decade trudging down a zigzag road, always wondering if I was ever going to improve as a girl. I did not do it. So around 23, I completely stopped trying and let myself go elsewhere. Transit was a force in itself, pushing me away from the things that exhausted me while pushing me forward, towards desire, towards my own survival.

Over the past year, an essential part of that survival has been giving myself the space to heal the absence of a childhood that I never fully had as a child.

Lil Kalish (they) at Los Angeles River.

Lil Kalish (they) at Los Angeles River.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

It wasn’t just about starting testosterone. It was driving around Pasadena with my friends, screaming and screaming my favorite songs from middle school Fall Out Boy in my new tenor voice. He was crossing the LA River to watch the bats as they returned to their roosts above the 5 Freeway. I was foolishly trying to catch a fish with my bare hands. It was doing nothing good, staying up too late, eating so many sweets that my stomach hurt. It was the sweat running down my face as I skated (badly!) in a high school parking lot. He insisted on a headstand competition in the community pool. It was stinging my face while shaving. It was the blood running down my cheek. He was the only boy in the nail salon to get neon green nail polish on his toes. It was finally embracing a femininity that I had worked so hard to conceal.

My foray into childhood had everything and nothing to do with being a boy. It was an exercise in finding joy for myself and in spite of those who meant me harm. As a trans-masculine, gender-nonconforming black person, I have watched with disgust and fatigue as Republican lawmakers peddle bills through state legislatures to restrict transgender youth’s access to healthcare, sports, and, frankly, to exist. The whirlwind of violent legislation leaves me with a familiar sense of foreboding that I have known well from living in a black body – fear of an altercation that lurks in every gas station bathroom or security checkpoint. from the airport, and the very real fear of losing people and things I love to the ignorance and violence it fuels. Often I don’t know where I could land or where I could rest my feet.

But childhood opens the door and reminds me that there is still time for the world to feel big and possible. It’s an unmarked map that I can plot after years on autopilot.

Those first few weeks on testosterone felt like I had landed inside me from a distant planet. In the months that followed, I remember telling a friend that I could finally imagine a version of myself in the future – salt-and-pepper curls, a slightly darker mustache, my mouth in a smirk. I couldn’t go back and be a carefree 10-year-old boy, but I could, as an adult, live in a way where I removed the obstacles that stood in the way of my survival and that of my friends.

Childhood was an experience, which I shared with my community as we relied on new forms of life. Childhood was my way of stealing my present and my future for myself and hiding some candy in my pocket as a treat.

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