In August of 1992 a dear friend of mine, Lojo Russo, responded to something snarky I said about some man or the other with, “Wow, you really are a lesbian separatist-feminist trapped in a man’s body.”
I really appreciated that assessment because, as I have come to realize, I have felt trapped for all of my life. At first there was a small crack through which my actual identity could be vaguely sensed. Strangers constantly gendered me as female in my youth. When asked why, they would invariably ponder that for a moment and then decide it was my nose.
In high school when I became a sexual being, that crack widened a bit. I had mostly female friends, I wore eye makeup, I identified as bisexual. An artist friend of mine at the time told me he was cataloging facial features and have never seen a man with more than two of my specific features.
Over the years, that crack has widened slightly but it was only within the last year, when I started taking anti-depressants, when I was not constantly fighting depression, anxiety, and PTSD that I could finally relax enough to really deal with the disconnect I’d always felt between who I was and what my body was.
I started wearing dresses to parties. I started talking to Rachel, my wife, about my feelings that I was not a man. I was not sure that I wanted to do anything about it initially, but it was becoming more and more difficult to go out in the world and be assumed a man.
I started wearing a bra with pads to work. Eventually I identified myself as non-binary. And it felt good. Really good. That crack was widening.
I started contemplating transitioning. To what, I said, I wasn’t sure. The more I thought about it, the more right that felt. I appended ‘trans’ to my non-binary identity. This was around the time we moved across the country to Minnesota and I found myself needing a whole new wardrobe (it’s cold here!). Rachel and I lept into action, quickly learning how to shop women’s departments for a 6′ tall, 175 lb. trans person.
In my new clothes, I was walking taller and feeling more me than I had in my entire life.
One week ago today I called the clinic at the Center for Sexual Health at the University of Minnesota and, in what was the best and most honest conversation I’ve ever had with a medical institution, made an appointment (well, joined the waiting list) to start my transition.
And suddenly, that crack split wide open and I was swamped in a rush of emotions and thoughts that had me walking even taller, bolder, and more at home in me than I ever have in my life. That crack became a gap, then a gaping hole, and then the entire false edifice shattered, freeing my true self to express itself. I researched medical interventions, discussed things further with Rachel, and realized that I want to fully transition. I am a woman. I always have been. My survival dictated denying this truth in my youth and because I also learned to be a good actor in order to survive, the facade was easy to maintain long past its usefulness (although not without a toll).
It’s been an amazing week, full of love and support from friends and family.
And so, at long last, I am fully aware of who I am and the steps I need to take to fully become that woman. I’m taking the name Branwen Danielle Zakariasen. Branwen meaning beautiful raven, Danielle being the feminine form of my birth name (and current middle name), and Zakariasen being the last name of my wife and her – or I should say, our – family.
So here I am, 23 years after Lojo told me who I was, no longer trapped, but free, fully me, and happy.