The Masquerade

I learned to camouflage early in life. Very early. Because I was born into a household where my father was a known sexual abuser, my identity and self-expression was strictly policed by my mother in an effort to protect me. I wish she’d been as protective of my sister, who pioneered surviving an emotionally, corporeally, and sexually abusive environment.

Failure to blend in, to not stand out, to not exhibit childish exuberance, excess creativity, or any lack of masculinity was harshly oppressed by both parents. One out of ‘concern,’ one out of intolerance. I knew by the age of four – if not earlier – to blend in. To hide in plain sight. To not attract undue attention. I wasn’t, I suspect, terribly good at it. Punishment for infractions of the ‘shut up and sit down policy’ were frequent, swift, and brutally applied.

Danger was always present, even when my father was in a generous mood with his ‘positive’ attention. If I didn’t accept his violent rough play as natural, if I cried, or complained, the play turned into callous rejection and mockery. There was no effort to engage in the type of play I found interesting – storytelling and roleplaying. In fact, my desire to participate in these innocent and joyful childhood activities were discouraged at every turn.

Strangers gendered me as female throughout my childhood and into adolescence. My mother always asked them why. I suspect she wanted to eradicate whatever evidence she could. Invariably, they’d cock their heads and examine me, eventually deciding it was my nose. My nose is why they thought I was a girl.

It’s no wonder I got nosebleeds at the drop of a hat until my mid-teens.

But when I think back, I am grateful I learned those skills. I have no doubt I’d be a statistic on a death toll if I had not. I do not believe my father would have intentionally killed me. But one of his forms of abuse might have – either on accident, or by my own hand. There were enough close calls on both fronts as it was. This does not mean I’m in any way thankful for having suffered the abuse. I am thankful that I was able to survive. I survived. Eventually, I’ve even thrived. I’ve proven I’m the one with the power to move on from an abusive past.

So, obviously, I grew up with a lot of skills developed to ensure my survival. Skills that became less useful and more harmful with every passing year. I deeply regret hurting and am endlessly thankful to everyone who dated young me. It took a lot of work to undo a lifetime of living in panicked survival mode. Work I’m still doing, although I’ve learned many new skills to replace the old.

The most recent step in improving my mental health was going on antidepressants last March. The turnaround was almost immediate. My anxiety decreased to very-manageable levels and my depression retreated to half-hearted attempts to reestablish old thought patterns that I can easily deflect into more positive and successful patterns.

I suspect there are those who feel my coming out as a queer trans woman is a direct result of my abusive childhood. I suspect they pray that I’ll find healing before I do anything non-reversible to my body. What I’d like those people to know is that the exact opposite is true. This is my healing process. This is who I’ve always been. I have simply been too afraid, too damaged, to face a world that didn’t understand me and seemed cruel as it was. As I heal, I am more and more able to tap into the true me – the female me.

And it was as I was finally able to begin facing the world as the true me, I knew the me I’d always felt myself to be… was part of a masquerade. I began to wear dresses to parties. I started wearing a padded bra to work under my clothes. These two simple acts did wonders for my confidence and my self esteem. Upon moving from Portland back to Minneapolis, I found myself in need of a new winter wardrobe. Rachel eagerly took me shopping and I bought an entire new wardrobe from women’s departments. I am now, head to toe, wearing clothes I feel proud to be wearing. That feel right. This is not the masquerade. The masquerade was my inability to do these things before now.

Now, as I type this post with lacquered nails in a downtown coffee shop, wearing jeggings, my giant pink purse next to me, I feel like I belong here. I do not need to excuse my presence or be less me for fear of attracting attention. I have begun to shed the masquerade and cannot wait until modern medicine helps me shake the last vestiges of the uncomfortable and harmful masquerade I was taught to wear.