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Choosing Authenticity

“It’s a girl” the doctor exclaimed on December 12th, 1984. After taking a quick glance at my body, the doctor not only assigned my sex* but also my gender identity**. Based on this designation, my parents knew the exact prescription to raise a little girl who fits into society’s tidy, little box.

Starting from as early as I could remember, I knew I was different. And I knew I had to hide it and that I couldn’t talk about any of it. I looked around and saw families and knew I wanted a family but that it would look different. I saw adult men and women and also felt a disconnect from them. I had no idea what any of this meant but I knew it was wrong.

Any time anyone would say negative things about queer people: “faggot, faygala (Yiddish slang for faggot), he/she, that ‘thing’ (said with venom) etc, I’d mentally write a note to myself and file it away in my brain. I quickly learned that to veer away from ‘the norm’ was a dangerous path and I’d best stay the course.

I felt the most comfortable hanging with the boys. I chose Umbros over skirts and t-shirts over blouses every.single.time. The older I got, the harder it became to stay true to myself and the more I felt like I needed to conform to survive. It became more real when I started to recognize that my feelings were different than most of my peers. My classmates began to care more about impressing the boys than hanging with each other or playing outside. My days were filled with fantasies of the girls crushing on ME and what that world would look like. I dreamed about a world where this was normal and I could tell my friends who I actually had a crush on instead of lying that I was in love with Ross.

I dreaded becoming a Bat Mitzvah more than anything. I didn’t want to become a woman. I didn’t want to wear a skirt in front of the congregation. I didn’t want the ‘girls’ gift from our Sisterhood (girls got Shabbat candle stick holders and the boys got wine glasses). I didn’t want to go to my party and have to pick a boy to dance with during the Snowball dance in front of everyone. I didn’t want any of this. But I did it because that’s what nice Jewish girls do. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents or my community. I kept thinking to myself that life was just going to keep getting harder and I’d have to keep suppressing more and more the older I got. I thought the reasons for my unhappiness all had to do with me being gay; I had no idea there were gender demons lurking about.

When I got to high school, life had already gotten really hard. My hormones were raging and I was all alone. I couldn’t share with my friends or family what was going on because I was terrified I’d lose them. I still hadn’t really had any positive experiences with seeing queer people in my sphere.

I felt so much pain from not being able to share my thoughts with anyone in my life. I started a million journals to try and just get it all out of me but I was terrified someone would find it and read it so I never put to paper anything I was feeling. It was all bottled up inside and starting to take a toll.

The summer going into my sophomore year of high school, I went to a house party where I had my first taste of alcohol. I was 14 years old. I loved every drop I drank. I loved the feeling of escaping reality and numbing the pain and hurt that I felt every minute of every day. Drinking gave me the sense of control I didn’t have in my life otherwise. And the after-effects of drinking were just as great. Not remembering most of the night was ideal. I subconsciously was using drinking as an excuse to not be held accountable and erase big parts of my life.

My alcohol consumption increased as I made my way through high school, and, after I started college at Ohio State, it only worsened. Day drinking was encouraged. Happy hour deals ruled my life.

I still had no out queer people in my life and I felt more and more alone every day.

Each time I drank, I became more angry and upset. I developed an alter-ego named Brevrick that lashed out each time I drank. I was starting to really drive a wedge between myself and my friends. I was feeling more and more hopeless that I would never get to by myself.

One night while I was drinking alone in my room sophomore year of college , my best friend knocked on my door and gave me an ultimatum: “You drink too much and I can’t keep taking care of you. Either tell me what’s going on or we can’t be friends anymore.”

This was my moment of truth. I had to decide if it was worth me risking it all by coming out. I was too scared to say it out loud, so I took a post-it and wrote ‘I’m Bi’ on it. To me, that was the easier route than gay because it was giving myself an out if I needed it. I think a lot of queer people actually initially come out as bi because it’s hard to commit to one identity.

I had a glass-shattering, aha moment. I don’t fit in here because not only am I not a lesbian, I’m not a woman.

I thought once I came out that things would be different. I thought I’d be able to handle my alcohol. I thought I’d start dating women immediately and it actually turns out none of those things were true. I tried on different labels like bi, gay, lesbian but the only one that really seemed to fit was gay.

My drinking only worsened and I sabotaged any and every chance I had with the girls I was dating. There was something else deep inside me that was plaguing me. I no longer had suicide ideations and was generally happier, but there was an inauthenticity looming about that I couldn’t quite figure out. I had a hard time connecting with myself and others; it was like I had a wall up that I didn’t even know was there.

I moved to NYC in the summer of 2011 and my life started to change. I invested all of my time and money in improv classes, teams, and shows and made a whole new group of friends. I explored the city with my old friends and new, and started to learn about all different kinds of people. In the summer of 2014, I went to a ‘Lipstick Lesbian Awareness Party’ in the Lower East Side during Pride month and my life was forever changed. I entered the party already feeling a little out of place because at this point I identified as neither a lesbian and definitely not a lipstick one.

All of a sudden, I had a glass-shattering, aha moment. I don’t fit in here because not only am I not a lesbian, I’m not a woman. I realized that I felt no connection to and hated my given name. I hated the way my messenger bag fit across my chest. I hated my chest. I didn’t know what this meant. The only trans people I knew existed were binary trans people; those who identified as trans men or trans women. When I thought about the possibility of being trans, I was scared because I didn’t feel like I was a man. I had no idea there were genderqueer/non-binary identities.

Looking back on all of the times that I’d been intimate with anyone, I was actively uncomfortable when anyone would touch my chest and in return, actively avoided my partner’s chests. I thought if I hated being touched there then everyone did. This ended up causing a lot of intimacy issues between me and my partners along the way.

I decided almost immediately in that moment that I wanted, nay, needed to have Top Surgery (a double mastectomy where both breasts are removed in a major surgery). The second I made this decision I felt lighter. I felt more myself than ever. I changed my name to something that was more me. I was debating on taking hormones but that never felt right to me. I didn’t know anyone else who had Top Surgery but wasn’t on hormones and identifying as a man. I felt really alone but I also knew this was the right thing for me.

After months of trying to find a doctor that would see me (as a non-cancer, non-binary trans patient) and then fighting with insurance, I finally was scheduled to have my surgery on June 24th, 2016. Almost immediately my drinking started lessening and lessening. I could feel my whole body relaxing and I felt like a different person.

Once the surgery was over it truly was like I was a different person. I felt more myself than I’d ever felt. When I looked in the mirror, I actually saw ME. That truly had never happened before and I had no idea what I was missing.

It’s scary choosing to be authentic every day. And yes, authenticity is a choice. Brené Brown says “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” And no truer words have been spoken. I found once I started living in a way that was authentic for me, things started falling into place.

I connect to myself and my body in ways I never knew were possible. When people ask me how I am, I actually mean it when I say I’m great. I finally have the energy to date people in a real way. I started making moves in my career because I finally felt like I deserved it. My whole life was built on the assumption that I was a failure because I never really felt like myself and I never cared about my future or my career because it wasn’t really mine; I was a shell of a human. After my surgery and after I started identifying in a way that was authentic for me, all of that changed.

Even though it’s the more vulnerable choice to live authentically and the highs are higher and the lows are lower, I’d never choose to live any other way.

*sex assigned at birth: a designation based on primary and secondary sex characteristics, hormone levels, and internal and external genitalia

**gender identity: an internal sense of self and understanding of who you are and how you relate to the world. No one can determine your true gender identity, only you can.

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