GROWING UP A TOM

I have struggled with my identity as a lesbian and as a tomboy since childhood. Like my mother––a tomboy in her own right––I grew up longing for the pride of bloody noses and playground fistfights, sweat-stained baseball caps, and mud-covered Converse high tops. I cut my hair short to mirror the boys I hung out with. I made people call me Randy instead of Ariel. No matter how much I emulate the high-fives and chest-bumps that came with membership to this tribe, I knew I was not one of them.

As a child, I consistently avoided using public restrooms during busy times of the day. I didn’t want to deal with the stares I knew were waiting for me.

 

“What are you? A boy or a girl?”

 

“IT isn’t a boy OR a girl! “It’s a HEESH—a he-she!”

 

There would be times in grade school when it was “safer” to use the girls’ restroom. I would have to strategize it. Usually, those occasions ended in another female student running out of the girls’ bathroom yelling, “There’s a boy in the girls’ bathroom!” A teacher would grab me by the arm and pull me outside, chastising me. 

 

“What are you doing in the girls’ bathroom!”

“I’m a girl!” My eyes would hug the ground.

Jules Rosskam, director of the documentary film “Against a Trans Narrative” and a transgender man himself, said, “If I could wake up tomorrow and make it go away, I would…it complicates everything.” I may not identify as transgender, but I do know what it feels like to wish you were someone else—something else.

 

The opening scene of the “Got Monsters” carries this sentiment. The short film, directed by Mina Caputo, was recently screened at the Echo Park Film Center for the Los Angeles Transgender Film Festival. The film opens with a young woman waking up in bed. She wrestles white, cotton bed sheets—trying to trap the morning between the folds. The way she sits up in bed—the apathy in her movement and the hunched position that follows—is carried in her stare. She holds the stare too long—directs it at the mirror in front of her. She gives herself away. She glances at the scars lining her wrists. She cut correctly—few cut correctly, few cut to succeed.

 

“Got Monsters” chronicles one day—morning to night—in the life of a middle-aged transgender woman—someone born male at birth, but who identifies in several ways (if not all) as a woman. The ordinariness of her day embodies a sense of ritual. It is the emptiness that is consistent. She showers, gets a haircut, plays the piano, eats a meal, takes a walk. Her movement and expression contains weight though, like the film above stagnant water. It is not apathy. It is a mind living inside of futility. Eventually, we discover that this woman actually does not exist. She is the mental projection of a middle-aged man who identifies as this woman.

 

The chores required to sustain a life—bathing, housing, food, etc.—become empty and exhausting when used to maintain lives that do not fulfill us. Rosskam described the motivation behind his own decision to “transition” to a man—via hormone therapy—by saying, “I am doing what I have to do in order to face my reflection in the mirror.”

(Image: TriggerChröme Studios)

[©2020 by Ariel Maccarone]