December 18, 2010

In which it gets complicated

[In addition to all of our awesome visible and identifying columnists, we also have some awesome anonymous columnists that for one reason or another must use a pseudonym not their full name (and pseudopic?). Details on anonymous columnists here.]

It's still Friday night, right? It's not Saturday morning until the sun rises.

I feel like "it's complicated" has been my mantra ever since I started questioning my gender. Today I want to untangle my identity a little, but I want to be clear that all this is only true for me, personally. I make no statements, or even guesses, as to how other transgendered folks relate to these things.

So, I guess I think of myself as having three selves. There's me, which is whoever I am when I'm completely alone, and then there are the slightly-processed versions of myself that I allow to be seen in public. I don't want to make it sound like these are totally different identities-- I think it's pretty normal to have a private-self and a public-self. You know, like, maybe your private-self likes to eat peanut butter out of the jar with your fingers, and thinks your boss is ugly. But your public self doesn't show this side of you to the world. Normal! Right?

Except for me It Gets Complicated, because right now I have me, my girl-public-self (whom I shall call Lavinia), and my boy-public-self (Lawrence). Lawrence is basically me, plus underpants, and minus nose-picking. Lavinia, though-- hoo boy, is Lavinia something else!

Lavinia is the perfect daughter my mother always wanted, plus all the coping mechanisms required to get me to go along with the act. Lavinia is high femme, and totally straight. She has an incredible work ethic. She's unfailingly polite. She's ambitious.

But in order to be that person I could never let myself make any close friends. It required momentum to keep Lavinia going; it broke my heart every time I had to put Lavinia back on after leaving a friend; I couldn't imagine going through the world as anyone other than Lavinia; clearly, the friend had to go.

Lavinia got a little tainted by my misery. She was a snob and a cynic and kind of a bitch. She was very aggressive and not very empathetic. She was so, so self-absorbed. I didn't like Lavinia, which only made her more unlikeable.

In a particularly tough period of my life, I tried to kill Lavinia. They made me stay in the hospital for a week. This was, as you may imagine, a bit of a wake-up call. I decided that I didn't care if I had no idea how to live without the facade, I obviously couldn't live with it, and I gave myself permission to find out what was underneath.

I am afraid I became an even more unbearable person at this point, as I removed all my self-censoring instincts and thus spewed my drama onto any and all unsuspecting passerby. I quit and re-joined all kinds of groups and projects, and changed majors every week. I flirted mercilessly with a cute girl and never called her back. I ate three gigantic ice cream sandwiches in a row one night, and skipped class to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender.

But gradually-- so, so gradually!-- I began to put myself together, and make myself presentable to society again. And I found out that I don't really care about making money, that I don't like to be in charge, that I do care about social justice -- and, oh yeah, I found out that I'm a guy. Surprise!

I am working hard to put Lavinia behind me, and to become a better, happier, truer person. A lot of this doesn't really have to do with transitioning at all -- though I don't think I could have gotten so carried away with the facade if I hadn't been so deep in denial about my gender.

It's not so bad, really, pretending to be Lavinia, now that I know that's what I'm doing. She's less of a bitch now that I'm less miserable. And hey, that work ethic is great!

But the rapid switching I have to do on campus causes its own stress. I have to be on the watch for people who "don't know," and if just one shows up I have to immediately switch to Lavinia. When they leave, I try to work her off again, but it's a slow process, and there are a lot of people on campus who know Lavinia. This is why, if I introduce myself as Lawrence to someone, I refuse to tell them my legal name (which is not Lavinia) -- they can't expect a facade they don't know.

I do have to "put on" Lawrence as well, but mostly this involves consciously rejecting Lavinia. I don't think I'd notice changing my gestures, voice, posture, etc. if I didn't have to change them from something radically different, several times a day, at a moment's notice. And, well, I have to put on pants to go out in public, too. So I don't worry too much right now.

But anyway, that's why I don't really feel a connection to my former, girly self. I am kind of the most effeminate guy in the universe, but Lavinia never got to have fun with her gender expression; all the terribly stereotypical love for fashion, Lady Gaga, and camp-- that's all me, and I'm Lawrence. The more baby steps I am able to take towards transition, the more I feel... congruent. And Lavinia has nothing to do with it.


  1. thanks for this :) i'm glad you've been able to slowly find yourself and have meanwhile helped others discover the importance of issues such as yours

  2. Lawrence-this is so inspiring and brave that you are able to talk so openly about your experiences on the blog. I feel so much of this coming out story is in parts relational to my story and other's. I know it is at least helpful to me (and perhaps lots of other people) to read about someone who has undergone many of the struggles coming out, but has made it the other side happily and with forward momentum. Go you!

  3. I love this absolutely, also, I'm sorry that you skipped class to see a terrible movie...or rather, I thought Last Airbender was kind of terrible.

    Even more so, I adore this post and commend you for being able to delve so deeply in to yourself. More than I have. This post is so helpful (definitely me) in order to understand you. I'm glad that you're happy now!

  4. I feel the need to state that I did NOT skip class for the irredeemably awful Airbender movie, but for the excellent TV show. I was watching it on Netflix instant streaming and couldn't stop.

    Also, thanks for the support, everyone. It's a little weird talking about this stuff, because it's so personal, but it's also kind of critical to understanding how I navigate the world these days.

  5. I learned so much from reading this post and I'm still thinking over it a few days later. I still have a long way to go in terms of understanding trans issues, but I just wanted to say thank you to you for opening my eyes a little more. So thanks, Lawrence, and I hope you're enjoying your break!