I have a problematic relationship with my past. This is not just in the sense that I have a good memory, and those memories often find themselves in my focus at the most inopportune times. Nor is it necessarily in the sense that I’ve done horrible things I’m not willing to admit. My problems with the past stem from the fact that the past exists, and there’s nothing I can do about it. It evokes the need to flee or to reconcile, and that is immensely problematic for me.
A few weekends ago I went to Hamilton for the bridal shower of a friend I’ve had since high school, and it made me think a lot about the past. I wouldn’t say I’m a stranger to Hamilton, I go back at least once a month, but I tend to stick to places that were never really associated with my childhood, and I tend to hang out with friends who grew with me as people. Having to go to this event and potentially see people I haven’t seen for more than 3 years meant that I would need to reconcile these two points in time and explain the gap, which means having to explain my transition.
I’ve often thought I would love to erase the past. Take the good, bad, and mediocre elements of my upbringing and just throw it all into a shredder. It’s extra weight I can’t seem to shake free, and as a trans woman this is simply a huge extra burden I have to deal with. No matter how hard you run, how well you can disappear, your past will be always be just another weapon that transphobes will try to use against you at every opportunity. Hate groups like TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) and MRAs (“Men’s Rights Activists”) revel in attempting to dehumanize you by trying to throw your past in your face. This is something that weighs heavily on me and many other trans women I know. There were times when I lied, denied, or covered up to prevent my identity and activities from being known. Times when I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t who I am, that I was normal, whatever the fuck that even entails.
I was raised Catholic. I attended Catholic school throughout my entire education. Though I made some lifelong friends, Catholic school made me hate myself. If you are lgbt, Catholicism will try its hardest to change you. After a few years of listening to anti-gay rhetoric, attending mass, guest speakers, and mandatory theology courses, you’ll try to hide your identity from your peers and from yourself. This is exactly what I did for nearly a decade. I started dressing en femme in grade 7 and by grade 10 I had quit that not because I felt comfortable in my assigned gender but because I feared all the things I was told would happen to me.
There’s a lot of nostalgia for childhood in western culture. If you were to watch coming of age movies, you’d think that high-school was the most important time of your life. To me, high-school is a mixed bag. I’m so happy I met my friends, they’re fucking wonderful in every damn way, but it’s an institution that made me hate myself in a very vulnerable and suggestible time of my life. Because of this, I’m completely torn. Part of me would like to burn the whole damn thing to the ground, but without it I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. Despite the hardship, or maybe because of it, I turned out to be someone I’m immensely proud of.
As much as I want to forget those 4 years ever existed, I also want to send a selfie to every jerk-ass little shit I ran into in the hallways. I’d love to see the look on my uptight teachers’ faces. I’d love to find out that there were other people like me who were just living under the radar and I’d love to hear their stories. There were at least a couple thousand students enrolled at my high-school, so it’s statistically likely that at least 50-100 of them were gay and maybe 5 or 6 were trans. Coming to terms with my past instead of running away means I could swap stories and learn about the experiences of my peers. Finding others who share your struggle is often cathartic.
My past is painful, but it’s my past. While hate groups will always attempt to weaponize it against me, it could also be something that builds community, provides perspective, and helps me connect with others I may have not connected with before. I still dread events like the bridal shower, but I’ve accepted that some good could come of it. There are still things I can gain from connecting with my past provided I don’t let the bastards get me down.