It’s tough realizing someone you care about may not like you back in the same way. It’s even harder when you realize your physical body is something that might inhibit the possibility of something more ever happening. It took me years to realize my hurt feelings and jealousy wasn’t just me thinking Sarah would not want to date me because I was also biologically female-sexed. That was actually a smaller issue. The main problem was me not being able to grasp the deeper understanding behind my anguish: that I was in fact, correct, in saying I was attracted to women…I was just super upset that my body didn’t match my mind and felt trapped because I didn’t see myself as female, but knew that’s how my physical body identified me to others. I saw myself in a gender neutral box. I understood my body for what it was, but my head didn’t match what I was told about my body. In other words, my gender didn’t match my biological sex, and I had no way of understanding what that meant at that time in my life. Much less, how to tell others about it.
I wasn’t educated about gender and sexuality at any decent level in school. Not in elementary school, middle school, or high school. These courses were also optional (thank god I signed up for as many as I could) in college. This fact frustrates me to no end. For subjects that we as a society care so much about, we certainly do little to truly educate our population. Especially about LGBTQ culture. There is a difference between someone saying they have an “LGBTQ friend/family member” and understanding exactly what that means and what it means to be an ally. A person could spend their whole life without proper gender and sexuality education and have no idea of the bigger picture of the world or his/herself/oneself. They would not understand why non-cis**, non-straight people look, feel, and love differently. Is it any wonder why the LGBTQ** community is often met with a multitude of reactions? Is it a surprise why so many of us who come to understand our true selves later in life struggle so hard against something we don’t even know how to identify? Life is all about learning and growing, but to come to terms with the fact your body doesn’t match your mind? To realize you’ve been identifying wrong all these years just to feel like you fit in somewhere and the label still doesn’t apply to you? If only I had the proper education when I was younger. If only we all had the proper education.
But, I digress.
I spent my first 16 years identifying as a straight female. I spent the next 8-9 identifying as a queer/lesbian/gay andro**-masculine female. Through those years, I slowly came into my own in both appearance and understanding. It wasn’t just about the clothes; it was about what the clothes actually represented of my inner being. All of those times I dressed in drag and genuinely loved having facial hair and being mistaken for a guy. When my girlfriends (most of whom didn’t identify in the queer community) would tell me, “I don’t identify as gay or bi, but this masculine air about you is so attractive.” I was the person who constantly found straight-identified women in my dating pool. I was what we would joke about as a “converter”, even though many of those women would go on to date only men after me, so I wasn’t really “converting” anyone.
But before them, before all of this, there was Lauren: the almost hopelessly confused, sort-of-straight, female-sexed teenager in love with her best friend.
After Sarah said she was “straight”, I handled myself remarkably well despite how I felt. I didn’t go online to do much research on my confusion. I didn’t know where to begin. I asked questions of my LGBTQ-identified acquaintances and friends. I was grateful my theatre group was so open to asking and answering such personal questions. I realize most of us needed that safe space as much as I did, and I hope it helped and still helps the kids going through the program.
Sarah and I continued to grow closer through the summer into the school year. We had what I would call a “passionate friendship”. We would say goodbyes that bordered on the intimate level of lovers after a time as our conversations ended. I remember the first time I dared send an, “I love you” to her at the end of an e-mail and held my breath. I was so scared she would freak out on me, but she simply sent back an, “I love you” as well. Even though some of my friends pointed this out as a sign that maybe there was something more, I also knew that many people have close friendships where “I love you” doesn’t quite mean what I so very much wanted it to. Being so caught up with her, I didn’t allow myself to think on how I “identified” or what all of this meant about me. I just knew I was in love with her, and I didn’t see what was wrong with that…the only thing that was wrong was how society had and still does judge people for loving “differently” and the effect it had on me. I actually stressed myself out so much between being so in love with Sarah and so scared about “coming out” on top of college applications, and my upcoming graduation that my body fell into severe exhaustion. I would spend about a month and a half with a medical excuse to attend classes to whatever limit I felt because I could be fine for one class and my body would try to shut down the next.
No one should ever be that stressed in life, especially not a kid. Yet, there I was, scared because I’d never been told it was okay to be confused about sexuality, not to mention life. I felt like I was too young to be this scared and lost. I only had what I’d read in books or seen in movies to go off of. I’d never received direction or support in these matters. There were no classes or clubs that talked about these things. And for all of the wonderfulness that my parents are, it’s natural for kids to be scared of talking about these things with their parents. We hear horror stories about parents disowning their kids for being different…why wouldn’t I be afraid even mentioning that I wasn’t “gay”, just “confused”? The communication and education I needed to feel safe and comfortable was few and far between. Talking with friends wasn’t enough. I needed guidance and education, and I was petrified to ask for either. I was scared to ask and scared to not ask.
Ironically, what helped me make it through was the one person whose presence had truly turned my world upside down. Sarah’s friendship saved me from making awful decisions when I was at my worst. When I was most scared, I would call her or e-mail her, and she would always respond. She could talk me down from anything, and I did the same for her. I loved our friendship. Even though I knew I loved her as more than a friend, our friendship was strong and supportive in times where we both needed a friend. Sarah was my person, and I was hers. I wasn’t ready to tell her the one thing that would make my chest stop feeling like it wanted to burst, but I could tell her everything else. She listened to me talk about my confusion about my sexuality, and I would put in subtle comments about a person I liked, and I think she knew I liked her, but she always spoke to me with compassion and empathy. She listened when I talked, and I listened when she talked. We spoke every day, and it was wonderful. For teenagers, we certainly had the communication part of a relationship down.
But like any secret, mine couldn’t be contained forever. Each day I didn’t tell her was another day closer to me exploding. All I wanted was to be hers. To be her best friend and the person she loved. Finally understanding what those movies and books were talking about was amazing and agonizing. I read stories where one person watches the person they love marry or be with someone else because they weren’t what that person wanted. Sometimes, the stories would be happy and the two of them would get back together in a miraculous way…and sometimes, they never were.
My life was a spinning wheel, and I all wanted was for it to stop and land on her. I felt like if it would just do that, I could handle all of the other stuff.
And on New Year’s Day 2005, the wheel that was my heart stopped.
Glossary of Terms (please leave a comment if some words I use need definition. I don’t want anyone getting lost just because I use terminology they aren’t familiar with).
**LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer
**Andro stands for androgyny which is partly male, partly female. Kind of a balance in the gender spectrum. I identified as someone who felt in a balance of gender while preferring a more masculine physical appearance. Hence, andro-masculine.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Although this note is unrelated to where you are presently in this story, and will be told more fully in the time to come, I’d like to share something that means a lot to me. Today, February 28, 2014, I officially had my paperwork for my name and gender change completed and signed. 🙂 Even though I am a guy regardless of paperwork, it’s nice to have the government acknowledge it too. It’s like a second birthday. Celebrate today with me. Smile. And enjoy this next chapter. It is a pleasure sharing my story with you and having you share it with others. The only way to learn more is to educate yourself, and if I’m helping you or others at all, then I’m succeeding in helping all of us learn and grow. Much love. – Loren (Lo))
July took its sweet time coming. I couldn’t tell you how time passed by, only that it did.
As is usual for July, the sweltering Kansas summer had set in. It wasn’t just a relief to be indoors with a building wonderfully air-conditioned, but that sense of anxiety I’d felt since meeting this Sarah would finally dissipate.
I remember walking down the stairs hearing the plethora of youthful voices. My people. My fellow thespian-loving peers. As I walked in, about half of the people looked my way. I didn’t recognize many of them for most I had previously done shows with had aged out, but that didn’t matter: the meet and greets happened and soon, I ran into the person I’d waited so long to see.
I couldn’t explain my grin or why my heart jumped in my chest seeing her. I wasn’t aware of much of anything. All I knew was the thrill from head to toe combined with the joy of just being there. If one could burst from joy, my soul most certainly would have.
Sarah seemed to feel the same and in short order, where you would find one of us, you would find the other. We became immediate close friends. We made up for those past few months by exchanging *gasp* home phone numbers and e-mail addresses (hello early 2000s). It never struck me as out of the ordinary: our closeness. All I had to do was talk to her and any imbalance I felt in my life would lessen. I’d had close friends before, but she was the closest. Somehow, any conversation I’d had with my other great friends didn’t compare. There was just something about us together. We just got each other.
We began lengthy e-mail exchanges where we conversed over anything and everything. Some of the most intense philosophical debates of my life occurred in these e-mails. We would ask each other hows and whys on things like our favorite colors, dream vacations, or ideal futures. Sometimes, our e-mails turned into phone conversations that went on for hours. There were a few times one of us would fall asleep on the phone. She was my best friend, and I was hers. I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful presence to come into my life, and thank goodness my mom told me to go to auditions.
Aside from Sarah’s and my blossoming friendship, SYT was full of the usual teenage angst. The cast and crew had regular discussions about drugs (mainly pot), confused sexuality, college/high school, crushes, hopes, and fears. Sometimes, we would play games like 10 fingers, and you would (or maybe not) be surprised by the questions asked as well as whose fingers stayed up or went down. With that much time together, it’s no surprise we all became so intimate and comfortable with each other. We had our occasional drama (a pun!), but we were a wonderful family. We all had love for one another, and it was a pleasure to spend so much time together.
It was during this time I was introduced to a community I’d never really understood before. The LGBTQ community. A few of my castmates were out and identified somewhere along the LGBTQ line. Others were questioning their own sexuality and gender. Just as many were straight and proud allies. I’d been a proud ally of anyone associated as LGBTQ for a year, but I still didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t understand how people were even attracted to each other, so what did I care whom was bumping the uglies with who? I mean, OBVIOUSLY, I only wore the rainbow wrist bands because I stood strong for the oppressed. Not because I, myself, identified as part of the community. Heck, I didn’t think much of my gender and sexuality simply because I had zero idea of what gender and sexuality was. I was interested in sex, yes, but not so much sex with anyone. I figured I was too young and all the guys around me were just friends. Those movies and books talking about “that spark”…well…I hadn’t encountered “that spark”. Even so, I recognized my lack of education, and I focused my attention on learning all I could. So, I began to ask questions of my peers concerning their intimate lives.
My curiosity worked perfectly with this delightful group. Turns out, we all had the same curiosities. Even if some of my peers understood attraction, there wasn’t one of us who hadn’t been or wasn’t curious about one’s own sexuality. It was almost taboo to inquire as to whether one identified as straight or not. Many professed to be questioning and while most everyone felt fairly certain where their attraction lay, just about everyone agreed that there could always be someone who might come along and change that.
It was around one of these discussions where I first really paid attention not just to my friends responses, but to one in particular. After all, what kind of best friend would I be if I didn’t pay attention to every detail she shared with me or in my presence? Sarah’s thoughts and how she defined herself mattered to me. I told myself, “Of course, I care how she defines herself and who she is attracted to. I’m her best friend.”
Yet, when she said she considered herself straight…something inside me knotted. In a startling moment in my head, I had a halfway recognition of what that feeling was…
I’m sorry…..wait….WHAT? Why?
My mind raced.
How can I be jealous? It’s not like I’m attracted to her or anything. She just said she’s straight. So am I, but why do I feel like I’m straight, but I’ve never felt this way toward any guy? I’m an ally, I’m not gay…am I? I’m a female, and so is she, but I just like being close to her…I mean, she can date who she wants, and it’s not like I’ll lose my best friend. She would tell me if she was interested in someone right? What if she likes someone here? I love our time together. Just being near her is amazing, and I love it when we rest our heads on each other. I feel so comfortable…but that’s what we do. I don’t want to lose her…
And like that, I realized I had met “that spark”.
Even worse, I had no idea what it meant.
I was in love and confused as all hell.
Can I phone in a friend for help with the million dollar question please, Regis?
“That’s the pathetic thing about high school. Everyone tries so hard to be something they aren’t. It’s gotten so I don’t know who I am, so how can I even try to be who I am, much less who I’m not?“
High school wasn’t pathetic. At least, not for me. It wasn’t a place of sunshine and rainbows, but it wasn’t always this place of utter dread. It’s been over a decade since I started high school, and I can remember most of my interactions. Where I fit in, and where I did not.
I was a smart kid, but not dedicated enough to academics to get straight As or care about having all AP classes and going to Harvard. I spent enough time around those who were like that, and the amount of condescension and arrogance from some of them was enough to keep me well away from classes and people who would have brought me more unnecessary stress. High school is a natural stress shit show; I didn’t need any more help with that. When I wasn’t going through the academic paces, I would be found around the theatre or choir rooms. I spent every possible free moment between those two places with others like me.
(Loch Lomond-Free State Men’s Choir from I believe 2008–just them singing, so feel free to press play and listen while continuing reading if you’re so inclined 🙂 )
Surprisingly for a high school in Kansas, nay a high school in general, our choir program is a top-level program, and our choir one of the best in the Midwest. Hundreds of students are involved including many athletes. It wasn’t uncommon to see varsity players singing. Our school has a unique balance of arts and athletics. We had/have some marvelous teachers in the arts programs, and their dedication and love of their craft and students undoubtedly brought a wealth of good influence and safety. I never felt more grounded than when I was in choir or involved with a theatre production. I loved theatre so much, I participated in a local youth theatre program during the school year and the summer.
It was my participation in this theatre program that introduced me to people who would open my eyes, mind, and most of all, my heart.
The 4 years I spent involved with Summer Youth Theater (SYT), and its school year program, City Youth Theater (CYT), as well as the occasional productions in my high school brought me some of the best and worst moments of my life. It brought friendships I still cherish, a truth of myself I’d never known, an education you seldom learn in the classroom, and love. So. Much. Love.
When I began, I was a dirty-minded youth desiring to just be around other people. I looked up to the older actors, and I was sometimes starstruck with them. To me, they were inspirational and aspirational. I wanted to be them, but more so, I wanted to be friends with them. Some of them gave off the warmest auras, and all I wanted to do was hug them and just spend hours getting to know and learn from them. Good thing, SYT rehearsals ran 10 hours a day. Plenty of time to get to know one another and forge those strong bonds.
The tough part was with each new year, many of the older actors would graduate high school and age out of the program. My heart pulled with a sense of loss in the same way one feels when moving. There was so much love among us. It was a teaser of what an even deeper loss would feel like. It was hard to stay in contact with everyone as we all slowly grew up and aged out of the program, but each year also brought new faces and more friendships. For every goodbye, there was a hello, and people always came back to visit.
I had a tough time coming back to the program during my junior year of high school. My sophomore and junior years were full of a lot of rough life lessons. I learned you can have close friends one minute and one thing can change all of that. All of us were hormone-ridden teenagers trying to figure out how to be safe and be okay with our inner and outer selves. Between balancing college applications, my studies, activities I wanted to do combined with activities that looked good on paper, I was a bit overwhelmed. Not to mention I felt like I was totally out of the high school scene. People were dating. A lot of people were dating. Sure, I knew what sex was. I’d seen the shows and movies. Read about it. Talked about it. Done a bit of fun here and there, but I didn’t have any real attachment to anyone. I wasn’t interested in anyone, and if anyone was interested in me, well, I didn’t know. Whatever. And something was sorely missing in my life. I found myself in a depression. I didn’t know why I felt so lonely and off, so I had no idea how to fix a problem I couldn’t even identify. I was so low, I almost missed auditioning for SYT that year.
Somehow, my mom managed to convince me to drive down to the Lawrence Arts Center and audition.
I showed up in pajamas. It was a beautiful spring day, but I just wasn’t feeling okay with things. I had a monologue I’d written, I would do that. I didn’t think I could sing well enough to capture anything other than an ensemble role, so I didn’t bother preparing a song–that could go to the kids who really could sing. Props to them.
I walked in and sat down a few rows from the stage. Some girl I’d never seen before was getting ready to do her monologue. That’s the fun part of auditions for SYT. You get to do them in front of each other. You get to see what others do and learn from them and maybe even tweak your own audition before you go up. This girl was brilliant. She had a sparkle to her eyes and a snap to her words. She was someone you saw and kept your attention on. When she finished, I applauded with everyone else, and as she left the stage, I found myself secretly hoping she would sit near me. She did.
I whispered to her how much I liked her audition and hoped she landed a great role, and oh yeah, my name is Lauren. She told me her name, Sarah, and we whispered back and forth like great friends. When my name was called, she wished me the best. Suddenly, I wanted to rock my audition. I wanted to be there. I came alive during my audition. Even though I knew I wouldn’t get a large role because of my reluctance to let myself go and really sing, I knew I wanted to be there. I wanted to get to know this Sarah. I got this feeling she was someone who would make a difference in my life in a good way. I knew I wanted to be her friend the moment I saw her.
Sadly, when I went to the bathroom, she had left to go to another audition in a different town. I realized I didn’t even know her last name so I couldn’t look her up in the phone book (yes, this was before cell phones were in wide use and everyone had home phones and used phone books). Dammit! I really wanted to get to know this girl and now I had to wait until the cast list went up.
But luck wasn’t with me. When the cast list was posted a few days later, there were 3 Sara/hs listed…I had a feeling she was the Sarah listed next to a role I felt was certainly hers, but I didn’t want to look her up and it be the wrong person. It was going to be 3 long months until rehearsals began for the July musical production of Robin Hood.
Summer needed to be here like yesterday.
And so began the waiting.
I didn’t even ask myself why I was so excited to see her again. Who wouldn’t look forward to seeing someone that awesome again? Even if it was just 15 minutes, and we’d barely gone past discussing our auditions and general pleasantries. I could look forward to someone I hardly knew. It’s not like I hadn’t been this into getting to know other people…it’s just…I never had this kind of connection before. What was it about her………..
But seriously, was it July yet?
How did I get from the formerly lesbian-identified, female-bodied person known as Lauren (And you thought Prince gave everyone a hard time when he wanted to be called The Artist formerly known as Prince) to Loren, the queer-centric-if-more-straight-by-social-definition, male-bodied person?
I’ll give your mind a moment to adjust to all those adjectives and hyphenation.
The short of it is: a gradual series of events accumulating to a long overdue change.
The long of it is: far more entertaining, heartbreaking, and entirely human.
It didn’t happen over night though it was always a thought in my mind. Sometimes more prominent; sometimes barely registered but never gone.
I can trace my entire life and see where certain actions, specific behaviors, pointed to my more male way of being. But I’d been raised to identify as female. Because of my biology, my sex, I’d been labeled a certain gender. Female.
Nothing could have been more wrong for me. And it started the day I was born.
I can’t blame my parents or the doctors. How could they know calling me a girl and female was wrong? Hell, I was a fresh-out-of-the-womb baby with no ability to understand anything outside of my need to eat, poop, breathe, and sleep.
I can blame society. And I do. I hold society and those who keep trying to force it to these narrow, black and white structures accountable. We have created a society of twos. Two political parties. Two genders. Two sexes. Two people to a relationship. We call it equal, and it is anything but. If we were meant to be of black and white, every man would look the same and every woman. We would have the same personalities and mesh seamlessly together. There is no black and white. Look at our world. Look at our lives. What some of us call wrong, others call right. Some of us are born without limbs, sight, different bodies, sexual identities, certain brain functions, and we are treated differently. We are scorned, shunned, ignored, mocked, fired, not hired, fetishized, rendered homeless…simply because our state of being is “different” from the “normal”.
My state of being…has been a source of ridicule, mistreatment, and judgment by more than I know for most of my life. Also, it has been a source of support and love. For every asshole out there, ignorant asshole and just plain asshole, I have been fortunate enough to have a wonderful group of friends and family. They may not understand everything yet, but they love me and let me teach them about me and they let me learn about them just as much.
As I have looked more like the male-bodied person I’ve always wanted to, the “shes” are less, and the “hes” are more. I seldom hear “Her, she, girl, lady” anymore. These days, I’m finally hearing “Him, bud, dude, he, man”…I’m finally hearing correct gender terminology being used for me.
I don’t get so many stress knots in my back. I breathe easier. I play with my short, but very obvious beard, and the other body hair that I could swear sprouted over night. I never knew body hair could be so fun.
But that’s just me, appreciating and enjoying my body feeling the way I’ve wanted it to and looking the way I imagined…well…almost imagined. The ass hair was not something I was expecting, but I’ll get used to it. That’s a funny story for another time.
Which leads me to where I’ve been going with all of this…I couldn’t tell you where it all really began. Was it the first time I observed my fellow middle-schoolers being attracted to one another? The first time I kissed a person? The women’s studies courses I took in college?
It’s hard to pick a beginning to start this story for all of you, but I think I’ve got one.
Why not go back to a place we can all remember?
Here’s a few songs from my high school years for you to enjoy. I’ll update again next week. I’m going for weekly updates for now. May turn into more, but I will promise you weekly updates:
Good morning, afternoon, evening, and a Happy New Year, both belated, now, and not yet.
I didn’t intentionally mean to write a post on the cusp of the New Year, but it seems my inner writer finally won out over whatever block I’ve had.
I’m sorry I haven’t kept you updated on my life. Given you stories to make you think, laugh, cry, empathize, fear, hurt…I’m sorry I haven’t given you something with feeling.
You see, there’s this thing that’s been happening…it’s called life. Sometimes, it wraps you up so tightly, you can’t do anything else but live it. The telling comes later.
I suppose it’s time to tell.
Many of you know this by now, but I moved away from the East Coast in June and settled on the West Coast. In a rather Lawrence, KS-esque city…Portland, OR. Home of the hippies, hipsters, heroin and meth, Voodoo Doughnuts, Rogue Brewery, LGBTQ-and-then-somes, happy hours, the escape for twenty-somethings, and one of the coolest cities I’ve ever seen.
I don’t know why I specifically chose Portland. I could have moved anywhere. My original thoughts were Nashville, Kansas City, or Seattle. Somehow, one suggestion led to another, and on a whim, my girlfriend and I moved to Portland less than 2 months after visiting.
We left most of our family and friends, packed up our stuff, and away we went.
It’s been 6 months now. We’ve lived through the glorious Portland summer, and now, we are learning how to live through the dreary Portland winter–I don’t find it so awful–it’s a great reason to have multiple hot toddies day in and day out. Maybe it’s not so bad because I’ve found so many reasons to thrive and feel alive.
Perhaps the biggest one of all.
This will definitely catch most of you:
As of August, I took the bravest step of my life and finally did something about how I’ve felt for all the years I’ve identified with the queer community.
I took my first round of hormone therapy. My first step into becoming the more masculine version of myself I’ve always seen in the mirror, but not in actuality.
5 months later, I can still see who I was, but looking from then to now…how my body feels and appears…it’s everything I’ve always wanted.
There’s so much yet to happen. So much I don’t know that will be coming my way. In time, I have to deal with more paperwork than I’d like, navigating healthcare, local, state, and federal government rules and regulations, relationships and friendships coming and going, and so much more.
But at least I get to deal with them looking the way I’ve always wanted, identifying as I’ve always felt, and to hell with anyone who can’t get on board with me for being a human being and defining my life for me.
I left behind the box I was constrained in. I don’t know exactly how I’ll define myself a year from now, but at this moment, I’m finally looking like the guy I’ve always seen in the mirror.
I respect my past and my former identification as a lesbian and a female, but that isn’t me, and frankly, it wasn’t right.
I am Lauren/Loren (who knows when I’ll settle on a name). My past does not dictate my future, but it teaches me to stop being afraid of embracing wonderful me. I am no less of a man and no more of a woman. My nether region does not define me, nor should yours you.
What’s between your ears speaks to who you are.
And who I am, is a beautiful guy with a sharp wit, snarky manner, and a rather brilliant ability to shake my booty. I am a queer transman, and I am proud of it.
So, here’s to the new year as the most real I’ve been.
I know you’ll have questions.
I’ll be here to provide answers as much as I can.
And I’ll try to write more often.
There’s just so much to say…but let’s start this off right:
HAPPY NEW YEAR.
Talk to you soon.