When I was younger, I read a book called Code, by Charles Petzold. Presented as a crash course in the basic foundations of how computers operate, Petzold’s book began this explanation by arguing that the reason computers were so powerful was that everything in reality could, broken down enough, be represented as a series of binary choices.
Just divide each step of the problem neatly in half, until at least it all fits into a set of values.
True, or false.
Yes or no.
1s and 0s.
It’s a tempting theory, one treated as almost axiomatic in the tech world. It’s helpful too, in assuaging ones doubts about being employed in the business of relentless digitalisation. Everything is possible! You just have to reduce it down enough to fit in the machine …
It’s pure bullshit of course.
Zeno proved it over 2,000 years ago.
Today I bled for who I am for the first time in probably two decades.
It wasn’t in a fight.
It wasn’t from a fist, or a knife, or a gun.
It wasn’t drawn in anger, or hate. In fact, the woman who drew that blood had no more idea of her part in the story than a mouse does of the flow of international commerce.
Indeed, nothing but pleasantries were exchanged as this woman proceeded to mangle a simple blood draw so badly I was left with both arms punctured and one of them bleeding so badly it nearly soaked through the bandage.
It was otherwise a perfectly polite, orderly, yet still completely unnecessary bloodletting.
All because I told an old man in a doctor’s coat I wasn’t divided into the right binary choices.
I am transgender.
I am a woman.
Those are still very hard words for me to say.
Even though they fill me with absolute joy. Even though they affirm and announce a wish, a hope, an identity, that I feel in the very fabric of me. Even though that revelation, that moment of final acceptance and admittance within myself is one of the most liberating feelings I have ever experienced.
I still struggle to explain them. Still struggle to actually take those words out of my head and put them on paper, let alone say them aloud.
There are so many reasons why. So much of this is new, and my brain so constantly racing, that it’s hard to put into words or know the right ways to explain things. There is still a part of my brain, the part of my brain that kept me in the closet for decades, that tells me this is all insane and impossible and I will never be able to be the woman I want to be. Then there is the realization of how much horror and violence and hatred is directed at trans people, at people who dare challenge the binary. I even fear admitting doubt in the first place, lest it provide more fuel to their witch-fires.
And yet it is ever so inescapable that, in those moments when the doubts and fears fall away, and I catch a glimpse of the woman inside … it all falls away like broken glass in the face of an apocalyptic joy. A joy that could change the world, or unmake it. It bursts out of me as tears, as giggles, as song, and I feel a love I went my whole life to this point without understanding: the love of myself.
I came out at work this week.
There’s a few little details and such to be dealt with, and it’s all a bit messy for everyone because I’m apparently the first person to ever even do something like this at the company, but … the last real hurdle in my day to day life is gone.
My friends knew some weeks ago. My mother knows.
She still loves me, no matter what, she says. Said she was proud of how brave I was for telling her, the same woman I can remember proudly voting for the anti-gay-rights laws in Oregon in the 90s, and who used to regularly listen to Pat Robertson and Focus on the Family.
I can go out on the streets of Helsinki in girl mode and the worst response I have ever received is some odd looks, mostly from the elderly. Even the shops here in Helsinki don’t bat an eye when I go shopping for skirts and tights and underwear, though I was still elated when my best friend set aside some time to come to town for a shopping spree.
Everything and everyone have been so incredibly, unbelievably loving, supportive, kind, or at the very least, utterly unfazed.
At one point I actually found myself almost wanting to be angry at how well things have gone. Why did I hide, why did I spend two decades locking those feelings away so hard even I’d almost forgotten them, when it could be like this?
And then I look at the hole in my arm.
I want to tell this story. To tell how I got this hole in my arm.
To tell you about the aged man in the labcoat, the one who asked me how long I’d been “transsexual” and wrote “MIES -> NÄINEN” in big block letters on a piece of paper. About how I showed him the instructions for gender referral and he said out loud that there was nothing really else for him to do but file it, then insisted on interrogating me for 15 minutes about my personal life and ordering an entire battery of blood tests anyway.
I want to tell you the story of how small I felt in that doctor’s office. How I first felt like a woman in another way: made to feel tiny, insignificant, invalid, in the face of an impotent old man who wanted to feel control.
I want to tell you I gave blood for that man, simply because he could hold my future in my hands. Simply because he could demand it.
But the words keep sounding hollow in my mouth even as they have gnawed at the back of my mind and sapped the joy from what should be the happiest moments in my life for many years.
I know so many stories. Of trans folk. Of women. Of people of color. Of violence, hatred, and death. A woman told me once it was important to listen, and to believe, and I have. To be trans in this world, I believed, was a terror. Something one did because one had no other choice, because it was as inescapable as the tide, but that it came with a price.
Today I paid my first installment. And compared to the countless people who have paid with their very lives, it seems so very inexpensive. Just a bit of blood, a bit of pain, after all, compared to those without my privilege who’ve paid with their beating hearts.
Still, after everything, after how wonderful and life-affirming and joyful everything should be, the world found its way to remind me that on the road I have found myself, happiness requires a toll.
It isn’t the price that stings.
It’s that there is one at all.