When you think about the concept of someone being transgender, what comes to mind? Attention-seeker. He only wants to be talked about, looked at; he only wants to draw attention to himself. Confused. It’s just a phase that will come and go but by then it will be too late; such a shame. Tortured soul. Must have been abused as a child, that’s the only explanation. Poor kid. Blasphemous. Nobody has the right to change their bodies to that extent; God doesn’t make mistakes.
Me? I know different.
My first girlfriend was strikingly beautiful, the kind of girl who wakes up every morning looking like sunshine jumping off of the morning dew. Her skin, her hair, the smell of her clothes, her laughter all sang with fresh femininity. An all-American horse-riding flower-sketching rainbow-chasing girl. Bekah stood for everything good and pure. These days, though, Bekah isn’t around anymore. She slipped away, tucked herself somewhere deep in the corners and crevices of my memory. In her departure—stepping into her silhouette, spilling over the edges of her girlish curves—emerged Bek, a sheepishly quiet and playful boy strutting around in flannels and beanies.
Bekah and I had ended our relationship the summer before my sophomore year. I spent the smolderingly hot three months wading in my tears, nearly drowning in my sadness—as you do when you’re sixteen and grieving the loss of your first relationship. In fact, I’m sure we both spent that summer wallowing in our teenage angst and wondering if we would ever love again. I let my sadness spill all over her (in volume and resentment) and she let hers spill all over me (in silence and passiveness). I’m of the opinion now that it was as it should have been and those feelings subsided cleanly over time—but the space she left vacant tugged and nagged at my heart every day of her absence.
It took nearly a year for the both of us to even speak again. I’m not one to work especially hard to develop friendships with my exes. Something about it feels strange, incestuous, flat-out inappropriate. But Bekah had been a friend to me, and the connection we shared reached beyond our adolescent romance. Bekah was different after a year’s time anyway; her long blonde locks had already been lost by this point, probably to be found in the same place her beloved horse and girlish smell was buried. Bekah was somewhere in-between. I think maybe that made it easier to let go of the pain I still felt from our breakup and finally file away the “Songs About Bekah” CD I’d been wearing thin… She had changed, very subtly, into someone I didn’t feel like I knew completely. Calmer. Quieter. And the best, my favorite: sweeter in spirit.
I cannot honestly say that I didn’t feel sadness in the changes; it felt at the time like the person I knew was disappearing, and it was uncertain which parts of her would remain when it was all said and done. With each layer of her former life that was shed, I became more frightened that I was losing someone who had always been something like a home to me. It was a loss I wasn’t prepared for and probably could not have accepted. But I knew that this was going to happen whether I was on board or not, and I had a choice to make: run from the warmth I’d always found in my friendship with Bekah, or stay in the risky hopes that the comfort and ease would remain in a friendship with Bek.
The stronger version of the kind, warm, and caring friendship we had previously then developed not with the sugary feminine Bekah, but with the sweetly boyish Bek. And it became a beautiful friendship. I saw less and less of Bekah, that spirituelle seventeen year-old girl with whom I’d tumbled into l’amour de jeunesse, but more and more of Bek, this twenty year old l’homme serieux with wild eyes and a bass voice. Bek became quite unrecognizable as Bekah in the physical sense, but the real change occurred in his confidence, his sense of self-worth, and his perspective. I immediately adjusted to his gentlemanly ways—holding the door for me in public places, leading the way in crowds—but I still haven’t fully adjusted to his new sense of self. He tells me “no” more often than I prefer (I’ve recently told him how “I miss the days when you gave into my every request,” to which he laughed and snickered proudly) and speaks his peace more. Our open dialogue about his new life has even brought us closer together in our friendship and birthed a camaraderie we never had before.
“On a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the most sickeningly girly-girl ever to exist, where am I?” I ask.
“7.” He answers.
I’m delighted. “I can work with that number!”
“Where am I,” he counters, “10 being a brute?”
“A 7,” I begin, but I hesitate and there’s a pause. “No, a 6.”
“I like that number better.”
He’s content with our assessments and dives back into twirling noodles around his fork. Looking at him for a second, I don’t see a work-in-progress, an attention-seeker, a confused spirit, a tortured soul, or a blaspheme. I see my friend Bek, a guy eating some Pad Thai.
When I think of the concept of being transgender, I don’t think of Bek. The concept is cold, and scientific in nature. It’s not my warm and funny friend. He is not transgender, trans, FtM or otherwise. He’s an artist, a smart-ass, and a really frightening driver before he’s any of those other things. And whoever he wants to be is who he’ll end up being, whether that’s the person he is now or someone even more evolved.
I never saw myself as a transgender activist and I still don’t. I’m a woman who loves other women, and that certainly comes with its own battles to fight. But even before Bek’s transition, I never felt it my place to project my own experiences onto someone else or to presume that I fully understood someone else’s experiences. I’ll never know what Bek really felt inside living as Bekah, so I’m left to trust that he knows his own heart. I trust that he’s on a journey to come into himself, to find happiness, and to find peace. This is his path, and so I chose to walk it with him as much as I could free of judgment, for the beautiful friendship. After all, he has experienced my depths like few people have…my trials, my mistakes and blunders, my greatest successes and my greatest joys. He sees all my light and loves all my darkness. I could do no less for him.
If I imagine myself floating over the timeline documenting Bekah’s disappearance and Bek’s emergence, the reality of it all is so clear: this is not a transition, a change, a death and a birth; this is who this soul has been all along, trapped somewhere deep inside and struggling to break free. This is who Bek was always supposed to be … my beautiful friend.