My face has changed so much in just the last year. It’s so gradual it’s been hard to tell day-to-day, but yikes. Similarities aside it’s not clear to my eyes that it’s the same person. There is of course the feminization; I feel like my naked face is androgynous as hell right now, not clearly masculine or feminine, but whee is it a leap from last May. But also, I look much younger. Significantly so. I swear, like a decade or so.
And then there are the eyes. People have mentioned this to me, but God, even last May, even three months into HRT, they were so haunted and empty. There was nobody there. And whatever husk of a person there was, they looked like they were bracing to be hit at any moment. Whereasâ€”well, I still obviously have all these problems, right, but as autistic-blank as my expressions will remain unless I force the issue, I can now see an animating spirit in there. Azure is actively alive, in a way that other person was not.
Of course I’m still super insecure about the facial hair, though we’re taking care of that. And there’s a lot more I’d like to see happening with the cheeks and the jawline, and so on. But gee whiz, I easily look better now without makeup now than I did then with it.
Makeup is such a word, isn’t it. I mean obviously all our notions of gender presentation are exaggerated, made-up nonsense. Even if you go with a binary model of sex, people really aren’t that dimorphic. Most people are kind of androgynous if they don’t take the time to build up and decorate themselves and behave and hold themselves certain ways. The differences are so slight and individual, and easily nudged. Culturally we lean into them to try to make them big, to set the genders apart and clearly mark out who lives in what camp, lest we make an error and mess up our power structure somehow.
Gender as we know it is so unnatural and difficult to navigate, even for cis people. You can find all these stories of cis men who freak out when they see cis women in the morning with their makeup off and they just look like people. The men feel lied to and start to wonder if the women are even really women. It’s so weird. It’s like we all mythologize ourselves and the other and grow upset at every piece of evidence that the stories don’t fully map to reality.
Which isn’t to say that gender, or even sex, aren’t “real;” it’s just that it’s more helpful to think in terms of language than rational structures: here is how I choose to relate to myself, to others, to the world; and here are all the ways that I signal this kind of a relationship.
We exist in the doing. None of us is a static object. We change every day, every thought that comes into our heads, every action we take, every new memory we form. We get to highlight the features we feel important, that inform our ideology about life and how we want to live it. To be a complete person is to choose the pieces that make you up and decide what kind of a person you want to be. What you want to stand for. What you cherish. How you want to behave. How you want to treat others and to be treated in return. And all of that can change over time.
My whole life I felt this numb bottomless shame that I was forced to be a boyâ€”seemingly with no escape. I never asked for it, never wanted it. No one ever asked my consent before bringing me into existence and telling me who and what I was, and nobody cared if I hated it. And I did more than hate it; it revolted me.
I never got the message that I had a choice. That I didn’t have to be a boy if it distressed me so much. That I was allowed to just make my own decision. I knew that trans people existed, and they fascinated me so much. I envied them. I just never made the connection. Like, they were a fact; there they were. But there I was, also apparently a fact. And I hated it, but what could I do. I was what people told me I was, and nobody told me I was trans.
I had to be good, had to do what I was told, had to carry everyone else’s shit for them that they didn’t want to carry themselves. My life was not my own; my body was not my own. I was an object in one person’s life after anotherâ€”a broken object that never worked as intended. Because of course, they always got it wrong. Their map did not fit the reality of me.
I just never had that self-possession to realize I could just do things, make choices, shape my own story. I never got the message that I could just be someone else. That I could just be the person I wanted to beâ€”that I could just be myself, and that this was not only okay but the correct thing to do.
What kind of advice would that have been, thirty years ago? “Pretending to be a boy making you want to die? Well, maybe don’t do that then. Always thought it unfair you couldn’t be a girl instead? Well, maybe that’s because you are. Give it a shot. See what happens. Neither make sense to you? Then screw em! Whatever makes you want to be alive.” We really need to work on this messaging. People don’t need permission to be themselves; that’s not for anyone to say. You don’t owe anyone your identity. You never asked to be born. You get to set the terms for who you are. You like what you’re given? Great. If not, fix it.
I am a girl because I know that I am a girl, because I want to be a girl, because I have always wanted to be a girl, and because my whole understanding of what it means to be a girl, to me, suits my views of right and good and positive, in regard to my whole place in the world. To dress in a certain way, to make myself in a certain way, to hold myself and move in a certain way, it’s arbitrary to an extent. It all serves to exaggerate slight physical features that we all have, and that can be nudged with some dedication. It’s all just signal, really.
But that’s what gender is: it’s signal. It’s role; it’s ideology. Given this common humanity, it asks, how do we want to play this? What do we want to do with this life, this body, this person, we’re given? What message do we want to put into the worlds, and affirm within ourselves? When I dress in a way that gives me joy, when I use makeup to exaggerate my features ever so slightly, bring focus to the parts I like, draw attention from the parts that don’t suit me, when I move and act the way that I do, I am reinforcing what is important and real to me.
The first person I reinforce that to is to myself. This is part of how I underline and repeat and affirm that who I am matters, that my ideas about myself are valid, that my ideas about the world are good and true and worth caring about and making real through the doing.
I am as it turns out a real person. And so I tend to the parts of what it means to be a person, to be specifically a human, that inform and reflect my principles, and I cultivate them, refining the good, the message, the relationship, the principle. I seize the affirmative. And in reifying that conversation with myself, in becoming ever more the me that I can, I serve to sort of automatically communicate with others, and with the space and the situation around me, and tell them what I consider worth caring about. And I hope that it matters to them.
If it doesn’t, well. Everyone has their own thing going on. But I know from my own conversation, the more that I knock out the truth of it, refine what works, strip out what doesn’t, that what I’ve got reflects something real and important. Something worth declaring and owning.
I am Azure because it is vitally important that I be Azure. Because now that I understand who Azure is, at least to the point where I am in the story, I recognize that Azure represents something that needs to exist in this stupid fucking world. And I am so honored to be her.
I love myself so much these days. I don’t think it’s vanity. I think it’s earnest. I think it’s based in care and in principle and in very good assessment of what matters in this life. And I hope that I can pass some of this on to others. That they can love themselves the same.