Words || Ashton Love
My friends are sharing photos of themselves as teens, laughing about how they used to look, and I can’t join in. It reminds me that there are so many photos out there of me from before I was 18, and I am terrified that any of them will ever be linked back to me. At every birthday, I get anxious that people are going to share old photos because they enjoy the nostalgia of it all. There’s a constant paranoia: If people see who I was, they’ll no longer be able to see who I am now.
There’s an almost universal trans experience of feeling like you have lost your childhood. As much as the notion that I was “always a boy” is true, I will never have actually grown up as one and all my memories, past acquaintances, and photos will always be around to remind me. It brings up a huge internal conflict because I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my childhood, but the person I am holds so much resentment towards it. I wouldn’t have the same friends or interests, but I also wouldn’t know to miss what I have now. But, at the same time, I now find myself missing what I would have had in that life.
I don’t think a lot of people realise just how differently boys and girls are treated, even as very young children, but it’s very easy to see when you’re expected to behave in a certain way and you just can’t seem to do it. Some stereotypes are true: men are more assertive and confident, and are taken a lot more seriously than women, and it’s very strange going from one of those experiences to the other. People do treat me with more respect, but it feels uncomfortable and I don’t know how to fill the space that I’m now expected to occupy. I’m not expected to talk about why these things are hard, because men “don’t do that.” All of my male friends seem to have so much trouble expressing positive and gentle emotions, and, while I’m glad that I don’t have a socially engineered vulnerability blocker, I often feel too self-conscious to be expressive. Part of fitting in is suppressing a lot of the things that make me who I am.
But my childhood always finds a way to force itself back into my life. What do I say when someone asks me about high school? I can’t be truthful and tell them that I went to a girls’ school, so do I insist that I don’t want to talk about it, or do I risk mentioning a school that I didn’t go to and hope that they don’t know about it? I recently became friends with someone on Facebook after chatting to them in class for an entire semester, and only then did I find out that they went to the school I usually tell people I went to. It’s a stark reminder of how easy it can be to get into awkward situations, and how much work I need to do to stay safe.
When people transition and are finally able to live as themselves, there’s often a very strange period of realising that you’re finally allowed to make memories that it will be okay to look back on. Even if we don’t do it on purpose, a lot of us frantically try to recreate our childhoods, by returning to old interests, movies, and games, only to be called immature just because we’re taking advantage of the first time we’ve felt that we’re allowed to have fun. Even if I never got to be a boy as a child, I’m going to do what I can to actually form some enjoyable memories before settling into the monotony of being a “proper adult”.
Nostalgia isn’t always longing for the past you had; sometimes it’s longing for the past you should have had. Coming to terms with losing something that you never had the joy of having is difficult, and I’m not sure that it’s possible to ever completely accept. This isn’t an experience that’s unique to transgender people, either. Anyone who feels as though they lost their childhood due to struggles with identity, illness, or trauma goes through a lot of these feelings when they suddenly find themselves in a better situation. But I think it is something that encourages you to live as much as possible; I want to enjoy my life in a way that I’ve never been able to enjoy it before, and I want to fill it with as much happiness and love as I possibly can.