A 4-year-old boy asked me once, "Are you a boy, or are you a girl?"
I responded, "That's a good question," buying myself a few moments to think about how to answer. I didn't look very much like a woman at the time, and I didn't exactly look like a man either. It was an awkward time in my transition, when questions like this one were just beginning to become an expected part of my day, although seldom as innocent and honest as was the question on this day. After a few seconds, I stopped and turned to the boy and asked, "What do you think?"
He stopped and looked at me and said, "I think you are a girl because you have a purse and you are wearing a necklace."
I said, "That's a good answer." And from that moment on, I was a girl in this young man's mind. The question had been asked and answered. That was that. No need to spend any more time trying to figure out what it all meant, or if it was right or wrong. It just was.
It was during this same time in my transition that I went with some friends to a local restaurant for lunch. As I sat down at the table with my friends, I noticed some other patrons staring at me. Soon after, they caught the attention of their server and were quickly shuffled off to another table, where they wouldn't have to look at me.
Those were the days, my friend. Every moment of every day contained the possibility that anything could happen. Anything good, and anything bad. "You are so courageous to be who you are," some people would say to me. I would respond as politely as I knew how, but I would be thinking how courageous it would be to go back to not being who I am.
Those were frightening times, but at least they contained the possibility that something good could happen. Before, that possibility didn't exist. All that existed was the certainty that each and every day would contain thoughts of suicide. The certainty that eventually I would die, and that would be the day the pain stopped. Going back to that life would have been truly courageous, indeed.
It was during this time in my transition that I was able to start my day in front of the makeup mirror. To choose the day's clothing by how it matched my soul and told the truth, rather than by how it reminded me of the daily lie of pretending to be a man.
It was a time when I walked out the door of my home in sweet, perfect honesty. A time when my closet became a place for clothing -- which was a good thing, because I was about to need the space.
It was a time of hope. Living in a time of hope is far less courageous than living in a time of no hope. It was a time when dreams began to become dares, and dares began to become life. It was a time when I would begin to surround myself with people who didn't need to ask if I was a boy or girl. They knew.
I began to discover myself within the framework of who I was. To discover my woman self within a newly discovered freedom to be my woman self. And watch her come to life. And see me come to life with her. As her.
Little did I know of the amazing journey that could only begin when I asked myself the same question that was asked by the 4-year-old boy. Am I a boy, or am I a girl? Little did I know that there would still be otherwise knowledgeable adults, seven years later, still asking the same question.
I haven't found it necessary to ask myself the same question in a really long time. I still have a purse and wear a necklace. It is both far more complicated than that, and just as simple as that. Because who I am is who I say I am.
And from that moment on, I was a girl in this young man's mind. The question had been asked and answered. That was that. No need to spend any more time trying to figure out what it all meant, or if it was right or wrong. It just was.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.