Rewind. Last weekend. I'm lying in bed with my partner, idly stroking her hair and trying to sumo wrestle a piece of dinner from between my teeth. I can feel it working it's way up my throat. A word, or perhaps several fixed together like a Voltron of impulsive vulnerability, fighting it's way out of me with a reckless devil may care attitude to shatter my house of glass and give away my trade secrets. It will burst through my corporeal form, tearing my spine out with it and leaving me a helpless heap of mostly water on the floor to shiver and writhe. Just like last time. And the time before that. I have foreseen this, yet I am unable to divert from the course. Like a Nordic god slated to die in the Ragnarok, so too must my ego be sacrificed for the greater good. It has to be. I have to believe that this is for the better, that this constant wretching and purging of what optimists would call “my soul” has somehow been arranged for my betterment.

Oh god here it comes. You can see it. Look at how I close my eyes real tight and take a deep breath, as if opening them again will magically awaken me from this dream and copy/paste me back into reality, where I am an open book who doesn't soil “cuddle time” with vulgar soul-bearing (and can walk through walls). That smile means I'm preparing myself for her response. I'm practicing my "laugh at myself because I'm silly" face. I pull her tight and exhale right into her hair. Sometimes that shit's so hot and sludgy with aroma that when it comes back to your eyes you tear up a little. And lo, here cometh the money shot:

"I look up to you because you're the woman I wanted to grow up to be when I was a little boy."

Now. Wasn't. That. Special.

Fast forward to yesterday. The support group facilitator is popping off that good shit about attachment theory. Scanning memory banks for memories of my parents that won't trigger a system error. File not found. Rewind to Tuesday. In one day I've booked a fundraiser event for my budding nonprofit and been nominated to be lead game designer for the game some friends and I are making called Across The Zooniverse. Alone in my kitchen at 1030pm, I cry because I realize that I would have given anything at that moment for someone to pat me on the head, tell me they're proud of me and maybe give me a cookie or an ice cream sandwich. Sometimes I think I should change my screen name to FirstWorldProblemChild.

But hark, I am jerked to the present by the facilitator's inquiry on how I'm handling the loss of my individual therapist, whose internship with the clinic I'm treated at ended a couple of months ago. My tears follow me to the present and I begin leaking all over the place. It dawns on me that of all the things I miss about individual therapy, the absence of validation cuts me the deepest. Like a trained circus animal I would grin when she told me she was proud of me. The same grin I give my partner when she does the same. I guess what I really meant when I said "someone" was my partner, my ex-therapist, or perhaps a version of either from the future, a time where people relax from the hours of watching robots do all the damn labor by using time travel to give people they know morale boosts. I wonder if hearing my mother tell me she's proud of me would elicit the same reaction. I don't think so. I love my mom. Totes for reals. But for 22 years my mother loved and cared for someone I did not want to be. I know she loves me, but I am unsure if she sees me. Have all those years being her "firstborn son" built a wall between us, the cracks of which she must peek through to see the "real" me? And how thin or thick is that wall to begin with? How much distance did my assigned gender put between us from the beginning?

Being MAAB, society deemed that I should take my cues about growing up to be a well-rounded human being from my father. In his defense my dad did his very best to teach me how to be a man and point me in the direction of other men who could help keep me on the path. Veterans, politicians, sports stars. As I developed into more of an art/music type, he tried to reconcile his expectations for me. I could be a country music singer, or a filmmaker of patriotic war movies. When book suggestions and father/son bonding over a baseball game failed, he would bring out the big guns: shoving, name calling, trying to embarrass me in front of my friends. The sort of stuff you see "token angry drunken dad" do in the movies and roll your eyes. It would be very easy for me to twist all this into abuse and gender coercion, but the fact is my father did the best he could with the tools he had. There simply was not enough force, pressure, and emasculating language in the world that could sway me to "man up".

Calling me a sissy, a cocksucker, a faggot does not demean me. It demeans you for having to resort to such dirty tactics and losing anyway. I can say this shit to him now because I've had the time to think of a witty retort. The same hindsight allows me to interpret my refusal to adopt male role models as a child as a symptom of my gender dysphoria and not necessarily because "people suck, they let you down, and the only solace is that one day they'll die". Thank you for sharing that with us, seventeen year old me.

When I was younger, when asked who my heroes were, I would say "Optimus Prime" or "Green Arrow". I reasoned that Optimus Prime, unlike my father or teachers, never lied to me. From the beginning, I knew he was a fabrication intended to sell toys and commercial time and theater tickets, and that I sought to emulate his "honest to a fault" quality. The truth is Green Arrow was guarding my front door as I read Virginia Woolf and Wonder Woman and listened to riot grrl punk and watched Power Puff Girls and all sorts of shit that I'm embarrassed to admit I did in "secret".

At the time I thought I was indulging my "inner girl". I had no idea that the inner girl would grow and assimilate my corporeal form. When I was a "heterosexual cis man" my knowledge of trans women consisted of Christine Jorgensen, Calpernia Adams, a subplot of Nip/Tuck and Hedwig. It never occurred to me you could be trans and still be diy, counterculture, ready for action. When I first transitioned, I read books on how to cross dress and tried to develop a taste for expensive handbags and develop a "girl walk". When I think of how much time and money I could have saved if I had listened to myself the first time, much shit is lost. None of these compacts match my paint-covered chucks. I'll never get asked to the ball.

I value my partner's opinion in part because embodies what "being a woman" meant for me at a time when I was convinced I could never attain it. She identifies as femme and likes to bake and wear fabulous dresses. She also plays rugby, wears torn jeans to social functions, is well read on all sorts obscure curiosity and minutiae, more than holds her own in a discussion on feminist politic and kicked my ass at ping pong on our fourth date. I'm not so proud that I won't admit that I've begun to emulate her in benign, nonthreatening ways. I've begun baking from scratch and not using a mix, reading recreation-ally, knitting, and actually exercising. No more "oh boy I have a letter to mail I might get to walk some today". Her approval is important to me not only as my partner but also as someone whose grasp of reality and identity I trust. Do not mistake trust for security. I am absolutely terrified at how much her opinion means to me. There are no free warm fuzzies in this town, mac. That's the thing with approval and validation; it can be lost or taken away. How will I take it if I ever feel like I disappoint her? I've always taken it as a given that my family thought low of me and my path in life, which was okay at the time because I didn't want to be like any of them. Disapproval from someone I admire and strive to emulate, someone who I want to be like if/when I ever recovery from or learn to manage my mental illness...that is as unfamiliar-ly terrifying as ketchup on tacos. I'm far from eager to try either.

My girlfriend is also my role model. You may not think this is healthy. You may also have a great relationship with your parents, not require weekly therapy to help you deal with your emotions, and understand that Spongebob Squarepants is just a cartoon and not a useful tool for teaching diversity and tolerance to children AKA "not necessarily representative of my experience or my target audience's experience". I ain't writing this shit for you. I gave all my fucks to Save The Rhinos, I don't have one to give about what you think. I'm too concerned about how my girlfriend is going to take having an article examining our relationship. All I can do is keep calm, carry on, and make the most of it. I can think of worse ways to process these feelings than asking someone to play with my hair and say nice things about me. I won't say what they are, lest you get any ideas and end up on 4Chan's hit list for drowning a puppy on youtube and I learn about this when I find your entry on EncyclopediaDramatica. I fear I've already said too much.

Fast forward to today. What I had intended to take 45 minutes has taken a few hours to write. I turn 25 next week. I'm scared. You can tell because I bite down on the inside of my mouth until it leaves permanent grooves on the flesh. I can't tell if I'm going forwards or backwards. It like I haven't passed Go and collected my 200 dollars since transitioning and moving out to California. Feel. That's a word I never used with any sort of regularity until I went to therapy. My mother is sending my musical saw in the mail. I want to get very good at it and play it in front of my girlfriend. I almost de-tagged myself from a picture my cousin posted of me from when I was 5, or maybe 6. Much to my surprise I refrained. It's who I was, but not who I am. Maybe when I'm 30 I'll feel like a completed work and not like a painfully tedious restoration. Maybe then I won't need my partner to "re-parent" me. Maybe I will. No time for love, Doctor Jones. I'm gonna get me some fucking cake next week!

After writing"Bloody hell!" she cried. and Boys Are Plant Type, Girls Are Psychic Type I got muy feedback from people that suggested I was speaking about things that often went undiscussed in trans spaces. Is this one of them? Does there exist a phenomenon where lesbian, queer, or bi-identified trans women see their female-identified partners as stand-in parental figures or role models? Is this common enough in f/f relationships that there's a name for it I am not privy to? Am I just the first to show up, and should I go ahead and get us a table or do you want me to wait for you?

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