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Songs From a Nonbinary Transition

by Raistlin Allen 4 months ago in playlist

my long journey to a place of true pride

the pin I kept from the first time I claimed neutral pronouns

1. Sick Cycle Carousel - Lifehouse

(if shame had a face I think it would kinda look like mine/

if it had a home would it be my eyes?/

would you believe me if I said I’m tired of this?/

well here we go, now one more time)

I looked in the mirror. My hips were too broad, my chest weighing me down. I was always a very small person and no one could understand the issue I was having when I began to engage in the behavior that pushed me further into anxiety and depression. I was starving myself, and I didn’t know why. I knew I was thin already but there was something wrong. Someone, in a misguided attempt to help me, once said, “real women have curves”, and it made me never want to recover.

It was over a decade later, in my late twenties, that I’d be diagnosed with nonbinary gender dysphoria. The years I spent with no words for what I was going through haunted me. Music was one of the only places I felt seen, and this song by Lifehouse was one I really connected to at the time; it evoked the feeling of this ride I never asked to get on and couldn’t seem to get off.

(I tried to earn my way/

I tried to tame this mind/

you better believe that I am/

trying to beat this)

2. Androgyny - Garbage

(boys in the girls’ room/

girls in the men’s room/

you free your mind in your androgyny)

In early college, I came out as bisexual thinking maybe this was the answer to the discomfort, the haunting sense of ‘queerness’ I felt. This was not the case. Years later, I’d fall over the word “asexual” and realize that this was the undisputed truth.

I found it really embarrassing at the time, even though now I know it’s really normal for a lot of queer people to have a ‘false’ coming out while trying to figure themselves out. I started thinking I must be biromantic, even though I had no interest in pursuing relationships (surprise, I am aromantic as well). In retrospect, I can see that I was chasing the sense of duality I felt, my own growing obsession with androgyny in my own appearance, the thrill I’d get when someone couldn’t tell if I was male or female.

This song by Garbage was my absolute bop at the time.

(boys in the parlor/

they’re getting harder/

I’ll free your mind in your androgyny)

3. People Are Strange - The Doors

(people are strange/ when you’re a stranger/

faces look ugly/ when you’re alone)

I was midway through college when I found out what the word transgender meant.

And I was pissed about it.

The year was 2009 and there was a total of one trans guy at my college that I knew of. I was both incredibly interested in him and increasingly frustrated by not understanding what the hell was going on. I took my search to YouTube where I found myself watching people describe how they were born in the wrong body. There wasn’t nearly as much information on any of it as there is today. I remember feeling betrayed and confused. How is it that this person knows they’re a woman instead of a man, or vice versa? There’s no such thing, there’s nothing beyond the physical to make anyone male or female!

If there was, someone would have to explain me, and why I didn’t feel at home anywhere, how the best I could hope for was confusion. I had a female body. I didn’t feel female in any deep sense at all. But that didn’t mean I was male. I felt just as disconnected from that. How come these people got to solve their problems by transitioning to the opposite gender when I was stuck as I was?

(women seem wicked/ when you’re unwanted/

streets are uneven when you’re down)

4. In Der Palastra - Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows

(he never knew or encountered/

the hatred and shame that I bear/

the doubt, the cloak of disgust/

and the all-devouring dread)

I graduated college in the same weird place- obsessed with the transgender phenomenon, bottling up my own misguided transphobia. It’s not a place I ever want to go back to. How can someone know they’re male or female? I would ask my cisgender friends, who would shrug, not caring very much about the answer to something that was so implicit to them they didn’t even know they felt it. I knew they were sick of me talking about it, so I eventually stopped. But what didn’t stop was the mounting feeling that maybe there wasn’t anything wrong with all of these people- maybe there was something wrong with me.

In the irony of all ironies, the song I fell massively in love with and related to on a deep, gut level at the time turned out to be by a trans woman, Anna Varney, and - as I would only realize years later- it spoke to me because it did such a beautiful job of describing the ugliness and isolation of dysphoria.

(if I told him about it he might only shake his head/

with kindly amused melodious laughter he then would perhaps merely smile/

at my own so stupid silliness/

and the beast that is raging inside)

5. I'm Still Here - Vertical Horizon

(I found the pieces in my hand/

they were always there, it just took some time for me to understand./

You gave me words I just can’t say/

so if nothing else, I’ll just hold on as you drift away)

For a couple years after college, I was lucky enough to be really tight with a couple friends from high school. One of those friends, however, would begin to make more and more frequent comments about my gender expression & the way I dressed.

This friend, while she had her good qualities, would often compare me to how I was in high school, implying I had changed for the worse. She would openly tell me she didn’t like things I wore or things I listened to, and our friendship underwent a slow falling apart.

I will still occasionally think of her, and this song by Vertical Horizon feels like the perfect soundtrack to the way our relationship started to feel. Sometimes it makes me feel good to realize I’ve grown so much since then that we would never be friends now - I would never have let slide for so long what I did before, living with someone who constantly wanted me to mute myself for her comfort. Sometimes change is really growth.

(everything you wanted me to hide/

was everything that made me feel alive)

6. Take Me To Church - Hozier

(that’s a fine looking high horse/

what you got in the stable/

we’ve a lot of starving faithful)

Finally, around 2014, I’d had my first run-in with the word “genderqueer”. Something clicked inside of me. This described so well how I felt. I came out to my closest friend and thought, “well, that’s it. That’s the missing piece.” Like when I’d discovered that other asexual, aromantic people existed, I assumed that was that and I could be happier now.

To some extent this was true, that validating this to myself was all I needed. The past couple years had been rocky- I’d lost my mother to cancer, and my father was remarrying. On his honeymoon, he brought my siblings, step-siblings & I to Ireland. It was the second time I’d been, and just like the first time, it was unforgettable tinged this time with melancholy. I took a long hike on the mountains and dared to feel my soul attempting to settle in my body.

It was here that I first heard this song by Hozier. It was yet another song I felt so deeply. I hadn't seen the video and didn’t know at the time how it was linked inextricably to the LGBT community. As someone who was raised Christian and defected, I really felt the lyrics about the judgment of the church.

After getting home, my best friend texted me; she’d been in contact with a girl who claimed to be a medium, who had given me a remarkably accurate message from my mother in the past. My friend wrote, “Alyssa says you might want surgery to alter your body. If you wanted to transition to male, I’d support you 100%.”

I sat there staring at the message. I hadn’t thought of transitioning to male, that wasn’t right, but how could anyone know I’d just been exposed to the reality of top surgery, something that made me feel scared. I was afraid I would want it, and that meant coming out to everyone else.

(I was born sick/ but I love it/

command me to be well.)

7. I'm Still Here - John Rzeznik

(I want a moment to be real, wanna touch things I don’t feel.

Wanna hold on, and feel I belong/

and how can the world want me to change/

they’re the ones that stay the same/

they don’t know me/

cause I’m not here).

Yes, the second song with this name on the list. Kind of uncanny, isn't it?

This song was escapism, a dream for me at a time when a lot of the stuff I now saw online got caught up in my head. At that time, visibility was on the rise but there was also a decent amount of hate towards nonbinary identities and it was hard to try and accept and love this thing about myself that these people openly made fun of. I let this negative image get to me. It was too easy in my insecurity to think, these random people online must be right. I must be crazy. Maybe I am just looking for attention.

So I started to slide back into misery- what good was it to have a name for what was happening to me if I couldn’t do ever have the courage to come out or to do anything about it? This song gave me a sense of resilience for just a few minutes every time I listened.

(they can’t tell me who to be/

cause I’m not what they see/

the world keeps on sleeping while I keep on dreaming for me/

and their words are just whispers and lies that I’ll never believe)

8. Stop & Stare - OneRepublic

(I’ve become what I can’t be.)

Things got worse. The phrase darkest before dawn comes to me here, and well- it was definitely my darkest. I had always struggled with depression: it was a separate issue from my dysphoria, but the two loved to play together, as these things do. I had built myself into a prison of my own making over the past few years, and I felt trapped. I had no motivation to do anything, and I felt like a failure in life, still living with my parents at the age of twenty-eight and not having achieved any of my writing dreams.

I was holding myself back, I know that now. I saw my ideal self in the future as someone I could never be; if I got published, it wouldn’t even be under this name. And yet no one around me knew anything of what I was going through, not even my best friend.

It took becoming suicidal and being afraid I would do something to myself when alone that made me confess what was going on to my parents. They wanted to be supportive, but had no idea what I was talking about. Still, it felt good for a moment to just get the words out, to let someone know I was struggling. I knew I had to find a therapist, so that was the next step I grimly set out to take, terrified and wishing confession was enough.

(steady hands, just take the wheel/

every glance is killing me/

time to make one last appeal/

for the life I lead)

9. Firework - Katy Perry

(if you only knew what the future holds/

after a hurricane comes a rainbow/

might be a reason why all the doors are closed/

so you can find the one that leads you to the perfect road)

In summer of 2017, on a lake in New Hampshire, my sister and I attended a Harry Potter convention. It was one of the only things I’d been looking forward to. I noticed someone had put pronoun pins out at the welcome booth. When my sister wasn’t looking, I slid the they/them badge (featured in the title photo) into my bag, telling myself I wouldn’t wear it (probably).

Soon after, I came out to her when we sat down to lunch. I felt like she really tried to understand what I was feeling, and as a result of that day, when we both got really honest with each other about a lot of what was happening in our interior lives, we grew even closer than before.

There was a ball event at the end of the con, and this song was played there. I (with my pin attached to my lanyard) got up and began dancing, moved by the words, my sister at my side. I felt freed in that moment, like I didn’t care who saw me. I even dared them to.

(boom, boom boom/

even brighter than the moon, moon moon/

it’s always been inside of you, you you/

and now it’s time to let it through)

10. The Voice - The Moody Blues

(make a promise, take a vow/ and trust your feelings/it’s easy now

understand the voice within/ and feel a change already beginning)

My first day of therapy, this was the song I woke up to as my alarm. I needed the encouraging feeling I got when I listened to this; to speak to someone I didn’t know so openly about things I hadn’t spoken to anyone about for a decade was very weird. I don’t like crying in front of people but in therapy, the first few times at least, I cried a lot. It was a release, and it felt good.

Not only did this song give me a sense of possibility, it made me remember that I’m not alone. We’re all navigating our lives in the dark, feeling only just in front of us. Intuition is a powerful thing, and I was giving myself over to it, even though it told me to do some scary things.

The Moody Blues were one of my mom’s favorite bands, and playing anything by them always makes me think of her. I like to think she was with me then, propelling me to do the thing I was most afraid to do.

(with your arms around the future/

and your back up against the past/’re already falling/

the one that it’s calling is you)

11. Soul Meets Body - Death Cab for Cutie

(I want to live/

where soul meets body/

and let the sun/

wrap its arms around me)

This song flicks on as I’m walking down a dirt road alone in Maine. It’s uncomfortably hot, but I can’t take off my shirt. Despite that, I’m feeling at peace. The surgical tape under my clothes is starting to pull away. It’s been over a year since I started therapy, and just under a month since I had top surgery. My wallet is $8,500 lighter but to me this change is worth a lot more than even that.

The expanse of bare skin in place of a binder is liberating; I can only imagine how the cool water of the lake will feel against my chest next year when I might actually let myself swim. The lyrics of this song really hook into me. I too want to live where soul meets body, to be implicitly understood for once. My body in this moment feels less like a burden and more like a teammate, working with me the best it can. I feel present, and I’m glad that I am.

In only six months time, I’ll have moved out of my parent’s house and gone on anti-depressants that work for me. My life was looking up.

(bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing/

and feel what it’s like to be new)

12. Coming Out - Jessie Paege

(My mama told me/

life’s not easy when you’re made differently/

but life it showed me/

it’s worth all the pain to live honestly).

I am walking across a hot parking lot, away from the place I’ve worked for the past nine years. When I went in the doors that morning, I had no intention of quitting that day, but I’d had a confrontation that made it impossible for me to stay a moment longer and keep any respect I had for myself.

I’d legally changed my name months before, and my boss explicitly refused to ever even try to use my new name (he was mad at me because I’d stopped responding to my dead name, after months of waiting for him to make an effort). He had never used my pronouns and often made nasty comments about how I chose to look. After years of being disrespected by him, I was done. I had stayed for so long because I had grown comfortable there. I loved the other people I worked with and didn’t want to leave them, but I knew that this job had become a barrier to my growth. I was 31 years old, and if I saw myself when I started, at only 22, I would hardly recognize that insecure, timid person. I needed space to expand.

(I won’t apologize for anything I am/

I won’t apologize cause you don’t understand/

I spent my life hiding what was going on inside/

I’m finally alive/

I’m taking back my life)

13. It's Time - Imagine Dragons

(the path to heaven runs through miles of clouded hell/

right to the top/

don’t look back)

Looking forward, I could never have imagined I’d be where I am now, that I would have as much hope for the future as I do now. My twenties were a suffocating blur, but they will become a smudge in the rearview mirror. I still struggle with my dysphoria, but I’m learning to live with it. I’m taking care of myself.

I don’t know whether, as a nonbinary person, I would call what I went through transition in the typical sense. I don’t feel like I became anything new- certainly no one around me could see a physical change. I just stopped hiding and grew into myself, pushed the inside out. And that’s a journey that will continue my whole life, as it does for us all. My resentment turned to pride.

Nowadays there’s so much information available about queerness. When I see any pride flag flying, when I hear others’ stories during this month, every time I actually see the option for “nonbinary” or “they/them” on a form, when I got to change the marker on my license to X, I got a rush- I never could have imagined this would be possible, that I could feel seen like this. I feel hopeful not only for myself but for the world. The LGBT community has come so far in so little time.

This Pride Month, I am proud of myself. I am proud of us all.

(it’s time to begin, isn’t it/

I get a little bit bigger but then, I’ll admit/

I’m just the same as I was/

now that you understand/

I’m never changing who I am)

{if you enjoyed this piece, please consider dropping a heart or leaving a tip- it's SO appreciated! I hope everyone has a happy Pride Month!}


Raistlin Allen

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