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Written for the the SBS Voices Emerging Writers' Competition 2022. I did not place, but am proud of this piece and want to share it with others.

By Ash TaylorPublished 2 years ago 6 min read
Photo by Lena Balk on Unsplash

A butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. The caterpillar had spent the long dark winter months inside, digesting itself until only the barest bones of ‘self’ remained. Little more than a cluster of cells, it had grown into something new. Shedding its chrysalis, the butterfly eventually breaks free.

I did not shed my chrysalis. I shaped it.

Growing up I felt a pervasive sense of wrongness, one that permeated my entire being. With no words for what I felt, and no clue that I could be anything other than what everyone told me I was – a girl – that sense of wrongness grew to bitterness, and finally anger. I was a very angry child, angry at myself, and angry at the world. That anger shaped my perception of not only myself, but everyone around me; I expected the worst and lashed out because of it. Some of my family called it genetic, said it was part of my nature.

As part of its nature, the butterfly undergoes a metamorphosis. This is intrinsic to its survival – natural and expected. It knows with every fibre of its being who and what it is, and what it must become. It knows that its childhood does not define it. Nobody tells the butterfly it’s not a butterfly because it used to be a caterpillar. I’ve been told more than once I’m not a man because I was born a girl. Who I was doesn’t change who I am now. As a transgender person I have spent years being subjected to the ignorance of others. It’s exhausting. I longed to fly away and be free of the shackles weighing me down, but I was trapped by circumstances outside of my control. I was trapped by my own ignorance, ignorance of my own reality and my own identity.

Identity is a funny thing. We spend our entire lives growing and changing, developing into the beautiful butterflies we were always born to be. But we each start as a caterpillar. I began my life as a girl, and just as the caterpillar sheds its skin, I shed that identity slowly as I grew. Somewhere deep inside the caterpillar knows it was meant for more than this. Deep down, I think I always knew. When I looked in the mirror for ages, it wasn’t because I was vain – it was because I could not recognise the girl looking back at me. I had no words to explain, no voice for my feelings, so I clung to what I could. Tomboy became my identity, one that I held on to with the desperation of a drowning man hoping to stay afloat. Masculinity was desirable – needed. I didn’t know why. All I knew was the feeling of wrongness that permeated my being, that echoed with each beat of my heart. This is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong. It is a heavy burden, to be weighed down by your body. I desperately needed to change, but I didn’t understand how, or why.

I think to some extent, we are hardwired to fear change, to be resistant to it. Change brings uncertainty and fear but it’s also necessary. With change comes beauty. Beauty in knowing yourself, and beauty in loving yourself. We need to change in order to grow. I had a realisation about myself that day, one that made me afraid, so I buried it deep within myself. But change is not a bad thing, and the more we fight it, the harder it becomes. Once I accepted who I was, the way I saw myself began to change.

I remember the exact moment I had my epiphany. Some people have the words from youth, know who they are and who they are not. I didn’t know it was an option, until the day I stayed home from school. Bored out of my mind, I flicked through channels on the television until I found a show that seemed interesting: Oprah. She was talking to a woman who used to be in the army. And she was discussing her and her wife’s attempts at pregnancy – because she had frozen her sperm. Lying there in front of the TV with my face reflected in the screen, I saw my life reflected in hers. I saw that there was hope. There is a piece of art I saw online, titled “self-recognition through the other.” I could not tell you the artist, or its origin but that image has stuck with me since the moment I saw it. It depicts two people staring into each other’s eyes, and though they are looking at someone else, inside their minds they both see themselves. When I saw that interview on Oprah, something inside of me clicked. She was not the same as me, but she was like me. For the first time, I had a word for myself even if I wouldn’t use it until years later. Transgender.

Like the caterpillar, I experienced a metamorphosis, shaped by what my body knew it was meant to be. A caterpillar crawls along a branch, searching for the perfect spot to grow into its adult form. Full of fuel and energy for the long months ahead, it is ready to make a change. But life is difficult for the caterpillar. It must survive, evade predators, pesticides, and curious hands poking with curious sticks. Not all caterpillars live to become butterflies. Not all trans children live to be trans adults. 43% of transgender people attempt suicide. I am one of them. I don’t know the statistic for how many succeed, but I know too many who have. The caterpillar goes on because it must; no one tries to stop it from becoming a butterfly because they think it must remain a caterpillar. It becomes what it was always meant to be. I became who I was always meant to be. We don't all make it.

Transitioning is a slow process, as all metamorphoses are. I cut my hair, I let it grow, I cut it again. Anxiety, made double by the very real fear of prejudice, held me back. Nevertheless, I persisted. I struggled. I achieved. Money held me back, continuously. Nobody tells you that being transgender is so expensive, but it is. Yet, just as the caterpillar crawls along its branch I continued forward, slowly but surely. The milestone of top surgery left me breathless for weeks. I was filled with so much happiness I was overflowing. I grew from hating my body and what it represented to loving it unconditionally because it’s mine. But surgery is not the end. There is no end in sight, only a long winding road ahead. That’s life, right? An endless ever-changing road with branching paths and obstacles. Some days the road is easy, like a stroll in the park. Other days it feels like no man’s land. We are constantly changing and growing, living, and learning.

I spent years devouring myself in anger and grief, letting the self-hatred fester until nothing remained. I lived in a toxicity of my own making. In the chrysalis, there is no light, only the comfort of the dark. Those long dark years of fear and anger readied me for what lay ahead. Shedding the shackles of girlhood I took my first steps as a man, and I flourished. My teenage years were defined by depression and hopelessness, but there – at the end – I saw a small light. All those years of reinforcing my identity, of repeating over and over: “I am a man. I am a man. I am a MAN,” and there it was on the other side of struggle. A fresh start. A relationship with myself and my body not born of unkindness and grief but one born of love and appreciation.

The chrysalis grows clearer, and within the butterfly begins to stir. My true self began to shine through, glowing with self-love. The butterfly was born a caterpillar, but it was destined to be a butterfly. I may have been born a girl, but I was destined to be a man. Being a man – being myself – is as easy and natural as breathing. Transitioning is healing.

The butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. It suns itself on a branch, long wings unfurling to dry. Then, it flies away, leaving the remnants of its old self behind.

I emerge, reborn.


About the Creator

Ash Taylor

Lover of fantasy and all things whimsical. Currently studying Writing and Publishing at UNE in Armidale, Australia. Living on Anaiwan land.


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