“Nothing makes me happier than getting to watch someone break their chains. And I’ve been able to do that, over the course of the past year, by watching YOU break yours, one link at a time. Now technically, one broken link should break the whole thing.. so in this case, you may have multiple chains.”
Let’s rewind two months.
I’m lying in bed one night, beginning to doze off. The room is dark, the ceiling fan is – to my dismay – on (#hotroommatesyndrome), and the fat German Shepherd is curled up nicely at the foot of the bed. And by that, I mean.. by my feet. On the bed.
Just as I’m entering a paralytic state, Charlie leans over and whispers: “…do you hear that?”
Startled, I turn over from lying on my right side and lie down, flat, my back against the bed.
“…no,” I answer him. “I don’t. What do you hear?”
We both paused. Then I heard it.
“Those.. noises,” his voice continued. “It sounds like something is scurrying around.”
“I’m sure the sound is coming from the roof; I’m not worried about it,” I decided. I rolled back over and thought nothing of it.
Seeming satisfied with my verdict, Charlie fell silent too. We both slept soundly, woke up the next morning and reported directly to work.. the incident entirely forgotten.
The following evening, the noises returned. Charlie seemed perplexed.
“They must have a new hangout spot on the roof,” I joked lightheartedly, brushing the matter off.
After two weeks of these chirping, scurrying noises carrying on in the background, Charlie stopped beating around the bush.
“Look,” he began, giving me a very serious face, “I think that the noises AREN’T coming from the roof. Because I got up on the roof this afternoon–”
“You did?! Charlie. You should never get on the roof when no one else is home. If you fell and broke something, who would call the police?”
He didn’t answer. “And when I was on the roof,” he continued, “I did not see anything. I feel like the noises are coming from inside the house, Jace.”
He stopped and waited for my reaction. I didn’t react.
“…specifically, from within the walls,” he concluded softly.
“WHAT? Oh, noooooooooo,” I moaned. “That sounds horrible. And gross. And costly. What the heck are we going to do?”
We were both clueless, so I called a pest control service.
“We’ll send someone out to take a look tomorrow morning,” the receptionist reassured me.
And they did. Their verdict differed from mine.
“We’re going to have to get inside of the walls to know what we’re really dealing with,” the exterminator reported. “It could be birds — in which case, we create a hole in the outer wall, get them out, and then seal it off.. simple. Would only cost you $250.”
“Only?” I repeated (to myself only).
“BUT,” he paused dramatically, “if we AREN’T dealing with birds.. if there are MICE in there.. then it could take a whole lot longer. We’ll have to set traps, come back several times, and it’ll end up costing you a good bit more than $250.”
$250 could buy me like 30 freaking Chipotle burritos, I calculated miserably. Double that amount and you’ve almost got a full mortgage payment. But what else am I going to do? Leave the birds OR MICE stuck in there and they’ll either A. die, B. multiply rapidly and slowly destroy the entire house, or C. MAYBE leave of their own accord. Maybe. Wouldn’t that be nice.
“So,” the exterminator prodded me for an answer, “would you like to go ahead and schedule a time for me and my guys to come out and get started?”
“Yes,” I resigned. “How about next Monday? My roommate will be home and he can handle the German Shepherd while you’re here.”
“My other guy isn’t available next Monday.. but he is available the following Monday.”
Excellent; let’s give the mice a generous two weeks to destroy everything. “Sounds good!”
So we set the date and then, as each night passed, we listened along quietly as the squeaking, squirming, chirping noises grew increasingly louder.
“There are either more of them now or they’re just really making themselves at home,” I mused.
Charlie was miserable. In the evening, he’d pull up an 8-hour long YouTube video of crickets and play it through the night to help drown out the strange sounds the unknown creatures were making as they partied, destroyed, and defecated (vomit) directly behind us. During the day, I’d catch him walking around the perimeter of the room, knocking softly on the walls and calling out: “Please leave! They’re going to come and KILL YOU.” He was pre-devastated at the thought of their cruel and sudden death.
Me? I didn’t know what else to do, OTHER than to let the big bad exterminator come out and handle the matter. “I don’t want them to die either,” I iterated to Charlie, “but they also CAN’T stay. If they do, they’ll end up dying anyways through lack of food and fresh air, AND they’ll destroy this place from the inside out. I wish they’d just leave, Charlie, but we can’t make them.” It was a dark time for everyone. Even the German Shepherd was looking a little down.
Finally, Sunday night rolled around. The exterminator would be coming out the next morning to begin his evil (but necessary) work.
I was lying in bed, dozing off again, when Charlie interrupted my sleep.
“…do you hear that?”
“…nothing,” he whispered, sounding amazed.
I bolted up in bed, trying to see in the dark (although seeing has nothing to do with hearing).
“…oh my god. I DO hear nothing.”
“Do you think they left?” Charlie asked hopefully.
“They must have! Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve heard those scurrying sounds for DAYS. It’s not that I’ve tuned them out.. you can’t help but hear them.. there just hasn’t, to my recollection, been any.”
I questioned whether or not I should have the exterminator come out ANYWAYS (to make sure the critters had, indeed, journeyed elsewhere), but I decided against it. Why blow $250 unless I’m absolutely positive that there’s an infestation?
I’m happy to report that, two weeks later, the party animals still haven’t returned.
“I warned them.. and they listened..” Charlie was (and still is) elated by their last-minute salvation.
The possible infestation was a problem I wanted to just ignore, but the consequences of doing so would have been doubly awful: the creatures would have either died or destroyed my home (possibly both). I’m grateful that they left freely without being forced to leave, and that I can now go about my usual business of purchasing an excessive number of Chipotle burritos.
This past week, I had another interesting “home experience.” I am getting to the ‘main point’ of all of this.. I promise.
Since closing on refinancing the house, I’ve been giving thought to how I can really customize and personalize the place. I began my endeavor by painting the old, unused dining room and transforming it into a neat (non-party animal) hangout spot. The next item on my list was redoing the downstairs floors.
I called a guy out. He stopped by the house after work on Thursday afternoon, just two days ago.
“Hellllooooooo!” He called out brightly when I opened the front door. He was wearing blue denim jeans, paint-stained boots and a clean-looking t-shirt.
“Hey! I’m Jace,” I stretched my hand out.
“Vernon! Good to meet you, Jace. Now.. what exactly are we doing to this house?”
I led him inside, past the “hangout room,” through the hallway (which oversees the kitchen on one side and a laundry room on the other), and then into the living room.
“Well,” I answered him, “I’m wanting to pull up the tile in the kitchen and all of the laminate hardwood in the other rooms, and then I want to have the concrete underneath ‘refinished,’ polished, and stained.”
“Sounds good!” He responded energetically, surveying the area. “What kind of stain are you wanting to put on the concrete?”
“Welllllll, my favorite places in the whole entire world are Saturn and Chipotle,” I began, “and I LOVE the concrete floors featured in both places, so I’m going for a coppery, bronzy swirl that’s set in a deep, metallic gray.”
He complimented the idea. “It sounds like you’re going for a loft look,” he murmured.
“YES!” I exclaimed. “EXACTLY! Honestly, I refinanced this house a few months ago – in my name only – after a divorce. I was secretly hoping that he’d want to take the house, because I wanted to transition myself into a small, studio apartment or loft downtown — you know, where you walk into ONE ROOM and THAT’S IT, everything is RIGHT THERE in front of you. I was dreaming of a place with concrete floors and warm rugs, brick walls and stainless steel appliances, bright windows..” I trailed off, realizing I was giving a lot of unnecessary info, “but anyways, he wanted to start over elsewhere, and I wanted him to be happy, so I agreed to continue living here. It’s close to work, at least, and has a backyard for my German Shepherd. I’m at least trying to fix the place up.. I’ll probably live here for a few years or so and then sell it.”
He squinted his eyes and looked at me carefully.
“Alright..” he began. “Let’s talk about this, okay? If you’re going for a loft look, you need to imagine the whole picture. Right? Like.. these walls,” he walked over to one of the walls and knocked on it. “And these wooden beams,” he pointed upwards at the vaulted ceilings. “Right now, this home has a 70s vibe to it. When was it built?”
“1969,” I smiled.
“Right,” he nodded, “so, if you’re wanting to take THAT ‘look’ and transform it into a more modern, industrial feel, then your renovations will need to go beyond just re-flooring the place. You could put metal sheets up on these walls,” he gestured. “You could paint the wooden beams gray,” he continued, walking to the other end of the living room, “and this staircase.. you could turn it into more of a stairwell by pulling out the wooden posts and handrails and installing metal or iron pieces in their place.”
“Wow,” I breathed. All of that sounded incredible. And incredibly impossible. He saw the look on my face.
“And you probably don’t know how to weld iron,” he acknowledged, “but you may have a friend that welds. You also may not know how to affix metal sheets to the wall, but you can look that stuff up online.. try YouTube. You don’t have to PAY someone to come out and do all of these things for you; if you want to learn how, or if you have friends who already know how, there’s a lot you can do on your own, independent of hiring on a contractor.”
I nodded. He was really widening my perspective; I was overwhelmed, imagining all of the possibilities.
“My point is,” his voice interrupted my thought process, “when you’re transforming a place — remodeling, redesigning, whatever — the floors are THE VERY LAST THING you do. The very last. You take care of everything else — the architecture, the walls, the fixtures — first.” He paused to let the thought sink in.
“But listen, if you just want an estimate, I’ll give you one.”
He used a roller device to measure the length and width of each room and then gave me a ballpark estimate. It was pretty steep.
“So,” he concluded after he’d quoted the number, “if you wake up in the middle of the night and feel like ‘damn it, I don’t care about renovating everything; I just want him to come out and redo these floors,’ then call me and I will. But I am going to be honest with you, like I’d want a contractor to be honest with any one of my three daughters, were they wanting to do what you’re wanting to do.”
He leaned up against a wall and looked at me.
“Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Your floors are already fine. And I don’t think you’ll be staying here long enough to enjoy the cost of remodeling them. It sounds, to me, like you’re trying to make yourself like this place. But the problem is, you won’t like it.”
That’s bold, I thought to myself. And this guy is incredibly perceptive.
“I mean.. that’s true,” I admitted. “I really didn’t want to live here. But I was craving stability. I wanted to live somewhere smaller and easier to maintain. My “real” goal is to move downtown someday.”
“Do you spend a lot of time downtown?”
“Oh yeah. Every single weekend, I spend my two off days downtown. I go to the coffee shop and write for hours.. I go to Railroad Park and skateboard.. I window shop at antique stores.. honestly, I spend as little time as possible in this home. It has too many memories. I keep thinking it’ll get better, but it doesn’t, and when I AM at home, I’m either in my bedroom, sleeping and eating dinner, or in the bathroom, showering and getting ready for work.” I thought about it, considering his statement again. “Yeah.. I don’t like being here.”
“Alright kiddo,” he sighed. “Listen: You do one of two things with a home,” he explained. “You either invest in the place and live there,” he raised one finger in demonstration, “or you dress it up, sell it, and get out of it,” he raised another.
“We tried to sell it before I refinanced the place in my name,” I replied. “We had it on the market for six months. At least a hundred people came out — no joke. I spent every weekend mopping and sweeping and entertaining the German Shepherd.. it was very tiring, and very stressful. No one even put an offer in.”
“Well that’s because you’re focusing on redoing the floors – and there’s nothing wrong with them – when you should be looking at the condition of the ceiling, the soundness of the walls, and the incredibly cluttered garage.. those are the things you should be focusing on fixing.” He paused and looked out the front window, surveying the scene. “For example, when people came here to look at the home, I bet the first thing they noticed when they drove up was the front yard.. and by the looks of it, they probably drove up, saw it, and thought to themselves: ‘My god, this place is run down.'”
“Yeahhhh — the realtor asked us to mow the lawn, but I responded that it hadn’t been mowed in two and a half years, that we liked it that way, and that a potential buyer could look past it.”
“Well..” his voice trailed off and he smiled knowingly (a smile that said “And? How did that work for you?”). I smiled back at him.
“You’ve got a lot of good things going on in your life,” he remarked suddenly. “Bad stuff also, I’m sure, but lots of good things. Don’t let the bad things ruin the good things. Leave the bad things behind, or change them so they’re just as good AS the good things.”
We chatted for a while longer, and then I walked with him outside.
“Take a month,” he suggested. “Create a list of things you want to change. Then, give yourself a year. Sell the house, and move into that downtown studio apartment you want. Don’t settle.”
He reminded me that, should I call him, he’d come back out to the house to help me with whatever I needed help with, and then he waved goodbye as he got into the car.
Wow, I reflected, closing the front door after he’d driven away. I’ve never had someone convince me to not hire them and give them my money.
Vernon was right. I was focusing on ripping up perfectly good, functional floors when I have stained ceilings, flimsy walls, a packed garage and other issues to worry about. “Why fix something that isn’t broken?” Why waste time and money redoing something that doesn’t need to be redone in the first place?
Then I thought about myself, of course.
“You either invest in yourself (if you view yourself as being worthwhile) or.. you don’t.”
I was forced to recognize that there are important things that I choose to hide or ignore (like the mice, trapped within the walls) and unimportant things that I fixate on instead (like perfectly good floors). I distract myself with non-essentials (like questioning my natural biology: why did I have to be born a girl?) because the essentials (who am I? am I a good person?) are too weighty to consider. But finally, after a roller coaster of a year, I’m getting down to the brass tacks, and while it’s just as intense as I anticipated it would be, leveling my eyes with the truth is relieving me of a very great burden.
I came out last June. Can you believe it’s already been a year? This has been one of the most visibly significant years of my life. There have been lots of revelations, of course — negative and positive ones, and I’ve embraced both — and I think the most useful traits I’ve carried with me this whole time have been honesty and courage. It’s takes complete honesty to reach such revelations, and then it takes real courage to face, accept, and make decisions about those revelations.
One recent revelation has been that my depression isn’t situational. It’s chemical.
It’s like I’ve been running through this dark house; moving from room to room with a flashlight and trying to find it.. the reason why I’m depressed.. and knowing that I can’t find it – that it isn’t there, that it never has been, and that it never will be – is so freeing.”
More on that some other time.
Another revelation is that my gender identity and sexual preference aren’t as dishearteningly confusing as I’ve been making them.
I came out as bisexual on June 27th, 2015, which was a lie. It was a lie that I told myself and everyone else in an effort to save my marriage. I was married to my best friend, and I didn’t want to lose him, but it also wasn’t fair to keep him. I had to let him go.
Then, I sort of amended my statement by stating that I was transgendered: a transgender person is a person who feels like they were born into the wrong body. I was a boy trapped in a woman’s body, and I hated it, and it was, I believed, the sole, great cause of all of my suffering — the sensitive, exposed root of my identity crisis.
Now, I’m here to tell you, with a great sense of relief, that I’m just gay.
I’ve spent the last year deliberating whether or not I’d go all the way through with transitioning. I have a small group of transgender friends; they’ve shared their journeys with me – highlighting the best parts, the ones I both envied them for and celebrated with them, and sharing the dark spots – and I’ve concluded that I can’t. Everyone’s experience is different, and that’s what makes life so interesting, but I can’t put my body through any unnecessary surgeries. I won’t accept hormones into my body and become dependent on them for the rest of my life, and I’m not going to commit to some kind of speech therapy regiment to retrain my natural tone, pitch, and inflection. I can’t, and I also don’t want to modify my body to that extent. The idea just doesn’t sit well with me. I admire those who have the courage to do so, but something deep inside of me has been saying, over and over again, that I don’t need to.. that extreme, irreversible modification – legit transitioning – isn’t going to be my answer. It isn’t going to make me any happier than I am now.
Why fix something that isn’t broken?
But what made me feel broken? Why have I believed that I’m permanently stuck inside of the wrong body since that life-changing moment at Publix in December of 2014?
Here’s my theory.
I’ve given the matter lots of thought (that’s an understatement), and this is the short answer: I think that my problem isn’t with my gender so much as it is with my perception of my gender.
Want the longer answer? Keep reading.
I grew up around devoutly religious, domesticated women. They fell in love with men, married those men, and then popped out kids. They didn’t go to school, and they didn’t work “real” jobs. They went to church a few times a week and watched Fox news. They seemed, to me, weak, bored, simple-minded, and unproductive. That is so harsh to type out, and I hate reading it back to myself, but you’ve got to be painfully honest about these things if you ever want to move past them.
With these thoughts deeply ingrained in my psyche, I began to – subconsciously, and of my own accord – perceive women, in general, as being inferior to men; less interesting, less adventurous, and with way less potential. By proxy, as a woman, I was also inferior to men. This was unacceptable.
Then, I was admitted to public school, and my subconscious beliefs grew even stronger. I saw the boys: they were wearing clothes I liked, playing sports I liked, having fun, and carrying themselves with an easy-going confidence that I admired. They laughed easily, they enjoyed things without seeming overly attached to or invested in them, and just by looking at them, you knew two things for certain: they were independent and cool. That’s exactly what I wanted to be.
Then I shifted my calculating gaze over towards the girls. By contrast, they wore pretty, unpractical clothes (who can take off running in a dress?), gossiped about each other, fought with each other over the boys, sat down during PE instead of playing sports, and they wore the stupidest bedazzled shoes.. ones that, once again, you could never safely run in. I thought the girls were pretty, of course.. far more attractive than the boys were.. but I felt nothing like them. We shared no similarities, other than being living and breathing human beings. It didn’t make sense. I didn’t make sense. I wanted to make sense. I didn’t fit their mold, but by golly, I sure did fit the boys’ mold.. minus having a vagina instead of a penis. I felt entirely boyish, inside and out, so I chose boys. I chose, without even realizing it, to be one.
And I don’t really need to talk about it any further. I think you get the picture.
Because my personality, traits and preferences aligned more closely to those of your stereotypical boy’s, I assumed the role as mine. Basically, I was saying: “I’m too different and cool to be a girl.” That’s.. literally.. discriminatory. It’s sexist. And it’s so, so sad to view other people that way, and to view yourself that way.
So how do you work through that kind of prejudice and disdain? How do you stop despising being born into a certain gender? For me, it was by:
A. realizing – admitting – that I did not respect women, and
B. opening myself up to deepening my relationships with people. Particularly, women, who I’d always carefully avoided (out of fear and uncomfortability).
By attending college and working (unlike most of my female predecessors), I’ve unintentionally widened my social circle, which has seriously impacted my perspective. I’ve encountered so many women who I’ve grown to respect and admire. The very first woman I ever respected was a manager that I had when I worked in a call center.
She was beautiful, gentle, and delicate.. bearing distinctly feminine traits (and there’s nothing wrong with that).. but she also had a fierceness about her. A toughness. She was firm, decisive, knowledgeable, and fearless. She was elegant and classy and carried herself with a poise that I couldn’t help but admire. She is the first woman I ever recall admiring and respecting; I’d even go as far as saying that she was a sort of role model.
And from there, my eyes were opened. Suddenly, there were remarkable women everywhere.
Here are just a few:
An elderly college teacher with lovely white hair who rehabilitates German Shepherds.
A co-worker in my department who raises two kids and works full-time.
A copywriter who’s got fashion sense, a sense of humor, a way with words and an aura of Prince-esque coolness about her.
A gal in compliance who fights fraudsters by day and paints brilliant works of art by night.
A manager who cares deeply about her employees, leads by example, and who – in addition to working full-time – serves in ministry for 80 hours each month.
The sometimes blue-, sometimes blonde-haired barista at my favorite coffee shop who is so friendly and who carries herself with such confidence that she always inspires me.
A Birmingham musician (and widow) who travels around the state, playing gigs, and who is raising two kids on her own.
So then – with this new insight on the greatness of the female gender – I reimagined each of my immediate family members. The female ones. I challenged myself to re-perceive the women I’d never really respected.
I reconsidered the mother who raised me and my special needs brother. She spent years in the hospital with him — sleeping in uncomfortable chairs, munching on lackluster cafeteria food, and watching game shows and Disney shows on repeat with him in the ICU. The same woman made an effort to homeschool me because she wanted to preserve my innocence. For years now, she’s pledged herself to a religion that she truly believes in, and it’s very apparent that she genuinely tries to follow her chosen moral compass.
I haven an aunt who is raising a child, volunteering in her community, learning sign language, organizing fun, free events for children in her apartment complex, and attending school so that she can become a social worker someday.
And then there’s the firecracker of a grandmother who has never been able to not give you her two cents. She’s bossy, and she’s loud about her opinions, and we’re so incredibly similar. She’s one of the most magical, whimsical and life-loving human beings I’ve ever known. She doesn’t write out stories often (not nearly enough), but when she does, they’re captivating. She raised two kids, then three grand kids, and she makes the best spaghetti I’ve ever had.
Three very remarkable women.
I don’t know why I wasn’t able to see how remarkable they all were before. It was sort of like I was looking at a car with tinted windows; staring right at them and seeing nothing but reflective blackness, but there’s so much there on the inside. Well, I rolled the windows down. I can see it all now.
I’m not going to say that women are better than men, because that wouldn’t be true, but I’m also no longer viewing men as belonging to this superior, cooler, and more competent gender, because that also isn’t true. I believe precious few things, but one thing that I do believe is that, regardless of the body you’re born in, you can be whoever you want to be; maybe you’re smack-dab on the feminine side, or squarely on the masculine side, or perhaps you’re situated somewhere along the scale. Maybe you change a lot and slide up and down the scale.. maybe you never change. Regardless, you’re as cool and competent as the rest of them.
I’m going to be blunt for a second: Trading a vagina for a penis (or vice versa) isn’t going to fix anyone’s identity crisis, and being born with one or the other does not limit, determine, or prevent how you can portray yourself or live your life. Maybe you’ve perceived that there IS one, but there is no actual mold for you to pattern yourself after or confine your shape to. You are not born with limits, but watch out, because you can limit yourself. You shouldn’t, but you can, and a lot of us do so without realizing it.
So — to spell it out — I’m not actually transgendered. I’m just a really cool girl. And technically, all girls are cool or can be cool (if they wear Vans and adore burritos), so simply put, I’m a cool girl who likes other cool girls. I’m a gay girl. What I am NOT is a butch lesbian (don’t get it twisted).
I am, stereotypically, boyish. Agreed. And when you look at me, wearing my prized board shorts, showcasing my hairy legs and donning a really cool tie, I may look like a boy to you, and that’s totally fine, but I’m actually a girl. And I’m actually, finally, for the first time in my life, okay with that.
Thanks to everyone for the unconditional love and support. I wouldn’t still be here without you.
Wonder what kind of crazy shit will happen this year?