When puberty began for me I decided I’d rather die than live past my eighteenth birthday. I could get through high school as a tomboy (barely), but I was not doing womanhood. It felt like the decision had been made for me by something bigger than myself. It terrified me but it also gave me a weird sense of relief. I will kill myself before I turn eighteen.
I told no one. I had no one to tell.
Before I transitioned from female to male I used to feel like a big portion of the real me lived in an attic. This attic was somewhere above my body, a hidden room no one else could see. I would have visions of myself writing in this space, books stacked in piles all over the place, thinking always, It’s not safe to go back. My body was an avatar suit meant for another and as much as I tried to leave, there was a part of me trapped inside, forced to interact with the world as female.
Late at night when I was trying to sleep a tsunami would suddenly surge up within me. It was like Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave of Kanagawa, and there I was in the water, no boat, no life jacket, silently panicking. Again and again the wave would find me in my nightmares. Always I was trying to run. Always I couldn’t move fast enough. The truth is I felt the wave even in my mother’s womb. It wasn’t coming from within me. It wasn’t even coming from my mother. It was an ancestor. He wanted me dead.
For months leading up to my chest surgery I felt something coming. People said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s a standard procedure, everything will be fine’. I didn’t know how to explain it but I felt like I was going to die. Then I nearly did. No one could explain why a standard complication like a hematoma had led to me nearly bleeding out on the table. The surgeon said he’d never seen anything like it.
One night during the early years of my transition I was walking late at night down the street and a woman crossed the road to avoid me. It was the first time I’d experienced being perceived as a threat because I had been read as male. I felt awful that she saw me that way but I had also been in her shoes and I knew there was a reason why a woman crossed a street at night to avoid a man. In that moment I felt the weight of something ancient in the space between us, old as god.
Someone asked me not that long ago, ‘Do you notice other men are threatened by your ability to be vulnerable?’ The kind of masculinity that’s valuable to me is one that’s about integrity, honesty and having the courage to live your life in a way that embodies who you really are. It takes courage to be seen. It takes strength to be vulnerable. When I first started transitioning I wanted a male role model. Someone who embodied the kind of masculinity I’d feel comfortable with, and I couldn’t find one anywhere.
I was once told that darkness is the place we go to reset. It is the womb of the Mother. Sometimes it can feel like death but we need to die to something if we want to change. I have died many times, which is just another way of saying I have changed many times. I have shed my skin the way the snake does to become more myself.
Growing up, I watched the women in my family suffer in silence and because I was embodied in a female form I was expected to do the same. One thing I’ve learned, women are more powerful than they know. They bleed and do not die.
Blair Archbold has contributed writing and voiceover work as an inspiring trans community leader, including as a co-host on 3CR’s Out of the Pan: Sally Goldner and Blair Archbold.