I have only sketchy memories of when I was a teenager, but at one point I was having a recurring dream of me attending secondary school as an adult while also doing other things - it wasn’t very clear - and basically not showing up for most of my classes. The school was a warren of service tunnels and access ducts, and people would crawl through a vent to get to the art class. I remember nobody taking any notice of this older dude going to their classes, and I remember my schedule inexplicably changing. I would pick up a new timetable every day.
Teenage years are almost universally rubbish for many on many levels, even if they’re remembered fondly. Weird friends, body crazy, doing silly things with substances… it happens. An insufferable geek, my drug of choice was Dungeons and Dragons. Good things come from those times, but they’re hard years.
Wrong puberty was horrific and upsetting for me. I would fight an ongoing battle with my body hair, I found I couldn’t just sing things I wanted to, I had crazy needs and bursts of anger I didn’t understand. It wasn’t fun, but when things settled I sort of decided to make do. I figured that was just what my lot was. I knew I wasn’t happy with it, but I saw no real alternative.
There are things about my teenager self that I’ve retained until now, and with hormone therapy much of my old self is unlocked. I was always passionate, deep feeling and empathic but estrogen allowed me to dive in and enjoy these traits in their full measure. I can express as I did, or at least nearly as I did. Twenty-five years or so changes a person regardless.
"BUT WHAT OF THAT GIRL IN MY PAST, WHO DIDN’T THINK SHE COULD BE HERSELF?"
But what of that girl in my past, who didn’t think she could be herself? I barely know her. She did a lot to hide how she felt. She would act out and be silly with her friends in a way that drew a lot of attention from others. She would be given to moods and would go quiet - I remember several conversations with one friend in particular where we were just sat quietly chatting about whatever. I don’t remember the content of the discussions except for the honest quality they had. I know she was intelligent, subversive, and unhappy with authority of any sort. She tried to be creative but mostly fell short.
The girl in my past found honest expression the most difficult thing. Speaking from her true feelings, even if she was remarkably sensitive, was not something she did. She would emote and spit fire. She would stare into the sky. She would turn inward and maybe talk a little about what was happening in life with a select few. But she didn’t share. She kept herself locked away.
I suppose I barely know this girl because she was rarely honest with herself. She would hide and bury things deep even as she reacted and burst outward. One university friend said she missed ‘Crazy Clara.’ Crazy Clara was the attempt to trivialise herself. The bid to not be.
As I develop and grow, I find I’m rediscovering Crazy Clara, but she’s not the same. She still enjoys a bit of attention, but she has an honesty. That honesty comes with a certain reserve - she’s vulnerable. She’s still funny, quick on her feet, outgoing and sociable. But she’s not attention seeking. She doesn’t try to be funny. Her introverted nature is finding its way out; it’s a trait of mine that I’m not used to. Years of acting out have given me the people skills of the extrovert even if I find the contact draining.
"I WASN’T AN EXTROVERT - I WAS NEVER A FULL ON INTROVERT, EITHER - BUT I BEHAVED AS ONE SO I WAS SPENDING THAT EMOTIONAL RESERVE."
That drain is an important part of self-repression: I needed things that hoovered up resources. I wasn’t an extrovert - I was never a full on introvert, either - but I behaved as one so I was spending that emotional reserve. Being drained meant I didn’t have the energy to deal with my many issues, particularly gender. I robbed myself of resources so I could erase myself. So I could fit in even as I worked hard to not fit in.
The other component of my self-erasure was the inability to take pride in my work. I say it now - people find out I write and I’ll just say it’s ‘mostly babble.’ This was true about my work at school, my projects at university, accomplishments at home - none of it was something I would take ownership of. My dad told that girl that she wasn’t confident and if anything she was self-effacing. He saw through me. He knew that girl that I didn’t know wasn’t being honest with herself - or him - about who she was. He might not have known I was that girl, but he knew I wasn’t showing myself.
As I reach back and reacquaint myself with that girl in my past, I find more and more of myself in the now. My inner teenager is buried, forgotten. I don’t know why I want to rediscover her, except that I feel emotionally attached to my past in a way I never was. I want to remember, and I don’t understand why. As I said before, it’s about finding those parts of me I never allowed to be. I know what I did to be a boy. I know what it was like. I don’t need to remember that. But I do want to know that person because that person was - is - me.
All the self-repression was me. All the little ways I erased myself came of myself, and I find now that by learning about my inner teenager, I’m learning how to take those behaviours and use them to express rather than repress. As I grow, I rediscover all the things I was. From there, I can sit down and decide what that all means to me now.