I sometimes feel like I spent ninety percent of my life with my "true" identity hidden, living in the closet, hoping that no one ever found out that I was trans and at the same time wishing that everyone knew. My identity for those long decades felt hidden away from the world, a thing that only I could see. Struggling to validate this part of myself, this piece of myself felt like it shrank every year until by the time I was at the end of graduate school I perceived it as an echo.
And then one day I put on some make-up, and a door opened inside myself, and I saw that my internal world was an iceberg. I saw that what I thought of as my identity, the male presentation that I funneled myself through to engage the world, was just a small piece of a large, submerged identity that had never gone away. The space inside myself was immense, and I had been living in progressively smaller compartments, and the echoes were really ripples on the surface as the iceberg sank deeper. I was extraordinarily lucky to have put on make-up that night, combined with the years of love and support from my graduate community, because I'm not sure how long those ripples would have been noticeable.
Naively, when I came out, I thought it would be like pulling back a curtain to reveal this part of myself. Instead, it was like being born an awkward eight year old girl, about the age I started to suppress that part. It's easy to judge trans-women for their love of make-up and silly, girlish things, but we have to remember that it's a stage of identity growth through which many biologically born women have passed. Their identities as women were forged, birthed, and created through countless experiences with themselves and with the world. For myself, I gradually walled off these desires, and yet, surprisingly to me now, they never went away. For all the years I wore a beard, and joked with men, I felt like a prisoner and a fraud.
Expressing my identity has been like walking on shaky new legs through a Montana high grass field, where there are dangers and difficulties inherent in each step, but always more space than you ever imagined to the horizon. It's the journey that we all take, an endless spiral of expression that becomes creation and then again expression, creating ourselves through every moment.