There's a date in your mind that always sticks out when you think about this kind of thing. It's February, 2011, 2012, or 2013, you are unsure of the exact date. But you remember that it was years ago and it was cold and you were excited to see a couple of your favorite bands play in a tiny space in Brooklyn.
As you walk in, you realize that you are one of the handful of male members of the audience. This doesn't bother you, though. In reality, you feel safer and more comfortable around women. The night goes on, your favorite bands play and you realize that you are attending the release party for a feminist zine and you end up going home with two or three of them.
You remember this night as one of the most important of your life. It made you realize your privilege. It made you realize that you hadn't been the best "man", you realized that there's a world outside of your own, and you realized you had a responsibility to try and be a part of the solution instead of being a part of the problem. But more importantly, it made you realize that you were "different" than a lot of people you knew.
You haven't thought about yourself in like this in a long time. But you woke up this morning and followed your normal routine, looking for movie trailers to watch and put onto a list [or more commonly known as The List, or the list of movies you and your best friend want to see together]. That's when you came across About Ray.
About Ray follows a teenager who is transgender and is transitioning from female to male. As you watch the trailer your eyes well up with tears and your hands start to shake. You take a deep breath and go to the bathroom to wash your face. You stare at yourself for a second and remember how different you really feel.
You look at your slim frame and pull your tee-shirt tight against your waist, you look at the way your hair is long enough to tuck behind your ears, and you look into your own eyes and wonder if you'd feel any better if you were wearing a dress*. You smile at yourself and this thought but quickly snap out of it because you were not born female. You were born a man. And you hear a voice in your head that tells you to "act accordingly".
You remember another night in Brooklyn in the same, smelly, smoke-filled venue. It was late summer and you were excited to see a pop-punk band you recently got into [RVIVR, above]. As they played their set you danced around, you worked up a sweat, and you climbed on top of people you just met. You smiled at strangers and you made new friends. But about half-way through, they played a new song [it was new at the time] called Wrong Way, One Way. One of the lead singers introduced it this way, he said something like:
This song is about how people are always trying to separate you into being a boy or a girl, it's about struggling with your gender identity, it's about all this stuff in the middle that we can all occupy, it's about being free and being able to express yourself in the ways that you see fit, it don't matter what your body is.
They started playing and even though you've never heard the song before, you could still make out some of the lyrics**. And each word, each chord of the guitar, and each snap of the snare drum broke one of your bones. Something inside of you started shaking. You remembered that different feeling you had a couple of months ago. You remembered how you were "different" and how you kept using that word "different" because you were unsure of what to call yourself.
You think about the time you told your best friend about your real identity and you feel fortunate that he understands and accepts you for who you are. You are still too scared to tell anyone else about who you really are. And you are unsure of how your other friends or how your family will react.
There's something inside of you that's always afraid. That's always on guard. And it's an empty feeling. To feel like you are never yourself. You want to talk about it but you don't want to explain it. You don't want to explain that, yes, you don't feel comfortable in your own body but at the same time, you are okay with the body you have. You don't want to explain that, yes, you are [mostly] attracted to women while you feel like you should have been born one. You don't want to answer any invasive questions about how you're feeling.
Because honestly, you're afraid that your feelings aren't real. You're afraid you're just saying this. You're scared that maybe, you're making this up. You don't have any friends that identify with you and you have no one to talk to. And when you say you don't know, you literally don't know how to talk about it.
You watch the trailer a couple more times and let out a soft sigh. You start rolling a cigarette even though you said you were trying to quit. You take a short walk around the corner and light up the poorly-rolled cigarette. You cough a loud, embarrassing cough, and laugh to yourself.
You think about your identity and what it means. You take long, hard drags from your cigarette and hold the smoke in for longer than you're used to because you think that holding all this death inside of you will change the way you feel about yourself, you hold your breath and you think and you think and you think.
And it hurts. It hurts but at the same time it doesn't. You feel excited and happy about this trailer and this movie. You think that maybe you'll be able to have that conversation you always wanted through watching this movie. You hope that you'll make new friends who feel the same way you do.
And you can't wait for About Ray to come out in theaters on September 18th, 2015.
*Sometimes, when it's late at night and everyone is asleep in the house but you, you pull out an old dress your ex-girlfriend gave to you from the back of your closet. You put it on, you paint your toenails, and you put a bobby pin in your hair. This isn't a movie, though, you don't twirl around and sing and dance and cry. You just sit in your room. You lock the door and play a video game, or guitar, or you just surf the web. You feel comfortable this way and sometimes you just need to forget about the way you dress on a daily basis and dress the way you wish you could. It's comfortable and it makes you happy.
**Here are some of the lyrics you figured out that night:
"...someone's always trying to tell me who I am, who to love and how to fuck..."
You heard this and your ears perked up. You felt like a puppy after hearing your owner unlock the front door. It was calling you, then you heard this next line:
"...when it feels like you've been tamed and you're dragging around your chains, start screaming your true name..."
Screams filled the crowd and the small room, including yours. You didn't scream a name, you weren't sure which name to pick [if you had a choice now, you'd pick Veronica], so you just yelled at the top of your lungs. Then the final chorus kicked in:
"...it's like a wrong way on a one way street. Promise to myself that I just don't keep. You can hate me now but I'll stick around. Don't fit, full of shit, struggle with identity. Don't fit, full of shit, I'm just trying to be."
You started to stir inside and for the first time you felt like you were in a "safe space". You looked around and you saw smiling faces with arms raised towards the stage. You started to tear up but this was okay, you were happy with who you were for once. You finally felt like you were a part of something. You knew you were struggling and were going to continue to struggle with your identity. You knew you'd stop calling yourself "different" and start calling yourself queer.
You are queer and this is okay.