My Life Without: The Short Version

by Em Bowen

When I was 4 years old, my grandma filled a kiddy pool in the backyard of her Glendale, Arizona home. My being had just come into being. I had an idea of myself—who I was, my likes and my dislikes. At 4 years old, at home and grandma’s, I knew one thing. I really, really did not like wearing a shirt to go swimming.

This sense of appearing a certain way was beyond my body. In movies and in life I was always gravitating towards the masculine. Wanting to be the hand holder, the space creator, the lift-heavy-things person. Wanting to be Simba on the Lion King. Wanting to not wear my shirt when the neighborhood girl came over. My mom telling me to put on a shirt. Me not thinking I was a person who should have to wear a shirt. I mean, picture this: sagging toy pistol belt over dinosaur printed pajama shorts. Everything.

When I was in 2nd grade I joined community gymnastics for one day until I was told I would have to wear a leotard. I couldn’t quit fast enough. Grandma took me to my get my hair cut at age 8. I looked in the mirror and saw myself for the first time. In 3rd grade, a boy in my class said to me in the hallway, “You don’t want to be a girl do you. You want to be a boy.” He was right. I didn’t want to be a girl, I wished I had been born differently. When he said this, I believed his tone, that it was a strange thing and I was a strange being. By the end of 5th grade, I wanted to be loved more than I wanted to be. I had no idea these two things were the same.

Here’s the thing about my breasts. When they came they were always in between me and other people. When I was 19, when I finally woke up into myself, I would stand back from the mirror enough so that I couldn’t see them. I wore binders through summer. I wore sports bras one size to small at night so I wouldn’t have to see them, feel them, acknowledge them. When I fell in love that summer and it failed a year later, I was so ready to throw away the surgery and the hormones and the masculinity to be loved. That’s when I knew that I couldn’t have all of me yet. Not until I knew how to love all of me, as I was, and know it was enough, even if I was always in this form.

Today, I have waited almost 10 years to let myself have this. I have become myself in every way without this surgery. I realized yesterday that I have never given myself something so personally my own. It has not been easy for me to give myself this. I have a blind spot and it has taken a whole army of trans friends, and witnessing their coming into themselves for me to allow myself to have this. There’s more but I think I’m too excited to write more. I’m joyfully giving myself this today. Burning all my bras.