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You already know how to do this


Emily VanDerWerff

Mar 04 2019

7 min read


A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I had a fight, a big one. It wasn't a marriage ending fight, and I knew it at the time. But it was a fight where I needed to do something to act out, to show how wronged I felt, because I might look like a 30something man, but I have the hormonal balance of a 14-year-old girl, and nobody understands my pain!!!!!

Fortunately, I live in Los Angeles, a city with a rudimentary train system, and even if it doesn't go everywhere (looking at you, Beverly Hills), it goes a lot of places. Hop on a train in one of the downtown hubs, and you could go all the way to Pasadena or Long Beach or... well, not the airport but near the airport. This means the trains let you run away, if you want, as far as you want to go, maybe even all the way to some other city entirely should you hoof it to LAX.

I ended up on the beach. It was the place I went in early 2015, when I felt so overwhelmed by what I thought of as "my gender stuff" that I seriously contemplated walking out into the Pacific and seeing if anybody came after me. So it felt somehow appropriate to return, to let the ocean know I had made it, against all odds, that I had gone looking for oblivion and found myself.

What I didn't realize was that it was night. I used to walk on the beach at night all the time. It was one of my favorite ways of getting exercise. But on this chilly January night, I abruptly realized I wasn't alone.

Since starting hormones, something really fascinating has happened to me, something I can only describe as "herd awareness." And on the beach, at night, chasing sandpipers in vain hopes of getting a picture of them framed against the neon backwash of the lights reflected in the ocean, it was like I could feel the men on the beach. Slowly, I checked to make sure they were where I thought they were, where my brain had positioned them via snippets of overheard sound and God knows what else. And, yep, there they were.

They meant me absolutely no harm. They were just getting stoned on the beach, as teenage boys in California are wont to do. But some part of my brain I didn't know was there had activated, and it was ready to let me know that these guys might not be bad news, but some other guy somewhere out there in the darkness probably was. And who knew if he was on this beach at that very moment? I couldn't see him or hear him or feel him, but I knew he was out there, at least in theory. It was wild. Nothing like it had ever happened to me before.

I booked it off the beach and back to the heavily lit comforts of Ocean Avenue.

I have spent the last two weeks traveling, coming out to coworkers, coming out to friends, planning ways to turn my identity into #content, and beginning the first voyage on what promises to be a long spring of coming out to everyone I know, in a series of dinners and meetings and coffees.

It is exhausting. If you ever want to tell everyone you care about some fundamental truth about yourself, bit by bit, one by one, person by person, I really don't recommend it. Every meeting I have reminds me of 16 other people I need to tell before what promises to be a grand public outing.

To cap off the trip, I went to visit the first friend I ever came out to, when I was scared and lonely and eating myself from the inside. I wanted to have a weekend, in a city where no one knew me, to just try being "a woman," by which I mean performing the assorted bonding rituals women perform as a way of establishing specifically womanly communities, safe spaces where we can be without having to develop herd awareness.

We went shopping! It was great! But the best part was just... leaving the house with her dressed as myself, knowing that literally everybody was going to still read me as a guy (though not for long), but a lot of people wouldn't care, some people would make the effort to address me as I clearly wanted to be addressed, and even more people wouldn't notice, because we don't notice lots of things. Today, we went out with assorted friend groups, in public, and everybody called me Emily, and I wore my nice sweater, and nothing blew up.

But what I realized throughout this weekend was that I already know how to do this. I don't know a better way to put it than that. I spent my entire life struggling through male bonding rituals that I could perform more or less effectively but that I always felt disconnected from, but the second I started hanging out with women who knew me as a woman, I slipped into a self who had always been there but whom I had suppressed. I even sit differently.

There are still so many things I don't know. Like how to do makeup or that you should never share eyeliner because it's apparently a good way to get eye diseases (the amount of time I spent thinking about eye diseases as a guy was very small). I feel frustrated, all the time, by how hard it is to find clothes I like that somehow fit the Venn diagram intersection of "adult" and "cute" and "made for a woman over 6 feet tall." And I don't have the foggiest on a whole host of topics that capitalism has convinced me are integral to womanhood.

But I know how to be a woman. Somehow. I just do. In good situations and bad. And because this newsletter has accidentally become an inspiration to some of you, I will say that this is probably true for you, too. The things you will have to learn are probably different from the things I will have to learn, but if you are a trans woman, like me, then there is some deeply rooted part of yourself that already knows how to do this. It takes some coaxing to come out, but it's there, and it is waiting to grow, and it is you. It is at once the most profound thing you will ever experience and the most mundane. Nothing will ever be the same, but, also, it will feel like it has always been this way.

Because it has.

Somebody asked me if I was OK with folks sharing this with their friends or Twitter followers or whatever, and yes, sure, please. I am going to be very publicly out in the summer, and I might as well get used to a small taste of it.

Oh, and thank you for reading! I had literally one subscriber for a long time, and now there are a bunch of you? Hello? I hope you are enjoying this? I mean, you're subscribing!

I am a trans woman or whatever. I'm obviously not named Emily Sandalwood, because lol, whose last name is Sandalwood? Anyway, you can respond to this, and I will look at your reply and nod sagely and probably never write back, or you can follow me on Twitter, where I am extremely funny.

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