It’s Friday night and I’m at a coffee shop waiting for a local alt-country band to go onstage in an attempt to be more social. So far the social part isn’t working; I’m still the awkward wallflower sitting alone at a table, just like I was in my 20s. The only difference is now I’m trying to look more like the girl in the band than the four male members.
The guys in the band all have stereotypical hipster beards, glasses, and tattoos. Except for the tats, I used to look the same back when I was trying to make myself believe I was one of the boys. Masculinity was like a pair of shoes that didn’t quite fit, but I wore them despite all the blisters because I didn’t know there were other options. It wasn’t until I was 30 that I discovered there was a word that described how I always felt: genderqueer. Since then it’s been a process of trying on different clothes, hairstyles, pronouns, and makeup that were way more comfortable than my beard and men’s department jeans. Yet now as I look back and forth between the boys in the band and the sole female member, that old feeling of discomfort whacks me upside the head with a baseball. I can’t help but look at the woman the whole time. It’s not that I want to be with her; more like I want to be her.
The band goes on stage and launches into their set: it’s a mixture of the Old 97’s, Whiskeytown, and Uncle Tupelo with a touch of Jack White sprinkled in. The music is great, but I can’t enjoy it. All I think is, “I’ll never be who I want to be.”
Then I remember what they taught me in SMART Recovery: ask if my beliefs are true and/or helpful. Clearly this belief is neither, so I start writing down all my options. Surgery? No, because the only part of my body I want to modify is my body hair. How about electrolysis? I can’t because I don’t have the money. Hormone replacement therapy? Maybe, although all the websites recommend I quit smoking in order to avoid heart problems, and right now I love smoking too much to quit. What about changing my name? To what? I pull out my phone and start Googling unisex baby names. There are some good options, but only one sticks out to me: Tristan. I always thought it was a boy’s name, until finding out it’s a girl’s name, too, if spelled Tristen. There’s something about this name that sounds so pleasant, more than my given name Travis. Plus, if I go by Tris for short, it’s even more feminine. It’s a flexible name that embraces both my femininity and the little bit of masculinity I still have. But will the name work for me?
For years I went by Trav as an attempt to make my birth name more androgynous. But it never felt right. Would others accept my new name? They’ve known me as Trav for so many years, so why bother?
That’s when I catch myself and wonder what I’m talking about. Constantly trying to please everyone all my life fed into my lifelong history of suicidal thoughts, cutting, and substance abuse. I’m sick of it. I want to be completely free from seeking approval. I pick up my pen and write in my journal, “My name is Tris Mamone.” All my muscles relax and I can finally enjoy the show.