When I first realized I might be transgender, I was in denial. I didn’t want surgery, so it was like, “Well, what the hell do I want, then?” I thought being trans meant you could be either FTM (female-to-male) or MTF (male-to-female). I thought surgery was necessary, and going on hormones was necessary, and oh my god I’d have to change my name, and I’d have to stop being at all feminine, and and and and—!!
But, well, I didn’t have to do any of that.
The word “bigender” entered my vocabulary after transgender did.
Ah, I thought. There it is.
There it is.
When I was a kid, maybe twelve or thirteen, I finally got to start experimenting with my hair. My mom took me to a new salon, and I was allowed to get highlights for the first time ever. The next time I went back, I asked for my hair to be cut short. My mom, who was watching, said fast, “Just to your chin.”
“But Mom. . .”
“You don’t have the right face for short hair,” she said. “Just to your chin.”
I cut my hair “just to my chin” until I was 18. I hated it.
I always hated it.
So I wore a bandana, or a hat, or I tied it up punishingly tight, knotted at the nape of my neck or pulled into a butterfly clasp. My freshman year of college, it got so bad I wore a gray hat every single day, everywhere I went, for almost a year.
I came home from work one night exhausted and emotionally drained, and gchatted my then-fiancee (now wife). “I don’t think I can do it anymore,” I said, curled up in my desk chair. “I can’t stand it anymore.” I was on the verge of taking a pair of scissors to it myself, but she convinced me to make an appointment the next day.
When the stylist took the first fistful of my hair in her hand and sheared the scissors right through it, like butter, like sweet silk, so close to my scalp, my whole world changed. It sounds so dramatic, but it’s true. It was this huge moment for me. There my face was, there it had been for the past year, my hair tucked up in a hat. There my face was, with no hair to frame it.
And I looked just fine.
That was the start of it all. That was my marked moment, when I figured out that what people say I should look like and how I actually want to look are mutually exclusive.
There was my tiny rebellion. My stake driven into the ground. There it began.
I’ve dressed masculine for years and years. In January, I bought my first expensive flannel button-up. My dad joked that I was ticking off another point on the lesbian checklist, but it wasn’t even about having the shirt, really. It was about going to the women’s section and picking some stuff I liked, things that caught my eye…and then going to the men’s section and, with my armful of pretty blouses, picking out a shirt that screamed masculinity, that pulled across my broad shoulders and showed off how long my back is, how it tapers to my waist.
A few weeks ago, I bought my first pair of clippers.
My mom and I met for lunch at the end of the summer, when I got back from visiting my wife in Canada. “You need a haircut,” she said, eyeing me over the table.
I raised my eyebrow at her. My hair wasn’t long—enough to grab handfuls of, sure, but still boyish on the sides and longer on top, my thick hair gathered up to curl in a forelock. You think it’s too long?
“Don’t cut it ridiculously,” she clarified.
“Not ridiculously,” I echoed, knowing she meant well.
Then I went to Walmart and bought a pair of clippers with rainbow guards, and I cut my hair myself. Shaved down one side and left the other long.
Dyed it purple, too.
I thought of the last time my mother implied I ought not be ridiculous with my hairstyle, and I thought of the looks I’d been afraid to try for fear of coming off too weird. I’d always wanted to shave one side, and I’d always wanted to dye it purple.
So I did. And it was as perfect as I’d thought it would be.
I think I became more daring after that. Getting a new tattoo seemed like a logical step. A color progression.
My first tattoo was about reclaiming my body. About moving on from a bad relationship. About reminding myself that what happened to me wasn’t my fault.
This one is because my body is mine again. Wonderfully so. There’s a freedom in thinking: no one can stop me from doing this. No one can change this but me. No one can have this but me.
No one can have my skin but me.
I wrote what I know about my queerness on that skin that night.
I’m not a girl. I’m not a boy.
I have a fierce love of space. Galaxies and black holes and blooming nebulae. I like to think, as Carl Sagan said, that we are made of star stuff. That the core of my body once belonged out there, somewhere, and that I have the last dregs of a struggling star clustered up in my cells.
That’s what I am.
My tattoo artist is in a band with two trans guys. He knows I’m trans. In February, when I got my first tattoo, he told me about them, and said that over the summer, they were going to lay down an album. When I got this second tattoo, I asked him about it, and he lit up. “I actually have the raw tracks on my phone,” he said. “Do you want to hear it before anyone else does?”
So we listened to it together, this entire album about being young and trans and angry and feeling like you’re broken, like your skin doesn’t fit on your bitter bones. And I maybe cried a little, and my artist said, “Yeah, now imagine this scene: big trans bar full of hulking trans dudes, all bawling their eyes out just like you.”
Just like me.
Trans is trans is trans.
In my own way, I’m transitioning.
I love this body of mine. It’s a beautiful canvas.
And I’m making it look just like me.
About Sam Schooler
Sam Schooler is queer and nonbinary, and she grew up surrounded by corn, churches, and cliché “Hell Is Real” signs. After twelve years of Catholic school in southwestern Ohio, she applied to the most liberal university she could find and wound up with a degree in journalism. Now, she writes trope-subverting new adult books about people of all genders and orientations—and all the ways they can love each other. Sam lives with her wife and their two cats in Regina, Saskatchewan.
About Dead Ringer
Brandon Ringer has a dead man’s face. His grandfather, silver-screen heartthrob James Ringer, died tragically at twenty-one, and Brandon looks exactly like him. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Brandon is unknown, unemployed, and up to his ears in bills after inheriting his grandparents’ Hollywood mansion. He refuses to sell it—it’s his last connection to his grandmother—so to raise the cash he needs, he joins a celebrity look-alike escort agency.
Percy Charles is chronically ill, isolated, and lonely. His only company is his meddlesome caregiver and his collection of James Ringer memorabilia. When he finds “Jim Ringer” on Hollywood Doubles’ website, he books an appointment, hoping to meet someone who shares his passion for his idol.
Brandon? Not that person.
But despite their differences, they connect, and Percy’s fanboy love for James shows Brandon a side of his grandfather he never knew. Soon they want time together off the clock, but Percy is losing his battle for independence, and Brandon feels trapped in James’s long shadow. Their struggle to love each other is the stuff of classic Hollywood. Too bad Brandon knows how those stories end.