April 13th, 2013 - Liza Olson
I have a different name, different face, different body. I don’t yet know that my obsession with the way people can and do change will be taken to a surprising yet completely traceable and satisfying conclusion. I am still in a relationship I will have long since left ten years later, finishing up a screenwriting major I won’t pursue, in a state I’ll only return to after some much-needed time away. I’m still a couple years out from breaking off the engagement, moving across the country, and quitting my job.
Today, April 13th, 2013, I’m only three days away from screening early footage of the short film I wrote, the project a producing student picked me for: a story about a trans girl and her becoming, not knowing then why I connected so strongly to the premise but, ten years later, figuring it all out.
Most days, I’m operating under a high level of repression, shoving questioning thoughts down with work, putting everything I have into screenwriting and, somewhere below the conscious level, telling myself that if I can’t be the person I want to be, I can at least be known for something. At least put together words that might live on. My life, as it has since puberty, feels like a ticking time bomb. The constant hum-buzz of dread and anxiety which I attribute to depression but which is actually mostly gender dysphoria is an ever-present driver of my emotional state. It will largely disappear in ten years’ time, within a week of starting hormone replacement therapy.
Re-reading journal entries from this time period makes me physically cringe now. How hard I tried to make things work which were never going to. Tried to fit a mold I was never going to fit, a mold that wasn’t meant for me (if it’s meant for anyone). I lived my life in a way that would make the people around me happy without ever considering what would make me happy. It would come out in ways that frustrated me: over-eating and drinking till sickness, then counting every calorie, running till I nearly passed out, weighing myself several times a day. I’d self-correct when it got too serious, address the problem, but it was always management of symptoms–never the cause.
I look to others like someone who knows what they want and goes after it. I lose the weight, run the races, write the scripts, and win the prizes, but the truth I can’t or won’t share is that any other first step is easier for me than this one is, that transition is the upheaval I need but am afraid of right now, that in the hyper-masculine environment I grew up in, going along to get along was what I chose, so I competed in the wrestling tournaments, slapped on the helmet and pads come fall, scrapped and fought over silly things in my old neighborhood–anything to maintain the illusion.
I will come to appreciate the eventual breakdown in time, its cascading, butterfly effect changes that got me where I needed to be. It’ll start with walking away from screenwriting in my final semester despite being the department wunderkind and returning to my first love, fiction, instead. It’ll continue with writing the things I want, getting started in publishing, and beginning the novel that will force me, finally, to look inward. As I start to see myself more clearly, I’ll also see the codependent cracks in the relationship I’m in, realize that I don’t even want this, I’m not happy, I feel trapped. Today, though, April 13th, 2013, the book is just the germ of an idea kicking around the back of my mind.
I’ll break off the engagement while I’m in the hospital, barely make it through the next couple of months, nearly die and go to the hospital again, then get away for good. I’ll turn to that first love to get through the months that follow, writing my way out as the germ of a new idea forms in the back of my mind: I think I might be trans.
I will make new friends, form connections, develop as a writer, and explore the queer identity I’d buried so deep for so long. I will learn more about myself in a year than I had in the preceding 25. I’ll learn to value myself, identify and dismantle negative self-talk. All the ways I used to hurt myself will fall away without my having to consciously address them anymore. I will find my way back to myself and, in time, meet the person who will love me for me.
Ten years later, and I’ve come out as trans, changed my name. I’ve been on HRT for nearly a year now, my face and body already different, making me look like the sister of my former self. Early on in my transition, I'll occasionally get caught up in thoughts like, "this would've been easier if you'd done it years ago," "it would've saved you a lot of hurt," etc. But the truth is I didn't have the awareness, experience, fortitude I have now, which I needed every bit of in the early stages.
Re-reading the short script I wrote ten years ago brings happy tears now. How easy it was for me to relate to that trans girl, how natural it felt to write from that perspective. And of course the fact that, without even realizing it, I’d picked a name for myself that was only a letter off from hers. On April 13th, 2013, I was on the cusp: waiting for a screening, for graduation, for freedom, for becoming. It's ten years later, and if I could I'd go back, give myself a hug, answer her inevitable questions, and tell her, “Patience, Liza. You’ll get there.”
Liza Olson is the author of the novels Here’s Waldo, The Brother We Share, and Afterglow. A Best of the Net nominee, Best Small Fictions nominee, finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award, and 2021 Wigleaf longlister in and from Chicagoland, she's been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Cleaver, Pithead Chapel, and other fine places. One of her proudest achievements was getting to run (mac)ro(mic) for four incredible years. Find her online at lizaolsonbooks.com or on social @lizaolsonbooks.
Liza would love to raise awareness for Mermaids, which helps gender-diverse kids and their families.