Tina painted my nails Monday night.

I came out as nonbinary trans a year ago, and I talk about my “transition” a lot. However, in almost all of the ways that matter, that transition was internal. I had to unlearn (and am still unlearning) so many misogynistic and transmisogynistic and otherwise transphobic beliefs. I had to find (and am still finding) a livable praxis for a total re-orientation of my political beliefs that included intersectional trans representation. I had to figure out who I was in almost every facet of my life after realizing that if there was one thing I wasn’t, it was a man.

In that year long struggle — where I also realized that I was a Communist and that rejecting the trappings of cishet conceptions of gender and sexuality should be as revolutionary an act as rejecting capitalism — I spent so much time remapping my entire sense of self that I didn’t have the time, energy, or money to focus on my external presentation of gender. If I grew a beard (can’t grow a beard) and wore flannel button up shirts and jeans every day and shaved my head and decided that was my presentation as an NB trans person, that would be perfectly valid, but one of the things I accepted while I was trapped in my own head for the last year was that I also identify on the transfeminine spectrum. I had done nothing outside of my own head and outside of my own relationships with friends that affirmed the things I was starting to finally know about who I am.

Tina and I have had a lot of conversations about gender. It’s a perk of making a new friend that also realized they were nonbinary trans when they were a little older than most. I can’t remember the exact details of the conversation where Tina broached the topic of painting my nails for me. I just remember them sending me a photo of a basket full of nail polish with an open invitation to paint my nails whenever I was ready. I took them up on the offer immediately.

Related to the many conversations that Tina and I have about gender, Tina and I also talk a lot about how much younger we feel than our actual ages. I’m 28 (I turn 29 at the end of the month) and Tina is in their early 30s. Whenever we’re together, we’re like teenagers. Tina spent their 20s in an unhealthy and unfulfilling marriage. I spent mine in a drug-fueled haze of depression and anxiety that I can honestly hardly remember anymore. We both survived and are in the process of rebuilding ourselves, reminding ourselves that we can be healthy and happy and true to our natures and desires, and creating space for people that bring out those best sides of ourselves.

The flipside of all of that self-transformation is that Tina and I have suddenly found ourselves with futures that feel like blank canvases for the first time in decades. We both carry the weight of the trauma we’ve endured over the years, but we both know we’re done letting it chart our potential for happiness and connection and fulfillment. We’re able to accept the fluidity of identity and the strictures we’ve placed on ourselves because so many of the people we had allowed ourselves to be close to believed that their sense of self was so set in stone. I tell Tina all of the time that for the first time in ages, I have no idea where a relationship with another person is going… of who I’ll be or who they’ll be and what we’ll be to each other and where those decisions will take us.

It’s a little scary. It means I know I’m going to make new versions of the fuck ups that the emotionally young and untested are prone to making. It means I don’t have any of the bedrocks I thought I had made for myself and my identity over the years. It means that people who have known me for decades are going to have to deal with the fact that the person they thought they knew doesn’t exist anymore (and was only ever a shadow to begin with).

Yet, when I find myself with Tina, I’m a lot less scared about all of these re-inventions than I probably should be.

I was crying while Tina painted my nails. They were happy tears. Tina and I have created a very intimate friendship, and I’m not sure I’ve known another person that I would have trusted with such a big moment in my transition.

I remember telling a woman that I was dating in my early 20s that I was bi (before I began to identify as queer instead). Things weren’t ever the same after that. She just immediately saw me as a less viable partner because I was queer. It was like a light switched in our relationship. Another partner who told me she liked “pretty boys” also bemoaned a previous ex who had revealed to her that he was bi. She knew I was queer going into our relationship, but it was clear that she was of the opinion that I was mostly cishet because I didn’t have opportunities to act on my queer impulses. She wouldn’t have dated me if I had known then that I was trans.

Then I met Tina and they did my nails (and they wouldn’t bat an eye if we had plans to hang out and I showed up in makeup or femme clothing) and it was like the world was telling me that I could have all of the things that I had never thought I could have.

One of the first times that Tina and I hung out, I put on some music, and one of the first songs to play was “For Today I Am A Boy” by Antony and the Johnsons. ANOHNI (as she goes by now) was the first trans artist that I was ever really exposed to. Her album, I Am a Bird Now, was one of the first pieces of music that I ever tried to write about it. It’s an extraordinary fusion of lounge pop and deeply subversive spins on Lou Reed (who appears on the album), and “For Today I Am A Boy” was one of those songs that tore out my guts the moment I heard it.

It used to be that any time I heard that song, I would just start crying. Before I knew I was queer… before I knew I was trans, the song short-circuited every part of my brain except the part that had to process ANOHNI’s devastatingly intimate plea.

“One day I’ll grow up
I’ll be a beautiful woman.
One day I’ll grow up
I’ll be a beautiful girl.
But for today I am a child
For today I am a boy”

I had never heard lyrics that felt so honest and desperate.

Of course, I know now that the song hit me the way it did because I was at least partially in ANOHNI’s boat. I’m not a “woman” in the traditional sense of that word, and I’m not a trans woman, but I want to be womanly. I want to be beautiful and soft and warm and vulnerable. I think I’m becoming those things right now. Tina is helping me realize I can be those things and that there are people who will care for me because those are things I want to be.

But, I also know that I am still a child and I have so much growing up left to do.

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