In some ways, my life improved dramatically after high school. On the gender front, though, I was still to be caught-up in that same static tug-of-war between my dreams and my fears for a few years to come.
I quite enjoyed my high school graduation. At the beginning of the party, it seemed like I would pass it by the way that I had passed by so much of my life; once I reached the dance hall, I settled in for a night of sitting on the sidelines doing nothing while everyone else enjoyed themselves. But then the music started, and, in obedience to unwritten Canadian social conventions, the dance floor promptly filled up with girls dancing amongst themselves*. I watched them for a few minutes, sipping from a rye-in-coke. Suddenly, I just decided “what the hell?” and joined right in, the first “guy” on the dance floor. Z. (the one friend who had remained vocally convinced of my femininity for more than a decade by this point) was amused by this. She and I seemed to be of one mind: “You can do whatever you want tonight!” she shouted over the din of the music. “You don’t have to care what anyone else thinks!” or words to that effect; I’m at a loss to explain how she could have been so perspicacious regarding the issue of my gender identity, while virtually everyone else—even people who knew me much better than she did—were completely blindsided by it.
Without getting in to the sordid details of the night, by the time it was over (at around four AM), I’d earned a new nickname (“Dancing Queen,” which was derisively intended, but taken as a compliment) and had even gotten to dance with S (it didn’t live up to my expectations; just saying). It was a remarkably satisfying evening and, for this reason only, I count my high school experience as being a “success.”
It did, however, leave me longing for more such freedom. That night had been a simple example of me taking advantage of the fact that nothing I did would have any repercussions-but such circumstances do not arise often in life. For the first time in years, I was forced to acknowledge just how detached I had become from my own life—and just how lonely.
Not finding this missing piece of myself in interactions with new peers in Undergraduate Physics**, and finding that my old friends from high school, while fun to be with, were used to thinking of me exclusively as being an awkward, ambiguous, socially inactive entity, I turned instead to the Internet, adopting the handle “Corvex,” which I mistakenly believed to be the Latin word for crow (I suppose I should have taken a few minutes to fact-check before I registered my account).
There, in the anonymity of a certain online community, removed though it was from actual physical sensation, I finally felt for the first time like I was a real Human being; an active participant in my own life. And to my delight, most of the people there simply assumed that I was female, even though I forced myself, in the interests of honesty, to “correct” that impression whenever it arose.
My interactions there were sporadic and mostly formal at first. It took more than two years before I had been willing to refer to myself by my given name. It would not be all that much of an exaggeration to say that, during my undergraduate years, I was working in the real world and living online. Some might charge that this is an unhealthy situation; I would reply that it’s a damn sight healthier than my previous situation—working in the real world and not living at all.
By the two-and-a-half year mark, I was chatting regularly with members of the community for hours on end; and by the three year mark, I was in a romantic relationship with one of my peers. My dear Nominatissima, I raise my glass to you.
*I’ve heard that the situation is different in other countries, particularly the United States, where apparently the idea of a bunch of girls (who are by and large not Lesbians, mind you) dancing with each other for the sheer fun of it is largely unheard of.
**And here I might suggest that this is because undergraduate physics, as a major, tends to be dominated by a certain class of men with whom I don’t generally get along very well—namely, people who want to become engineers.