When I was little, growing up as a young Mormon kid in Northern Utah, I was taught that my value came solely from the idea that I could help create more Mormons by marrying a “good man” and bearing him as many kids as my body would allow. This was how I would go to Heaven–by being useful to a man, who would hopefully be somewhat nice, because I would be with him for all eternity. I felt my purpose in life was that of one of the roses from my Grandpa’s garden; my role was to be beautiful, to bring new green leaves and red buds to the garden, and then fall slowly away from life, leaving bits of heartache behind until there was nothing left but my thorn. I abandoned the idea of roses having any hold over my life as I began my transition. It felt like beauty and femininity kept me perpetually as that rose, constantly needing to be seen as cisgender and “appropriate” for the gender I was assigned at birth. One gender affirming top surgery and 5 years of testosterone later, and I’m finally able to see that beauty and femininity are not cages where I must fade and die, but rather wings that bring me to heights that allow me to be with people I consider the most holy, the most beautiful, and the most life-giving. I can be both the rose and the thorns, but this time for myself.
I didn’t know how affirming it would feel to put on a dress wholly for myself, and without the religious and societal confines I had been raised with. The feminine parts of myself I had always resented, even through my “masculinizing” transition, were finally coming to the surface in waves of contradictions. I loved my flat chest and the way a plunging neckline showed off my top surgery scars, despite how much I had hated this silhouette before. I loved my fat body, the way my hips and arms and face curve softly, like the first sigh upon returning home after a long day. I love my shaved head, how most people would look at it and think MASC, and the counterpoint of my softness, my twirling dresses and soft makeup. I am so much more than simply a rose on a small piece of land–I am a garden, filled with soft petals and painful thorns, climbing trellises and delving deep with roots far beyond what I ever thought possible for myself. There aren’t words in the current lexicon for how I experience my gender. The closest thing I can find to say is that I bloom, and grow, and change, and die, and start again and again and again.