"How did you come out to yourself as transgender?"
by Liam Lowery
I first heard about The L Word at an indoor track meet my freshman year of high school.
A group of cool lesbian teens, sitting on piles of blankets and passing around a box of Cheez-Its, sat across the way from my lowly duffle bag and pile of books. I knew they were lesbians because they all had cool haircuts and two of them were totally making out.
They were led by Ashe, she was soft-butch teen royalty–lanky and tan, with boys underwear hanging out of her skinny jeans. Who wears jeans at a track meet? I thought, but it totally didn’t matter. She was so cool, cool in the way that only a teen lesbian with a Justin Bieber haircut can be cool. I sat near her encampment the entire meet–alone, as I usually was at school events–and after 20 times hearing them say “The L Word,” I figured out it was a television program, not a secret code. I was so enthralled in their conversation that I missed running the 55 meter dash.
My parents didn’t get Showtime, and I wasn’t going to ask them to get it so I could watch a show that was so clearly for lesbians that it was called “The L Word.” So I opted for plan b. While pictures popped up on social media of Ashe and her friends having watch parties (complete with, from what I saw, wine that was given to them by Ashe’s mom, they were so cool), I searched various Eastern European torrent sites on the shared family desktop between the hours of 3am and 6am, in the foggy area between Sunday night and Monday morning.
It usually took around an hour of searching, following dead links until eventually hitting live ones before the familiar message about the torrent violating Showtime’s copyright would start popping up. At some point, I’d find the show and watch with the volume turned really low, listening hard for footsteps coming down the stairs, erasing the browser history when the episode finished. I’d creep up to bed as the sun began to ascend, pondering what I’d just witnessed.
This show, I determined, was a canon every kind of lesbian there is. I wanted very badly to be Shane–lady lothario who dared to leave Carmen, the sexy dj, at the altar. I would have also accepted Dana–tragic, beautiful, closeted, zany Dana–the Subaru sponsored tennis-star. Or even Alice–who was the perfect blend of “out,” and “out-there.” God, they were so good.
This was The L Word: Were the plotline perfect, or even well-developed? Not a chance. Were the characters all on a pretty narrow race and socioeconomic spectrum? Absolutely. Did the show leave much to be desired? For sure.
But–despite these flaws–the characters knew who they were, and that was much more than I could say for myself. For cool girls like Ashe or Shane, it seemed like the biggest part of being gay was being a lady who crushed on ladies. Which I did, sure, but I was most concerned with sneaking off to Goodwill to try on men’s clothes or joining chat rooms with names like “If I were a boy” (and no, they weren’t on Beyonce fan sites).
There’s lots of different ways to be a lesbian, I thought, crossing my fingers that The L Word would show me mine.
And soon, it did. Not one season later, we met Moira.
Moira was like me–awkward, uncomfortable all the time. Moira’s clothes were baggy. She didn’t have any friends of her own, and she never quite fit in with the L Word crew. Even Shane, the otherwise butchest character on the show, made fun of the way Moira dressed and didn’t want to be compared to her.
Then, one episode, Moira started going by the name Max. Max explained that he’d always felt like a guy, inside. Then Max started wrapping ace bandages around his chest, while my heart sped up inside my own. Finally, I thought, someone who totally understood what I was going through.
Then it hit me. Oh no. Max was the first trans person I ever met, and he was terrible. He was a reedy-voiced crybaby, prone to fits of rage, obsessed with passing as a cisgender man, perpetually unhappy, and disliked by all.
I’m cursed, I thought, If I am like Max, there is no hope for me. I immediately searched online for an L Word character quiz and sped through the questions. My result? “You are: Moira/Max. You’re not comfortable with your body right now, but you’ll become the person you’re meant to be.”
I tried again. Same result. “You are definitely trans,” the screen shouted, “deal with it.” I refreshed the page, feeling sweat break out across my forehead. “You are still trans,” the screen announced, “Which kind of explains everything, right?”
I closed the browser and sat back in the chair, exhaling through gritted teeth. I looked out the kitchen window, and the first hints of sunrise were stirring on the horizon. There’s at least eight different ways to be a lesbian, way more if you count everyone who hooked up with Shane, I thought, there’s got to be more than one way to be trans. The sky was turning purple now, the stars fading from diamonds to pinpricks of light. No one can decide but me. A streak of pinkish red began to push its way up into the lavender sky.
So, I’m trans. I nodded to myself, heat swelling in my chest and sudden moisture in my eyes. This is going to be good.