Behind White Walls, Beneath Red Bricks

July 7, 2021 / Adrienne Hunter

I couldn’t comfortably navigate gendered spaces, so I built my own.

My roommates had taken all of their belongings except for a collection of empty alcohol bottles and a print of dogs that were playing poker. There was nothing around me other than that whimsical print that hung on the otherwise empty and white living room wall. I didn’t even have a shower curtain: In the shower, I would shiver at the unwelcome, cold air while the hot water that dropped onto my body ricocheted across the entire restroom floor. I kept meaning to buy one, I just never got to it.

It had been a month since my dad died. I was becoming estranged from my mom and from the rest of my family, too. It was the middle of a global pandemic, and I was alone in this dreary Austin apartment.

Trapped, the space of my existence became overwhelmed with questions I spent so long hiding from, eroding over a decade of peaceful ignorance. As my thoughts had the room to exist, completely forgotten memories were finally allowed to be. For the first time in about 15 years, I began to remember the essential pieces of a person I forgot existed. I remembered running around during dress-up time at Lakewood Preschool and wearing oversized T-shirts, the closest I was allowed to wearing a dress. I remembered fantasizing about my mom’s high heels but being too scared to ever try them on. I remembered telling a friend who called herself a tomboy that I wished there was such a thing as a tomgirl.

A small part of me wondered if I had revived these memories or just fabricated them out of desperation. But then, I didn’t really care as they allowed me the imagination I needed to see myself as my own person, no longer a reflection of the thoughts and behaviors of those around me. I was finally able to tear down the walls of that miserable echo chamber that separated me from knowing my space, my body, and myself.

The red-bricked suburban home my family moved into when I was 11 was seemingly perfect. My mom was ready to have her large closet, my dad was keen to have a backyard lawn in which to exercise his green thumb, and I was excited to have my own bedroom with a window looking out at the cul-de-sac that I would ride my bike in. This house was the foundation of whom I was raised to become. This house was supposed to be my stability.

After moving out years ago, I went back to take care of my grieving mom following my dad's death, which would unknowingly be the last time I saw her in person. I found myself in front of the suburban house that was once the foundation for my mom’s attempt at the perfect, Christian, nuclear family she dreamed of. I was suddenly questioning the reality of so much that shaped me into the person I believed myself to be: In my mom’s large closet, I found a box overflowing with assignments from the kindergarten class that punished me for "disruptive behavior” — something I would later understand to be indicative of learning disabilities; I sat in the backyard surrounded by the dead grass my dad tried to keep alive, where I came out to him while he was smoking in the backyard, grateful that he said it was okay as long as I “don’t act like a fag”; I peered into my old bedroom that my brother had taken for himself, now littered with Fortnite paraphernalia, gazing at the bed that I used to lie in and pray for forgiveness to a god who this house had told me would send me to hell for being attracted to men. I realized that my mother’s perfect, red-bricked, suburban home with its large closet, backyard lawn, and a bedroom with a cul-de-sac view was a grand illusion that broke down into red-bricked rubble.

I moved into a new apartment when the new school year started. I still didn’t have anything to hang on the walls, and since the apartment didn’t come with a bed frame, I slept on a mattress on the ground. At least this time, I shared a bathroom with my new roommate, who actually owned a shower curtain. In this new space, water would no longer spill out of the shower. 

But the process of becoming comfortable in the space around me was not linear. Distraught at the fact that I no longer felt the same in spaces that had once felt so welcoming, I continued to lie in bed, added to the piles of mess on my floor and dresser, and kept myself from learning about how to listen to my body. After giving myself the time and space to mourn this fact, I began a journey of finding places that allowed me to feel comfortable with my body and identity.

I first joined an on-campus organization “for men and nonbinary people,” but felt out of place and dismissed to find that they were more concerned with appearing inclusive than being inclusive. At the same time, I joined another organization for women and nonbinary folks where I found confidence in my identity as a trans-feminine person through genuine relationships.

Then, at University of Texas’ University Health Services, my confidence was waning as I was hoping to start hormones; I met a doctor who was nice, but didn’t seem to understand, or even consider, what I wanted. Around a month later, my concerns about gender care at UT were affirmed when I met with a queer doctor who centered my goals and concerns at a free LGBTQIA+ sexual health clinic.

While trying to shop in a women’s section, I became overwhelmed with panic. I was clueless about what I wanted, hardly able to buy a skirt and pair of shoes without having an anxiety attack. A week later, I spontaneously drove to Utah and back in three days to escape my unending chaos, wearing my new skirt while sleeping next to wild cows in the middle of nowhere.

In my bed, weeks ago, I struggled to get up, feeling completely different about my gender identity. The night before, I was running in the middle of Pease Park at 3 a.m., singing and dancing to “Welcome to New York” by Taylor Swift — feeling more confident than ever that I was a trans woman.

In finding the spaces that enabled me to grow, I would eventually understand that the spaces themselves were not inherently good or bad, but could inform the blueprint of the world that I want to build for myself.

Shortly before writing this, I received my first prescription of hormones. My walls were still empty, and I was surrounded by a daunting pile of laundry that I continued to ignore.

I lay alone in my bed, pills in hand. Before I swallowed my first dose of estradiol and spironolactone on a mattress with no bed frame beneath it, I hesitated. I thought of the times I believed this moment to be impossible while sitting under the print of “Dogs Playing Poker,” wandering around my family’s red-bricked, suburban home, and singing in a shower that actually had a curtain. Then, I swallowed my pills, knowing that though I haven’t finished finding and creating space for myself, I’m closer than ever to constructing a space where I can continue to construct my own identity. ■

Written by: Adrienne Hunter

Layout by:
Juleanna Culilap & Jennifer Jimenez

David Zulli

Eric Qiu

Brandon Muniz

Vio Dorantes

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