February 27, 2020 / Cameron Kelly
Laying my head down on the backseat window of the family car, I stared outwards as our headlights reflected off of radiant green signs. The opening lines of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” fluttered into my ears. My mom sang quietly to herself, unaware I was still awake. Her voice synced with Paul Simon’s, and I was at peace despite the rumbling road. We all have artifacts from our childhood that remind us of who we are and where we come from. Whenever I hear this song, I’m reminded of these nights I spent trying to escape from my own reality. Then, the music was a token of my happiness traveling with my family. Never would I have thought it would become a vehicle to express my authentic self.
In a 1984 interview with Playboy Magazine, Simon admitted that the song was about him. “Everybody’s beating me up,” he said. “It took two or three years for people to realize that we weren’t strange creatures that emerged from England but just two guys from Queens who used to sing rock ‘n roll. And maybe we weren’t real folkies at all! Maybe we weren’’t even hippies!” Simon announced to the world that he was “The Boxer,” a fighter greater than the assumptions placed on him. He’s Paul Simon, and that’s enough! It takes time to develop that conviction in ourselves, especially in youth. Coming into my 20s and venturing off on my own, I’ve found myself crafting my own Boxer. Though not fighting the judgment of others, my journey reflects a battle of the self: self-criticism, self-judgment, self-deprecation, and hopefully, self-love. By sharing my story, I hope I can lead you to become your own Boxer.
“Squandered my resistance for a pocket full of mumbles such are promises ...”
It was Halloween, but I didn’t want to wear a costume. I wanted to be me. My mother attempted to adorn me in a hypersexualized women’s garb that parodied womanhood. Though she had no ill intention, she couldn’t comprehend that I wanted to look like a normal woman. I felt embarrassed and ashamed to vocalize this, however, I knew that I didn’t want to parody femininity; I embodied it. I felt empowered seeing her place a long curly wig on my head and painting glittery-green eyeshadow on my eyelids. My clothes gripped my hips and thighs, and my earrings dangled so delicately. I looked in the mirror and felt a feeling I had never felt before: self-love. It’s hard to explain how it feels to see yourself for the first time. It’s like you were floating in a void the entirety of your life, and suddenly, you’re grounded. My reflection was me, not just an image peering back at me. In that reflection, I saw a glimpse of what my life path could be: a transition into a woman. After that night, I knew I needed to take the necessary steps to live my own authentic life. I first needed to grow out my hair. I saw myself more and more with every inch my locks would grow. My curls were the first symbol to the outward world of my femininity. That night, I felt power and adoration in my ability to grasp what I truly wanted. Even with the newfound sense of desire, I still needed the world’s approval on how I lived my life. I wanted people to validate me based on my achievements. My focus was on academics and academics alone. School was my antidepressant. Seeing good grades made me feel wanted and a part of the world. If I embodied the ideal student, I mattered.
When I left my home and my family I was no more than a boy in the company of strangers ...”
I departed to college with a sense of self and direction. I walked in the world with a presentation that reflected me. My hair was long and in delicate curls, I wore makeup almost every day, and I feminized my body. All signifiers to the world of my womanly nature. I felt freer, more able to meet people and be myself. At this point, I was unaware of how my body would change. I didn’t prepare myself for how challenging the journey would be. The only questions I asked were: what job will I secure? And how much money will I accrue? I distracted myself with materialism to cope with the world, and to suppress the reality of my gender dysphoria.
“Asking only workman’s wages, I come looking for a job but I get no offers ...”
I sat in my car reflecting on my career path. I thought working in a med chem lab would satisfy my aspirations, and hopefully, make me happy. But, in truth, I hated my schedule, hated the work I was doing and didn’t like the people around me. I didn’t feel connected to my work. Every day, I would look out the window in my lab and watch the planes depart from the nearby airport. Through the glare of my goggles, I saw them climb through the air, eventually leaving my field of vision. I imagined myself sitting in the window seat of each plane, looking out over the city skyline. I knew then that I was unhappy with the path of my life. I bolstered myself to be the perfect student and chemist, but life around me was beginning to change. In the lab parking lot, I sat in the front seat of my car without my mom or Paul Simon to sing to me. My grip tightened around the steering wheel as I began to panic. Everything I was working for, the identity of my determined profession was dissolving around me. The distraction I relied on for years had vanished, and all the feelings I had suppressed started to arise again. It was soon after that that my dysphoria came back, and I sought out my first therapy session to discuss if the feelings I felt signified that I was transgender. At this time, I was passively seeking answers to my identity, however, nothing could have prepared me for the isolation, stress and self-hatred that was soon to come.
Whores on Seventh Avenue ... so lonesome I took some comfort there ...”
I stood in the bathroom and collapsed into one of the lowest points of my life. Looking at my scalp and seeing the thinning of my hair, I realized that my life was changing in ways that I could not control. While on the surface, this seemed like blatant vanity, the reflection staring back at me in the mirror was a constant reminder that I was destined to age like a man, that the world will only see me as a man in makeup, that I would have to fight harder to be seen as more womanly. I felt as if I was losing my sense of self, as if I was becoming just a shell, void of no one. At some point, I knew no curly wig or glittery-green eyeshadow could bring me back to a place of contentment. I was for sure lost. Having my hair long, down to my shoulders and back, was one characteristic that made the public question if I was a woman or not. I knew I wasn’t just a man in makeup. Granted, I didn’t know what I was, only what I was not.
I wish I could say that I was kind to others during this time, but that would be a lie. I lashed out at my friends and professors. I was angry, didn’t care about life and wanted others to see my pain. I headed down a path of self-destruction. During spring break of that year, I found myself crying and venting my frustration to my mother. With tears swelling in my eyes, she sat next to me and told me that she’d accept me no matter what path I decided to take. I laid in her arms as she cuddled me. Every tear shed in my mother’s arms led me closer to the realization that I was approaching a turning point in my life: I needed to begin my gender transition.
“In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of ev’ry glove that laid him down, or cut him till he cried out. In his anger and his shame, I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains ...”
Even after my endocrinology appointments, I still found myself in constant trepidation. Should I take these next steps? Am I really trans? Can’t I just be happy with how I am now? My anxiety increased, and I fell into deep panic every day. I became agoraphobic. I was so depressed and frozen in my own terror that I couldn’t leave my house. I lost all sensibility in who I was. Part of me wanted to do it, I felt like it was necessary for me. Another part of me lived in fear of making a mistake. My life was drowning, and it felt like I was never going to resurface. I was so afraid of being alone with myself and my thoughts, that I began seeking random excursions with men who could make me feel less alone while I gave my body to them. I felt used and guilty, but a part of me needed their company. I felt like my life was over, my energy and youth was depleted, and I had no will to fight anymore. I was no fighter. I was no boxer. Sitting in my sister’s car — despite the anxiety, fear, and worry, I knew that I deserved to take a chance, and that’s enough. I twirled my tiny orange estrogen bottle in my hand. Fear shot through me as images of self-hurt and sadness crept into my mind. “I know I deserve a chance,” I repeated rhythmically. With a quick slip of my hand and a pounding heart, I unscrewed the estrogen’s cap, took a deep breath and took my chance.
Change is what I needed. When I first entered adulthood, I was fighting for my profession. I thought that my whole life was wrapped up in what I did, not who I was. When my gaze shifted from materialism to introspection, I began fighting for my identity. Though I’m still in the beginning phases of my transition, I’m learning that I am my own fighter, that I hold the key to my own happiness. Standing still amidst adversity is the worst thing that I could’ve done. When you stand still, you allow the demons to overpower you, and you become a slave to self-deprecation. Every day, I remind myself that I’m a fighter and that I deserve to fight for myself. No longer am I victim to my own fear. I’m in the ring, fighting my own battles and acquisitioning my own happiness. We all deserve a chance. This is the story of my chance, though just beginning. A chance that’s leading me to find peace and self-love. One day, I hope you find your own reason to fight, to write your own story, to always remind yourself of your worth, to be The Boxer. ■
by: Cameron Kelly
layout: Anai Moreno & Maya Shaddock
photographer: Nicole Bolar
stylist: Luiza Gruntmane
hmua: Lauren Bacher
model: Justice Beverley
View the full spread as it appeared in Issue No. 13 here.