NICK HENNEN: Now I See — It’s All Worth It

I started to cry as I slowly peeled away the restrictive layer of clothing that is my binder, realizing this was the last day I would ever have to wear it again. What a strange mix of elation and contemplation.

I instantly recalled all the times I came home from something, immediately stripping away and relishing in the relief of its release when suddenly, or so it always felt, someone would call my attention back into the world.

Many times, it would be just as the article had come off. And I’d feel knocked down — even when it was my fault like for a pizza I forgot I ordered. Sometimes, I’d collapse to the floor. A mist would appear — out of nowhere — and I’d feel like crying, but I’d open the drawer just the same and fetch out a freshly laundered binder.

“This is my choice,” I often heard in my head, which at the time I thought was a sort of declaration: Like, “Hey buddy you wanted this, remember?” kind-of-thing.

I reflect on it now and wonder how can that be a choice? Wouldn’t saying that make it a sin? A choice? I don’t think so.

I think deeply to avoid tears; I take long walks into my consciousness to contemplate this existence. And I still don’t know what am I experiencing or why it has taken me so long to get here. And the way some kids are recognized by their parents and supported in their gender choices as babies makes the real sin of envy creep up.

But I think of my children and wonder how can I not be grateful for the life I have with them? How can I not be indebted to their incredible love and my family and friends and to all that has occurred to deliver me to this exact place at this exact right time? I wonder how can I better appreciate the “right now” and more importantly, how can I be more thankful?

As the binder awkwardly escaped my head, I swung it in circles above me and danced like John Travolta (or so I envisioned). Then, threw it on the floor triumphantly. But I quickly picked it back up, squinting to see the minuscule drops of blood, carefully examining the rubbery soft, sandpaper-like mix of fabric that made the garment so mysterious to me. The words, “How far I have come!” seem to leap from my head.

There’s much I don’t know about what lies ahead and yet so much has changed. And it is still evolving. Will it always feel this way? Am I taking enough time to look around on this trip down the rapids? Am I enjoying the ride?

I think about how lucky and how utterly blessed I feel.

I have moved far away from family for a chance to live this free. And everything couldn’t have turned out more perfectly.

I remember the day I decided I was leaving North Dakota. I was walking home from a guest lecture gig at the college wearing a jacket and tie and a mix of heat and angst had me feeling less than cheerful. Normally, I’d be happy for a rare chance to teach and if I had a reason for a suit and tie, but not on this day.

Out of nowhere, a woman slowed down and popped her head out the window. “Hey, I know who you are. Thank you,” she shouted.

“I’m sorry? ”

I stammered confusedly.

“I saw you on the news, and I think it’s terrible, anyway, thank you,” she hollered.

Both touched and annoyed, I thanked her as she drove off but don’t remember how. She was likely referencing a very short TV interview opinion/reaction thing I did about SB-2279. That’s the complicated bill that had just passed, disconnecting LGBT-identified North Dakotans from their civil rights.

Living through that was a frustrating hell, but this experience pierced me similarly. I remember thinking, “I want to go somewhere where I blend,” as I walked the rest of the way home.

And here I am now, in such a place! I’m not weird here. And I found a job I love more than anything I have ever experienced. I work for amazing, inspiring people with extraordinarily bright minds and hearts to match. I have re-connected with and made new, quality friends — the kind of folks that are there for you on moving day. And all in less than a year from that sweaty walk home.

I’ve traveled more of the world than I ever dreamed possible. I learned small parts of a fascinating language and a lot about an amazing culture, which now, like the company I work for, will always remain close to my heart.

Still, in fact, far too much fear and trepidation await this next important step. And while I’m not getting a new womb or risking life and limb with something untested like in that famous film, I am taking very real steps to modify my body in a radical way.

Will it “fix” everthing? Of course, not. But it will give me the freedom to look the way I want.

I’ve always been one of the boys. I was a fish-catching, frog holding, tree-climbing, all-star wresting, crunch tackle — far and above any “tomboy” girl, too. In fact, tomboys weren’t generally fond of me. They seemed to relish in a descriptor I’d narrow my eyes and scoff at.

My friends that were boys themselves could never explain my club card, why I was there or how exactly I seem to not only fit in but often lead group discussions in way that was pleasing to the others. But it just was and we all knew it.

Somewhere just before age 13, I lost my membership exclusivity. It was sudden and overnight yet. I have no single memory, just a mix of images of boys ackwardly asking girls to dances and girls acting weird and me falling in the cracks between.

I want to again effortlessly belong. Liking biking hands free. Once you learn, you never forget how.

I want to slip on a favorite T-shirt — like you do — and feel healthy and adjusted. Man, I can’t even imagine how good that will be, and it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve felt it.

And I know a choosing a bathroom will still take courage, but it will never hurt as much as living inauthentically as I did. I know that in the end, I will pass and eventually, people will likely leave me to both pee and be. But really, this isn’t about that.

It’s about tossing that binder in a burner and continuing to walk with my head held high. (How am I blessed with such confidence I wonder? God bless my mother!) And keeping it there knowing that I am doing the right thing in letting my body better reflect the “me” I feel I am.

As for this recovery, it will get better. And as I find my way, I’ll feel like I’ll be able to look back and laugh about all of this.

I understand that many can’t understand the pain or the fact that I’ve taken some of the steps to create it. I know this because I’m realistic but still confident that it is the right decision for me, to go to these efforts because it’s important that I present myself in a way I need to breathe easy.

And honestly, even if I die doing this, know that it was something I felt I had to do.

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