The Stranger in the Photograph is Me (Inspired by Donald Murray)

I was never one to look back on childhood photos and smile. Childhood memories were seldom happy for me, and anyway I’m not who I was, so what’s the point in dwelling on the past? But at the request of one Mr. McCarrick I recently found myself turning pages in an album I once dreaded. I suppose it is good, on the basis of pure self discovery, to reflect on old snapshots. These photos tell stories, and if you look hard enough you are bound to find a good one.

Looking back on old photos reminds me of the way a jersey of a retired player holds onto his career, and tells a story of the game. Here, the photograph is the jersey, the subject: the name on the back, and the past: the game.

I find it hard to recognize the people in my album. I find that I have to think hard before I can remember a time before my brother drank, or before my stepfather was diagnosed. But perhaps the person whose former self is most alien to me, is myself.

There is a picture of me in a diaper next to a kiddie pool,, and another of my uncle throwing me towards the ceiling in our old Redwood Falls home. The only memories I have of that time in my life are fading. We moved to the east coast from Minnesota when I was quite young. Sometimes I find my former self walking beside me like an old friend. But I am in no place to reminisce let alone love my former self.

In the photographs I have every haircut from the “Gene Simmons” to the “Lennon” and, fortunately, my hair never fell out. And in a way, I ended up a lot like the other strangers in the album. That scares me, that I’m following in these haunting footsteps.

In other photographs I’m dressed in a red afro or cowboy hat. I loved playing pretend, and I suppose I never really lost that part of myself.

I’d like to say that I revisit all of the former selves, but the truth is, is I only find pleasure in the cowboy hats and mustaches. The dresses and princesses bring me no joy, and even looking back on how much I’ve grown makes me uneasy.

The pictures that haunt me to this day are those of before. One in particular, of long hair and a dress, taken of a child sitting at a piano. I wasn’t yet two, and I was still sporting that genuine, unadulterated smile. Little did I know, it would be more than a decade before it returned on the daily again.

I had just about entered my mullet phase, and I was pretty pleased with my interpretation of music at the time. The dress I am in brings no significance other than the fact that it is a dress. I would soon cry over wearing any sort of dress, as I would prefer trousers and a T- shirt.

The child smiles as if she can recognize preumptively, the loss of innocence and naivete that will occur in the years that follow that cold October day.

Once again, I search for any connection to the girl I once was. I feel the urge to scream and cry when I find similarities between us.

I loved that piano. In fact, there have not been many instruments in my life that I have not loved. And this fact makes me want to scream.

I was born so that my mother could have a daughter. And although I am aware of how much they love me, still, I can’t help but think of how much my parents wanted a girl.

When the photo was taken my stepfather had already fulfilled his need for a son, and my mother had played catch dozens of times with my older brothers. I had not yet become the man who had to correct teachers when they used “She” instead of “He”. When the photo was taken, I had not yet fallen into a depression, or gotten threatened in a bathroom.

My mother still had dreams of shopping, and makeup, and wedding dresses. And her family, who never really appreciated her can do attitude in the first place, were not yet confused and angry. The girl who woke up early to talk to the cats and to compose a single symphony in every key, had not yet become boy who sat alone with his rabbit, writing.

I had not yet seen my first fallen transman, had not yet felt the earth beneath me crumble as I try to hold on to my last piece of hope.

I had no idea that my life would become as it has been; that I would come out at 12, start hormones at 17 and outlive more men than I should have to. I could not have imagined that I would be so sad, and then so happy. I never thought that I would ever get paid to write, or win contests for my prose. I simply cannot bring myself to return to such an innocent time.

My childhood was drenched in pain and confusion, but I also had times that I felt like I was enough. I made friends, but also enemies, and I was never who I wanted to be growing up.

People usually have strong opinions about the way I live my life. I’ve been called a disease, but also a hero. In all reality I’m just an average teenage boy. But still my past fascinates many. A friend discovers an old facebook photo, from before transition, of me in pigtails with a frown and a tiara. It is my birthday, and she is surprised at how much I’ve changed. I am not.

I wouldn’t wish the pain I went through upon anyone. In the photos leading up to my transition I often look like I am about to cry. As happy as I am, these old photos still cut deep into old scars. I find that I cannot enter the snapshot without realizing, that there is no rainbow without the storm.

stranger

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