Sometimes my surroundings are less an extension of my existence but places, breathing all on their own. Most of the time the world moves as I move, ceaselessly wobbling through suffocating emptiness and infinite possibilities, like a balloon aimless in it’s ascent. Merced, California burns like a sun, filling me with heat, thinning my skin while priming me to pop. I’m the center of the world, like a newborn balloon. There, I said it.
East of Steinbeck country, Central Valley is burning in the arid air of desertion, where the homeless chain together carts and boutiques make way for thrift stores. Almond trees line the highways bearing the fruits of Merced’s humble economy, their white blossoms swiftly surrendering to the deepening heat. Before arriving, I spent several days in San Francisco, winding my way from Castro to Haight-Ashbury and up to the Presidio, then back to Pacific Heights where I booked my Airbnb. I’m connected to a thread of constant discovery which is mostly exciting and partially terrifying. Trekking the Presidio trails, leaving the Bridge, I messaged Kelley to tell her that I was lost, literally, and my grief caught me overlooking Baker’s Beach. It’s not loneliness, it’s grievance over the loss of a life I worked so diligently to preserve and rather enjoyed. Almost a year since we decided to separate and I’m still shattering and gluing together beliefs and ideas that no longer belong to me.
There’s a coffeeshop in Merced called Coffee Bandits that became my main supplier, Mother Superior, while I was in the area. The local artists clutter the walls, amateur ambitions biting off courageous themes far beyond their capabilities. At the counter, a woman with a shaved head and broad smile greeted me while wearing a cut off t-shirt with cats printed on the front. “This is my spot,” I thought to myself, eyeing the oversized cinnamon rolls in the pastry case. Hoping against hope, I ordered a drip coffee expecting it to be terrible but thank God Almighty, it was tasty. She asked me for my name and I told her, “Douglas.” I’m suspended in an ambiguous phase where I’m too critical of my appearance to come out in every instance and too committed to authenticity to betray myself by denying my identity. I can’t refer to myself as Alderman without feeling like I’m backsliding but it isn’t easy subverting other’s ideas about what they expect you to be, at least it isn’t for me. Hence, “Douglas.”
When I was about ten, I would go to an afterschool daycare until about five when my mom got off work. Around Christmas my class did a secret Santa gift exchange. The teacher piled all the presents in the middle of the room then chose the quietest child to go and pick a gift from the pile. I was the quietest I’ve ever been, I barely blinked, I hardly breathed, I was One with The Santa. Over the next few minutes she kept passing over me and I thought perhaps I wasn’t being silent enough. When finally, there was only one gift left she looked around the room quizzically and asked, “who didn’t get a present?” I think I was too sad to speak but I lifted my hand slightly and she seemed startled. She said, “I’m so sorry, you were so quiet that I didn’t even see you.” The gift was terrible, obviously there should have been a do over, but I learned then that I could disappear in a room full of people. I would use this ability throughout my life to blend in and navigate hostile environments.
Today I was talking to a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while and he asked me when I would start transitioning, and I essentially told him that the process is not like flipping a switch. You could argue that I started transitioning when I came out to my mother when I was fourteen, but the last year is when I really started putting it into motion. There’s an awkwardness that I always feared would be present, which is exacerbated by the way people look at me. When I work out, I need to wear a sports bra because my boobs have started growing, which is noticeable underneath the shirts I wear. I started shaving my legs and have undergone over thirty hours of electrolysis so I have significantly less body hair than what someone might expect. Subverting my own constructs about what constitutes the female form is hard enough but when people stare at me, I want to disappear completely.
My life is privileged. I walk around covered in paint and find fulfillment in the work I do. I travel with some of my closest allies and can make decisions based on what is healthy for me. For every transgender person, there is a different path to transitioning. Some move far away to avoid the shackles of familiarity, other’s blossom into their community like an almond flower despite the deepening heat. I’m in a new part of the country every other week so finding a coffee shop, a public place where I can attempt to be authentic without scrutiny, is an important place for me live my truth and to speak my name. As Alderman, I found a way to disappear, as Allyson, I no longer have that luxury.