Author’s note: this is very much a homage to Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya’s incredible piece The Gayest Things I Did In My Twenties
At 33, a friend that I had been drinking with my entire adult life quit after numerous tried-and-failed attempts. He told me something life changing like that is like tipping a coke machine over — sometimes you have to rock it back and forth a bit until it topples. I think about that phrase a lot.
I started 30 still a little bit drunk from the night before. Fully clothed in a brand new suit, lying face down on my bed with dried cake stuck to my face and half a McDonald’s cheeseburger in my pocket. Wrapped neatly with loving care in its original wrapper. The previous night, there had been a party in my honor at a veterans hall that occasionally rented the room out to interested parties looking to spend a lot of money on alcohol.
It was hours into the party before my partner’s sisters asked me if I had clued in to what was going on. Everyone had come dressed like me. Now, at the time, I was very closeted, living as a man and trying my best to make that work for me. It was like going to a driving range and just throwing the ball half-heartedly a few yards. I was trying but just for show. My fashion sense was a Pinterest board of tight-fitting American Apparel heather grey and patterned button down shirts. I had a little trans masc vibe well before I went femme.
At 31, I told my partner drinking made my depression worse and that I thought maybe I should try and slow down. She told me: don’t become one of those people that doesn’t drink. So we drank bourbon until she fell asleep, and I propped myself against the bathroom wall so the room would stop spinning and I could read fictionmania on my iPad.
I came out as trans when I was 35, the fourth time I had rocked this particular coke machine back and/or forth. The first shove happened when I was 20 and told my girlfriend “I think I want to be a girl” while Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” played in the background.
Every time I told a romantic partner I was trans, they rejected me, so I figured this time would be no different. I gathered my nerve by lying in a lukewarm bathtub eating lukewarm cheesy bread from Dominos and drinking scotch out of a measuring cup. Somehow, this was the time that took.
At 33, my then-partner — the one who warned me about the dangers of not drinking too much — and I split up. We had drifted apart. She was eager to return to school and push herself into a new city, a new life. She wanted to go out and see what the world offered outside of the small town we grew up in. I was older than her and a washed up alcoholic who knew everyone but couldn’t name a single street in our town. I had grown to dislike my life so immensely that the effects of it spiraled out to all other aspects of my life. My only escape was Ficitonmania stories and watching Laverne Cox thrive on Orange Is The New Black and thinking if a fireman can become a woman then surely a 30-something construction worker can.
At 36, I was putting the finishing touches on the sliding door entrance to an old folks home I had designed and built. When I walked out to my 1995 Nissan Pathfinder, there was a note shoved under the windshield wiper that told me if I stuck around too long that they would find my body on the job site. The death threat was implied, but no one “finds a body” when you’re still alive. When I told the jobsite superintendent about it, he laughed, looked me up and down — my face blotchy from laser hair removal, my hair in that awkward early growing out stage — and said “better hope they don’t find you then.”
Halfway through 37, I was sitting in a window seat of an airplane landing in Toronto. Everything I owned had been hastily thrown in boxes and then stacked in my old bedroom in my parents house, aside from the one bag of mine taking forever on the baggage carousel. Friends in the west end were putting me up in the spare room of their loft until I found a place to live. That first morning I woke up in Toronto, away from everything I had left behind, I took a messy selfie in the full length mirror sitting broken in their living room before settling into the couch with an old copy of Nevada I found on the bookshelf.
At 32, waiting in line at the grocery store, there was an issue of TIME magazine with the words “the transgender tipping point” on them in the impulse-buy section, right there next to a rack of spearmint gum and Canadian chocolate bars. The star of the cover was Laverne Cox, standing tall and elegant in a blue dress. I was in a fugue state, the three hours to myself that I had to eat frozen pizza and nap between working overnights rebuilding the entrance to a Walmart and working during the day building the entrance to a Real Canadian Superstore. She looked so beautiful, so proud standing so tall and staring through my dead and tired eyes, into my soul. The guys in front of me picked up a copy and joked about what a freak she was. They looked to me for reassurance. I stood there in the clothes I had been wearing for a week straight, my hand wrapped in tape stemming the tide from a cut incurred that morning, and told them to fuck off.
After screaming at each other in the parking lot, these two strangers and I on opposing sides of an unseen battle line, they told me freaks don’t deserve to live and that if I loved them so much, why didn’t I join them? They were simply two years too early.
At 37, I quit drinking the morning after an incredible party where I made drinks for friends all night, laughed and danced and smoked cigarettes and gave names to the rats and raccoons that joined us on the deck outside as the night slowly became the day. When I woke up, my first thought was of ending it all, and I knew this time I had to shove the coke machine as hard as I possibly could. I walked down to a queer tattoo shop, and a gorgeous trans femme gave me a tattoo of a self-obsessed harpy with scars and tattoos of their own gazing into a mirror. When I got home, I dumped all my alcohol down the sink and never drank again.
At 37, I started my career as a writer after fucking around with blogs no one has read. When a website that already doesn’t exist anymore asked me to write about a protest I had been part of, I lied and said “sure, I know how to do that” and then googled what a HED and a DEK are.
At 36, one of my closest friends, someone I have held a crush on for many years since a chance meeting at a musical festival she was playing, becomes my partner while she’s in the city for a few days recording a record. We eat pretty good nachos twice at the same pretty good restaurant in two different visits in the same night. Two days after we kiss for the first time, I tell her I love her while Law & Order plays on a Macbook Air in the background.
At 39, I’m writing this for a website I’m a team writer for. I often feel like I’m still scamming people with my work, even though I’m a regular writer for three different outlets and this is my full time job. At lunch, I walk our dog around the block and call my mom. We talk about what’s new and exciting, and she tells me how happy and proud of me she is, how thrilled she is that I found myself.
Two days ago, I tell her I’m scared to turn 40, that 40 feels real in a way that 30 didn’t. When I turned 30, I thought I had a few years left to get my shit together. Despite the fact that I woke up with most of a cheeseburger in my pocket that I also ate with zero fear in my heart of the consequences. I thought I was supposed to have gotten there earlier than I have.
Everything in my life has only just started to fall together. The pieces have started to find the spots in which they fit to complete a puzzle. My mom just laughs and reminds me that when she was 40 she was just trying to keep her head above water. We get there when we get there.
When I turned 39, I became so depressed I didn’t speak for two days. I cried often and stared out the windows to the street with an unspeakable void in my heart. When I could finally talk to my fiancé about it, I told her I was afraid of turning 40. Forties is when my mom got sick, forties feels like I missed my shot, I would never achieve the things I wanted to in my life.
But now, here in the final minutes, my forties so close I can touch them, my thirties just feel like a running start, the final push.
The coke machine is on its side, so thoroughly toppled.
I loved this so much! Thank you for sharing ❤️
Love this piece and love hearing queer 40s stories and love the coke machine image, that’s a keeper. Happy birthday and thank you for your writing 💖
This is so beautiful, Niko! Happy birthday!
❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️
I love this!
I just turned 40 last month so I definitely relate to those last few paragraphs. I’ve lived a fairly sheltered life up until this point and feel like I am just now starting to get my shit together.
NIKO I LOVE YOUR WRITING!!!!!
This is great! But what is HED and DEK?
Hed is the writers’/journalists’ abbreviation for “headline” and the dek or deck is the descriptive teaser/blurb text that follows the headline in a subheading :)
Happy birthday! Thank you for sharing this, comforts me about being trans in my mid-late 30s.
Hell yeah HELL YEAH HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
Thank you for this!
I’m totally going to use this metaphor in the future.
On another note, so cool to see an Autostraddle writer from Toronto! Maybe I’ll run into you around town one day!
Happy birthday and thank you so much for writing this!
„… that 40 feels real in a way that 30 didn’t.“ Yes, this. I’m still getting used to the realness of it all. But I like it.
Thank you thank you thank you for this piece. I felt it in my soul.
I remember vividly being a youngster and thinking that in 2000, I’d only be 39, and that wasn’t too bad, not TOO old.
I’ve lived at least 4 different lifetimes in the years afterward. I’m now 61, and frequently forget that I’m not 51. I have some regrets for things I didn’t get a chance to do, but overall, I’m okay with things as they are. If anything had changed, I wouldn’t have my children. Can’t cherry-pick that sh1t.
Good on you for pulling yourself up and getting things going, if not fully complete, you’re getting there!