When I was 14, I sat alone in my Scranton bedroom, looking at the brick building directly outside my bedroom window, spending day after day losing track of time. I was cyberschooled throughout much of my youth, and so would often stare at the same four walls. Time goes slow when you’re left alone in a room. Ever since puberty, I had felt progressively more numb, more disconnected from my body and my surroundings than I already was. I simply existed as a passive vessel watching my own body move, my own life unfurl in front of me. I never could understand why—my mother would often scream at me that I was just a lazy failure, and so I figured that must be the reasoning. There couldn’t be anything else. She’d often reprimand me for the smallest mistake, threaten me with physical violence, and humiliate me in front of family and friends, so when she would often rant about how trans people are “mentally ill,” I never dared to even consider that I might be a part of that group, because I couldn’t bare what that would mean for me.
Nonetheless, I found my way to the trans corner of the internet, and slowly did the pieces come together. I began to put together who I was and what that meant for me. I’m transgender! These words began to fit together into a cohesive sentence, and I began to feel a new spring of joy when my new friends would refer to me as she and her, as they let me try out name after name, and as I began to find out, for the first time, who I was. Maybe, just maybe, I could even start to transition. My first step on this journey had to be coming out to my mother.
I never directly told her that I’m trans, but she did find out and try to force me through a home-brew conversion therapy. Continuous attempts were in place to convince me I was delusional, that I wasn’t trans but just vying for attention, or making a scheme to sabotage her social position. In her world, I was a confused young man, someone who was a broken machine in need of fixing.
As a minor, I ran away several times, once even across state boundaries. Each attempt at escape resulted in me getting caught and set back to square one, pushing me into an intense despair. In the middle of this despair, though, kept that want for freedom, for escape. It carried over to college, where for the first time in my life, I felt truly, genuinely free. I was able to start transitioning, able to finally be who I am. I got a jumpstart on hormones, got my hands on a stable job, and had a small support system. I felt endlessly lucky, like I had actually made it in life.
Much to my dismay, this didn’t last. College is expensive, and even going into it I knew that my funds were limited. Having low funds at such a young age meant low credit, and by the end of the first semester, I ran out of student loans.
Something had to change, because I’d never be free, be myself, if I kept it up. I decided to take the biggest risk yet, and started transitioning again.
It devastated me—there was no way with my then credit that I would’ve been able to get more student loans, and my family was most definitely not reliable nor willing, and so I was out of luck again. I was left with no other options, and felt like I had no choice but to move back in with my family. I started to cope with substance abuse—alcohol, weed, and eventually psychedelics became my escape. I stopped transitioning out of fear of violence from my family, and started spending my time around people who only cared about how much I could drink. I lost track of time, tried to drink myself to death, and began to get especially reckless.
Maybe out of desperation, maybe out of spite, or maybe just from determination, I found it in me to keep looking for a place to live. I dug and dug, putting in countless applications for apartment after apartment. Application fees drained my bank account, and rejection letters came in the mail. It took a while before stumbling across an opportunity; my childhood home. It was owned by my grandfather, and he was willing to rent it out to me. I only had to deal with my mother’s house for a month while my new apartment got fixed into livable order. At the time, it seemed too good to be true. Did I just completely luck out?
I underestimated how traumatic being in this house would be.
I have PTSD, and much of my trauma occurred within these four walls; I was in a state of continuously reliving my past experiences. Flashbacks are a constant part of my life, something that became as mundane as brushing my teeth. It didn’t help that I seemed to face bad news after bad news. I spent well over a year there without running water. I lost several cars to accidents or botched repairs. The job search was lacking, and what ones I did find were lost from either no transportation or labor safety issues. COVID rates began to spike to new extremes.
I felt myself become stranded, in the same house as all those years ago.
Days turned to nights, my vision blocked by the bottom of a bottle. I didn’t escape through healing, but through bong clouds and loud music. I lost sight of what I wanted and where I wanted to be. Refuge was found in what I consumed, and it never ceased to end. I couldn’t count how many times I was blackout drunk, or how often I ran past death’s door. It was a hopeless cycle that I didn’t know, or even care, if I could escape.
Yet, through the chaos, there was some part of me fighting to keep afloat, to stay and be who I was, to not let myself be consumed by the desire for escape. I couldn’t be myself under that path. Something had to change, because I’d never be free, be myself, if I kept it up. I decided to take the biggest risk yet, and started transitioning again. It wasn’t safe—the new threat of whether I’d get hate-crimed or kicked out for it—loomed over my head, but it paled in comparison to the hell of losing myself.
I started the process of recovery, ending my time with substances, and instead I started my new journey. It was one of healing and betterment, a long and arduous road, but one that leads to where I always wanted to be. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me on this path. I couldn’t let myself fall back, I had to keep going.
I now live in Virginia. The car ride down was a cold day in the middle of March, snow piling the ground around the vehicle as I sped past mounds of it. I had just been homeless—escaping from the house to couch surf with a couple friends of mine. With help from other friends, myself and my newfound family were able to scrape together enough to rent a house. It felt surreal, being offered this chance at a new life, an ability to start over. It still doesn’t feel real, like a dream I’m going to soon wake up from. I couldn’t really imagine being home free like this ever in my life.
I watched the car zoom past trees, gradually shifting from a snow-covered climate to one of bright greens. License plates shifted from Pennsylvania to Maryland to West Virginia to Virginia, Google Maps going in tandem, showing each progressive new state being entered. I was watching the old life I had lived, the trauma I had faced, fall into the distance hundreds of miles behind me. I was somewhere new, somewhere I could start over. I was actually able to be myself, and could just exist for once in my life.
I had made it.