The Past is a Foreign Country: Past Lives (Celine Song, 2023)

They do things differently there.

The Past is a Foreign Country: Past Lives (Celine Song, 2023)

In the years before my transition, I had a nagging feeling that I was missing something. On the surface, my life looked all right, even fortunate: I had a husband, I had a baby, I had a job that I liked, and (like any female-looking person who did my job) I had a lot of weird dudes on the Internet trying to kill me. I minded the weird dudes, intensely, and I minded the fact that having a baby meant leaving New York City and moving north to a new and cheaper town. Yet somehow, none of that was the actual problem. 

Here is what it was: I had spent my whole life with the knowledge that I was, somewhere, deep down, Not Normal.  Because I was Not Normal and could never really be Normal, it had always been important to act as Normal as possible. I had to win all the Normal people over, convince them that I belonged, that I was truly one of their kind. I had to prove that I could matter to the world and live up to people’s expectations. 

So I had done it: I had learned to dress Normally. I learned to speak and move Normally. I learned to express all the Normal politics and enthusiasms and tastes. I had a long list of Normal accomplishments — a bachelor’s degree, a book — and I had a Normal dating history, meaning that I had convinced some man to love me enough to marry me, thus legitimizing both my sexual Normalcy and my human worth. I had even moved out of the city and had a baby. What’s more Normal than that? 

I mean: could a person who was fundamentally Not Normal do all those things? No. I had stamped out any remnants of Not Normalcy in my personality, expunged my defective inner self for the benefit of everyone, including me. I had reached the point in my life when all anyone could see, when they looked at me, was a Normal, well-adjusted, moderately accomplished white suburban woman. 

That was all they could see. But they weren’t seeing me. That other person — the one I had gotten rid of — was still there. Worse: They were miserable. I had worked so hard to gain access to the world of Normal people that I had not even paused to ask whether I’d like living there. I had built up my Normalcy like a suit of armor, but a suit of armor that can’t move is just a skin-tight cage. 

There was someone I had lost — a friend from those years, maybe? Someone I used to know, someone I should reach out to? — and that person knew everything about who I was supposed to be. I just had to find them. Maybe the person was someone I hadn’t met yet; I read books, sent letters, followed people on Twitter, looking for a mentor or a clue or a cure. Yet I still felt empty, emptier by the second; no outside person could plug the hole that had opened up in my chest. The harder I looked, the more I began to suspect that the person I’d lost was just that long-ago kid, the one who committed to Normalcy. I was looking for myself, the version of me that I had been before I disappeared. 

This post is for paying subscribers only

Already have an account? Sign in.