I told her not to come, but she insisted. I don’t know what you’re up to but I was wondering if you’d come over? I texted, uncharacteristically asking for help. I’m having a really hard day. It was a Saturday afternoon earlier this month, and Ashe was napping when I messaged her. Three hours later, she saw my text. I told her not to come, but she insisted. I’m omw, she wrote.
I first met Ashe last August, in a cafe near the apartment I moved to in the wake of an awful breakup. Ever since I transitioned, I’ve moved into the orbit of other trans girls, a happy satellite circling forbidden planets. Ashe was a new world. We became fast friends, spending hours together every week at that cafe, just talking.
This is my first Valentine's Day alone since I named myself Diana. I found love quickly in transition, in my early twenties. Now 30, I’ve been single for eight months, following an extreme post-breakup sexual rebound last summer and fall, and I’m tired of trying to find affection from people who have none to give. I learned a lot by having sex with different men every night, like how lonely I can be riding a man with my eyes closed, going nowhere.
Just as fast as they’d get me in bed, they would disappear.
Through it all, I felt so alone. The belief I placed in men and their ability to anesthetize me throughout the most traumatic period of my life lit up the darkest recesses of my soul. But once those men were out of sight, reality revealed itself again.
In their absence, my pain returned. But so did a fact I had shamefully forgotten: I’ve never been alone. The people who love me have never left. I’d just undervalued them so deeply that I weighed romantic love as more significant.
Men may flit in and out of my life, racing through space in flames, but my transgender sisters’ love is ancient and undying. I didn’t anticipate finding community in my transition, but from the start, eight years ago, other trans women have loved me. When I was hurting badly, I didn’t always appreciate the value of their kinship. But they offered it anyway, ushering me through grief with compassion, patience, and empathy. This year, I’m saving my heart for all of them.
It’s no accident that some communities of trans women have taken to building their own queer, chosen families, relying heavily on other trans women. Community with trans women has been as much a part of my transition as any modification I’ve made to my body.
My sister, Z, knew me before my name was Diana. She flew me to Los Angeles from New York weeks after my ex left me. She and I both went through difficult, life-altering changes in our relationships last year and she didn’t want me to be alone. Holding hands in her garden, wading in a pool, we cried and laughed together before I had to fly again. Later, she was in New York on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. Z was far from her family, so she came to my apartment, needing her sister. I lit two white candles. We ate pomegranate and prayed.
Cecilia opened her home to me. She saw something worth loving about me before I knew how. We met at a support group for trans women that she was moderating at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan. I was a nervous novice in a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress, and I hadn’t started taking hormones yet. Cecilia saw that I was scared of the uncertain road ahead, but she also knew that I was filled with potential. More than anything, she taught me how to survive.
I’ve spent nights healing beside her, through surgeries, hers and mine. I needed her in Boston years ago, when a surgeon was peeling my face off, and then sewing it back together like Frankenstein. Alone in my hotel room after surgery, I stood naked in the bathroom mirror, staring at a single row of stitches from ear to ear across the top of my head. Thread was all that prevented my face from falling off. I will never be a woman, I panicked, fearing a life isolated from myself and others. It didn’t work. I’ll always be alone. Alone because no one could love someone like me, but also because I would be trapped forever in a body that never felt like home.
It was a long trip, but Cecilia came to me when I needed someone. She slept in my bed, and guided me through my postoperative anxiety. She held me until I started to understand I wouldn’t fall into an assembly of unwanted body parts if she let go. We’d only been friends for a few months, but she didn’t think twice about doing this for me.
This fall she brought me to her home when the sutures of romantic love that held me together had snapped. In her apartment, we stayed up until morning. Cecilia kept waking up from brief stretches of rest to find me staring at the television screen in her living room, well into the early morning. My eyes were like empty glass, lit by white and blue. I was afraid to fall asleep only to wake in a sweat and panic, yet again. Cecilia knew how precarious my situation had become; I had never wanted to be alone, and struggled to care for myself in the months after my breakup. She could tell that part of me didn’t want to be here anymore.
Without other people, we have come to love each other as family. Sometimes it feels we are all we have, like friendship and community may be the only lasting love realistically accessible to trans women, because we have rarely been able to rely on cisgender romantic partners to support us. Now I know that my sisters’ love is too great to contain, and much more than enough to keep me breathing for a lifetime.
Ceyenne had a family dinner. I took the train and she made a meal for us. Ceyenne cooked for me when I couldn’t eat. I was letting my body feed off itself, cannibalizing my heart as the body will if you don’t feed it. I was apathetic about what was happening to me, but the persistence of my sisters and their refusal to let me rot slowly saved my life.
Ceyenne smoked a cigarette with me on the porch, reminding me of how precious every second is, and how we always have each other, no matter what happens. The music on the radio lilted with the cool wind. Lights came on with dancing shoes. Dusk passed, the day ended, and another life emerged. As I got up to leave, she grabbed hold of me firmly, her eyes suddenly gravely serious, but still so kind. She asked how I was doing, really, then looked at me square in the eyes as I assured her I was all right, and asked me again. The second time I told her the truth.
I don’t remember when I stopped loving myself, but I remember when I started loving my ex more. After he left, I tried desperately to resist being alone again, turning to other men to try and be forgotten in their fantasy. Whatever they wanted, I would become. But my sisters never stopped calling my name. I started to see something other than myself for the first time in a long time. The world wasn’t ending, though my grief felt apocalyptic.
Trans women kept me revolving around the sun when I lacked momentum. After my life shattered, I was so certain I’d never feel well again, or really want to live. Naturally, I was wrong. The cliché is true: time helped. But it was my friends and family that made sure I wouldn’t give up on myself before such time could come to pass.
Ashe lay with me on my closet floor in a pile of clothes. She told me stupid jokes, and played new songs I’d never heard. I thanked her for coming over despite what unhappy company I must have made, and she told me to shut up. We took a car to her apartment, fed pears to her hermit crabs, and watched a movie.
As the night ended, we tried on old band t-shirts from her collection. It was cold outside and dark, but we were warm. Ashe pulled the worn and faded black cotton over my shoulders, on and off, from one to another, until I found my favorite. I’ve been sleeping in it ever since.
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