Who Do You Think You Are?

Chapter 7: Imaging, Imagining

Before and After and After and After

- ---x-xXx-x--- -

It's her 3rd year of college. She's collecting buttons on a jacket. She's ghosting the Christian community. She's in her first relationship ever. She's a bundle of sense and nonsense, of strength and weakness. She's picking up the pieces.

Marina sitting on a couch at a party with a red solo cup.

Marina grinning and eating candy, wearing a jean jacket covered with various pins and buttons.

Marina smiling and posing with a friend.

Beneath the surface, she can feel a current. But it seems too convenient, she thinks, too presumptuous. Who could believe it? That a straight Christian man could just suddenly want to claim femininity. Who could see it as anything but crass attempt to appear beautifully tragic and downtrodden?

- --x-x-x-- -

She graduates college. She moves to Maine because she loves her giant enby baby, Alex. They have something very special, and also kind of terrible.

Marina on graduation day with Alex.

A montage of photos of Marina and Alex being cute together from soon after Marina moved to Maine.

- --x-x-x-- -

She made a bunch of money off of a video game, so she's kind of on top of the world. But work is slow on the next game, and she doesn't know how depressed she is.

Marina tabling Anodyne and Even the Ocean at a video game convention.

- --x-x-x-- -

In Maine, she breaks out in terrible eczema and psoriasis. Her torso and arms are riddled with rashes that leave cloudy brown scars. Her scalp is worse: it comes off in chunks and oozes pus. She doesn't leave the house much, doesn't really talk to anyone but her boo who's in grad school two hours away.

Marina lying on a couch. Her tummy is exposed, showing the brown splotches of eczema scars.

- --x-x-x-- -

Maybe it helps sometimes, to be in the middle of nowhere. On a trip to her partner's tiny coastal Maine hometown, she wears a real, dress-y dress for the first time. Heck, she'll never see any of these people again.

Marina wearing a brown and white prom-style dress, standing by Alex in a crowded room.

- --x-x-x-- -

She tries makeup for the first time, with her boo's help. She's worn some before, but only for theater. She thinks she looks a little strange. Not long after this, she comes out as nonbinary to her partner on a trip to their cousin's wedding.

Marina wearing makeup in a bathroom.

A webcam photo of Marina wearing some lip color.

- --x-x-x-- -

Soon after is Pride week 2014 in Portland, Maine. She really commits to some femme outfits.

A animated GIF of several photos of Marina posing in a femme outfit.

Also she and boo get confused about where a picnic is so they have a picnic by themselves.

Marina sitting on a grassy hill, eating a chip in the waning light.

This week is the first time she's shaved her legs.

A mirror selfie showing Marina's shaven legs

Marina lying in bed, mostly naked, looking off to the side.

Makeup can be nice but sometimes it seems like it draws into stronger relief everything that is unfeminine about her face.

Marina dressed up in bright colors and makeup for a Pride event.

Marina dressed up in bright colors and makeup for a Pride event.

Marina and Alex in dramatic pride outfits. Nice quality photo from a Pride photobooth.

- --x-x-x-- -

Photo of the stage at an Against Me! Concert

She gets to meet a certain precious frontwoman. She doesn't love how she looks in this photo, but also she does. She's really happy, okay? Dysphoria can kiss her ass.

Marina and Alex take a photo with Against Me! frontwoman in the street next to the venue.

- --x-x-x-- -

Life goes on. Alex moves in with her. She may have been woefully underprepared for her sexual awakening and the formation of a stable adult identity, but this... this is what she knows. Crafting a simple life, working hard to make things better for her beloved. Cooking, cleaning, being a comfort and a companion. A plain, domestic darling.

Marina stands next to a partly assembled bed with a drill.

Marina sits on top of the assembled bed.

Marina cooks in the kitchen.

Marina wears an ironically 1950s housewife-esque outfit while pretending to vacuum.

Selfie with Alex in the same outfit.

Marina tries on a femme top.

A photo Alex took of Marina sleeping.

Marina sitting up after waking.

A melancholy but sweet selfie with Alex.

Marina working at her computer.

Marina smiling in her bedroom.

Marina cuddling with Alex.

Marina in a cute nightgown hiding behind her hair and smiling at the camera.

Marina, incidentally topless, looking over.

- --x-x-x-- -

Another summer rolls around (2015), with everything that entails.

Pride week...

Mirror selfie of nice outfits with Marina and Alex.

Marina dressed as a 1920s flapper for a Great Gatsby party.

Marina at the party, dressed as a flapper.

Marina and Mo at the post-parade Pride festival.

Visiting college friends (who, coincidentally, are all also in the process of becoming gayer than any of us had imagined)...

Marina getting makeup done by a friend.

Marina showing off nice makeup to the camera.

A wedding...

Selfie of Marina and Mo's wedding outfits.

Another selfie of Marina's outfit. She's wearing a green dress with a mustard yellow cardigan and a white and grey scarf.

Also doesn't she look fucking good in this cap? She's always thought girl-cap was a good look.

Marina wearing a University of Maine baseball cap.

- --x-x-x-- -

She's finished her 6th laser hair reduction session on her face. It hasn't worked quite as well as she'd like.

She's ready for a turning point y'all. She's gonna make it happen. She's simultaneously working on starting hormones and planning a Stevonnie costume for Halloween. She orders striking red glasses, which bring a newfound drama and intentionality to her face. She's not sure about them at first, but they grow on her extremely quickly.

Marina wearing her cute new glasses. They are red plastic, big and round.

She unleashes Stevonnie upon the world. She wishes she could look more feminine, but it's okay that she doesn't. That's the power of Stevonnie, after all.

Marina as Stevonnie, giving a dramatic look.

Marina as Stevonnie, holding their shield.

Marina as Stevonnie, pretending to wring out their hair.

Marina as Stevonnie, pretending to dance semi-angrily.

Marina as Stevonnie, posing with shield up.

Marina as Stevonnie, looking back over her shoulder dramatically.

She enjoys the fancy hair aftermath.

A topless bathroom mirror selfie, highlighting the dramatic wavy hair Marina got for the costume.

Marina in a black and white striped top on another day. Her hair is still wavy.

- --x-x-x-- -

She starts hormones. She takes photos of her face from a bunch of different angles, imagining that she will do this periodically to chart her progress, but she only lasts a few months. The project feels too dependent on the idea that there's some sort of true, scientific image of her face that she might see gradually changing from masculine to feminine.

Marina's face from 3 different angles. Her features are fairly sharp and angular.

October 2015

Marina, a few years later, from the same angles. Her features have rounded out.

April 2018

She's not entirely wrong, and she'll be happy to have these photos down the line. But a photograph is just a photograph. It doesn't feel emotionally worthwhile to spend too much energy tracking some sort of "objective" physical change when transitioning goes so much deeper than that. Over time, she will internalize many small things about motion, presentation, speech, that will slowly shift the way she comes across to people. And at the same time, the way she herself interprets masculinity and femininity will fundamentally alter and expand, as she comes to know and love more and more of her trans siblings.

- --x-x-x-- -

She starts to actually feel cute in photos (she's felt cute before, but photos had historically disabused her of that notion).

A post shower selfie. Marina has a towel on her head and a patch of bright sunlight falls across part of her body.

A grainy evening selfie, Marina is wearing some eyeliner.

Marina sitting in the car, wind whipping a few strands of her hair.

An animated GIF of Marina making different cute poses with a hat Alex knitted for her.

Marina sitting in a car with dramatic wavy hair (from taking out a french braid after leaving it in for several days)

At Pride 2016, she notes how differently makeup seems to sit on her face these days, how little she feels like an interloper in the realm of femininity.

Selfie of Marina walking down the street in a cute Pride outfit with nice eyeliner.

- --x-x-x-- -

She feels on the verge of another turning point.

Her hair is getting so long, she got a trim in 2014, but otherwise hasn't cut it since 2012.

Photo demonstrating Marina's long hair. It reaches nearly to her navel.

Another photo of Marina's long hair.

Marina walking down the street, the wind blow through her long hair.

She needs a change.

Marina sports a new bob-length haircut.

Another photo of Marina's new do.

The night after her haircut she posts this photo to secret twitter:

Melancholy, grainy photo of Marina sitting in a park at night.

Her friend, silver, reaches out. Sitting in a bus shelter, twitter DMing with silver, she starts to piece together some difficult things about her relationship with Alex.

She begins the long and gradual process of breaking up with her best friend. The one person she's shared her life with for the past few years. The one who helped her learn the ropes of femininity. The one who shared all of her inside jokes and secret languages. The one into whom she had poured her care, and everything good about herself, with complete abandon, every day of her life.

Cute photo of Marina and Alex standing in the Atlantic Ocean on a sunny day.

Marina looking sad in the bathroom.

An artsy sad selfie, using a makeup mirror.

Marina lying on the ground depressedly, wearing a repetitive stress glove.

Marina sitting on the couch looking melancholy.

A fortune cookie that reads: The reward for having feelings is great joy.

- --x-x-x-- -

She finally releases the game she's been working on the whole time she's lived in Maine (and wears a themed outfit).

Marina wearing a jean dress with a yellow cardigan and yellow neck bandanna.

- --x-x-x-- -

She visits her grandpa with her mom. He doesn't remember much any more. "You're my grandpa!" she says each time he wakes up.

Marina blowing out birthday candles with her grandpa.

Her mom keeps misgendering and even deadnaming her on this trip. It's not always like this, but her mom tends to go back and forth about a lot of stuff and right now has it stuck in her head that God wants her to misgender her child, that it's somehow condescending not to.

She gets really mad at her mom, and rips into that nonsense rather eloquently, she feels.

Her mom comes back after some time in prayer and says that God's okay with her using the correct pronouns now. Thanks, God.

Throughout this trip, Grandpa has been an unexpected ally, reading her as a girl more consistently and sincerely than probably anyone else in her entire life. Her mom suggests that Grandpa draw her, and he responds, chuckling, "I can't draw pretty girls!"

- --x-x-x-- -

She needs to start supplementing her game income and gets a job at Burger in January of 2017. It's not a good work environment, but she gets along with everyone and is well-liked. She has something of an Aliph-Mayor Biggs relationship with her bosses (This is a reference, of course, to the well known video game Even the Ocean). She's often on the drive-thru headset and customers will compliment her voice, glasses, etc.

Marina in her work uniform, walking to work.

- --x-x-x-- -

After 6 months of Burger, she takes a vacation to visit Peru with her siblings. Her brother-in-law is from Peru. It is beautiful and special, and they eat lots of good food. She gets misgendered frequently by her siblings, which she honestly wasn't expecting.

Marina at Machu Picchu

Marina looking wet and wearing a bra top.
This hot springs in Peru might actually be the first time she swam as an out trans person

Marina standing in front of the Cusco flag, which has rainbow stripes.
The Cusco Flag makes her feel strangely welcome

Marina lying in a hotel bed looking hot.

For all its ups and downs, the trip gives her a new perspective on her life. Spending so much time casually surrounded by her siblings, having adventures, and enjoying life, she realizes how truly isolated and trapped she has felt in Maine. She hadn't wanted to think of herself as "too good" for hard, thankless work, but she realizes these concerns are beside the point.

Landing back in Portland, she allows herself to feel discontented with her job, to feel sad and afraid of going back to her empty, lonely life.

Marina crying in front of the airport.
Portland Internation Jetport

- --x-x-x-- -

Days after she returns from Peru, a friend from college tweets about needing a housemate in Minneapolis. She's always thought fondly of this friend, and can hardly think of a better opportunity. But could she really pull off a cross-country move on such short notice?

"Probably won't happen... but I'm curious re: your apartment!! What is it like and what's the rent?" she DMs to her friend.

A A pile of cardboard boxes.

Marina looking nervously at her semi-packed apartment.

Marina's empty apartment.

On her last night in her apartment (the first place she's lived after moving out of her parents' house), she just bathes in her feelings.

Photo of Marina's silhouette in her dark, empty apartment.

Marina's legs/feet on the ground in her empty apartment.

A dark window in Marina's apartment.

A dramatic selfie in the harsh yellow light cast from another room in Marina's dark apartment.

A dramatic selfie in the harsh yellow light cast from another room in Marina's dark apartment.

A dramatic selfie in the harsh yellow light cast from another room in Marina's dark apartment.

She's honestly loving this.

She's so sad, but she knows what she feels, she knows what she needs. She's charting a path through life by being inside of it, by touching and tasting it, not by peering over it from above. She feels, deep down, that she would rather have existed now, in this world, in this life, in this body, than to have not existed at all.

She knows there's so much more to come.

What Do You Hope To Gain?