To my shame, I’ve really got lazy in writing these blog posts. Partially because, perhaps, it’s difficult for me to see the point and imagine my audience — other than future me, of course.
Back in the day, moving to DW was a clean break from my past. My primary target audience, for any post I wrote in my old blog, was my future self. It gave me material for introspection and tracing changes in my personality over the years — which are shocking to me, still. While most of my core beliefs are still intact, many of my former beliefs and actions make me uncomfortable.
Now, perhaps, it is time to give my past a rest. Not “burn the evidence” — this is not my intent, especially not in this day and age, when caches remember everything. But close that chapter in my life.
The journey from Matvey to Maia, which started in late 2008 and continues to this day, has been slow and often rocky. 2009 was marked by apathy and depression, stemming from unemployment and the need to hide everything from everyone. After that, things have been consistently getting better. 2010 saw me getting my second and current job, 2011 a home of my own, away from my parents, though that year was scarred by two failed relationships; and 2012 may just have been the best year of my life so far.
Looking back, I can now, with certainty, name the event that dragged me out of my apartment and onto the streets: the sham “elections” of December 2011 and the political fallout that followed. The explosion of political activity from ordinary citizens that followed was unprecedented by Russian standards, and I, too, without prompting, got engaged in the rallies. I felt I had no moral right to stand aside anymore.
Inspired, I decided to get engaged in political activity relevant specifically to me — and thus, I applied as a volunteer to the Russian LGBT Network, something that, in hindsight, I should have done at least a year before that. A reply followed soon; I was invited to the local LGBT social club, Pulsar, for a two-day brainstorming seminar on political activities in 2012. This was the turning point. It changed everything.
For the first visit, I didn’t really have any women’s clothes to wear to speak of, other than T-shirts, so I showed up in a women’s T-shirt and men’s jeans. It was a relief for me, nevertheless, to be able to call myself Maia in a company of like-minded people and feel accepted as a girl, even without passing. For the second visit, the following day, I bought a dress, which made me feel less awkward — and more appropriate.
After that, weekly visits to the club every Sunday became a routine, although a highly welcome one; usually I spent the week waiting for Sunday, when I could go downtown and meet my LGBT friends in a safe space, that basement insulated from the homophobic streets. It was just a social club, where politics only occasionally intruded, usually in discussions of news about new stupid homophobic laws.
It felt good.
I made new friends — replacing those I lost years ago. Some of the revelations were surprising: it turned out that two transwomen from the club lived very close to me on the outskirts of the city, far away from the club, and they were a couple! I did more for my new life in mere months than I did in three preceding years, assembling a wardrobe, skills, connections, advice — though the others were puzzled by my habit of changing clothes when arriving and leaving. At that point, I thought, I couldn’t risk being detected. What if someone who knew my parents would see me on the street? What would they think?
Even more than that, I was afraid of being recognized as trans by passers-by. It took me a while to overcome that worry.
There is a definite pattern here. For the first half of the year, I have been breaking myself — deliberately moving myself outside my zone of comfort and adjusting to this new, unfamiliar life, and overcoming self-doubt. As a friend of mine said: “What really gives you away is your nervous search for things that give you away.”
This turned out to be more right than I thought. The secret to passing was, banal as it sounds, that there was no secret.
Sure, fellow transpeople recognized me — but that was because they knew where to look. Otherwise, once I started going en femme in public — first cautiously and in a few select environments, then openly — I learned that “normal”, ordinary people have no reason to suspect anything in the first place. What surprised me were times when I was called “girl” by passers-by when not actively trying to pass — for example, when I wasn’t perfectly shaved, or wasn’t wearing a padded bra to hide my flat chest. The most awkward experiences have been the looks on the faces of shopkeepers and security guards when I handed them my male identity documents. “Whose are these? What? Yours?!”
So much for those depressed “I’ll never pass!” fears from three to four years ago.
I re-established my contacts with the local Linux User Group, which I previously avoided out of reluctance to come to them in male capacity. I discovered, together with my new friends, many interesting places in the city center, while I previously was reluctant to show myself in public. Gone were the days when I hadn’t cared about my body, to the point of not washing for weeks.
Yet it has all come at the cost of having to lie to my family, and I still do. Even though we no longer live together, they live close by and are suspicious of my every step. During summer, it got especially unbearable. Every time I headed downtown, I had to wear men’s clothes when walking out of home and bring a bag with women’s clothes to change into once I arrived — all out of fear of being recognized in my neighborhood.
The culmination to these efforts came in August, when, after several delays, I went on a trip to the country of my dreams — the Netherlands. Both to see the country itself, and to see someone dear to me. It was the first time in my life when I traveled somewhere alone, without my family, and my first trip to Europe. It felt relieving and empowering. I took off male clothes immediately after checking into the hotel and almost never put them back on before arriving back in the airport for departure.
It was a medium-sized hotel in the center of The Hague, right next to the Centraal Station. The Hague was, in many ways, the opposite of the stereotypes about Amsterdam (and the real Amsterdam, as I found out after visiting it): quiet, clean, almost idyllic with its parks and forests, often right next to busy city streets. The more time I spent there, the more fond I grew of this small, yet proud country.
The last two days of my vacation were spent in Cologne, around Gamescom in the city center, staying in a hotel in a suburb. In comparison to the Netherlands, Germany didn’t have such an effect, though it may be because I visited it second. It felt too ordinary, too familiar — like Russia, but better; what Russia should have been.
My companion went to Gamescom — the very reason of our arrival there — while I quickly realized that I had nothing to do there. Not really being a gamer, and unable to socialize there, I wandered aimlessly for about an hour, depressed, before walking out. I settled for seeing the city itself instead before it was my time to leave the next morning, specifically the Cathedral and a boat trip along the Rhine.
I didn’t want to go back to Russia.
I really didn’t.
My stay in Europe was the high point of the whole year. I would have stayed there forever, if I could. The trip only confirmed the preconceptions I heard before leaving: that I had more in common with the European mindset than Russian, that Russia did everything backwards, mindlessly borrowing pieces of European culture in letter only, without understanding the spirit, the history and reason behind them.
I don’t really hate Russia, but I don’t consider myself Russian anymore. And after coming back, I sank back into apathy, even submerging myself in WoW and isolating myself from the life outside. Only in the last month I recovered somewhat, partially thanks to my friends from the club.
I enter 2013 with mixed thoughts.
On one hand, I feel more alive and confident in myself than I ever was in my whole life.
On the other hand, I’m full of doubt in everything else. Doubt in my ability to successfully complete my transition, to fully embrace my new identity, legally. Doubt in my ability to completely break away from my parents. To find a new life outside Russia, as it is falling down its pit of insanity, before life here gets completely unbearable for everyone with a shred of rational thought.
Can I do that? I don’t know. These things ahead of me lie so far outside my comfort zone I don’t even know where to begin, or in what order to approach them. And this is how I enter the new year: with fear, uncertainty and doubt… but also hope. If not for the country (I almost don’t care about it anymore), then at least for myself…