I’m a nerd and like most nerds, I love superheroes. Unfortunately, we don’t live in the world of comics or inside blockbuster movies. Instead, we must settle for superpowers that while mundane, can be equally potent. One of our greatest superpowers is visibility.
My story is not so unique. I am what is traditionally referred to as a “late onset transsexual.” That means it took me a long time to understand who I was and to make that truth known to my friends, my family, and my colleagues. During my senior year of high school, my father was arrested and convicted for inflicting 17 years of abuse. Shortly after his arrest, fearing for her own safety and believing I’d be better off, my mother packed up my brother and two sisters and moved away while I was spending the night at a friend’s house.
I was thrust into a reality I’d never imagined and one I was completely unprepared to handle. I never dreamt I’d live to see beyond the age of 18. I was relieved but I felt guilty about that relief and I was worried about my dad. I felt abandoned by my mom. I missed my siblings. I was hurt and lost and confused and overwhelmed. Two weeks before I graduated high school, on my 18th birthday, I boarded a Greyhound bus leaving Orlando and bound for Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where my mom had fled to her parents’ home.
It was only by the skin of my teeth that I graduated. I was dealing with too much trauma to consider college and I couldn’t afford it anyway. So, I took a job standing on the back of a trash truck. I rode thousands of miles, clinging to a thin metal bar like a Rhesus monkey in a zoo, occasionally stopping to grab a can of disgusting refuse and toss its contents into the back of the truck. My soul felt as gross and repulsive as each can of garbage. On countless occasions, I imagined how easy it would be to simply let go as we crossed a bridge, or sped along a longer stretch of road.
My life was saved by theater and in particular, the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. I escaped into a world of romance and chivalry and poetry and artistry and music and love. I was welcomed and accepted despite having no experience and little natural talent. I didn’t apply myself well in those years. I used much of that experience as a way to validate my appearance and my sexuality. I was reckless with the hearts of others. I was irresponsible with my own heart and my own body. But I learned to escape the horrors of my own dark thoughts.
I was fortunate to have been a part-time, semi-professional cast member for five years. During those years and in the years that followed, I took on better jobs. I worked at a restaurant, a flag factory, and a couple of offices. I performed in local theaters. I accepted jobs with more responsibility and better pay. While I was moving into more successful positions, I still struggled with finances and daily life. When I wasn’t in the company of others, the absence of an audience meant that there was no escaping my own thoughts.