Meet Natalie Nicole

| Jan 22, 2018

So, a question that I get a lot is “Did you always know you were a girl?” or “What was it like growing up knowing you were in the wrong body?” Things like that. This is a difficult question for me to answer, because that wasn’t exactly how it was for me.

I mean, sure, the thought, “Girls seem to be having a lot more fun. Look how they take care of each other and stick together. That must be nice.” Now, I know that girls have their own set of problems, but for me, I was friendless in elementary school and was bullied constantly and was beaten up a few times. The oasis of hopscotch and jump rope looked like heaven compared to the mud and hell of the chubby-nerdy little boy’s life I was living.

This picture is of me and my little sister, Andrea. She’s as cute as a button, but check me out. Dressed head to toe in grey sweats. Glasses that look too big even on my giant C-sectioned baby-head. Combine that with a sweet and feminine demeanor and absolutely no physical prowess or confidence in myself whatsoever, and it led to just about every bully on the playground having their way with me at one point or another. Everyday was a new misery, and so, because I couldn’t deal with the real world, I started reading. A lot.

Reading was a great way to try and avoid actually “playing” on the playground, but you’d have to find a good spot, because if certain roving gangs of bad kids found you, they’d straight up throw your book in a mud puddle. I found a book at that time which had a profound effect on me, and I’m not 100% sure of the title anymore. It was something like, There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom or Help! I’m Trapped in a Girl’s Body! Something like that. Anyway, the plot of this children’s book was that if you could kiss your elbow, you would change genders. That’s all I remember of the plot, but I remember spending hours alone in my room trying to kiss my elbow. This didn’t make me think I was a girl, I just thought I was obsessed with magic and the thought of myself changing into something else. Anything but me. Sure, I’d have weird thoughts like, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a magic ring that could turn me into a girl when I put it on, but then I could take it off whenever I need to” or even, “Maybe I was a girl in a past life/Maybe I’ll be a girl in my next life.” Little fleeting thoughts like that.

Now, I imagine that you are thinking, “Um, with all of those thoughts and experiences, how on Earth did you not know that you were transgender?” A fair question, dear reader. Well, this is where my Mother comes in.

One of the earliest stories that she’d tell about me about myself was about when I was a baby and I had longish hair. She took me out in a stroller and someone came up and said, “Oh! What a pretty little girl!” and my Mom was like “THAT’S IT! WE’RE GETTING A HAIRCUT!”

Roughly 2 or 3 times a year, my mom would say to my sister and I, “Thanks for not being gay, you guys.” Once she came up to me out of the blue and goes, “Ya know, you’d make a really ugly woman,” and then laughed and laughed like it was a big joke. This really hurt me (for reasons I did not yet understand) but I knew I couldn’t act offended, cuz then there’d be real trouble. I also remember watching some show like Jerry Springer or something with her once, and there was a gay guy on there who just came out to his mom, and my mom said, “Oh! I cannot even imagine if one of my kids was gay! I mean, I’d love ’em I guess, but. . .,” and then just let it hang.

I’m sure there are a million little things like this that shaped the way I thought about that stuff and myself, so when those little thoughts I’d have about magic rings and past lives came up, it always just seemed like daydreaming or wishful thinking and nothing really to make much out of. I’m sure lots of people have private thoughts like that, I thought. It’s part of understanding the human condition or something. I’m sure I’m just curious about what it would be like to be somebody else. Nothing more. It couldn’t be anything more. It would have been dangerous if I’d known about myself, so I wouldn’t allow myself to think about it beyond a certain point.

I had no boundaries with mom. I wasn’t allowed to. I thought that was the way love worked. If you really love someone, that meant you could never hide anything from them. And I couldn’t hide anything from mom, so I couldn’t be honest with myself anywhere. Not at home. Not at school. Not even in my own diaries, because I knew that if she found them, she’d read the entire thing cover to cover, maybe even portions out loud to other people. A wise friend once told me “People who live in glass houses cannot keep secrets. They have to bury them.” And that’s what I did. So much of who I was was being censored at all times, by me. Everything I said or did had to go through 2 or 3 layers of filters before it could come out. “Would a normal guy say this?” “Does a normal guy stand like this?” “Does a normal guy run like this?” Always. Constantly. This was the mental white noise of my life. Everything I did was wrong. I hated myself and I was trying desperately not to suck at every single aspect of my life. And the thoughts weren’t like, “Stop being girly! Act like a guy!” most of the time. Mostly, it was more like, “You suck. You suck at everything you do. How come you fuck up every single thing you do, say, and touch? Just be normal! Normal!”

Because of this, people wouldn’t really like me when they first met me. I think that’s because I was so manic all the time in my desperation to appear normal. I had a false, kind of smarmy fake-confidence that was just barely masking a deep insecurity that everyone hated me and I’d surely be cast out of society to die alone (Dying alone being my number 1 fear since the age of like age 10). People would get to like me later on, once they got a sense of what my heart was like, but that mixture of false bravado and badly covering panic, like an off-brand air freshener slowly losing a battle to a room full of farts, really made people ill-at-ease around me. And understandably so.

I did my best to act like the confident person I was supposed to be, and a lot of the time, I could actually pull it off. I became the son I needed to be in order to garner the affection of my mother, who would talk a big game about her “unconditional” love for me, but then say things that made me know that it was only “unconditional, unless. . . ” etc. It was kinda like having to act all the time. So. . . .

I became an actor, because that was the only place that would let me be who I was, while still being able to say that I wasn’t (and that was also the only way I could “be a boy” and wear makeup and play dress-up too, honestly). And, if I may speak with a small bit of ego for a moment, I think I can say that my talents as an actor were solid because my ability to hear a dogma or philosophy different than my own and immediately act like I believed it wholeheartedly wasn’t difficult for me. IT WAS HOW I EARNED MY BREAKFAST WHEN I WAS 8!

I played the role so well that I even sorta believed that I was that person. Never mind that I’d get like a 2 day depression once a month or so and would never really know why. Never mind that even though my mother and I were like “best friends.” I’d never tell her when I was sad. She was the victim. I had to cheer her up. Any sadness on my part was ridiculed until I “snapped out of it.” My being sad meant that she had failed somehow as a mother, and if a lighthearted attempt to make us laugh didn’t fix the problem, then we were being awful and stubborn and “you can join the fun that the rest of the family is having without you when you’re done throwing your little hissy fit.” If the sadness lasted even after that, she’d threaten to take us to the hospital to get us “looked at,” and that usually snapped us out of our sadness immediately. I’d smile if it meant not being locked up at the hospital. That’s why acting was so easy for me. “Oh, just believe all that fully with all of my heart and just be done feeling whatever it was that I was feeling? Boom. Done. What’s next.” I didn’t understand why the other theater students couldn’t do it.

Nick and Natalie.

So, even though I was attempting to be a guy, and a cool guy, and a funny guy; my true self still found its way to the surface somehow, but in such a convoluted way that it’s pretty ridiculous. I joined choir in high school to “be a man” and “face my fear of singing in front of people,” not because I love to sing and music moves me so much that it makes me cry sometimes. I joined the cheerleading squad in 10th grade because “someone dared me to” and “wouldn’t that be hilarious?” not because I so longed to be one of them and get to know them and have cheerleaders be my friends. And being on the cheer squad was so amazing for a while and I loved it, except for the fact that mom called me a fag everyday (“jokingly,” if you asked her about it), and then she proceeded to get into a fight with the cheer coach and get me kicked off the squad. That really broke my heart, but I was not allowed to show it.

So then down the road, I’m with Phoebe. She actually loves me unconditionally (which is a huge change), and we moved away to college together, and then after we graduated, we packed up our little car and moved away to Los Angeles together. It’s as if something inside me wanted me to get as far away from mom as humanly possible. So, slowly over a 6 year period where I’m living away from mom for the first extended period in my life, her spell starts to wear off.

In college, I began the first draft of Ladies, a feature length comedy about 3 female protagonists going on a road trip to one of their mother’s divorce party. What I intended when I began it was to write a kind of sarcastic and scathing take on a few of my ex-girlfriends. I wrote a draft or two that was really hacky and not all that funny, but then something odd happened. The drafts started to feel more and more tender. I fell in love with these characters actually, and I think, I found my true voice writing for female characters for the first time in my life (mom never would have allowed it, unless it was to make fun of girl, which would prove that I was just more of a jerk than gay, which explains my initial attempt). That’s why I love this screenplay. It was my first steps down the path to finding myself.

Next, in LA, I was walking home one day and these guys had set up “Street Tic-Tac-Toe” for some promotional thing. I played it and won a prize. They gave me this penny necklace on the left here. They said that they give jobs to homeless youths and the girl who made this was homeless and those were her initials. And I have a thing with pennies. I used to have an idea for a short story about a girl who always picked up the heads-up lucky pennies, but whenever she’d see a tails-up “bad luck” penny, she’d flip it and leave it to create good luck for others (now, thats just something I did all the time, but was afraid people wouldn’t think that was manly). So, what I’m saying is that I love this necklace. I’m actually wearing it right now, but at the time, I put it on and felt instantly so uncomfortable. The same thing happened when I got a Legend of Zelda wrist cuff in a Loot Crate. I loved the item, wanted to wear it, but was filled with anxiety about it and didn’t know why. I became obsessed with this feeling. Why was this happening? Something was wrong and I couldn’t figure it out, so I just kept wearing them just out of spite until my mind would tell me what exactly is going on.

I started to notice that I wanted to sit cross-legged. Why hadn’t I been again? Why am I afraid to sit the way I want to? I felt myself wanting to use, let’s say, more animated (or “flamboyant” as my mother would say) hand gestures when I talk. Why am I not? I want to ask girls about their nail polish. Why can’t I? What’s going on? Why do I feel like I’m following a set of rules that I never agreed to?

Then I remembered the time I tried to paint my fingernails black in high school. Or wanted to dye my hair. Or wanted to wear some form of male jewelry. Whenever I tried to figure out what my style was, mom would tease me mercilessly until I stopped. “Who are you trying to be?” she’d yell. If I did something like disagree with her or argue with her while wearing an item she didn’t approve of, she’d roll it into the criticism, “What’s with you and that necklace? I don’t like the attitude it gives you.” I eventually got the hint and would only wear plain clothes. Button ups with no writing on them. No jewelry. No style. No me. It was the only way to have her hack on me less and get along.

So, after I moved away, I was still following all of her rules even though it had been years since I’d lived in the same city as her. “So. . . okay,” I thought, “I’ll guess I’ll just try being myself a bit more.”

So, I tried being me, whatever I thought that meant. Everybody still loved me. Unexpected. Then I started to feel something. I mean, I was having more fun being myself, but I started to feel this tug in my gut. I didn’t know what it was about. I do remember feeling it and getting sad when hearing Girls Just Wanna Have Fun or Sia’s Cheap Thrills, where she says, “Gonna do my hair, put my make up on.” It, like, hit me in the gut. Why does that make me sad? Do I. . . Do I want to do those things? Am I sad because I can’t? Why can’t I? I didn’t know. A lot of times, I’d just take a nap rather than think about it. It’s terrifying when you’re poking at the edges of something earth-shattering like that. I was so afraid of what would happen if I kept thinking about it. Nothing specific. Just like, if I think about that too much, I’m going to lose everyone I love.

One day, and I don’t even remember what I said, maybe something about hating my body hair, and Phoebe just flat out asked me if I thought I was a girl. I have never lied to her. I thought about it, really thought about it, got terrified, and then said “yes” anyway. She calmed me down and told me not to freak out. She said, “We’ll buy you some nail polish on the way to work, and when we get home tonight, I’ll paint your nails and we’ll see how it feels.” It was black nail polish, acceptable no matter your gender (even if it was like a million times more rock and roll than I have ever presented myself). We actually spilled some on our blanket that first night. The black nail polish stain on the blanket made a crude heart-shape. It reminded me of that game Life is Strange. I said, “That’s either just a spill, or a memento of the night our lives took a drastic turn.” It turned out to be the latter. I wore nail polish to work the next day. It. Felt. Right.

Then, as if there had been a lawyer in my head my whole life keeping track of everything I talked about above, started to bring it all up again. “What about cheerleading? What about Choir? Remember this and that and this and that?” And I was like, HOLY SHIT. THIS MIGHT BE REAL.

So, with Phoebe’s permission, I put on one of her dresses and looked at myself in the mirror. I immediately started crying. I was not used to seeing something in the mirror that looked like “me.” The inner me. The sweet part of me I wasn’t allowed to be. The unironic part of me that just loves people and doesn’t have to hide it in insults. The part of me that cares about myself and other people in a real way that I thought I wasn’t allowed to. She was right there in the mirror. OH SHIT. IT IS REAL. I AM A TRANSGENDER PERSON. Oh my God! What do I do?

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Category: Body & Soul

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