My first college paper

This is the uncut version of the first project I did for ENG 101 in college. We had to create a “literacy narrative” which, as far as I could tell, is any story that involves reading, writing, or some definition of “literacy”. We read some (really boring, IMO) 20-page paper by Deborah Brandt about “literacy sponsorship” and had to integrate it into the title and story, which is where the last paragraph comes from. This is the kinda stuff that English majors get really into, but is dull and unimportant to me.

Anyway, I wrote it about my experience writing the email in which I came out to my parents as trans. I was a little nervous about sharing it, but it seems to have gone over well! (As has coming out publicly to extended family on FB, but that’s for another time.) I wanted to share this version because the final one I submitted was trimmed down, because the project only required 500 words (yeah, my professor is chill). So here it is (minus some personal info)! My next post will be the coming out message itself, so stay tuned!

“The sponsored divert sponsors’ resources toward projects of self-interest”

Before I start, I want to be crystal clear that this is a story that is very important to me. I haven’t shared it with many people before (even though I don’t consider it a secret these days) and I wouldn’t be who I am now if it hadn’t happened. I probably wouldn’t be at this school. This is the story of how I wrote an email coming out as trans to my family, and how I unintentionally learned a new type of literacy to fight to change how people see me in the world.

This is about a single moment, but some background is in order. Junior year of high school I was a mess. I was very overworked and depressed, and only had a few friends. Every day I would wear the same thing: baggy blue jeans, a solid colored, striped, or graphic T-shirt that was loose and ill-fitting, gray sneakers and a zip-up hoodie. Wistfulness welled up in my eyes whenever I saw a girl I liked. I rubbed my face and brushed it off as just loneliness because I had never dated (and still haven’t). Typing away on my Surface keyboard, my usual online communities on programming and animation led me to trans forums, and after grueling introspection that I won’t discuss in detail here (because it’s between me and my therapist), I realized that I was a girl, and to move forward with my life I would need my parents’ and sibling’s unconditional support.

I had never really journaled or written like this before, neither in a dusty notebook nor on my many computers. I locked up my basement bedroom door with a click, and turned around. The walls were painted a two-tone gray color, with gray homemade curtains from my grandma that I always kept drawn shut. I sat down on my elevated IKEA bed with my Surface Pro, unfolded its keyboard and balanced it on my lap, and tapped to open a Word document. I stared at the bright blank canvas and cluttered toolbars, thinking about how I wanted to break the news to them, as well as what I wanted out of my life after high school and how they could help.

“Dear Mom and Dad,” I opened. “For the last few months I have been getting depressed, which likely affected my increased missing assignments at school.” I went on tapping away at the plastic chiclet keys, their white LED backlights illuminating my hands as I worked into the night. I described how I felt uncomfortable as a guy, gave a bulleted list of all the reasons why, and laid out my dreams for what I’d be and look like by my 20s. I reaffirmed my intent to work in tech (as it has a gender diversity problem), talked about what styles I would like, offered to answer questions, gave them resources, and assured them that I would be the same person; that they weren’t “losing” anyone.

The final version came after many revisions that took days, or maybe weeks. I ran through every possible reaction in my head, and each one scared me into frantically hitting backspace and rewriting something. I gave myself deadlines, missed them several times, and all the while got even more reclusive than usual. I originally planned to print it and leave it on my desk when I went to school, but decided it would be easier to email it. I copied it into a new Gmail message, punched in the names of my mom, dad, and sibling, and agonized over what the subject should be. I didn’t usually write things this long to them, so I slowly tapped every key, forming “just so you know (long)”. I kept it in my drafts, my heart pounding and tightening every time I tried to hit the little paper airplane icon to send. I actually started to leave my door unlocked because I thought I would faint. Finally, on the night of September 8, 2017, at 10:25 PM, I counted down from 5, and sent the message while lying in bed. I had officially come out, and what followed was easily the longest night of my life.

I had a bizarre dream that night. I vaguely remember being in a narrow house with a high ceiling in a green park, and my family came in wearing some kind of masks, which in the dream I took as a touching sign that they had accepted me (?). I have a lot of weird and mildly unpleasant dreams like that. I woke up at about 8, and just about leapt out of bed when the thought of checking my phone entered my mind. Shaking, I reached for it, and pressed the power button. Nothing. I started browsing and swiping as usual, actually blocking the top of the screen with my hand so I would have time to psych myself up when the response came. At 9:26, it did. My mom had responded by asking if it was because of my Asperger syndrome. Not what I was expecting, but not outright hostile towards me, like some more conservative parents might unfortunately be. My sibling (who was already out as nonbinary) came to my defense, and ultimately Mom said she would support me, and we should look at housing options at college (I’m in gender-inclusive housing* now, but hadn’t been admitted yet at that time). I broke down and sobbed. When I finally left my room because I had to get water and food, I avoided looking at my family because it felt so awkward.

In the months after, I gave them my new name, switched to she/her pronouns, and took other steps to move toward the person I want to be. But that’s outside the scope of this. Why did I choose this topic, when there are so many other literacy stories I could tell with less heartache? Well, this was how I learned to write for myself, and not just for school. My teachers showed me how to write, of course, but society itself is also really a sponsor in this. I took what I learned from my assignments on argumentative writing and applied it to my own self-interests, through fighting gender expectations and how others would view and talk with me. And I’ve done more personal writing after this moment than I ever did before. I’ve even considered starting a blog. I still don’t consider myself a masterful writer by any means, but if I can keep using what I have to convey my big ideas, I’ll be a happier person for it.

*A housing program at my college that doesn’t assign roommates based on gender.

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