Transition has me looking back on my life quite a bit in addition to looking forward.
One of the things I was thinking about recently is all the times growing up that those around me complimented me for being an attractive man.
I think of memories of being a boy at church for example and having people call me “handsome”. I even remember at one time wanting to be called “beautiful” or “pretty” but being told that those are really compliments reserved for girls, and that “handsome” is really for boys. As a child that stung a little bit.
As I got older though I think I learned to sort of channel and/or reinterpret those compliments a bit internally. I guess I tried to understand where the compliments were coming from; that they were coming from a place of someone who wished to express to me some kind of affection. Even though there were many times that my heart sank a little when I was complimented in some sort of exclusively masculine way, there were other times where I allowed myself to see more behind the person’s intentions and realize it came from a place of authenticity.
One of the memories that stand out the most to me is when my mom called me handsome. One day, I think after getting home from work on a quite normal day, I was coming in the house and my mom stopped me in the front yard. She had been tending her flowers that afternoon. Anyway, she looked at me and said, “You know Matt, you’re such a handsome man. I’m so proud of you.”
I think I responded initially with a bit of a confused look on my face probably because it seemed so random, and I wasn’t even dressed up (other than khakis and a tuck-in shirt). When I looked at her eyes though I realized that this was just one of those moments where my mom was looking at her child and seeing them all grown up and feeling both proud of them, and seeing them as beautiful.
Of course my mom didn’t know then that “handsome” isn’t really the word I wanted to hear from her (or anyone), but I guess I had gotten to the point in my life where the word itself didn’t matter as much as where I knew it was coming from. And hearing that, and seeing her sincerity meant that her gesture, even though maybe not validating me in the way I would have preferred, had a positive impact on me, and touched my heart.
I guess what made “handsome” okay for me in that (and a few other) situation is that I knew that this affection coming from my mom wasn’t really about me being a “man”, but was more about me being her child, and her seeing me as a beautiful person. In that moment I could have just as likely been my moms’ daughter and I knew she would have felt the same way. She was just using the words she felt was most appropriate to express her support and affection of me – and I saw that.
There are a lot of examples in my life where people complimented various aspects of my external masculine identity and where the compliments didn’t mean much to me, or even served as a negative reminder of my gender incongruence. So many compliments that people gave me really didn’t sink in for that reason. Because I felt that they didn’t (couldn’t) see the real me.
But there’s a number of moments in my life, with some of my closest friends, or one of my parents, or my siblings where the words themselves didn’t matter. I let the intentions behind the words sink in to my heart, even though they weren’t the words I wanted to hear. I knew for sure that these people were looking at me and expressing affection for me not just on a surface level, but that they were using the best words they could to express their love in most authentic way they could.