I map days around places where I can safely pee. The reality is, where I live, there just aren’t that many.
“My name is Justin.”
I used to practice saying that in front of my bedroom mirror when I was in second grade. I would put my long, curly brown locks up in a baseball cap and see a kid who looked like any other seven-year-old boy, complete with scuffed knees and dirty sneakers.
I’d been a strong-willed and stubborn tomboy since birth. My poor parents dealt with full-blown meltdowns on the rare occasion that I had to be a little girl in public and wear a dress. By the middle of elementary school, my entire wardrobe was boys’ clothes.
For me, puberty was a nightmare. When my breasts showed up it was the end of pretending to be Justin or David or Kyle.
“Are you gay?”
In high school, that was the question that followed me around. After spending a failed final year of middle school trying my best to play the part of a normal teenage girl, I’d settled comfortably into wearing oversized black shirts and those massive wide-leg jeans from Hot Topic.
I had a boyfriend. And I liked him. I liked him a lot. But I also knew I liked girls. So I came out as bisexual. That did nothing for my already awkward social life in 2004, but at least I was no longer hiding my attractions.
Flash forward to the summer after my freshman year of college: My friends pulled me aside after a balmy night of cheap beer and bad music to tell me that I needed to just admit that I was gay. I was too butch to be bisexual. So I did.
Being with men had become the most uncomfortable thing for me. I became accustomed to staring at a poster in my room when my boyfriend would come to visit, so it made sense. I was a lesbian. Suddenly, no one cared how short my hair was or how masculine I presented. I was just really butch. I met a girl, she swept me off my feet and, in stereotypical lesbian fashion, I asked her to marry me after three months of dating.
And then I was not okay again. Not that I had been — I was no stranger to suicidal thoughts. I’d lie in bed for days on end, pretending everything was fine or sobbing for hours. I couldn’t find anything that made sense.
I went through phases and plans like a middle schooler again. Everyone around me was settling into adulthood, and I felt like I was eighteen year after year. I floated between jobs and career plans. I re-enrolled and changed majors, just to drop out of college again, and then again, stopping only three credits short of my degree. The only explanation I ever had was that it didn’t make sense in my head.
The only constant in my life was Alli, the most supportive partner on the planet. But all the unwavering love she had for me wasn’t enough to keep me wanting to be here for more than a few months a time. Alli let me role-play as a male version of myself frequently, and more and more I found myself staring in the mirror at my breasts and crying.
By 26, three back-to-back-to-back suicide attempts and a dozen more plans had made it obvious that staying Amanda was putting my life at risk. When a panicked and spiralling me called Kathy, the only person I knew at the time who didn’t subscribe to the gender-binary, it was 7:45 in the morning on Christmas Eve.
I wanted to know everything there was to know about gender identity. But, in reality, I had always intrinsically known the voice in my own head was male. I spent an hour rapidly explaining my every thought and then calmly asking questions. Kathy gave me a safe space to finally sort out all the thoughts I had, for more than twenty years, dismissed as a wild imagination or, on my worst days, wild and rampant delusions.
Our conversations continued over the holiday, and a lifetime of confusion and seemingly crossed wires just started to click. Asher was born by the new year.
It takes a lot to make the body of Amanda present as Asher when I leave the house. Two binders, making sure my packer doesn’t have me looking too excited, walking with my feet angled straight (because men have a very different gait than women do), and practicing my deeper voice before I have to speak in public. With the exception of the bohemian enclave where I work, very few places make me feel easygoing enough to relax in public.
Bathrooms are a luxury.
I technically turned three in December, but I don’t start hormones until next month, so I’m a guy who menstruates. Nothing is more macho than hiding in a stall, feverishly changing your tampon before adjusting your packer and opening the door into the world. Add the mental exhaustion that comes with constantly reminding myself that getting a period makes me no less of a man, and it becomes easier to just hold it and hope for the best.
When we go out, a guy friend has to come with me when I do go to the bathroom. It’s a rule in my peer group. I’m lucky enough to have an amazing group of people around me, Alli and Kathy being just two of many. But even still, I map days around places where I can safely pee. The reality is, where I live, there just aren’t that many.
Home is always the safest bet — and that means UTIs are so common for me that I just take care of it privately with cranberry juice and lots of water.
I lost my best friend when I came out, largely because she took issue with me no longer feeling comfortable in the women’s bathroom. And while all of this still makes for some really bad days, I wouldn’t go back in the closet for anything. I’m turning 30 this year, and I’m finally comfortable with where my life is going. That’s because I can walk up to you now and smile, saying:
“Hi, I’m Asher, nice to meet you.”
Asher Kennedy is a chef-in-training/freelance writer and musician based 90 minutes outside of Washington, D.C. He wants to thank Alli and Kathy, not just for helping him find his voice, but for all the love along the way.