When I was in A.P. Biology, during my junior year in high school, we raised Monarch butterflies: we watched them grow from little dots on a leaf into beautiful butterflies. Actually watching them emerge from their chrysalises as fully formed butterflies was amazing. In some ways, I feel like Chicago has helped me with my own butterfly-like transformation.
Before I moved to Chicago, I had never heard someone call me “Ryan” out loud, in person. Now my name has been legally changed to my preferred name. Before, I had barely experienced people using gender-neutral pronouns for me (and never masculine), and now, hearing someone I know refer to me using feminine pronouns is rare enough that it really confuses me when it happens. I didn’t really know what I meant when I said that I identified as trans; now I have such a stronger sense of self and sense of comfort with who I am. I’ve just received my script for T. I’ve learned that there are actual communities of people — not just a friend here or there — that don’t believe in binary gender and don’t rely on sex as assigned at birth. I remember almost the exact minute that I realized for the very first time that transmasculinity and traditionally woman-gendered mannerisms weren’t mutually exclusive — and people have only affirmed for me that the way I bounce around, talk with my hands, gush over Broadway musicals (and Barbra Streisand and Cher), and basically do everything that I do, doesn’t tie me to any kind of womanhood.
Beyond how really fabulous Chicago has been for me in terms of gender, I’ve also grown as a person. My politics have become clearer. I’ve become better able to articulate my views and my reasons for them. I’ve been recommended, and read, a number of influential books. I’ve found communities on my own — not just because a friend introduced me to everyone. I’ve made friends with people of far more varied ages and backgrounds than I’ve had before. I’ve started wearing ties when I dress up and feeling good about it, and friends’ compliments have helped me become more confident with it.
I have a better idea of what I want to do with my life. I’ve finally found something about which I am passionate. And I’ve now had time to figure out who I am on my own, for the most part without being constrained by people’s expectations of who I once was.
My time in Chicago was not perfect, of course: life is too complicated for that. But it was absolutely something I needed and wanted, and it’s made me who I am.
In all honesty, I haven’t yet really processed that I’m no longer living in Chicago — of course, I’ve only been in Minnesota for an hour or two — and my life in Chicago still feels like something I need and want deeply. I know, however, that even though I have a feeling that life will lead me back to Chicago sooner or later, I now need to make a life for myself here. As my friend told me when we said our for-now goodbyes, “onwards and upwards.” I will continue to repeat that to myself, and hopefully, I will soon begin to believe it.