I never really had the words for it before, but at times I am aware that everywhere I go that is familiar, I still cast Michael’s shadow. I hadn’t conceptualized it really before coming across the idea in Jenny Boylan’s new book, Stuck In the Middle With You. She is apparently very earth conscious and chooses to repurpose old song titles rather than stick them in some landfill to take up premium space needed for all those fricking little ‘K’ cups of coffee. Anyway, I liked the notion and decided to do some repurposing myself rather than endanger miners who would otherwise trudge deep into the bowels of the earth to retrieve shiny new ideas.
I think the overall notion, for those of us who aren’t so quick on our toes, is that no matter what changes you make, the shadow you cast is going to be the same for everyone who knew the old version. The reason it came up was in a discussion of why trans people may be best served by skipping town to a new city to start over once transition is initiated. I’m not going to lie, the concept is very attractive. Let’s talk about this for a bit, shall we?
The shadow casting is pretty much inevitable. People who knew me well as Michael probably still think of me that way for the most part, and view me now as some strange alteration of the goofy, eccentric, good time Charlie they spent so many years getting to know. Suddenly there is a goofy, eccentric, good time Charlene in his place. What the hell man? It’s like installing Window’s 8 on your PC. Yeah, sure, it’s probably better than Vista and the same damn thing under the hood, but what’s with all the extra little app accessories? And where the fuck did the ‘Start’ button go? This new you is great and all, but we were really used to the old one, so if you could be more like that please, it would be really super.
The group I manage and I went for lunch a bit back and we took a little extra time to play some darts as time permitted. While I encourage people to speak freely, sometimes it takes a little extra effort and a different environment to really have everyone loosen up. On this occasion, one of them admitted that they missed ‘Mike’ sometimes. I should have been offended, but wasn’t because I’ve always assumed this kind of sentiment can’t be avoided. Besides, not anything I haven’t heard on the home front more than once. I pushed back a little and said I was still the exact same person, just in a slightly different package. “Yeah… kind of.”
Is it better then to run, run away? A few decades ago, 9 out 10 psychiatrists would agree that yes, it is much better and routinely recommended it. They went so far as to urge parents to essentially fake the death of the transitioning parent because this would be easier on the children. Holy shit, can you believe this? Can you imagine believing you lost a parent at a young age only to find out years and years later that your beloved mommy is now a guy named Chuck out on the west coast? We think some of the challenges we face now are difficult but it seems we don’t know the half of it.
Today things are different, and it is very possible for families to move and start fresh without having to traumatize little Willard by telling him daddy is going to die, or nipped out for a pack of smokes and never returned. Under the auspices of that paradigm, doesn’t it seem attractive to move on out to Sheboygan and interact daily with people who never knew you any other way? It is attractive. Very attractive. No more accidental “Mike’s” in awkward, crowded places. No more old stories, or far worse, pictures popping up all the time from the old days. I’m certainly familiar with all of this. I get called “Mike” or have male pronouns accidentally used often enough, and the company has at least 3 different banners up around the building extolling the employee base where I’ve been immortalized with a bald head and whiskers. I could complain, but I find it kind of amusing to be honest.
This one doesn’t have a clear answer that I’m going to try to convince you with. It really depends on you and where you are in your life. If it makes sense and is way more comfortable to move on out, then by all means do that. If what you have built locally is important enough or you feel a tie to your area and opportunity exists to thrive, then that is just fine as well. Remember, you transitioned because you were so inexpressibly uncomfortable with your gender expression. It only makes sense to be where you are most comfortable as well. There will be challenges either way, and it’s up to you to see which ones are those most worth taking on.
For the time being, I’m fine casting my old shadow, even when it means an uncomfortable moment here and there, or even being outed to a confused group of visiting Germans. My friendships, family, and the value I hold in regards to where I am remains the same, even if my shadow casts a bumpier profile. If the time comes to move, I’ll enjoy the benefits of starting fresh and be OK with that. As the old saying goes, wherever I go, there I am, shadow and all.