Yes, you read that right – I am a proud 21-year-old trans woman.
If you’re reading this, I imagine you fall into one of the following categories:
- Genuinely curious about my transitioning journey
- A good friend of mine
- Considering your own transition but uncertain about the path forward
- A curious straight guy
- Hate that I am coming out in your face about being trans
Whatever the reason leading you in, I am only here to let you into a glimpse of my world and hear what it feels like to grow up in the wrong body and never feel like you belong anywhere. Took me 21 years but I’m happy that I am headed somewhere better today – as Maya.
If you ask me when it started, it traces all the way back to the day I was born
It was as if my baby cries already foretold the inner discomfort I would come to experience one day. Like I knew from the get go that I was different. That it would be a little girl’s story instead. My mom and my dad were divorced before I was born. They had a total of five kids. I have two elder sisters, two elder brothers and then me. My sisters were under my mom’s custody with me and my brothers followed my dad.
I was exposed to everything feminine. I am constantly observing how my mom and sisters dress, carry themselves, and put on makeup. I’m very close to my second sister. Mainly because we are not close with our older sister and we are far away from our brothers. You could say I was the next most convenient sibling to play dress up with. And it was fun! She will doll me up and we’ll be on her Nokia phone camera strutting all sorts of poses.
At home, you’ll find me at the corner moving my hips and feeling myself to music. I also played with all sorts of makeup whenever I entered my mom’s room. I would sneakily try out my sister’s 8-inch heels and pretend like I was on a fashion runway with a shawl over my shoulder. It didn’t feel wrong – it just felt like me.
It was always my choice
I know right now you must be thinking that I turned out this way because I grew up in a women-centric household, right? But they never taught me how to develop feelings for guys. They are not responsible for who I am today because as I grew older, I drifted away from them but I still resonated with being a woman and seeing a future with a man. And that is a self-discovery journey that I won’t get from just observing.
“There is something wrong up there with you.”
When my step-dad entered our lives, it was as if he burst my bubble. I no longer felt safe.
I hated him. He once told me that kids in school will sit away from me. But that wasn’t only it. When puberty set in, I became very insecure and weary about how I look. I started to have masculine features. I can’t help but to stop every time I pass by a mirror to adjust myself. When he found out, he said, “There is something wrong up there with you.” It felt like the male-figures in my childhood were out there to get me. To put me in a box.
With my brothers, we can never see each other eye to eye. I could not relate to them at all. It could be maybe because the divorce made a huge gap between us. Whenever I meet them, I always get bullied, beaten-up and verbally assaulted. It seemed impossible to get along. It felt like they were not proud to call me their blood.
The usual bapok slurs could be heard in every classroom I walked past throughout the entire corridor.
In primary school, it’s no surprise that my circle of friends are girls. But it was weird – the girls were quite fake and phoney while the guys were homophobic. My mom wanted to “straighten” me out so, put me in an all-boys school. Kinda ironic don’t you think? I was very scared at first. It was the coming of age where boys are just wild and rowdy.
Once after the last period, almost the entire class was outside by the door waiting for me. I knew they were up to no good and I told my teacher in class about it. She got up, spoke to them and I dashed out of the class. They eventually caught up – they grabbed hold of my arms and legs and swung me from left to right. They wanted to throw me down the steps. I felt so weak. Helpless. Like I couldn’t do anything at all. They got the punishment they deserved in the end but how does one erase such a memory?
I went to an-all boys school with a pastel pink flowery bag and a knock-off Victoria’s Secret perfume that I put on everyday.
But looking back, it’s funny how I still found ways to be myself. I buffed my nails to make them shiny in between classes. I would flamboyantly flip my non-existent long hair and tell the boys to back away if they wanted to assault me. My teachers were always there to watch out for kids like me in school. And with each year, everyone just minded their own business. As much as I hated the journey, we were all too young to understand. The boys didn’t know any better. And so did I.
Glowing up in Polytechnic
When I entered polytechnic, people welcomed me wholeheartedly. Just the first day into orientation and everyone was already cheering for me as I proudly twerk in front of hundreds of students during an ice-breaker session. It felt like a safe space that I could finally be who I am without anyone judging.
I made more friends, found more queer people and picked up dance. These avenues let me become more comfortable with my skin. I dressed more femininely. Coming to school in a shirt with a right-side tight knot with a head full of lavish hair clips was a look for me back then. I would also pop a gloss of pink lipstick when I felt cute that day. Was the look serving? No. Was it a struggle bus? Yes babe. Most of the time it was questionable. But I needed it to explore. To experiment. To express myself.
Awakening the Woman in me
During the initial stages, I resorted to wearing oversized shirts as a cover-up when leaving and returning home. There were occasions when I had no choice but to change in the staircase. It made me feel sweaty and anxious being so exposed like that. One time a guy unexpectedly walked in on me while I was changing out of my skirt, and I hated every moment of it.
Gradually, what was once a simple side knot turned into a body-hugging dress. From playing with hair clips, to growing my hair to shoulder length. A simple gloss evolved into a full makeup look. It was during these moments, as I gazed at my reflection, that I started to question whether being a trans woman was truly the core of who I had been all along.
I used to believe that undergoing a complete surgical procedure was the checklist to being a trans woman.
You are inherently valid regardless of whether or not you opt for any surgeries. The key lies in recognizing that when you finally look up into the mirror, all you see and all you feel is a woman. And she too deserves to have the kind of life she wants, just like any others.
“I am always going to have my concerns but I am still your brother. I will always love you.”
Thanks to Covid, I ended up getting closer to my second elder brother, even though we never used to see eye to eye. It’s funny because he was the last person I expected to become close with. He started opening up to me, and it took about a year for this change to happen. But when I finally came out to him after we got close, he said just the right things I needed to hear, “I am always going to have my concerns but I am still your brother. I will always love you.”
That’s more than enough for me to hear from him or anyone else in my family. Eventually, I came out to my second elder sister too, although we all know she had figured it out all along.
With my parents, it’s more of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation. Everything is swept under the rug. They used to nag me before, but now that I’m older and am working for myself, they can only say so much. I wouldn’t say they are open-minded; they simply can never be ready for the conversation, so it’s better for them to ignore it. I respect their boundaries. I do my own thing and leave the house right after getting dressed. I’m grateful for that because I don’t want to force them to understand me. I’ve learned to pick my battles. We can’t always have everything in life, right?
To my fellow young trans women out there, remember that we are set on a different path.
Being a trans woman is truly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and many things seem to have fallen into place. But it’s not always easy. Some days, the dysphoria creeps in and takes me back to those days. Relationships and love can also get tricky. But I have to tell myself that this is nothing compared to everything I had to put up with over the years.
Do this for that little girl in the mirror
Learn to say f*** it and let go. Learn to just do it and do you. Learn to never give in but turn up – for yourself, always. We have to be the one to create our own version of what our future could be, what success looks like and what love can truly be for girls like us. This will be the very foundation of the kind of women we will be in society. So no one can invalidate our womanhood.
As long as you’re sure of who you want to be and you stay true to yourself, the universe will bend in your favour, and you’ll find your tribe. And when you do, grab that connection and run with it and never look back.
Have you ever felt like you never belonged anywhere while growing up? How did you manage to reconcile with that?