Have you ever remembered something from your childhood, an event that in the moment you interpreted one way, but now as an adult you look back on it and realize that what you thought was happening isn’t what was actually happening? Now when you look back on those memories with the context of adulthood, you’re able to recognize the reality of the situation, and it changes your view of the memory.
An extreme but very common example: I can remember sitting outside my parents bedroom door, wondering about the grunts and moans coming from within. Every person reading this immediately knows what was happening on the other side of that door, but as a child I was just confused and worried.
After I came out to myself I unlocked a whole smorgasbord of memories that validated my gender identity, all sorts of clues that I was a woman that I had been repressing or just dismissing, but I still operated under the belief that I hadn’t known before that moment that I was a woman. I had very strong memories of wishing I had been born female, of wanting to become a woman, but none of thinking of myself as already being a girl. More memories have come back to me as I’ve continued on this journey, and that viewpoint has been gradually whittled away. The more I remember, the more I realize I knew a lot more than I let myself think I knew.
For example, a month or so ago I remembered an event from the fifth grade, when my school conducted scoliosis screenings. All children were told to line up into male and female lines. I remember standing in the male line and thinking I was in the wrong line. Remembering this added a new layer of color to other memories. I can now remember how having to go into the boys locker room before and after PE always felt wrong. I knew I belonged in the other locker room. Previous I remembered being very hesitant about the locker room, but not why that hesitation was there.
Last Thursday I posted a photo of me as a teenager where I described a letter that I wrote to my mother. For the past two years all I could remember of that letter was that I had said in it that I wanted to be a girl, and (presumably) wanted to dress like a girl. It wasn’t until I was literally in the process of writing the caption for that post that I remembered that I had used the term “sex change” in that letter. I wrote that letter when I was 13 years old; I knew I wanted to transition at that age, and I didn’t even know what transition was.
As my body has changed and my correct place in society has resolved, my self image has gradually updated and my confidence in my womanhood has hardened. With that has come an interesting effect on my memory. Not only has more of my memory come forward, it’s been coming forward slightly altered.
I’ve started to have trouble seeing myself as male in previous events. Logically I know thats how I looked and that’s how others perceived me, but my brain keeps trying to override this. It keeps saying “no, thats not right, it had to have been like this,” and the image resolves with a new change.
Sunday morning I remembered back to an old job I had working in a movie theater (the first of three theaters I worked at). I was sitting in box office with one of my coworkers (I can’t remember her name but lets call her Mary) and it was a slow day, so she and I were chatting. She was telling me about how she wanted to break up with her boyfriend because the two of them just weren’t just working out well. She didn’t feel like he respected her, and they weren’t having a good time together any more. I was encouraging her that if she didn’t feel a spark then it probably wasn’t worth prolonging the inevitable. Internally I was extremely excited because I really liked her and wanted to date her myself, but I kept my cool.
My memory of the conversation is now encountering merge conflicts, because I know that I was presenting male then, even believing I was male at that point in my life, yet when I recall the memory it comes to me as a distinctly girltalk kind of moment, and my brain keeps picturing me as a woman in the scene.
After work that day she gave me a ride home and we swung through a drive-thru. One of our coworkers was at their second job, working the window, and he was flabbergasted that the two of us were together. Mary cracked a sarcastic joke that we were dating now, and we all laughed (as I died inside). Here again, my brain is now recalling this scene with me being a young woman, and the entire thing feels really gay. We never dated, the next day the theater closed and we never saw each other again. For years I regretted not getting her number.
It’s such an odd experience to have something that I know isn’t the way it happened come back so vividly, it makes me second guess my perceptions of events. The old me seems so distant now, like another life that both is and isn’t my own. I’ve frequently used the analogy that I am Jadzia Dax and he was Curzon. I have all his memories, and all the same friendships, but his was a completely different life (if that makes no sense, it’s a Star Trek DS9 reference).
An even more accurate example is in the recent season finale of Steven Universe. Steven remembers Rose Quartz’ memories as if he is her, because he is her, or rather was her. The show even demonstrates the merge conflict issue, with Steven first picturing himself in the memory and then the image resolving to his mother, as if his conciousness was fighting to resolve who the memory featured. (BTW, if you’ve not watched it, season 5 of Steven Universe is one long transition metaphor).
This is definitely not something I expected to happen, and it’s been really amazing.