It was the showers that scared me the most. Not being away from home for eight weeks. Not being surrounded by strangers. Not the thought of having zero time to myself. No, it was the showers that filled me with dread. It was the showers that made me not want to go on the trip. The thought of being naked in front of other people. I couldnâ€™t handle it.
But you canâ€™t tell people that youâ€™re afraid to shower. They might get the wrong idea. You wouldnâ€™t want them to get the wrong idea. They would think you were being silly. Or foolish. Or worse. You didnâ€™t want them to think you were being worse.
I chalked it up to modesty, to propriety, to good manners, but the reality was a lot deeper. So deep I didnâ€™t even have words for it. But the feelings: the dread of the bathroom, the gut churning nerves any time I needed to go into the locker room, the panic that would rise in me as I needed to undress and shower those I recognized and couldnâ€™t seem to shake.
Partly it was that people were already asking me â€œquestionsâ€ about my sexuality. And if they had questions and we were in the shower togetherâ€¦well that just seemed like a bad idea. It didnâ€™t matter that my fear was so great I wouldnâ€™t have even dreamt of looking at anyone else. It didnâ€™t matter that I would keep my head down, shower as quickly as possible, and then get the hell out of there. It didnâ€™t matter that I would be the one trying to be careful and not make anyone else uncomfortable. I would still be seen as a threat.
I had a developing womanâ€™s body and still, in locker rooms, I would get stared at by strangers as if I were in the wrong place. They would make comments. They would give dirty looks. Even when I was surrounded by other people who knew me and could vouch for me I still looked (and frankly felt) like an interloper. I wanted to be invisible. I tried to be invisible. I hid my 5 foot 4 inch one hundred and twenty pound body in extra large t-shirts and the biggest shorts and jeans I could get away with. But no matter what I did I was always glaringly visible. And then glared at.
I wanted to lash out at them â€œYou think I look out of place? Let me tell you how I feel!â€ I would have told them that I didnâ€™t want to be in this locker room any more than they wanted me in it. I would have told them that I knew my body was strange. And that I was strange. That I didnâ€™t fit in. That something was wrong with me. I would have told them that I wanted to be showering in private. That I wanted to be anywhere but in this place at this time.
Had I known what was happening I could have used other words: Iâ€™m transgender. This body isnâ€™t in its final form. Be patient with me. Iâ€™m not a threat to you.
Instead I kept my head down. I kept my eyes on my own body, a body I hated. I kept my towel tight around me until the last possible second. I showered fast. I felt the shame flush me just as red as the hot water. I covered up as quickly as I could. I tried to disappear as quickly as I could.
Eight weeks. Countless showers. A continual rain of shame and fear and dread.
There isnâ€™t water in the world hot enough to wash away those memories.