During one of my usual trips down the internet rabbit hole, I started googling about a little show called One Day At A Time (ODAAT). Queer folks will know this show as one of the very few shows with a non-binary character and Latinx folks will know this show as a great representation of a Latinx family.
It’s been about a month since I left my writing internship and I realized I kind of miss writing, especially writing for myself. Reading about ODAAT reminded me of a very specific scene that felt familiar to me, which I will now write down.
Much of the first season was spent on preparing for Elena’s quinceanera. As far as my limited knowledge of quinceañera goes (thanks, pop culture!), it’s all about poofy dresses and being as princess-like as possible. Of course, there’s a lot of other things going on, but the dress part is what I want to focus on.
(I haven’t watched the show in a while and I cancelled my Netflix subscription for now, so the scene description is going to be spotty at best.)
The matriarch of the Alvarez family, Lydia, insisted on Elena trying on dresses and having a quinceañera, saying that she should support tradition. Elena refused to participate because she sees this as an old tradition of parading girls to be potential brides and would rather not be a part of such a patriarchal tradition.
Through some convincing, can’t remember exactly how at this moment, Elena relented and she agreed to have her quinceañera. She tried on dresses until she found one that she liked. She was very happy about it, with a big smile on her face.
Lydia, the old, kooky, loud, but very wise abuela, said no. This is the wrong dress. I believe this was the day before the quinceañera was supposed to happen. Elena was confused. She liked the dress, the party is tomorrow, what is her crazy grandmother talking about?
Lydia said she didn’t have that look. Elena was baffled, as was her mother Penelope, but no one can stop Lydia Alvarez. Lydia then set off to do who knows what.
Before the party, Elena finally tried on the new set of clothes that Lydia had prepared for her. She looked at herself in the mirror, and she had that look. In one word, that look was euphoria. She wasn’t smiling as big as she was before, but she looked so close to crying. Elena was speechless, and all she could do was nod.
Lydia, who is a stickler for tradition, but loves her family enough to make some compromise, had crafted a beautiful silk suit for Elena to wear to her own quinceañera. To her, it’s not enough that her granddaughter had her own quinceanera, but she had to be happy at her own quinceanera. And if wearing a suit instead of a dress made her happy, then so be it.
I remember reading somewhere that being trans shouldn’t be about gender dysphoria, it should be about gender euphoria. It shouldn’t be about how much you hate being one gender, but it should be about how happy you are being another gender. To me, that moment when Elena looked into the mirror and was so elated to the point of speechlessness mirrored my own gender discovery.
I never hated being a girl. I never hated wearing skirts and dresses, never hated my boobs or my big hips. I actually kind of like them. Never hated that I had a vagina and uterus and ovaries (unless it was menstruation time, then I do hate that they exist), never hated that I wasn’t muscular or bigger or stronger. Never desired to grow a beard, never feared that my body would change into something I never wanted it to be.
So if I don’t hate it, that means that’s what I’m supposed to be, right? A girl?
I was Elena in a dress that she likes. Yeah, sure, I have no problem looking like this. I look good, actually. Why not look like this for the rest of my life?
And then my friends called me handsome when they saw me and my short boyish hair and I felt euphoria. I felt happy in the way people calling me beautiful never did, not that I hated being called beautiful.
I started wearing suits and vests with make-up and heels on and people would do a double take. And that made me happy.
I would go to a cashier or called a waiter and they’d call me sir. When I started speaking they’d be confused and they’d call me miss or ma’am. And I was happy at how much I could fool and confuse them.
And yet, I still struggle to call myself trans. I feel little to no dysphoria, so I feel I don’t deserve to call myself that. I just felt happier when people use they/them pronouns for me. I just like looking androgynous most of the time. Wearing binders make me happy, but I would rather not wear it if it’s too hot and stuffy. I don’t have a dead name and I don’t feel dysphoric if someone used she/her pronouns for me.
Someone called me a trans photographer recently and I felt so strongly that I should correct them. And it is absolutely not because I didn’t want to be associated as trans. It’s just that I felt like I didn’t deserve that adjective. I don’t take hormones and I don’t need or want gender confirmation surgery, I use the name that my parents gave me, I don’t mould my body through painful means to pass as another gender. I don’t struggle, hence I don’t deserve it.
But I didn’t correct them. I let them call me a trans photographer. I’m sure some will be happy to welcome me to the family, and I’m sure some will reject me because of all the reasons I listed before.
I’m still not sure if I want to call myself trans or not. At times it feels wrong and at times it feels right. What I do know is that I feel happy straddling the line of the perceived, made up binary. When I do that, I felt like Elena who never realized that she would ever felt that euphoria of seeing herself in a suit, even though she still loved the dress.