Things I Learned from My Transition
by Maeve Andrea Johnson
It’s possible to need both fans on and a window open in November.
Wearing a skirt and leggings is the best time you can have with your
Close-up mirrors are a cruel mistress.
You can have more unused nail polishes and makeup palettes than the Library of Alexandria had books.
Staying braless is a legitimate choice.
When someone said that you look like a funky lesbian writer aunt, you made them one of your best friends.
Why you wished that someone would take you to prom as a teenager.
Talking about the past is hard when you want to destroy all evidence that you lived before.
No words hurt more than someone passively saying he.
The best part about feeling beautiful is the comfort. The second best is the confidence.
Nothing is more empowering than when you walk in rhythm to the right music and realize that life is a movie and you are the bombshell.
The idea of being attractive is better than the reality of attracting.
It’s easy to feel like a predator, easier to feel like you’re prey.
It’s okay not to tear your eyes away from something more beautiful than you think you deserve.
Things make so much more sense now.
Everything has always been a risk even before the stakes felt higher.
You can’t fix what you hate about yourself if you never are yourself.
You were the only person that you were ever deceptive towards.
You are strong enough for this.
Maeve means “she who intoxicates.”
It’s not impossible to feel whole after all.
Interview with Featured Writer Maeve Andrea Johnson
Interviewed by Sarah Weller, Program Manager
Maeve Andrea Johnson, 25, has lived in Portland her entire life, give or take a few years. She is openly and proudly trans and queer. She’s been writing since she was a kid. Her life has been, in her words, “very interesting”. She is a recent lymphoma survivor and is getting used to life again after treatment, and reconnecting with the things and people she put on hold during her illness. Maeve participated in our workshop at OHSU Family Medicine at Richmond.
How did you hear about the Write Around Portland workshop? Why did you decide to join?
I heard about the workshop from someone at OHSU, a social worker. It was right around the time when my chemo was coming to an end. I figured that’s a decent way to get my foot in the door and getting back to things I love to do. For so long I was very low on energy and it was hard to do things because I was sick and I was dealing with the chemotherapy and it still wasn’t done taking its toll on my body. All I could think of at the time was how I missed doing things; it took me a lot of effort to do even the most basic things I wanted to do. The workshop especially reminded me of the time I spent in college at PCC and how I was able to use that time to refine my writing skills to the point where I was able to birth out of this egg and realize my identity as trans. Hearing about creative writing again kind of brought back all the memories, not only of the writing but of that time of discovery and I think it made me realize that I could do that again.
What was it like stepping into the Write Around workshop after having a break from your writing life for a bit?
It was a little bit intimidating at first, I’m not going to lie. I’m not used to writing and reading in front of people. I’m used to writing stuff and dropping it somewhere and seeing what semi-anonymous people think. This pushed me out of my comfort zone, in that not only was I writing in a short amount of time with a time limit, it was also a bit intimidating to read around people that were not like me. It is a very different feeling when you are the only queer, young, trans woman in a room. If I want to write for other queer people, for myself, what’s in my heart—which everyone else in the workshop was already doing—I noticed a lot of people in my workshop wrote from their own experiences, from their own heart, and I was like, I can’t deny myself that right just because I’m different. That was the part that at first intimidated me and I kind of danced around it. By the time it was my last week, I was writing personal feelings about people that meant a lot to me. I was writing about my trans experiences. I was writing about the vulnerabilities that I had and who I was, what I feared, just how much people meant to me and how much I meant to myself.
Was there anything about the workshop itself or the people around the table that allowed you to go through that shift in your writing?
I had to get comfortable with people to share that part of me, and that’s on them, that’s very good on them, because you have that initial feeling of sticking out like a sore thumb, you know. But also part of you wonders what kind of lives did these people lead to get here, and the more that I understood them both as writers and as people, not just in what they wrote but how they acted, what kind of personalities they had, what they brought to the room, the energies that they brought, I felt like I brought something too. I felt like, There’s a reason I’m here, there’s an energy I bring to this room. In some ways it did feel like my community college classes in that I was so very clearly the kid and I was so very unique, but I think that the difference between then and now is that I owned it more here, and I don’t think that I would have felt safe doing so had I not gotten a good vibe from the people in the workshop. It can be very scary to be out—it’s basically you admitting that you are different from the norm. But I felt comfortable with that and I felt that they appreciated me for that.
I’m grateful to hear the group held safe and comfortable space for one another. That’s always one of our hopes with our Write Around Portland workshops.
That was a big goal of it. That was the one thing that I feel like our facilitator pushed the most is just be kind to each other. Make this a place that is safe to write. That’s very important in a space where you share your writing and some to all of it is personal, even the parts that aren’t based on you have parts of you in it. While writing you are being vulnerable. You deserve that kind of space. It’s more than need, it’s more than want, it’s deserve. I feel like every writer deserves to have that kind of space to be able to share their work—their work that isn’t hurting anybody—their work that represents who they are, and to be respected for it.
The piece that was published feels very vulnerable and very personal and you stood up in front of an audience to read it. What was that experience like?
Starting with the writing of it – it was the first piece where I openly addressed that I was trans. It was after a three-week break from the group that I had to take because of my own sicknesses and when I came back there were only two weeks left, and I was thinking, It’s now or never. I think I wrote it the day that submissions were due. Reading it in front of the crowd was daunting. I think nerves mostly came from wanting to represent, because even if everyone in the audience was put off by me being so open about being trans there would be at least one queer person I would encourage and that really kept me grounded. It also kept me grounded to have my family there, to have my brother and his friend and also to have my best friend there. When I read I was just thinking, I’m reading to her, I’m telling her what it’s like, and that gave me the faith to speak.
It was nice to share with family too because they’re very supportive and they are understanding but they are not in my position and I struggle with talking about being trans publicly. I was able to use this as an opportunity to tell them, This is what it’s like for me, and I believe by doing that I was able to make it feel less foreign to them, less of a thing that they are sort of looking outside in on. I think it really worked—they were very encouraging and understanding of me and it’s broken a lot of barriers in my mind, telling them those things too.
Did you have a favorite part of your workshop experience?
The thing that turned it from a “thing I was doing” to a “thing that I was part of” was when I first shared an openly queer piece, one about my own romantic feelings. It made me feel like a person—that the other participants were very accepting and kind about it. I think it was especially compounded because I was doing very poor health-wise. I think the chemo had taken a toll on my joints, so it was very hard to get around. I was on a walker, and there were weeks I couldn’t show up because I couldn’t physically do it. So I think more than any other time, I felt like less than I was. I was like, How can I talk about this whole thing about who I am as a woman when people may not see it. That’s always been my biggest fear and they were very accepting of me.
I’ve had so long in my life where nothing was happening, and I’ve had so long where I was so sick I was deathly ill. I saw this door where I could really be myself but at the same time I couldn’t because there was so little I could do and so little felt worth it. When I finally got to a place where it was like, you’re going to recover from this, my emotional floodgates burst open and I was able to take the courage that was afforded to me and embrace this. I am barely a year into being able to fully embrace the fact that I am queer and that I am trans. When I feel it’s validated it means so much to me because it’s the first big step to the rest of my life.
When we read your piece, not only is it such a powerful piece of self-love and acceptance and humor and humanity, but there were also lines that were so relatable. Reading them, I felt like I was able to share humanity with you in a really beautiful way, having never met you, having no idea what your story was.
I really appreciate hearing that, you have no idea. I feel like a lot of it is in some ways universal even if the languages are different. That’s very encouraging because it can feel like an alien experience when you know that you’re different, and it is so powerful to have moments like that where you are the same as other people. I try and find that balance daily between an identity that is special, that is me, and a connection to other people that often times I have to struggle to obtain.
How would you identify as a writer now?
I feel like right now I am at a point where I’m so confident with myself it doesn’t feel real. It feels like a dream. People have been so gracious. It gives me faith in myself that before I kind of lacked. I was just thinking, Okay I will do this writing in the corner of whatever life I have to set up for myself, which in itself is daunting when you’re 25 and you’ve been sick for so long and you’ve had struggles with your health and with your abilities. I was just thinking, You know what, I’m good at this but people may not hear what I have to say, and so I kind of shoved it away in my life. But going through this experience, it’s just like, Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can be the person of my dreams.
Would you recommend a Write Around Portland workshop to other people?
Absolutely yes! That’s such a gimme question, I can’t even extrapolate on it. Yes!!!
If you had to give a Write Around Portland workshop experience “elevator pitch” what would you say?
It’s a place where you can learn to appreciate yourself and learn how much others appreciate you. It goes back to my favorite line in the piece I wrote, It’s okay not to tear your eyes away from something more beautiful than you think you deserve. That’s kind of what it’s like—you are beautiful and you deserve to acknowledge that and that’s what this workshop has done for me.
Write Around Portland publishes and sells anthologies of participant writing at the end of each season of our free workshops in partnership with community organizations. These professionally-produced books provide participants – many for the first time – the opportunity and satisfaction to see their words in print, while providing the public the opportunity to read powerful stories and diverse voices.
Books are available for purchase for $12 at local bookstores and through our office (plus postage and handling, if mailed). Some anthologies may be found at Multnomah County Library branches. Call us at 503.796.9224 for more details.