The first unicycle I rode, I borrowed from Julia. My friends had pooled their money and bought her the wheel and the seat for her 17th birthday, thinking it would go well with her juggling hobby. It’s indicative of my status on the periphery of that group that I did not know about — and was not part of — this plan. The first I heard about it was when Julia was presented with the wrapped gift before class.
I’m even more on the periphery of that group of friends now. When I came out as a transgender woman six years ago, they all stopped talking to me. They still get together, and Facebook showed me a photo of the Christmas dinner they shared this year. I’m almost grateful for my exile, though. Missing the meal is preferable to being there and feeling like a turkey.
Julia soon figured out that actually learning to ride the unicycle wasn’t especially high on her list of priorities, and we had enough good faith between us that she was happy to lend it to me. I explained that I was interested in adding another quirk to my series of defense mechanisms.
There was a sizable contingent among my friends and family who assumed the whole transgender thing was just another affectation — a phase I assumed to make myself feel different and special. Like when I started taking a briefcase to school in fifth grade. Or when I practiced escapology in the common room during lunch, eventually getting stuck in a locker. Or when, of course, I started unicycling.
There’s a misunderstanding about “different” kids, I think. It’s not that they act out or do strange things to make themselves stand out. It’s that they’re trying to figure out why they’re different. Peers and bullies knew, from the very first day of school, that there was something about me that didn’t fit in. I spent the next decade and a half experimenting with my personality to figure out just what that was.
It’s not good scientific practice to experiment in public though. So when it came to the unicycle, I would wait until my mum and sister had gone to sleep. Then I would sneak out of the house to a small, hidden path nearby. I spent two or three hours a night for the next couple of weeks hopping on the saddle and attempting to peddle down the way.
Usually, I’d fail. Riding a unicycle takes a lot of getting used to, as your leg muscles have to adjust to maintaining your balance in a new way. The first thing you learn to do on a unicycle is fall safely, because falling is inevitable, and it’s better that you do it with as little danger as possible.
Over many nights, I was able to locomote further and further, until eventually I rode down the whole path and turned the corner at the end. I mastered mounting the device without leaning against a tree or lamppost. I even started using the unicycle to make the trip to school and back every day. I got some extra mockery, of course. But hell, when strangers already call you a faggot in the hallway, you might as well have them make fun of you for something you enjoy.
And I did enjoy it. Zipping along on the ludicrous object felt like flying. I felt fast, and nimble, and unencumbered. I felt like I’d actually gotten good at something, something other people couldn’t do. Learning to ride that inefficient vehicle was probably the first time in my life that I made a goal for myself and achieved it. On my bad days, I feel like it was the last time, too.
When it comes to school, I don’t miss the people, or the rules, or the cafeteria food. But I do miss the clear sense of progression, of getting an assignment and completing it, of filling something out and receiving a grade. I miss the clear journey from the start of the path to the end, moving your feet and making your way. One of the comforting things about my transition from male to female was that it had a roadmap, a plan of action. Dress as a woman, meet with a doctor, take your hormones, change your name.
That was satisfying, for a while. It felt like I was making headway, working towards something. It felt like growth. But the transgender journey isn’t like completing homework — there’s no box that can be checked, no final grade to be assigned. What’s the final stop on the transgender roadmap? When will I be done?
The traditional narrative for transwomen is that genital/sexual reassignment surgery is the finish line. It’s the brass ring, the end goal. For the first few months of my life as Avery, I was thrilled at the prospect of and desperate for “the operation.” I’ve never hated my current equipment, but I have felt hamstrung by it. I want genitals that fit the clothes I wear, and the sexuality I identify with. I want to not worry about getting “discovered” in a swimming pool or a changing room or a public restroom or an airport scanner or a thousand other places where your junk isn’t an issue until it is. I want a hundred other things, things I only talk about with my girlfriend.
But even after that goal is, eventually, accomplished, that’s not the end. That’s not success. I’ll still have insides that are different than the standard definition of “woman” would indicate. I’ll still have a past that doesn’t gel with my present. I’ll still be taking hormones forever, and having disclosure conversations with potential partners. I’ll still always be working hard just to stay the person I am. There’s no end, except death. You can’t “win” being transgender. I’ll be transitioning until the end, because there’s no end to transition.
In the meantime, I’m in no rush to get that operation. I still have that ache, that desperate need to be fixed downstairs. But I also have so much fear. Fear that sex will forever change if something goes wrong during the procedure of aftercare. Fear that the end result won’t fit my expectations. And the basic, primal fear that accompanies the prospect of any major surgery — fear of pain. I want to be changed, but I don’t want someone cutting into me.
When you ride a unicycle, you’re meant to put most of your weight on your saddle. Successful journeys pivot on your groin. It used to make me chuckle to think that my years of riding one wheel and mashing my dick on the seat was good training for the uncomfortable tucking that trans life makes a daily necessity. Now I worry that post-surgery, I will have to abandon that flying feeling, that balancing my body mass on a constructed, delicate part of my anatomy will be too risky.
I’m not sure I’ll be able to resist trying anyway, though. “First unicycle ride with my new vagina” is a great bucket list item, even with the danger of damaging thousands of dollars of surgical work. If the job of transitioning is never done, it might as well be interesting.
One thing that is done, though, is this series of pieces. I can now say that I have, in my entire life, held myself to at least two goals: learning to transport myself on a redundant, outmoded vehicle; and writing ten pieces about my transgender experience for The Bygone Bureau. I hope you’ve enjoyed them and that I’ve shared something with you that was interesting, or funny, or different, or true, or all of the above. It’s been a privilege. Thank you for reading, and for listening, and for understanding.
See the archive of the entire Right Body, Wrong Junk series or start from the beginning