Bright Lights, No City is a project dedicated to documenting the stories of LGBTQIA+ youth from country WA. We thank Community Arts Network for funding this project.
The Centre for Stories collected a number of written and oral stories. Each participant’s story has been thoughtfully crafted with the help of Oral Storytelling Trainer, Sisonke Msimang, and Writing Expert, Susan Midalia. This project was funded by Community Arts Network (CAN). CAN manages the Catalyst Community Arts fund on behalf of the State of Western Australia through the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.
In this story, Alex Watson worked alongside Sisonke Msimang to craft and perfect his story.
About Alex: My name is Alex Watson, I have a passion for stories in all forms and I’m constantly looking for new subjects to expand my knowledge. I grew up in the sand and surf of Geraldton, it was there I discovered I was transgender, and where my own story begins.
Copyright © 2018 Alex Watson.
These stories have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of these stories, please contact the Centre for Stories.
This story was originally published on May 20, 2018.
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When I was younger, I was often told that if I’d been born a boy, then, my twin sister and I would have been complete opposites. Whereas I was like a fish in water and loved the ocean and everything about it, she hated getting sand in her shoes. So growing up, we were often compared to each other. We were both born female, and we both had this long, red hair and blue eyes and pale skin; and I was always a little bit taller, so that was always my thing. But I was also younger, so she was the older sister, always, kind of, leading the pack.
We had these little, looking back, like, pretty minor differences. But when you’re a twin, even if you’re fraternal like me and her, you, kind of, try and emphasise those differences to develop a sense of identity. I was told that I was quiet when I was younger. And I think we both, kind of, internalised that. So she became more and more, as we grew older, like a very vivacious and outgoing character, and I, kind of, became more withdrawn. And whether that’s “natural” or just kind of a sociological factor in the way that we were raised, I don’t think we will – either of us will ever really know. But despite that, we both turned out as very different people. Like, people would compare us to yin and yang and would often say that phrase, you know, if we – if I was a boy, then, we’d be completely different.
But it – in my family, rather than it being, you know – it was a never a bad thing. It was always a very empowered thing. So I come from a family with very strong women. My mum and my sister both have very fiery personalities. So it was celebrated, the fact that I was, you know, more – yeah, that I succeeded in, you know, kind of, masculine pursuits. So it – I guess it took a while for me to, kind of, realise that something was a bit different.
And looking back, a couple of things happened all at once at around the age of 12. First of all, I hit puberty or started to hit puberty, which was a terrible time in general for me. Another thing was that my sister and I had shared a room up until that point, and we decided, that year when we turned 12, that we would have separate rooms. And in the beginning, it was a very lonely and, kind of, scary experience because when you are born sharing a cot with someone, and you go 12 years sharing a room with someone, it’s a bit daunting to try and sleep alone after all those years. But after a month or two of going back and forth between each other’s rooms, we seemed to manage it.
A part of my journey with that was moving to Perth, you know, moving out of the country because it was incredibly difficult to start transition in Geraldton, in the town that I grew up in, because it wasn’t a thing.
But at the same time, I stopped being able to enjoy going to the ocean and swimming and surfing and doing all those things that I loved and that my family really loved. We were a big, kind of, like, surfing and fishing and, you know – a big camping family. So it was difficult having to continue those activities when I couldn’t stand the sight of myself in a bathing suit. I remember, again at age 12, I was looking in the mirror at myself, and I just felt ashamed and disgusted at my body. And I think I was really upset, and my sister was just – I remember her saying to me, like, “What’s wrong? Like, why are you so upset?” And I couldn’t even verbalise why because I didn’t know why I was so upset. And I – I was just, kind of, told that puberty is an uncomfortable experience and that that’s just what happens. And, you know, it’s normal to feel like that about yourself.
And so, that’s perhaps why I let it go on for much longer than it perhaps needed to. It was only around when I was 19 or 20 that I, kind of, put my foot down and said, “All right. So this – this feeling of being uncomfortable in your skin isn’t going away.” You know, “So it’s meant to be over by now. I’m meant to feel ‘normal’”. But I just never did in my own skin. So it was at that age that I started to realise I was transgender, I suppose.
I was a lesbian, like, dyke, I guess, and that was perfectly fine.
A part of my journey with that was moving to Perth, you know, moving out of the country because it was incredibly difficult to start transition in Geraldton, in the town that I grew up in, because it wasn’t a thing. It wasn’t something that was spoken about. My rudimentary knowledge of it when I was younger and a teenager was basically, like, Ladyboys from Thailand kind of thing. I was a lesbian, like, dyke, I guess, and that was perfectly fine. Like, I had lots of guy mates, and no one really cared about your sexuality too much. But the transgender thing was just a whole other kettle of fish that no one really wanted to get into.
So when I moved here, you know, started living alone and trying to develop my identity and pursue transition, it was just a massive weight off my mind after having grown up in this country, this little country town, my whole life. Just being able to be somewhere where no one knew me and no one knew me as, you know, that transgender kid or, like, you know, that girl that’s transitioning. I was just a – a dude, like just another face in the crowd. And it was incredibly – an incredibly freeing moment. But I’d been here for, I think, about a year and a half, and it was last year when my sister came to visit.
From that point when we were younger, about 12, that – when we started growing apart, our communication just became really terrible. Like, we couldn’t talk to each other without arguing or a lot of the – most of the time, 90 per cent of the time, it was just no – like, we wouldn’t talk to each other at all. That connection like that soul connection of having spent your developmental years with another person there, with your twin, is always there. Like, she will always be the closest person to me. But those teenage years were incredibly divisive, and it just separated us and fractured our relationship more and more. So, but despite that, we’d always spend our birthdays together because that’s just the way it’s always been.
And she came to visit me last year in Perth, and we got to drinking to get together and talking about various things. And she said that, you know, she accepts me now as being transgender and that – she started, like, getting, kind of, upset, started crying and – and said, you know, “You look really happy.” And I was happy. Like, of – of course I felt happy. But she said she hadn’t seen me like that ever, or, like, in a very, very long time, she hadn’t seen me happy. And it was something that I tried not to think about, the mental health side of it, the depression. But she could obviously see it from a mile away.
It’s become a lot easier to deal with myself and to get back to the things that I enjoyed as a child, you know, to get back to being a fish in water and enjoying the ocean. I’ve just started to get back to water and swim and be able to – to enjoy summer again and not feel that overwhelming shame or uncomfortable feeling in my body anymore. So, yeah, all up and up from here.