I need to tell you some things. Looking back at my development, now that I’m Joyce, I’ve got to admit to you that I’m seeing a lot more details of my old self, details that may have been evident to anyone who knew me, but details that were invisible to me. Take this class picture from 8th grade, for example.
It’s been such a long time that I can’t remember what I must have been thinking when I sat in that school gymnasium for the school picture, having woven my way in the long line of students waiting their turn to sit for 3 seconds in the chair for the flash and the immortality that comes from having the picture printed in a yearbook. It is hard to tell. I recall thinking that I didn’t want to smile, that only goofy people smiled for photographs. Or maybe I thought I was somehow cooler in my aloof intellectual posturing.
But I don’t have to know what I was thinking all those years ago because the look tells it all. Look at those eyes behind those John Denver eyeglasses — that’s not “cool” that I’m projecting, but deep sadness, anger, confusion.
I have seen this photograph 20 times over the years and I never felt it required much attention beyond the glance of familiarity with my past, which is to say that maybe my own adult sadness, confusion, and anger never noticed anything out of the ordinary in that adolescent face. It was simply the way I was — in Jr. High as in adulthood — so why would that face mean anything special to me?
Now it feels as if someone turned on the light, or maybe the picture was restored in a museum, because the photograph looks completely different. When I see this picture now, it’s heartbreaking. The boy is so angry and twisted up and confused that even though he is a good, cleancut kid making good grades, he feels as if he’s standing utterly outside of sense and meaning and joy.
His eyes are the clencher — I honestly have not studied the eyes until now, or maybe they seemed familiar because they were my own adult eyes. But the squint of anger feels painful. I used to think I could take on an emotionless stone-face, and maybe this picture is how I did it, but this image, this face, is anything but emotionless. This is the face of emotional defiance with a caption that says, “I dare you to try to get inside. I’m smarter than you, more stubborn than you, and I have a wall so thick that you will never get close enough to know my secrets.”
I am aware of the dangers of using an interpretation from 2008 to understand a picture from 1973 — these two versions of me are forever separated, even if each of us was aware of each other at some level. I know that it is intellectually unfair to explain his thoughts via my history and my knowledge of how his life turns out.
But what is much more interesting to me is how my current perceptions have changed so much — and these perceptions aren’t limited to conversations and relationships, but extend to the way I perceive myself, both now and in my past. Maybe it sounds like a split-personality, but I feel that my relationship with myself has changed dramatically these past 6 months.
How many other images or events look radically different in the light of transition? How much more will be revealed about my alienation as I settle into this new life, this new body, this new sense of presence?