The Strength of Softness, An Interview with Christian
With the intention of exploring themes of gender embodiment, I sat down with my friend Christian at a West Village cafe. I waved enthusiastically as my friend crossed the threshold. We met while working at a vegan restaurant across town, and since I left a few months ago, we had some catching up to do.
Christian had trained me on how to manage serving solo during the lunch shift, and I remember how grateful I was to be talked out of a tearful threat to quit on day one. When I saw a familiar tall, graceful frame and wash of flowing curly hair, I was again thankful, knowing I was blessed with another opportunity for initiation. We talked about childhood, family, fashion, societal expectations and spirituality, and Christian’s evolving relationship to a body that, physically, is increasingly reflecting its soul.
Taylor: Can you introduce yourself and how you identify?
Christian: My name is Christian, and I am from the Bronx, with a Colombian background. I am Spanish, and I identify as a girl. Not a woman yet, a girl (laughs). I still feel young enough to call myself a girl.
I’m described by friends as nurturing and watching over everyone ... But I also feel like I have this youthfulness still everything’s so new to me, so many things. Because I had to guard and take care of so many adults in my family that are way older than me, I think I had grow up fast, and I didn’t get to enjoy and burn many phases, so I think once this change starts happening, I’m going to want to do things that a girl would want to do for the first time. So that’s why I still feel like this little girl inside, like this innocence is still there.
What was your earliest memory of looking at/judging/questioning your physical body in relation to how you feel or express gender?
I remember there was this one Christmas where Space Jam had come out: My cousin and I - I was always like the Lola Bunny fan and she was the Bugs Bunny … but obviously [our family] is going to get us what each one of us ‘should’ get, right? According to the standards of being a boy and a girl, so I got the Bugs Bunny pajamas and she got the Lola Bunny. And I was happy that I got a Space Jam pajama set, but I wanted the Lola Bunny because I really identified with her.
And late at night, my cousin asks me, she goes, ‘Do you want the Lola Bunny pajama set?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’ and we switched in the middle of the night, and when I woke up, I had the Lola Bunny and she had the Bugs Bunny, and it felt great!
How do you feel about the potential of clothing to shape how you experience your body? How do clothes make a difference in how you represent who you are to the larger world?
Clothing has helped a lot. Shoes have helped a lot. Being in this city and realizing there are these different kinds of women. You don’t just have to be this one, you know, floral skirt girl. In this city there are girls wearing combat boots. I think it’s just carrying myself just the way I am. I feel like that in itself is feminine.
When do you feel most at home in your body?
I tell my friends, who say, 'Well, Chris I don’t know why you need to go through this change, because we already see you as like this super thin chick and you carry yourself in a certain way that we see it.' And I don’t see it, but when I do feel at my best is in the morning, when I uncover and I see this little dip and dent here, like oh, there’s a little waist! I feel so comfortable, and I feel inspired.
There’s this refreshing feeling that I visualize and that I imagine seeing myself nude and having those soft corners, that naturalness, to be naked, when being a woman. Without that “additional product,” if you will, of the overly-big boobs, because if that doesn’t come along the way, then that means that I don’t need it. And I’m okay with having what naturally comes, through that evolution. I’m more than okay with that, I want that. I know that my body’s not going to change too much, because it’s already developed, being male. But being female, I welcome whatever comes with arms wide open ... As far as science can take me naturally, I’ll go there.
I have been asked about the surgical procedures, and as far as that goes, I would be willing to go through Adam’s Apple removal, these are things that I see women don’t have naturally, that’s as far as I would go as far as surgery and medicine. It sound so weird, it’s almost like I'm a car in a body shop. It kind of feels wrong, but I think those are things that just come way down the line. I want to feel how I feel with hormones, because I think hormones are natural in all of us, as natural as it could get ... Anything after that is definitely something that I would have to wait for how I feel about it, being that woman.
When did you start feeling a contrast between your gender expression and your body?
I’ve been noticing the disconnection recently, because I was always really happy and really confident in my body. That’s because it was always really celebrated and decorated by words from friends and family members, on club nights when I was going out at gay bars, and all these parties. And I was always wearing these really skimpy outfits, and they were like ‘Oh yeah, you look amazing!’ Alcohol, and going out was kind of masking, and I was hiding behind all these compliments … and inspiring quotes about beauty.
And I was already wearing like little denim shorts … leather boots and heels and stuff, but it was … seen more as a fashion statement. And I think one thing is to do things for show, and another is very different to realize that you’re doing something because that’s who you really are.
I realized that after I stopped going out. When I realized that I still wanted to dress this way during the day, for example going to get coffee. I started to feel this way waking up in the morning. And I’m like, ‘Why do I want to wear my party outfit just waking up? Oh that’s right, because this is just who I am. This isn’t for show. This is what I want for me every day when I wake up.’ I think it started that way, and I was 22.
I started to, like, wear more sparkles during the day. My cousin, who I would go out with all the time, he was like the most supportive. He was like, ‘Chris, I need to put you in drag,’ … He did drag shows, but for him it was more of an art form, more of a show. And for me, I never wanted to do drag. It was never my thing. I never felt that I connected with that idea of putting on a show. I just wanted to be me. Doing and being the way I would at night time, but during the day ... I would feel like an elephant at a circus show, putting on a show for a whole bunch of people, so that they could see me as entertainment. And it’s not that. This is a reality. This is who I am.
In conversations with friends or family, how do you approach educating cisgendered people on your experience?
When I told [my mom] , she asked me if I wanted to see a doctor, and at first I thought oh, she’s already thinking about what I’m thinking about, the hormone treatments. She meant a psychologist. My immediate reaction was, ‘Why would you think that something’s wrong with my mind?’ She literally thought, he’s going through something, or had some kind of traumatic experience.
And I had none of that. I’ve only had nothing but support from friends and family. This is something that’s blossomed, from within. In that sense, the feeling is totally natural. I would be the first one to say, oh, you screwed me over and look what happened to me. I would never be one to stay quiet. I was always celebrated, always.
When it comes this transition, if I feel at one point there’s this pressure on me, then I’m stopping. I don’t think it’s healthy for anyone to do anything with pressure. Anything you feel is pulling and tugging, because eventually a rubber band will break. I don’t want that.
We live in a great time right now where everyone’s much more open, but I think you also have to be aware about your surroundings and not be afraid, but be aware, because you also have to protect yourself from certain energies that aren’t going to be very welcoming.
[I think it's important to have] at least one person that you can run to. It doesn’t have to be a mom or a dad. It can be a friend. I think that’s the most important part, to open up to someone. I think anything held inside begins to rot, and it can be really poisoning for the soul, and your body, eventually.
The way I told my mom was like, I was having a curry, and it was a really casual environment. We were having lunch and I was like, ‘Hey mom, by the way I’m going to start taking hormones … And I feel I haven’t been my full self, and my full self is a woman.’
But that’s because of my personality and how I carry myself. You want to also understand that not everyone is as educated, and not everyone is as open. And that’s okay. I feel like we’re here for that reason. We’re here to open up everyones minds and everyone’s worlds to this realities. Or, to other possibilities. It’s good to be open, but also kind of cautious. You just want to kind of be balanced, know your audience, know your surroundings. [Once you] find that person you feel like you feel comfortable being absolutely naked around, just let it go. Drop it on them. Because they’re ready. They’re ready.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.