It’s a cool January night as I lean over the edge of a walking bridge and stare down at the endless stream of cars beneath me. The horns and headlights of the Las Vegas Strip compete for attention with the vast sea of light and sound and people all around me. My senses are overwhelmed, but somehow it’s weirdly peaceful here; almost meditative. Anonymity and cacophony combine to create an effective solitude.
It’s a guys weekend in Vegas. And I am one of the guys.
My friends aren’t with me on this bridge right now. I’m supposed to be meeting them at a topless rodeo, but I’m in no hurry to get there. I need time to reflect. Although I’d love to watch nubile young women ride mechanical bulls — any guy would, right? — moments like this feel more important than bouncing tits.
There’s something wrong with me. I’ve known it for a long time, but it’s become increasingly dire as every attempt to find a solution has failed. This weekend is one of those attempts. I’m depressed, and I need a way to lift my spirits. I need to be with friends and have fun. I need to escape my problems for a few days. So here I am.
It’s not working. Despite being surrounded by constant distraction, I keep finding myself lost in quiet moments like this, wandering the Strip alone and staring out into the future. I seem to have brought my problems with me.
There’s a wall of light that keeps drawing my attention. It features a rotating selection of ads, one of which I stare at longingly every time it appears. It’s for a show that I want to see but never will. Every 30 seconds I turn and look, shaming myself for even contemplating the idea of it, and then feel simultaneous dismay and relief when it blinks out of view.
It’s stirring up that same mysterious obsession I’ve been pushing aside for 25 years; the one I refuse to acknowledge or examine. The one that’s getting harder to ignore.
For the first time, here in this moment of tranquil chaos, I reluctantly allow a compartment of my mind to open. I start to wonder how real all this might be.
Our first night here, we went to a club. It was too loud to talk and none of us like to dance, but the drinks were amazing. The room started doing that spinning thing that tells me when I’m officially too drunk to function. One of our friends became nearly unresponsive and we all decided to get him back to the hotel. With one of his arms over my shoulder and hardly able to walk myself, we stumbled through the streets of Las Vegas and somehow made it back to our rooms. Everyone collapsed on their beds, but one friend first needed to give me a huge drunken bear hug and tell me what a wonderful guy I am. He loves me, man. I said nothing, merely patted him on the back and guided him to his bed, then retreated to my own, where I fell face-down into sleep.
I’m a wonderful guy…
Last night we went to a karaoke bar a few blocks off the Strip. It was raucous, but I was too drunk to care. We all were. My head was spinning again. I remember the waitress started demanding immediate payment for our drinks. Somebody mocked me for not keeping up, so I slammed another Long Island iced tea. It was like I had something to prove. Before we left I was told I had to sing a song, and I was too drunk to refuse. I chose a Garth Brooks song, Friends in Low Places, because, as I insisted to everyone, I was raised a country boy. I remember little of the song, but I know it was a terrible rendition.
I am not a country boy. Why do I keep trying to act like I am?
This doesn’t make any sense. I stare at the headlights below me, interrogating my own mind to find out why being called a wonderful guy makes me cringe. Why insisting I’m a country boy feels like such an act. Why the world seems so fake and I’m just so… distant from everything and everyone in my own life.
This has been a fun trip, I tell myself. I love getting drunk with friends and stumbling back to hotel rooms. There’s been a smile on my face the whole weekend. That means I’m having fun, right? I’m pretty sure this is what fun feels like.
Yet still I find myself seeking out these quiet moments alone. Tonight I’m standing on a bridge. Yesterday I leaned against a railing, staring out over the Bellagio fountains for over an hour. The day before I walked the empty halls of the Venetian, smirking at the fake architecture. That’s all I really want to do here — wander and think. But I’m supposed to be having fun, so that’s what I’m doing. I always do what I’m supposed to do. That’s why I’m going out again tonight.
With a sigh I push away from the bridge railing and start walking toward the rodeo. The wall of light shows me that tempting advertisement again, and of course without even thinking I stare at it one last time. Divas Las Vegas, it says. Celebrity female impersonators. A dozen beautiful drag queens are staring back at me.
There’s that feeling again. I hate myself for this secret fascination I have with the idea of men becoming women. That is not who I am. That is not who I want to be.
Ignoring the siren call, I make my way to the rodeo, where as always I’m welcomed as one of the guys. I have fun. I drink too much. Soon our weekend is over and we’re all flying back home. All I can think about in the weeks following is how I’m still depressed despite my amazing vacation. I’m running out of excuses for why I feel this way.
I start searching online, reading forums, recognizing myself in others. They tell me it gets better, once I accept the truth. I don’t believe them, but I’m out of options.
A month later I’m looking for therapists. On one website I stare at a list of possible search terms. I tell it I want someone nearby who takes my insurance. Then I pause, breathe deeply, and click the box marked Transgender.