Back to the Old House

Retracing My Steps in Order to Find My New Self

In May of 2019, I was presented with a very interesting opportunity – to move back into my childhood home as an adult, just me and my boyfriend, no parents around. We were unhappy with our 1-bedroom apartment in Oakland and wanted more space, and a washer and dryer. So the next month, we moved into the house that I grew up in, renting from my parents. As a teenager, I listened to a lot of pop punk, and was influenced to leave my hometown behind and never return. As a teenager, I was also very confused and in denial about my queer identity, trying to play it straight while something raged inside of me. However, I ultimately made the decision to return to my past and try to create something new from it. Over the last two and a half years, I have learned so much about myself and the way I present that person to the world.

Growing up, I was always very unsure of myself. I longed to be one of the cool punk girls in my grade, but also felt more comfortable being one of the guys. I never knew how to carry myself, and I wanted to be anyone but me. I knew something was “up” but didn’t have the vocabulary to explore my identity until I got to college. I never really identified with womanhood or heterosexuality, but accepting these seemed compulsory in the Bay Area suburb I was raised in. At the same time, I didn’t have any gender non-conforming, or even queer, role models or peers to model myself after. I felt alone and confused and wasn’t necessarily sure how to thrive in this environment. And so, when I finally transferred to a college in San Francisco, I vowed never to return to my hometown – I wanted a fresh start, I wanted somewhere I could experiment and learn to love myself. I got to do that growing and experimenting throughout the entirety of my 20’s, and it was a wild ride. Though the words that I have used to describe my gender identity have changed over the years, I started using they/them pronouns at the beginning of 2014. I went from genderqueer to agender to non-binary back to genderqueer. I have allowed myself the space to sit with myself and ask myself questions about my gender and sexual identities.

Moving back to my hometown has been an interesting experiment, to say the least. I’ve had to combat a lot of past trauma head on, and try to get past my impostor syndrome of living an authentic life vs. being the weird girl my neighbors grew up with. I’ve had to constantly catch myself and remind myself that things are different now, even if the steps I’m constantly retracing through the neighborhood feel the same. Throughout my youth, the walls of this house felt constraining, holding me back with layers of self-loathing and stifling my desire to carry on. I hated myself because I did not have words to describe how I felt, did not have people that I could talk to about who I was becoming, who I wanted to be. This, combined with burgeoning mental illness, caused me to retreat into my shell. I generally put on a brave front, but inside I was hurting very badly. I’ve been able to reclaim my childhood bedroom as somewhere that I actually want to be, not just somewhere I felt trapped in. That room is now my office, where I do the bulk of my work and carry out my creative practice. Over the last thirty one years, this particular room has acted as a cocoon, even when I haven’t been the one living in it – when I was young, I felt caged in, but inside my body, something was shifting. Now, back in this space, I am transforming myself into the person I truly want to be. To be certain, things are still shifting, but I am flourishing into a version of myself that I can and want to be proud of. 

With the help of therapy, the most important thing I’ve learned since moving back has been that I don’t need to be the husk of a person that I was growing up anymore. I have grown, I have thrived, and now I’m back and able to live here on my own terms. Even if I don’t see myself as any sort of role model, I’m the queer person out here living their life that I yearned to see as an adolescent. I leave my house in my weird little outfits and walk my dog around my old neighborhood. I roll up to the local coffee shop with my strange hair, piercings, and tattoos. Growing up, I needed to see that it was possible to express yourself aesthetically and be queer and most importantly, content. And now, I get to be that person for someone else!

I do not think that I am anywhere close to being done with my metamorphosis. I know that it will be a lifelong process. I may never completely shed the shy, closeted teen that I used to be, and that’s okay too. As long as I comfort that version of myself and let them know that things turn out okay, I’m happy to continue growing. I feel very grateful for the opportunity that I have been granted to reframe my old memories and transform them into new ones. This house has gently enveloped me and allowed me to thrive, which is a welcome change compared to when its embrace felt smothering. Every morning, I see the house with new eyes in the space that my boyfriend and I have shaped into our own.

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