As I progress through my third decade of being alive, I gradually come to a realization—gender is a strange thing. It doesn’t work quite the way I thought it did. This story is an attempt to articulate what I understand about my gender, and what I instinctively know.
When I was in high school, and even before that, I thought that I was a man. Not a very masculine man, certainly. I didn’t swear or drink or smoke or pine after girls in emotionless silence, the way some of the other guys in my grad class did.
But more importantly, I also thought that I was read as a man by the people I met. That they saw me and knew me to be male.
Lately, I’ve begun to realize that that’s just not true.
When I was four or five, I wore dresses occasionally. The first few times happened during dress-up time with my younger sister, but soon I became bold. I distinctly recall interrupting one of my parents’ dinner parties dressed in a silky red dress, tattered heels, and a curly brown wig. I also have a polaroid somewhere depicting a six or seven-year-old me on Halloween night, costumed in a yellow sequinned gown and giving the camera a maniacal grimace; I like to think that costume was the one non-canon “evil Disney princess.”
This recognition of my younger self is the first impetus to tell this story.
My full legal name is Lukas Piada Bhandar. (My dad originally wanted to call me Galen. Can you imagine?) “Lukas” is the German form of the Greek name “Loukas,” meaning someone from Lucania, a region in southern Italy. “Bhandar” is the corrupted form of “Pandher,” the name of the village my family is from in Punjab, India. I’m not sure what it means exactly. However, I do know what “Piada” means. In Punjabi, it directly translates to “loved one.”
I share the name “Piada” with one other member of my family: my uncle, who is estranged from the family and rarely visits. A few years ago, this man physically assaulted me. And since then, I have felt an increasing discomfort with my middle name.
This is the second impetus to tell this story.
Until high school, I thought that I was white-passing, that when my skin was at its palest and un-tanned other people could mistake me for just another white boy. In grade 9 that assumption was torn to pieces when I found out from a friend that most people in our class thought I was Indigenous. I detail this more in my essay “I love my hair / I hate my hair”, but the notion is important to this story as well; it parallels and reflects my assumption that others also saw me as a man.
I’m delaying, you surely have figured that out by now—something is coming, but you don’t know quite what it is perhaps, and that must make the hair on the nape of your neck stand on end. But you must also understand how difficult this realization has been for me, how long I have struggled with trying to understand my gender.
The truth is that I have never been the man I thought everybody saw me as. I have always been other. The truth is that it’s finally time for me to name that otherness. I’m a transgender woman.
Phew. That wasn’t so hard.
Okay, here’s the details:
- I’m changing my name to Serena Lukas Bhandar. “Serena,” in addition to meaning “serenity” in Romance languages, has several meanings in the Punjabi and Sikh lexicons, including “Supreme Name.” I also think it’s incredibly pretty.
- I’m going to start blogging about the process of legally and physically approaching the idea of “transitioning,” but for the time being please accept that I’m not going to expound on the highly personal details of my body.
- I welcome questions, but be respectful, and use Google first.