Mirror Finish II
One year ago, before the entire Earth was reshaped in ways that we could not imagine, and we were all thrown unwillingly into political, socioeconomic, and mental limbo, I wrote a story about parting ways with my beloved Supra. I wrote it as much for myself as I wrote it for any imagined audience, but it resonated with people I cared deeply about. The feedback I received in the year since I published it has been heartwarming. The story helped friends and strangers recontextualize difficult choices in their lives - whether automotive or something deeper. And so, after the most absolutely bat-shit-insane 12 month period the world has dealt with for a generation, I want to revisit it as a new person.
First, the part that seemed so important at the time - the car. I finally fixed the Supra. It wasn’t as hard to repair as my executive dysfunction had told me it would be, and my friends helped me get it put back together in time to travel to Radwood in Austin, TX. I took both of my cars to the show; I piloted my beloved daily driven Prelude, and I let my friend who helped me fix the old Toyota drive it down with his girlfriend riding shotgun.
We and a dozen mutual friends packed a ranch on the outskirts of town. Our rolling 80s nostalgia littered the gravel, and this ended up being not only my final memory of the Supra but my final memory to date of carefree travel and fun. I knew when I took the car that this was going to be it for the two of us - we had our fun, and one final weekend of relaxation and showing off the hard work I had put in over four years of wrenching was all I needed to feel a sense of closure. It was the perfect sendoff, surrounded by friends whose company I truly relish.
I had never been one to enjoy being outgoing with my peers when I was growing up. I felt out of place in nearly any group environment, crippled by social anxiety and self-hatred. I existed in a constant state of masking my doubts to finish a conversation and appear functioning. When I wrote Mirror Finish, I was discovering as much about myself as I was writing a story about cars. Until I wrote it, I had never simply existed as myself. For almost every gender-nonconforming person I know, there is a staged approach to coming out; we stagger who gets to see it. This process is different for everyone, but for me, anxious as always, I started with fashion photos I shared online, entirely to a circle of people who I’d never come face to face with. I continued with grocery trips, ideally people who I would never cross paths with again. Slowly, I let one or two friends who I would trust with my life know. By the time I had written Mirror Finish, most of my friends knew I was not strictly male, but I was not in a state of existing as Toni; it felt like I had complicated my life further by splitting it in two.
These faces are people I love, although at the time I had only known some of them for a weekend. I was a woman around them. There was no split me. I am Toni. I went to Radwood, my favorite event in the entire world, blasting synthpop in my Prelude in a Honda crop top and a pink skirt, and felt liberation. I introduced myself to strangers as Toni. I reintroduced myself to friends I knew as Toni. For the first weekend of my life, I was myself around everyone, and the feeling of wearing a mask was gone.
After a seminal event in my life like this, changes will come. Somehow, within a week of Radwood, I had found a dream car of mine on Facebook Marketplace. The ad didn’t ask for trades, but the Supra was deemed a worthy trade, and so I swapped my beloved Toyota for a 1986 Honda Accord Aerodeck 2.0Si.
I have written extensively about this car before, but I adore it. It’s stylish on classic Japanese wheels. It’s objectively one of the rarest cars I could ever dream of affording (my best estimate puts this at one of four or five in America). The stereo can make the economy rows of the Tupolev Tu-144 sound quiet. Driving from the wrong side of the car attracts smiles and stares. It combines Honda Accord reliability with 250 GTO rarity.
The car garnered a lot more attention than I expected, but it was largely positive. So have I, in the year since I committed to chase writing as my career. Shortly after picking up the Accord, I tried my first real writing job at Jalopnik, working alongside people I had admired from afar for years. I wrote as Toni; this was the first time I had ever been out at my job, and it felt incredible. My voice as a writer flows much more freely when I speak from the heart. I could never imagine trying to write so much as ad copy if I had to be in the closet for it. Alas, despite how much I enjoyed freelancing, the stress of balancing my weekly day job (programming at a large organization) with working weekends for Jalopnik, especially as the world rapidly began to crumble around me, was too much. Making the decision to pursue stability over passion, I went back to the desk job, where the mask went back on.
As the world collapsed around me, I found myself confronting new fears and facing another change. I had known for ages that I wanted to transition. A year ago, I had a full makeup collection. I had rapidly built an entire wardrobe of feminine clothing. I got laser hair removal for my face to help remove the strongest component of my dysphoria. I felt an even stronger urge to continue, but also a crippling fear of ruining my life for doing so. Until June 15th, 2020, it was still legal in most of the US - including Texas, where I live - to be fired for being LGBT. The official policy of the Trump administration was that this should continue. I feared for my job security, again trying to force myself into a pragmatic approach to life.
A crisis such as the pandemic forces a different perspective. For an anxious person like me, it reframed my worries. My anxiety shifted from the pragmatic - a focus on my job, bills to pay, repairs to make - to existential. I have tried to be forward-thinking and patient my entire life, waiting for the perfect moment to make decisions, indefinitely delaying choices that could be a risk even when I want to make them.
When confronted so directly with the idea of my own mortality - that one day I could go buy groceries and be dead in a week - it seemed insane to wait any longer. I needed to live as myself now in case I didn’t get a chance in the future.
And so on June 12th I called Planned Parenthood, which offers informed consent hormone replacement therapy. On June 17th, 2020, I took my first dose of estrogen and spironolactone. It remains the happiest day of my life. I wish I could say more about the sense of relief and joy I continue to feel to this day, but I truly do not think language can convey it if you have not lived it. Transitioning is terrifying and difficult and societally risky and… my deepest regret is that I had not done it sooner. I was renewed with a new outlook and hope and hunger for life.
One of the oddest parts about finally having such strong positive changes in my life is the new fears it raised. Even though I “daily” drove my Accord, I found myself trying to miss peak traffic hours or high-accident interchanges out of fear someone would crumple the obscenely rare unibody or shatter the unobtainable glass. I also found that when my dread to wake up every day vanished and the depression that permeated my life since my early teens dissipated, I feared actually dying. I had never cared much if I lived or died before, and all of a sudden I felt a burning desire to keep going.
The solution has been twofold - for one, I finally got a doctor that could help me. This was crucial to get on even footing as I realized for the first time what the fear of death truly was. Once that step was completed and clarity was within sight, I decided I wanted to stop waiting for every decision to be perfectly lined up. We all might die tomorrow, of course, myself included. But if I finally have the mental tools to actually appreciate life in a way I never was able to before, I am not going to delay changes for the better and enjoying what I have in pursuit of some imagined ideal moment.
And so the final imaginary boundaries I set for myself have come down. This article is my first one I have written as a full time automotive writer. It may not work out for me, and I will return to programming software if it doesn’t. But I have waited a year for the perfect moment to leap into this field looking and hoping for a perfect moment only to discover there is no perfect moment. I’m still breathing, and I want to try. That makes it a good enough time to make the jump.