This pandemic has changed many of us.
Whether for health, economic or social reasons, we seem to have two parts of our lives: P.C., which stands for pre-COVID, and A.P., or Anno ab pandemic, meaning “the year of the pandemic” in Latin. The distinction is clear, and much of the difference is sadly centered around loss.
But for some, at least, that loss has paved the way for other gain. And such is the case for 17-year-old Flora Ramjoué, who over the course of the pandemic, shed her uncomfortable presentation as a boy and began living as her true self: a young woman. She transitioned genders. She is a transgender person.
She also realized she’s a storyteller, which is why her mom connected her to me. So, I got to be reintroduced to this new version of an old friend, and hear about her metamorphosis.
Interestingly, Flora and I value sharing our personal narratives for many of the same reasons. At the heart of our desire is the belief that storytelling can manifest understanding. The representation of different identities in the media helps more young people see the value of their own differences, and we can demystify the things that for so long had kept us othered. It gives us hope.
So, this week, I’m sharing my column space with Flora. We hope you enjoy.
Marina: You last saw your classmates as a boy, and attended back-to-school night recently as the newly minted, skirt-wearing Flora. How did you feel that night?
Flora: I was a bit nervous at the very start. There are some people I just haven’t talked to during the summer/quarantine, and they looked kinda surprised when I first showed up. But when my best friend arrived, it eased my nerves. I actually didn’t really get too many weird looks.
It felt fairly normal.
I’m not sure how intentional they were about it, but my peers sort of avoided using any gendered pronouns or my deadname [former name]. And my teachers were very friendly and super good about using my name and treating me as the same kid they knew, just with new monikers.
Marina: Did the pandemic provide a unique opportunity for this self-reflection and change? Or do you think this would have been your trajectory either way?
Flora: Yes, the space and time was really important. It was the end of the school year when I really started thinking about all of this. If I had been going to school regularly, I would’ve had a lot harder of a time coming to terms with my new identity.
Quarantine let me disengage from the general stress and pressure of school and just spend time with myself. Because of this, I was able to find that I am, without a doubt, a young woman.
Unfortunately, this came at the expense of my grades, but for me it was more than worth it.
Marina: You talked to me about a feeling you have when you get to do things that women do — shaving your legs in the tub was your example. What’s that like?
Flora: Well, I absolutely feel euphoria when I do things that are typically assigned to female gender roles. When I said that tub example I was talking more about this learning I’m doing. There are little secrets and tips that are shared between father and son and mother and daughter. I’m learning that new set of tips now.
Marina: You’ve been living as a woman for only a short portion of your nearly 18 years, but have already experienced the realities of sexism. How does having lived experience as a male person affect your reactions to sexism?
Flora: My limited time identifying as a woman and even more limited experience of being out with others has shown me a surprising amount of sexism. It’s interesting to see from the outside the things men do unconsciously.
I definitely didn’t have a good understanding before, but I also didn’t really see it as important or all-encompassing. But now, I’ve noticed being given less credit and that my opinions/ideas are treated like they matter less or are somehow invalid because I’m a girl. I was camping recently, and for the first time wasn’t asked to help with certain physical projects.
I hope I can use my unique history to help push back.
Marina: You have said you want to share your story to illuminate humanity, and you don’t want to leave out the hard parts even if it makes them less easily palatable. What’s important about sharing the less picturesque parts?
Flora: I was admitted to a mental institution two years ago and saw many people around my age who were dealing with the depression, anxiety and other issues that I was and am. Seeing that I wasn’t alone in my struggles was probably the most cathartic part of my stay.
Everyone deals with problems and we all have rough patches. Sharing these parts helps humanize us all, and show us we aren’t alone. We are all different and unique, but we have experiences and issues that are absolutely human and shared between people regardless of gender, sexuality, race, etc.
I hope that any stories I tell, and any stories people read, can have a similar effect on the readers.
I have no doubt she will. In fact, I think she might already be working on a new blog. This butterfly is emerging from the pandemic and has a story to tell. And I, for one, look forward to reading more about it.
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.