For anyone curious, I recently came out as transgender. This wasn’t a decision made with haste – it was one made through a lifetime of wonder and years of knowing. This will be a blog post to detail everything I remember as I see, plan, and experienced. (Skip to “Realisation” for just the actual meat of this, everything prior is piecemeal older memories.)
I had a number of early life experiences that made me suspect early on.
Perhaps my earliest was of running around the playground in primary school at maybe 5 or 6. I tasked one of my friends at the time with making me follow her around, scalding me wearily with “Come on, Alice.” every time I stopped. I remember little else other than that, I just know it was profoundly stupid.
When the Pokémon craze first hit its stride in 1999 or 2000 or so, I was swept away by it. I bought the cards. I watched the animé. I screamed with delight when my parents bought me a copy of Pokémon Yellow, and I played it to death. But I remember having an admiration for Sabrina. Any time I fantasised about living in a Pokémon world or pretending it with friends, I wanted to be Sabrina. She was really mysterious and interesting as a character – far more to me than anyone else in the show.
Speaking of wanting to be animé characters, Pokémon brought with it a number of other, similar animé TV shows. One of those I watched Cardcaptors/Cardcaptor Sakura, and yep, she was another one I always wanted to be.
When games started to be more inclusive of women and specifically when character creation or just choice allowed you to pick your gender, I always swayed female.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 and 3 are my earliest memories of this. I would always pick Elissa Steamer as my character – I had a male friend that was also explorative of playing as females at the time and would use the games’ character creator to create her a sister. I can still visualise how Stephanie Steamer looked – I had THPS3 for PS2 and didn’t own a memory card for a while, so he would have to recreate her every time we played the game together. We didn’t play the actual career mode, we literally just role played in Free Ride.
In Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire, I picked May. My excuse to others was simply that I was born in May so she seemed fitting, which was convenient, but she felt like the correct choice. Brendan looked stupid anyway.
I’ve blogged about a decade ago about my experience with PlayStation Home, a PS3-native free online game where you could socialise with people. I was a girl in that, as is tradition. But there’s a small twist to that one – I was asked for my name once, and with my username on that account being NAL-USA (my main friend at the time had a US account, so I played on one myself), I used the AL of NAL to conjure the name “Allie”. As far as I can remember, that is my first use of Allie or Allison as a name.
Home was one of numerous games with in-depth clothing options though, and I’ve always been terrible for sinking hours and hours into virtual fashion. I grinded in newer Pokémon games with dressing mechanics (X, Y, Gen 7) to get the most expensive stuff I liked, then ground again when I needed new colours. I experienced actual anger when a game like Elder Scrolls or Fallout forced me to choose between dressing how I wanted and being armoured enough to actually be alright in the game.
The strongest gaming memories were immersive ones – games where I could feel like I was in them, as a girl. Fallout 4 has been the strongest to date. When I started playing it, I made myself – that’s the Allison version of myself – with the intentions of playing the game in a very specific way. And… I couldn’t. I was so into the game, I became her. Every single choice I made was literally just exactly what I would have done in her shoes. I couldn’t finish the game any other way until I made a guy with a man bun called Boobies.
But plenty of others captured that too. Animal Crossing was great for it. Far Cry 5 was as well. VR has been incredible for it.
For quite some time (a decade or more), I generated a female persona I daydreamt about, mostly between closing my eyes and actually sleeping, to let out more feminine steam. This is an exceptionally deep rabbit hole so I’ll skip the details now and perhaps go into it in the future via the medium of blog or game or something, but long story short, it’s how I suppressed my feelings.
The persona drifted wildly and started separating into two – the unrealistic persona there is no chance I could ever be, and then a more realistic one that I could. The former’s name is Lara; the latter, unsurprisingly, was called Allison. Anything ridiculous like film-making, athletics etc went to Lara, but game ideas went to Allison – because they are realistic, and she is me. Many of those ideas still exist in my mind, perhaps to be created one day or at least to be written down and turned into something.
Perhaps four years ago, I worked out that an actual transition was the route I was going to have to take. Fantastical feelings became almost a sense of claustrophobia, uses of my old name incorrect.
I started off slow. I stopped getting haircuts and started growing my hair long. I removed as many uses of my old name as possible, changing simply to NAL. Any account I could make gender neutral easily, I did. But it wasn’t enough.
Through the late end of 2015 and most of 2016, when work with Chequered Ink was picking up, I started researching properly. I worked out what to expect in terms of time from initial contact with a psychiatrist to getting hormones and to getting surgery far beyond that. I worked out what would be covered by NHS and what I’d have to pay for. I also worked out how much I’d expect to pay if I went private, and what advantages might make it worth it. I also joined a couple of support forums.
I nearly actually came out two years ago this month, but felt eventually like I needed more time to be absolutely, 100% sure it was the right move. Minuscule shades of doubt still glossed over me now and then – I didn’t want to execute the start of a full transition until I knew that everything it entailed was something I could handle, from the physical changes, to the mental ones, and also to the kinks of the transition itself.
In the meantime, I created Soundproof Cell. It was a free, narrative game that, although largely fictional, did cover a lot of how I was feeling. Focusing on a transgender woman called (by birth) Emilio, who wanted to be Emily, it covered my feeling of claustrophobia, my anger at my genetics, my desire to release my feminine side and wear it proud. I called her that because she was often referred to as “Em”, which is “Me” backwards, and ended the story with “This is my key”. It wasn’t my key (to escape from my own “cell”), it was a little too fictional and disconnected. But it did help me.
Throughout most of 2017, I felt like I had stabilised. I was more and more certain it was the way to go, although still not quite ready to come out. I was wearing gender neutral clothing since 2016, my hair was becoming very long, uses of my name were rare so I didn’t get much in the way of dysphoria. I felt feminine. There were certainly pangs of emotions though. I think a key one was when I had given my hair a particularly thorough wash, and later that day my mum, for a laugh, plaited it, joking “I always wanted a daughter!” I feigned embarrassment, but I got insane butterflies from that moment – a glimpse of the future.
2018 has been a crazy year. Me and Dan (the guy I live with, who I’ve been friends with five years since we met at YoYo Games, and who I formed our company with), at about the start of October 2017, were looking at our Chequered Ink earnings and realising that, if we were sustaining the income we were getting, we could finally afford to rent our own house. We made a simple pact – if the last three months of the year were stable and didn’t drop off, we would start the year by househunting. And that is what we did.
It took us three months of frequent searches for affordable, pleasing Newport houses on Rightmove and Zoopla, and a good few unsuccessful viewings from Dan (who lives far closer to there than I did), for us to finally secure one, which we moved into in mid-April. In those three months, my mind was largely focused on the move, but I did still think about my gender – especially with the fact that Dan was already fairly aware of it. Living in a house with just him would (and did) mean that I could get more and more comfortable with it.
However, the more time went on in the new house, the more the feelings bubbled. And to me, the more I felt ready. My immediate company was okay with it, and I knew most if not all of my friends would be fine with it, but I had a proper first step into the true beginning of the transition that I knew I needed to take, which’s outcome I had no actual idea what the result would be of.
In this time, I named a lot of Chequered Ink’s fonts after small subtle and not-so-subtle hints at transgenderism and my emotions:
- Anastasia – a name I was toying with, but that didn’t feel right – Allison felt like my name the entire time
- The Joy Facade – feeling sad
- Voice in My Head – Allie’s
- Nrvsbrkdwn – yup (didn’t have one, but felt on the verge of one)
- Blend Her – a reference to Futurama episode Bend Her where Bender undergoes a robotic sex change
- Closet Dwellers – because I was one of them
- Manilla Cellos – an anagram of Call Me Allison
- Under the Weather – downness
- Zosilla – Allison backwards with the N sideways
- Oestrogen and Progesterone – no explanation required!
- Green Strand – anagram of Transgender
- Brain Wants – …to come out (this was approaching when I did)
- Say the Words – and again
- Outcome – that’s Come Out with the words reversed!
- Fine Allie. – and that’s when I had. A bit of triple wordplay I’m proud of – it sounds like “FINALLY.”, it’s me announcing my name, and it’s also me telling Allie “Fine. You’re me now.”
(And a few since have been references to stuff too:)
Dan has been immensely supportive the entire time, and I figured he would always be accepting of me. He wasn’t the one that worried me.
My parents were. Not because I figured they would be against it, purely because I didn’t know. Being transgender is such a foreign concept in the eyes of most still, and to them, it certainly is – nobody close to our family had gone through it, Mum only had characters in soap operas and Dad didn’t even have that. But I spent years trying and failing to work out an approach to them, to no avail.
September 22nd, 2018. I had no plans to come out. But I was on my second alcoholic drink of the night. Dan had gone out for a walk, and I was sitting at the dining table, my phone resting infront of me beside a copy of the i newspaper open on the weekend crossword. And I wondered. What if I just did it? Today. Right now. No script planned, no answers beyond what I’d worked out through years of research. Just good old Dutch courage. I pushed each of the eleven numbers of their landline phone in, but couldn’t hit call. I just stared at it, penned in, one touch away from communication.
I stared at it for a full other drink, and I poured my fourth. With a shaking hand, one finger outstretched, I switched my brain, which was generating a forcefield around the call button, off. And I pushed it.
I heard the dialtone lightly as my shaking hand picked up the phone, nervously pushing it to one ear as my other hand found solace through running through my hair. Eventually, mum picked up. I was a wreck. She picked up on it fast – I could hear her getting worried. Maybe I was in jail, maybe I was in hospital, maybe something had happened to Dan – I could tell I was worrying her. It helped me say the words.
“Mum, I- I think I’m transgender.”
I had to say it twice, she couldn’t hear it the first time. My voice was too stuttery and sporadic. After the second, though, she gave me an instant reply.
I was crying. Really, really badly. But at the same time, I felt an absolutely insane feeling of relief. Over the next 25 minutes or so, me and mum talked. Not just about my gender, but my plans as well. I calmed down. I felt happy.
At the end of it, she told me she’d break the news to dad as well. 15 minutes passed. Dan returned shortly before the call ended, quipped right after “Well, that sounded like it went well!” (presumably sussing what it was about, despite me not even knowing I was doing it when he left), and then went upstairs to shower and change.
Then my phone rang again, it was Dad. He expressed surprise, but gave me my full support. It was a shorter phone call, but a positive one.
Once that phone call ended too, I felt a catharsis stronger than any I have ever felt before. I ran around the house, happily screaming, walking with a swagger in my step, feeling like I could take on the fucking world. Allie was free. Allie became me.
Over the rest of the evening and the day after, I spread the word elsewhere. First to my closest friends, then to the internet world. All I ever got was support – and the occasional “you were shit at hiding it”, which made me smile. Everything made me smile.
Present & future
So now I’m here. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks removing my old name from everything left – I had gone exclusively by NAL for years. Now I get to go by Allison or Allie JJ – that is my name, along with my new second initials – my parents’ first names, in dedication of their support of me. Not just through this; through everything.
Updating 219 fonts on DaFont is a pain in the arse, but every single little change to take my dead name out felt like a fresh, tiny release of a lifetime of hiding. It was an absolute joy to do.
Next steps? I’m awaiting a second witness so I can get a deed poll to officially execute my name change. I’ve already changed my name on most things, but when I can tell the world, with official backing, that I am Allison Janice James, I’m going to be a happy bunny. I’m also initialising contact with official specialists so I can get the actual body transition kicked off. Depending on how much spare money I accumulate, I will also likely get laser hair removal done at some point.
Already wearing the clothes and the nail varnish and living female full time, though. (Fuck, why are armwarmers and leggings so comfortable?!)
To anyone reading this, I do not mind what your opinion of me was or is, and whether this has changed anything at all. I don’t believe it should if you only know me through fonts or games – my gender bears no relevance on them. I am happy with people referring to me as NAL – NAL is a pseudonym I have used for over a decade and will likely continue to forever, and does not need to be associated with a gender. (References to me as Allie or Allison, and uses of she and her, do make me smile like a child though.)
To those of you that have shown me support though – it means the fucking world to me. I’m not always articulate enough to express it, but I love you all. Every use of my soon-to-be-official name and gender fills me with glee. Every kind message gets put in a little mental vault I keep to crack open any time I need a fresh smile.
I will also readily answer any questions you may have. I am not easily offended and plan to be an open book on this – if you want to know something, I will probably just tell you!
I don’t, however, want any special treatment or any further articles done about this, really. In my eyes, I would be a terrible role model for anyone else going through similar feelings – I’m sure there are better ways about this. (Soundproof Cell actually covered this feeling accurately.)
I’m just NAL.