English ivy is a noxious weed where I live and I hate it. It’s also a perfect fucking metaphor for gender dysphoria.
Left alone to grow, its leaf cover and epiphytic roots will choke trees and understory plants and take years or decades off their lifespans by making them more susceptible to pests and toppling in windstorms.
Besides creating shoots to creep along the ground, it sends vines up trees to reproduce. At first, it’s just a few shoots here and there. It’s easy to peel off the strands when they’re thin, but the roots will leave little marks on the bark. If you let it go a season or more, the vines grow thicker and require real effort to remove, often with small sections of bark.
If ignored for years or decades the vines turn into woody cables thicker than your wrist, requiring a saw to cut through and a crowbar to remove. The mat of roots to support these cables will pull everything along with them if you’re not careful, leaving gaping wounds on the trunk. At this point, there’s also a thick carpet of it on the ground and few, if any, other species are able to grow with it, and ripping it out often leaves bare dirt where a whole ecology used to thrive.
Left to their own devices, the vines spread to the tops of trees, flower, and berry out. Birds eat the berries and scatter the seeds in their droppings to repeat the cycle on the next vertical surface the shoots can find.
I let mine go for decades, and the sawing and prying I went through to un-strangle myself left me exhilarated and exhausted when finished. There are a few shoots here and there I missed and pull out from time to time, but that’s nothing compared to the previous work.
The removal left me with a barren patch of ground around me and scars on my side. Sometimes when the sun shines, I see my shadow and I swear I’m still covered in ivy and I wonder why I went through all that work when it seems I’ll never be rid of it.
But then I look closer and I see ferns, moss, and salal starting to grow about my feet and realize the ivy leaves I see are all dead. They drop from me one by one to the ground as I sway in the wind.
It will take years for them all to blow away and the vines that snake like scars up to my crown may not fall off before I fall over. It’s a small price to pay for being able to be free of the leaves that hid me. Now I spread my branches, soak in the sun, bud out, and grow again.
Before, the thirst of entire limbs went un-slaked in the struggle for a sip of the rain before the parasite covering me could soak it all up. I shed them as the dried, dead appendages they slowly become. Now my roots soak the water in by the gallon and my heart pumps it to every twig.
And the best thing? It’s that everyone can see the type of tree I’ve been all along.
When you grow up with dysphoria, it grows up with you, obscuring you. Other people see the ivy wrapped around you, hiding what you are. You might not even realize you’re covered until fully grown and the berries are raining down amongst your mature feet.
That ‘ah-ha’ moment always comes though, and it can threaten to topple you. The weight and life-sucking taproots of the ivy you didn’t know were there before feel like immense burdens and worms burrowing into you.
Some of us immediately start ripping vines off to reveal ourselves as fast as possible. Others may not have the energy to begin or fear damaging themselves too much in the process, and put it off and put it off until we are either felled by time or the ivy, or realize we can’t go on wrapped in something sucking our vitality out and finally start removal.
Sometimes we start and stop removal, many times over. Sometimes we remove it all and then let it all grow back when we realize we’re the ivy, not the tree. Sometimes we realize we’re not either and are our own species.
It used to bug me when I saw people post-transition encouraging people to transition. How dare they cheerlead when they had no idea the soil or climate I was rooted in? I now understand the subtle, unspoken directions left out of, ‘You have an ivy infestation and should remove it as soon as you can.’
‘As soon as you can,’ really means: ‘As soon as you can and check the gardening book for the best time and method to remove it and proper species identification. I’m also not going to pretend to tell you when and how you can make time to garden in your already busy life unless you ask’.
Get rid of that weed, people. You have an ivy infestation and should remove it as soon as you can.
It’s choking out the flowers you could be planting about you.
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2016: Poems from a Year of Change
Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition