Becoming Arabella
A Journey of Self-Discovery

Carol Scott

© Copyright 2023 by Carol Scott

Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash
Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

This is a biography of my best friend, Arabella. We’ve known each other for over a decade, having met in high school (I lived in the United States for much of my upbringing and left after graduating high school) and kept in touch, occasionally visiting each other. Arabella is transgender and I believe her experiences are a great way for a reader who may not know a trans person to connect with one on a personal level.

When I ask Arabella to describe herself, she thinks for a moment before responding, “You could use my Tinder bio as a description - ‘Wannabe vampire who is way too into comic books.’” She says it with a light chuckle, one that befits her personality. While she once commented to me that she’s not “that funny,” I would have to disagree. Arabella is one of those people who doesn’t need long-winded set-ups to make you laugh, she can simply improvise a funny response that makes that conversation seem better than any comedy film. Understated, but perfect, in a way.

I only met Arabella in her teens. She tells me of her childhood, comparing her blue-collar father, who often wears a cowboy hat, to Hank Hill, the patriarch and everyman of the cartoon show King of the Hill. She describes him as conservative, but not to the extreme extent one might associate with the word in a post-2016 era. While we met in a mid-sized city in north Texas, she was born in Kilgore, which she derides as “Povertyville, U.S.A.,” a city that once rapidly grew amid the 1930s oil boom and has only declined in the century since then, with many residents feeling left behind, a common thought pattern in small-town Texas. Arabella calls her upbringing traditional, with a religious (Mormon and Baptist) nuclear family that focused on blue-collar values. She tells me that she “felt some of those [gender norms] pressures without it being explicit,” although her mother being a working woman did blur some of those lines. There was a clear split between men and women - the idea of “girls’ toys” and “boys’ toys,” for example. She recalls seeing a number of superheroines and female supervillains who often had their gender as a major part of their character, a feature of storytelling in the 90s and 2000s that aimed to empower women and girls while also making clear the distinction from men and boys.

Arabella, a trans woman, says, “My experience is a bit unique in how I view my childhood. For many trans people, especially trans women, there’s a sense of loss, but I don’t think there would’ve been much difference.” She first began thinking of her gender identity at a boot camp for the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC), a military program available at our high school with the objectives to “[Develop] citizenship and patriotism” and “[Develop] self-reliance and responsiveness to all authority,” among others. During an exercise in which JROTC members had to stand at attention for an extended period of time, allowing time to think and reflect, Arabella first thought that she was a woman. While discussing this, we both noted the circumstances - in a world where Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, an official military policy wherein service members were forbidden from being openly gay, bisexual, or lesbian, had just recently been rescinded, my friend was exploring the concept of gender at an event for a program that some might call propaganda.

She remembers feeling embarrassed and ashamed and jumped to different identities. She considered the idea of being a crossdresser, “because I thought that was slightly more acceptable and would require a lot less coming out.” In her first relationship, she explored the concept of being trans for the first time - her girlfriend is the one who provided the name “Arabella,” after a song of the same name by the English rock band Artic Monkeys. Arabella notes that she initially thought of herself and came out as “genderfluid,” a gender identity in which one’s self-perception of their gender shifts over time or depending on the situation. That was an attempt to hold onto her masculinity, she tells me. “Sticking with masculinity was a comfort and needing some time to adjust,” she tells me.

Today, Arabella happily identifies as trans and is comfortable in her skin. She’s found a feminine style she enjoys that calls back to the Victorian age, often sporting a parasol and white make-up that makes her appear vampiric. She notes that the presentation of vampires in fiction - often sexualized and with some arguing that many depictions are also queer-coded, makes those characters relatable to her and her queerness (both in terms of being queer as sexuality and in the traditional definition of “weird” or “different”). While she’s happy being trans, she presents as male in professional settings. The Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County protects workers from discrimination because they are gay or trans, but the reality is often quite different and can lead to workers - especially early career professionals such as Arabella - being fired for illegitimate causes so employers can have plausible deniability. Arabella’s parents are also not fully on board with her identity, although her mom is more accepting.

In the current political climate in the United States, trans people are being treated as boogeymen by a significant portion of the population and many politicians, Arabella hopes to move to Canada, where none of the major political parties are explicitly anti-trans, and finally live as a woman full-time. While her existence is inherently political in the current zeitgeist, Arabella doesn’t involve herself too much in the discourse. “A lot of things I feel like I don’t really know,” she admits. “I don’t know how much [of being trans] is biology or socialization and that might be reflected in the literature for all I know, but I don’t think we have a clear answer.”

Her answer brings to my mind her love of comic books. While many would associate her love of comic books with superheroes such as Spider-Man and Superman, her interest lies within the unique constraints and limitations of the medium. The genre experiments with genre far more than it is given credit and Arabella is not one to shy away from unique use of the medium - one of her favourites is Maus, Art Spiegelman’s depiction of his father’s experience as a Holocaust survivor that became the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize. In my mind, Arabella also deals with society’s constraints and limitations but manages to create something truly beautiful - herself, a great, loving friend.

Carol Scott resides in London, Ontario, Canada, with her two cats, Wallace and Asparagus. She is currently pursuing writing after dabbling in the art since childhood. She is currently writing her first novel as part of the Humber College Creative Writing certificate program.

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