Nonfiction from Liza Olson

The beginning of a tree growing from between two sidewalk bricks

Photo: Kati

Sidewalk Sprout

I don’t want to write about a scales-falling-from-the-eyes moment because there wasn’t one, or only just one. I don’t want to focus on the pain of not fitting a mold I was never going to fit, or give the trans portrayal that’s expected, because the pain of making the transition, for me, was never going to be as acute as the pain of how others took or might take the transition, the subtle shifts in social interaction, the tiny ways perfect strangers will cut you to pieces, the people you’ll lose that you never expected to lose, but the ones, also, who surprise you by staying. Because the inconvenient truth is, there is no one trans experience but there are enough overlaps where you can discern the pattern as you’re going through it, commiserating with others in the middle of it, celebrating microscopic incremental changes and comparing pictures from just a few weeks ago, seeing the malleability of biology, the no-words joy that comes from starting to see your body the way you always wanted it to look. Because one thing that cis people might not want to hear but might need to hear is that transition isn’t painful and hard, or rather it is but not for the reasons they imagine, that given proper support and compassion I’ve seen people blossom, seen it in myself despite everything I’ve had to climb through to get here, because growing up poor has a way of making you resilient if it doesn’t first break you down completely, so I’m one of those sidewalk sprouts defying logic and sense, root system spreading beneath concrete, and I’m starting to realize that deprivation was readying me for this, only it’s not the test I expected, and E has got me crying over the tiniest things now, and then laughing at the tears, feeling the hardness I’d cultivated over the years crack and crumble. I think of the earliest cracks in my egg: my fascination with stories of transition at a very young age, the immediate way I connected with Frank from Rocky Horror and Angel from Rent, the freight train of puberty and being told these mood swings were normal hormonal changes, and so figuring hating my body had to be normal too, assuming everyone got this way sometimes then downing a bottle of cologne at 14, wanting to end the pain, but it only leaving me with a burning throat and stomach, feeling stupid and telling no one. I figured it was normal to want to be something and someone else, and I think now of the irony of being put in an all-boys Catholic high school. Now, I’m happier than I’ve ever been, becoming myself without the implied end that always hung over every day before, the time-is-running-out immediacy and daily ticking time bomb of life pre-transition. The knot in my stomach and buzz in my head that I took as normal, which went away within a day or two of starting hormone replacement therapy. I don’t want to dwell on the hard things, but I also don’t want them to keep happening to people like me. I don’t want more to suffer because of societal ignorance and lack of compassion the way I and others have. Because trans people have always existed, and we’re not going to go away because others will us to or try to legislate our existence from us. If all of us were wiped off the planet tomorrow, more trans people would still be born, and they would find their way to the same realization as us. They’d still write and draw and sing and claw their way out of what they’ve been given, what they’ve been told to accept. So I don’t want to dwell on these things because this isn’t my story, or it’s at least not all of it. I want to focus on the joy that’s possible, the way my friends and family light up when I do, their excitement at getting to meet me. I want to write about the new friends I’ve made and the grace I’ve granted myself, the ways I’ve allowed myself to heal when all I used to do was hurt. I want to talk about how my grandmother and great aunt, twins nearing 90, call me by my name and pronouns, immediately correcting themselves if they slip up, their genuine curiosity and delight at seeing me so happy. I want to write about how my little brother made me cry with a “first” birthday card that was as beautiful as it was affirming, how my best friend didn’t bat an eye when I told him I was trans, how he and his wife have been nothing but supportive and incredible. I want so badly for these stories to be the norm, for my future trans family to have the love and support and basic human decency they need and deserve.

Liza Olson is the author of the novels Here’s Waldo, The Brother We Share, and Afterglow. A Best of the Net nominee, Best Small Fictions nominee, finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award, and 2021 Wigleaf longlister in and from Chicagoland, she’s been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Cleaver, Pithead Chapel, and other fine places. One of her proudest achievements was getting to run (mac)ro(mic) for four incredible years. Find her online at or on social @lizaolsonbooks.

1 Comment

  1. […] I’ve got CNF in Atlas and Alice! I put everything into this piece about the joys of transition, things I wish cis people knew, how indomitable trans people are. Huge thanks to Lindsey Danis for getting this to its best state possible, everyone at A&A for seeing something here. 💖 […]

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