Born Again Genderqueer, Raised by Memes
After switching to they/them, 90s baby cartoons like Rugrats helped me figure out who to be.
I used to be a “tomboy.” I wasn’t trying to, it was just what people called me. I wore orange cargo pants, loved soccer and playing Mario Kart with Harris, my only friend. The summer I was twelve, I went through a growth spurt and lost weight. A bunkmate watched approvingly as I belted now-loose cargo shorts. “You’re skinny,” she told me, “now you’re a girl.”
I had a crush on her. I’d be a girl if she wanted. And so, Aries-style, I trust-fell into femme-hood, hoping that, if I was a skinny, pretty girl, then my femme friends wouldn’t hook up with their boy crushes – they’d hook up with me.
It didn’t happen. I was in the closet, and I made a bad girl. I couldn't fit the role. I couldn’t enjoy the things that made my femme friends feel empowered and loved – sex, clothes, friendship, any kind of social interaction. It felt like a game that I didn’t know how to play. I just knew that I was fucking up. I developed debilitating anxiety, and – because skinniness seemed like the key to femme-hood– an eating disorder as well. My favorite things in high school were running outside in winter, losing weight, and baths.
After I switched to they/them, I spent a month memeing a screenshot of Tommy Pickles, the cute baby boy in the 90s animated TV series Rugrats. I found the screenshot after taking a Clickhole quiz, which, upon completion, rewarded me with a pic of “brave and kindhearted” Tommy. He transformed into what they call “a hulking, muscle-bound behemoth ... the brave baby’s biceps throbbing beautifully.” A baby, but beefy. Hot. Visible six-pack lines beneath the signature light blue T-shirt.
I was never into Rugrats. The bellybutton lint eating grossed me out. But, as I tried to figure how to be non-binary, baby Tommy promised an ideal of non-toxic masculinity: a helpful friend, coltish with an unselfconscious tubby paunch. He wasn’t special, just too young to be socialized into “manhood” and assume the role of a patriarch. In another favorite screengrab, titled “Tommy and Kimi play with laundry” on the Rugrats fandom site, Tommy stands in front of a laundry basket, cheering at a grey t-shirt that floats in front of a screen door. I wanted Tommy’s crop top, but I also wanted his innocence – the fiction that you could be masculine without being a total jerk.
Every trans person has a different relationship to their closeted self. When I learned I could call the old me my “dead self” –that I could bury and flee a gendered selfhood that, for decades, felt like pain – I was overjoyed. Cis narratives often stress continuity and the value of retaining your past. But pasts aren’t for everyone. I started dating my age post-transition. A month after coming out, I was one month old. Like Tommy Pickles, I was newborn and obsessed with infancy. I liked my baby self. It was the self that wanted to live.