Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Me and Old Photos

I’m sure I’ve written about pictures before, but it seems to come up from time-to-time. It’ll probably come up less and less, but there will always be a gigantic gap in my photographic history. At least the part I’m excited about looking at or comfortable displaying. In the last few days I’ve been hanging some pictures on the wall in my living room. There used to be a big mirror there. And then I decided that pictures would look nicer there, so I got this huge mosaic print with all these different pics of me and my ex boyfriend. It was something like 40”x60”. Naturally, when the ex went, so did the pic. Which left the wall over my couch empty. It stood like that for quite a while.

One of the things that the Darling Boyfriend has been requesting, in the pursuit of making my house more his home, has been to hang some pictures of his family on the wall. I realized that the living room wall would make a great place for pictures of important people. I can procrastinate, and I have, but I’ve finally gotten around to the project.

I’ve been hanging and sorting pictures for the last couple days. I have tons of pictures of my family from both my mom’s childhood and my grandparents’ childhoods. I have some pictures that are so far back that I’m not even sure who the people are. I have pictures of my parents’ wedding, my grandfather’s soccer team, and my grandmother’s confirmation, among lots of others. There are now tons of pictures on my wall, with a few more to be hung. It makes me feel so good having friends and family on my wall; it makes me feel as though they’re always with me.

As I go through old pictures, though, it always hits me anew: I’m really uncomfortable with lots of the pictures of me. There are pictures with my mom, and my grandparents, and my ex-girlfriends, and old friends, and my ex-wife, and even one with my dad. And I look at them all, and I feel disconnected from them in a way that just stinks. I look at the man I tried to be, and I barely know that person. I look happy in lots of the pictures, and as much as I was broken before, it’s nice to know that I did have some happy moments. But I have trouble recognizing the person in the pictures; I know it was “me,” but it doesn’t ~feel~ like me. And that makes some of the pictures feel foreign in a way that’s uncomfortable, and perhaps difficult to explain. Hanging pictures of me and my mom, or me and my gram, or me and my grampa, or me and any of my old bands, or me and any of my ex-girlfriends, or me and my ex-wife just seems wrong. Not wrong in the sense of a bad thing, just wrong in the sense that when I look at those pictures I don’t feel the connections between me and those people – I just see the pain I used to be in. I see these pictures and I wonder what could have been if I had been right all along. Maybe I would never have met some of these people, but maybe we would have had relationships that were even better. Maybe my ex-wife and I would have just been best friends all along. Maybe my mom would have had a daughter right from the start to dress in frills and bows. Maybe I’d have married and not gotten divorced and already have my family.


The pictures trigger some heavy, not-entirely pleasant lines of thought.

And I’m not even really talking about how I look in those pics. Bluntly: I look like a guy.

I have some friends who can be so unabashed about displaying pictures of themselves before their transitions when they have beards and the like, but I just can’t do that. But some pictures of me pre-transition have made it on the wall. There’s a couple of me and my mom when I was very little, and my parents’ wedding picture. And I realized that it seems like facial and body hair are the biggies for me. When I look at pictures of myself when I was very young, I can see a girl dressed like a boy. I joke that I was butch, and such a tomboy, and that my mom was so silly dressing me in blue. But once my hair issues began, it’s hard to look at those pics and see ~me~. And so there are no pictures of me from when I was 13 (my parents’ wedding) until I was 36 on my wall. It’s a big gap in the “history of me.”

And I can be sanguine, and say that I do love my life right now, and I do. But I would be wicked lying if I said that those pictures didn’t remind of the way things were to supposed to have been.

And I really hate that I don’t have any pictures of me with my gram.

But the wall looks very nice.


  Betty Wing wrote @

When I first moved away from home my mother gave me a bundle of pictures and albums and yearbooks that were a history of my life as her and my father’s child. Time went on and other pictures were added to that collection – a wedding album, honeymoon pictures, me as parent with children, even videotapes where i parenthetically “appeared” in voice. Then on e day the crisis hit and i separated from my family and went out on my own along with the collection. I’ve moved 4 times in the last 5 years, packing up that bundle of pictures and albums along with other things. Some of them i am curiously unaffected by, and other things I can hardly bear to see without tears – indeed in the last move the wedding album went in the dumper before i would pack it again and carry it somewhere else to avoid looking at it.

Why do I have them and what do I think? Of course I remember what I looked like and what i thought i wanted to be, so it can’t be for the memory. Sometimes its more out of respect for my parents and the pride the felt for the part of me they loved.

But during the last move where I have relocated far from my old home to a new locale that I’ve grown to love and cherish as a new beginning for me, I’ve felt very strongly the urge to burn every single one of those childhood pictures, report cards, yearbooks, diplomas, all of it except my children’s pictures, because i am without qualification proud of having been a good parent to them despite what we went through to remain a family in our hearts. And perhaps I’ll keep a few of the ones with my sisters in the time i remember mostly as wondering why was my body wrong and when would I begin look like them?

  Bri wrote @

Wow. It’s interesting getting things from different points of view.

AJ isn’t a big fan of more recent photos of himself, just prior to transition, but other than that he seems to be mostly okay, lacking the sort of disconnect that you describe. I’m glad for him, and for me, because I like to post/hang/share cute pictures of us being happy together.

But now I’m a little sad for you, Penny. Being how I am with pictures, I even have wedding pictures posted to FB from which I did not cut my jerky ex-husband, because he wasn’t being such a jerk then and I looked pretty in my medieval-style garb, dammit. 😉

Now I’m being a little random, I guess. But the point is that pictures are a big deal for me, and it sounds like they’re a big deal for you, too. I’m sorry that you have such a big gap.


  pickypenelope wrote @

Thank you Bri.

The thing is, I look at those pictures, and I just keep thinking, “Who ~is~ that guy?” It’s weird, because anyone who makes it into my home certainly will know my history, so I’m not like worried about outing myself or anything. They just don’t feel right. Which is sad. My marriage was mostly awesome, and my ex was the person most responsible for me figuring things out, and we’re still best friends – but I certainly don’t want to put wedding photos (or any photos from while we were married, really, save for a precious few) on display. Which is sad.

Pictures are a big deal for me, thanks for getting it.

  Corrvin wrote @

I still think there’s a photo retouching service just begging to be created here.

  pickypenelope wrote @

It would take ~lots~ of PhotoShop. 😉

And, honestly, it’s not like I’d want me re-made. So my wedding pictures would be a lesbian wedding? That’d hardly be fair.

Right or wrong, the pictures are what they are, which is a record of what did happen. It’s just that sometimes looking at what did happen reminds me of what I wish had happened too strongly.

  Corrvin wrote @

Well, I’m just thinking that in addition to the photos you do have, it’d be nice to have two or three “real me” pictures.

I guess I’m also wondering if maybe as time goes on, if your feelings about those old pictures might change, about “who that person was” then. I know that a lot of my feelings about my appearance have changed (positively!) since I got more comfortable with who I am, and that’s reflected back onto past pictures, too. I don’t feel “horribly ugly” anymore, or that I was in the past, either.

  pickypenelope wrote @

Well, yea, that might be nice. But it also might just push the nerve about “what could have been.”

I doubt I’ll ever feel ~connected~ to those old pictures. In some of them, the man I see is quite attractive (I’d hit that – which is sort of weird, but … anyway …). But ~he~ isn’t ~me~, and he never will be.

It’s funny, I joke about how I created the man I would want to marry, and I married the woman I wanted to be. And the fact that I find that man in those pictures so attractive, and that my ex-wife and I are such good friends really seems to bear that out.

So, I’ll just be really surprised if I ever feel connected to those pics in a way that would make me want to display them.

  Caroline wrote @

For much of my life I claimed to be a photographer. This was in the days before everyone had a recording device in their pocket all the time.

In my late teens I did a lot of self portraits trying to figure out who and what I was. I purged all but one, still beardless at 21, when I was told there was never going to be any help to fix my “problem”. I wish I had those pictures still.

Purging the decades which followed was easy, I stayed behind the lens and candid snaps rarely caught me, I did not want a record of the lie that I was.

When I finally got round to removing the facial hair I would make quick snaps to show progress and now wish I had been more systematic but the process started when I was still in self hate mode.

I am now getting on in age and any beauty is long gone but fear of the clinical honesty of the lens holds no fear and I see the happiness in my eyes now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: