by River Coello
In June of 2017, as Effee, I penned a piece that changed the course of my life as I knew it: “Truth Takes Time” was both a reclaiming of my personal narrative and an invitation to the world into the very personal influences and questions that had, until then, defined it. This piece’s painful honesty thankfully opened up so many doors for me, especially as a writer, as others found parts of themselves reflected in my complicated journey with gender authenticity since childhood.
Two years later, three years into my physical transition, and as River now, I am sharing (my) new truths with you with no other purpose than to stay vulnerable with myself. So much has changed since, with tears in my eyes, I wrote this ode to my femmeness. Yet, so much remains the same: At least the essence of my older piece remains, for, when it comes to my gender exploration, time has unfolded before me the unparalleled magic of liminality, of multiplicity—of the present, if we are mindful.
My history has not changed from what I shared in the past, of course—including my longing for the acceptance of the softer parts of my spirit since I was a young child, my growing comfort in exploring just about everything about my queerness, and even my turbulent relationship to feminism since I first arrived to it in college. Certainly, my understanding of my existence (and my resistance) as not serving or perpetuating of the oppressive gender binary has not changed. I remain your local gender rebel in that way.
Yet, these days, I do find myself making more intentional space for my (trans) masculinity and more boldly embracing the deeply spiritual duality of my gender. Three years ago, completely stepping away from masculinity, especially its toxic parts, was extremely healing for me: Aligning even my body chemistry, through hormones, with my femininity was relieving. My trans womanhood remains my proudest work to date, as I had to fight the world, along with my wife, to simply be in that truth. Unshakeable in my trans womanhood today, though, I am venturing into my trans manhood.
My exploration of my indigenous spirituality and my most recent romantic relationship with a trans man have been beautifully crucial to my acceptance of the bold fluidity of the river I am. As I have practiced mindful spirituality—using ancient tools like meditation, invocation, and even divination—I have recognized for myself the undeniable euphoria of my (admittedly imperfect, admittedly young) masculinity. My attunement to my own magic, though undoubtedly thriving in femininity and Pachamana, has also grown immensely in my playful boyhood and Inti.
To deeply love a trans man has similarly challenged me to deeply love the non-normative (and certainly flawed) man in me—past and present. Trans masculinity and manhood are sometimes misunderstood, often (understandably) reduced to their toxic parts, so it might not surprise anyone that I have been hesitant to embrace my own. Turning to healthy models of (queer and trans) masculinity has helped immensely, though: I am perpetually grateful to my boyfriend for so sweetly pushing me to be more authentic in this part of my gender exploration, and for being a man I would have loved to have in my life as a young boy.
What has been the sweetest about this recent journey for me is perhaps how silly our delineations of gender are to begin with. Do not get me wrong: Labels are important. Yet, in practice, the performance of gender for a person with an androgynous body, like myself, is pretty funny. Binded or tucked, hair up or down, cheekbones highlighted or masked, I am ultimately the same human person! A very lucky one, I will admit, as I get to take portraits like the ones you see here, and I get to chuckle at the strangers who see me on any given day and do not know the full story, which I guess you have now read.
Cheers, babes! To the future!
Photography by Jordyn Belli