Driving Alone in the Wilds of New Mexico Made Me Think About Who I Want To Be
Finding peace with the past in the wide-open West.
Warning: This article discusses suicidal ideation and depression.
I said that I would drive into the desert to try and find meaning for myself. New Mexico's beautiful roads, dark starry skies, solitary dirt roads, and gorgeous mountains made a better mirror for myself than I expected them to. This is what I found out about myself as I drove for four days through this gorgeous landscape, trying to avoid interstates and only drive the roads less traveled.
A lot of people have tried to understand the process of transition and how it shapes the worldview and challenges that we trans people have. Of course there is the obvious: new name, new gender, new social anxieties to sift through, but deeper than that, there are challenges no one warns you about. For one, I am an adult—ostensibly a 25-going-on-26 year old woman, with a job (if driving cool cars and writing about them is a job, I suppose), a burgeoning career, bills to pay, and so on. Also, I am a year into what you could call Second Puberty. This is the best way I can describe the awkward phase of early transition I am currently in, because puberty is a universal experience. We all remember going through it and discovering our bodies changing and our perceptions shifting as hormones molded us into who we would become.
Luckily, most people go through it once, and they’re young enough the foolhardy confidence and stupidity that First Puberty entails is not a dangerous event; it’s just teen stuff.
[Editor's note: Writer Victoria Scott is taking off to travel the country this summer and explore car culture in a JDM 1995 Toyota Hiace, and we'll be chronicling her adventures through a series on The Drive called The Vanscontinental Express. It's natural to yearn for the open road at a moment when it feels like the world is waking up from a yearlong daze. But as a trans woman looking for her place in the world, Victoria's journey is anything but your average road trip. This is part six; you can read parts one through five here.]
But for me, this is now Second Puberty, at an age where it solidly causes true confusion. Thank god this time my body is changing for the better, and not being molded into something I cannot stand, but it’s still… a challenging experience. Even stripping away my surrounding ambient anxieties of travel and breakups and acceptance, being a teenager with the entire world wide open and so few experiences under your belt as a formed self is intimidating.
At the same time, it represents a chance for me to get a fresh start; much like First Puberty gives cisgender people a chance to shape their futures, Second Puberty offers the same experience for trans people. Whether through providence or coincidence or plain old teenage stupidity, I am currently rewriting what I understood my life to be.
First Puberty was rough for me. Depression sank in for reasons I didn’t fully understand, although I now know it was at least partly because testosterone and I don’t get along. But even beyond that, expectations were high, and they crushed me. I remember being 13 years old, sitting at the dinner table, studying for private high school entrance exams. I needed to score high enough to get a scholarship to go, and otherwise my dreams of college and a good career would be dashed, as I understood it. I felt depression for the first time then. I lacked the language to explain it. I just didn’t want to live, and I was stressed out that I kept having to.
And then follows the hectic decade I described in my first piece, where I just thought that achieving goals would bring me peace, and I chased them at my frenetic rat-race pace. I did not want to live more. A frequent regret would be to look back at a seminal moment of failure—a squandered job interview, a poor exam score—and wonder why I had not just stopped my story then.
Only later did this pain end, as I became the person I am comfortable existing as today. I am fortunate that transition has given me back much of my will to live. This is not universal; hormones are not a panacea, but they helped me find stable footing, and I am thankful for it. I had to survive many years wondering how long I’d let myself live to get to this point where I’m excited to wake up every day. But it’s left me with this other problem, admittedly a good one to have. With an entire life left to live—one I never envisioned myself surviving to see—what do I want to become?
When First Puberty was wreaking havoc on my body and mental health and all I wanted was to escape to the wilderness, I never did, maybe because I knew I would never find solace there, or anywhere. My strife was internal. Now, it is Second Puberty, and I am becoming the person I wanted to be the first time around, and I can envision a place for myself in the world. I can see the potential I have more fully. Maybe that’s just teen hubris, but it’s still a marked difference. I never saw the potential to be anyone before. I simply existed, fully dissociated from what my personal goals were.
And although I am 25 and having a cold adult beverage in a beautiful National Forest as I write this, that question—what do I want to become—hits me like I’m 14 years old at the dinner table and someone asks me what I want to do for a living. I have a vague idea. I want to help my community, I want to be someone who is friends with others, and I want to be interesting. These are general ideas, not a plan. But that’s why I call where I am now Second Puberty. I have a bit more wisdom than I did the first time around, but I’m still a wide-eyed teen at heart, inspired and awed by the world around me, awash in possibilities.
These revelations only came to me as I drove through New Mexico, on a road trip to find meaning, as it became almost cliche how much it paralleled my own experiences of discovery. I stopped driving on interstates. I stopped caring about where I slept, as long as it promised a dark sky. I picked out the most rural routes I could—I drove 50 miles through a desert unpaved dirt trail just for fun—because I wanted to see what was there, and maybe I’d find something beautiful.
I did, of course. This state is gorgeous and the desert is stunning. I love it here, and I am so glad I strayed from the beaten path in favor of exploring the vast expanses of the unknown. The joy of discovery is almost as powerful as the elation of seeing beauty. I’ve intentionally stopped researching specific sights to see on my routes, choosing instead to drive along the most rural roads I can find and let the landscape surprise me. Today, I stumbled upon the Very Large Array. Yesterday, I saw an 11-mile-wide caldera. The day before, I slept at 9,500 feet and was able to see thirty miles out over the entire city of Albuquerque. Did these experiences mean anything? I don’t know yet. I feel better for having had them, though, and I think right now that’s all I need.
Sometimes, it’s a really beautiful thing to not know what comes next, and just revel in the wonder of the moment. This road trip has already taught me to embrace it. I think I will come out of it a better person, but I’ll probably have some pitfalls and make mistakes along the way. What else could you expect from puberty?
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor
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