12,500 Miles on the Road Taught Me to Stop Apologizing for Who I Really Am—to Anyone
On any journey, it's good to check your mirrors.
The final leg of my trip was definitely the most boring yet. From Cibola National Forest, overlooking the entire city of Albequerque and the vast high deserts of New Mexico that I now love so much, I finally turned east, back to my home base in Houston. Fifteen hours of flat plains, all privately-owned and fenced off from taking photos or exploring interesting trails, separated me from the small bedroom I borrow on the Gulf Coast. With nowhere to stop and camp to break the monotony aside from Walmart parking lots or truck stops, I decided I would cannonball it home in one shot and spent most of the drive in my own head reflecting on what had gotten me here. Blasting down two-lane highways bifurcating nothing but vacant ranch land for hours on end, I thought about who I was before I was Victoria for the really the first time on this 12,500 mile trip.
Over the past five months, I have been on an adventure I never expected to be lucky enough to have. I have chosen to be as open as possible on this trip; the benefit of making myself a protagonist for a journey like this is that it cannot be lurid. This is not a peek into the secretive life of a private person who doesn’t wish for the gaze of strangers; I write because I enjoy it, and I share what I’ve written because it helps me to. There is no privacy of the subject I need to worry about because I print what I am comfortable sharing, and I leave on the editing-room floor what I am not. And my traveling companion is a van—Marsha definitely had no objections to being a headliner image week in, week out, as I documented my travels through the West.
[Editor's note: Writer Victoria Scott took off to travel the country this year and explore car culture in a JDM 1995 Toyota Hiace, and we're 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 an eighteen-month 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 16; you can read parts one through fifteen here.]
But no one’s life is a solo adventure. I am blessed to have had many, many people intersect my life path who have helped guide me, find peace, and become a better writer and person, but not every relationship is like that. Some relationships have left me confused and uncertain of my place. Some have hurt me, even unintentionally. And so as I headed home to consider what's next for my life, I thought about the first important relationship of my life: my parents.
I didn’t initially want to write about familial relationships in this series. I touched very briefly about it in my first piece, but at the moment, I am not on fantastic terms with my family, and those bonds are not fun to prod and analyze for me. Things were strained previously in my old life—the idea of me being bi or the fact I was dating a trans woman were not something they appreciated—but we still talked; there was at least the notion that perhaps if things stayed consistent, if I kept working at NASA and achieving professional success, and they just pretended I had never come out to them, we could someday achieve the kind of closeness we once had.
That idea was completely shattered when I came out as a woman; that was too much to ignore, at first. My father stopped talking to me almost completely. We had tried a lot of father-son stuff growing up that I was always a complete failure at, and frankly, I expected him to be angry. I was prepared for it and have been mostly fine with it as a result.
Unfortunately, my mother did not take it well either, and that was more difficult to accept. My existence as I currently enjoy it is incompatible with her belief system and upbringing, and she simply cannot understand why her first-born son would do something so radical, no matter how hard I try to explain the freeness I feel in my life now or that my only regret was starting so late. She does try to ignore it, although that is difficult, and it hurts me when she does. I in turn try hard not to fault her. She went through a lot as we grew up; my dad was sick and she had to care for him, she homeschooled me in the interest of getting me into better colleges, then I was sick and she was constantly ferrying me to hospitals. Generally, she did her best. I try to remember these things but since we don’t talk much now, memories only carry me so far.
And one of the strongest memories I had was as she did these things for my family—as she struggled to keep me and my brother succeeding as she juggled an inhuman amount—is that I felt indebted. I kept a mental counter running in my head at all times of how much I owed my parents. For schooling, for a home, for the meals she would make me, for compassion, it was all going onto a ledger that I wanted to repay, and in those years before college and a steady job, it was impossible to. I had to achieve a lot to make it worth it for her. She never intended for me to feel this way, I am sure, but in an academically-focused household full of misfortune and guilt and illness, I latched onto it because it allowed me to get through the struggles of day-to-day life and look forward to a future where I could make these times have meaning.
Now, when I feel I have finally attained the meaningful success I so desperately sought, I can't share it with her because of who I am.
I have spent more time on this road trip examining myself and who I am becoming than I ever did before. A realization I had as I hiked through the Bowl of Fire back in Las Vegas—with total silence, no cell signal, no diesel-engine clatter—was that racing through life journeys like they were checkpoints in Cruisin' USA silenced my internal monologue. It was a survival mechanism to cope with a present I couldn't tolerate and a future I didn't want to envision. I muddled through life with a haze of dissociation through my mind, because it was the only way to ignore the thoughts about who I truly was that I had tried for so long to block out. Now, with my life reimagined and my sense of self at least present, I can finally live in the moment. The whole point of this journey has been to slow myself down and allow introspection, and it has been largely a success, and I know that it's because I finally am myself. Traveling like this five years ago would have been a disaster; it had to happen as Victoria.
At the same time, though I cannot pretend that my life started on June 17th, 2020, the day I popped my first pills. I was baptized anew as myself, but I was not reborn as a fully-formed woman ready to define who she was; the life that got me to this moment began much before then. My favorite part of having my van, and by extension, my own living space, is the complete independence, though that illusion faded on this trip fairly rapidly. I originally hoped to never have to owe anyone again. I knew that I had fallen short in the eyes of the most important people in my old life, and so I wanted to live this and all future chapters without ever feeling that again. Of course, that's not remotely possible, and I know now that I wouldn't have made it through the trip without help. The community around me is how I was able to make it to this final evening of travel, with Houston on the horizon and an entirely new life awaiting me, and I am thankful for it, but it has also shown me there is one last conflict I would like to make peace with.
I still talk to my mom sometimes. We used to text all the time and call each other frequently. After the shock of my transition had faded, she had chosen a non-confrontational path to try and stay close, and for the most part I did the same. Every package addressed to my [deadname] with candies and a card is a gentle, loving stab in the side; a formal recognition that she loves the old idea she had of a son and not me, the person I am today. I wanted to show her I was succeeding and happy in ways I couldn’t have been before. But every time anything related to who I am now came up, the whole topic would upset her, and I would feel guilty about it.
And so eventually I chose the path of least resistance, and I just stopped trying to be open. I stopped correcting her when she called me her son; I stopped trying to stand up for myself, and as a side effect, I stopped telling her about my joys. She's never read any of these stories. Even trying to share this journey I've written about in this series—a journey that is so inextricably linked to who I am now—felt selfish and rude.
And so I relived this as I drove through rural Texas, chugging Red Bulls to stave off the exhaustion as the odometer ticked by kilometer after kilometer of unchanging flat, straight roads. I desperately wanted to call her when I got home, and tell her that I did it. I had conquered my fears. I was excited to see what came next. I was happy with the woman I was becoming. But I knew that it would upset her if I talked about it, and I felt that twinge of guilt again. But why? I truly did believe all of this had made me a better person. What was left to be ashamed of?
And finally I realized (albeit very, very late in my trip; I believe Google Maps was telling me another two and a half hours to home), my family still expects me to be sorry for my identity and who I am. And I simply will not anymore.
This is perhaps the hardest change I will make, and it assuredly will take me a long time to go from this statement of intent to it actually sinking in. It is genuinely hard to internalize it in a world filled with a million opportunities to remind me—to remind everyone like me—of our differences. At many points on this trip, from an entire Denny's dining room staring at me with malice, or being told by a professional contact that I shouldn't be allowed to use the bathroom because I look threatening, or a thousand other times where I knew my presence was sensed and unappreciated, it felt as though my existence was something to excuse. If I could just say "I am strange and I apologize you have to look at me" and shrink into the wallpaper, I could at least stop inconveniencing others.
It's one thing to own who I am to a couple in a bar I've never met before; it is another to follow this through to its logical conclusion with the people who raised me, and who I still love.
But I am done with that thinking. I will not shrink into the wallpaper, and I am not sorry for being Victoria, to anyone.
Oh, sure, sometimes I can still be an asshole, and I will definitely make amends for those moments. But this incredible journey—the lovely people I have met, the stories I have told, the incredible experiences on mountaintops—is something that only could have happened when I finally became myself. I needed to become Victoria to experience this moment. It has been a gift and it has made me a better person, and I am so deeply thankful I got to experience it. I cannot apologize for something I am not sorry for.
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