Illustration by Eleanor Doughty
To their knowledge, I was just a quirky cisgender girl from rural Iceland.
Ugla's story is part of Broadly and VICELAND's Traveling While Trans series.
"I can't. I just can't," I said.
My heart felt as if it'd stopped. There they were: alive, real, and waiting for me. I wanted to keep going, but I was frozen—suddenly aware of every fiber in my sweaty, nervous body. My large hands; my Adam's apple; the five o'clock shadow on my face. What if they notice?
"What are you doing? Continue walking, Ugla," my friend said—the one I'd coaxed into traveling with me all this way to meet a bunch of strangers I'd met online. What the fuck was I thinking?
My friend took a deep breath and grabbed my hand: "Listen, we didn't travel all this way by ourselves, plan everything for as long and well as we did, just for you to back out now. So you're gonna take a deep breath, pull yourself the fuck together, and come with me."
And then she yanked me towards the group of people we would spend the next five days with.
There was a reason why I was afraid to meet them, and it wasn't because I was scared they were all axe murderers or that they'd abduct us and force us into a cult. For the last two years, I'd been playing World of Warcraft, the online game where we'd all met. My main avatar was a night elf named Kyrisha—a tall elven woman with a piercing gaze and long, dark green hair.
When it came down to introducing myself to the other players in the roleplaying community, I introduced myself as a girl, too. And this wasn't untrue—except that everyone in my world thought that I was a boy.
I was living on a farm in rural Iceland with my family, and I had been assigned male at birth. To everyone around me, that assignment was accurate. But there was something inside me had been brewing: I was trans.
My process of self-realization came to a head when my World of Warcraft friends cooked up the wonderful idea of meeting in real life. We'd come together as people who roleplayed within various law enforcement guilds and rival criminal guilds, but we'd only ever talked to each other online—until now.
All of the sudden, I had a flight ticket to the UK with no actual idea of how I was going to pull this off.
Photo by Lumina via Stocksy
I hadn't told anyone except my best friend that I was, in fact, a girl. After I told her about the trip, we spent the entire summer deliberating how to pull this off. In shops, we pretended I was her boyfriend and that we were buying clothes for her. The clothes we were buying weren't exactly her size; I was a size ten, and she was about a 14. As I handed over my card at the till, cashiers would ask my friend in disbelief, "Are you sure this size fits you?"
One shop assistant wouldn't let it go. She was adamant a dress wasn't going to fit my friend—and she was absolutely right. There was no way that tight-fitted gray dress was going to fit my so-called girlfriend, whereas it fell neatly against my body.
Finally, I snapped: "Look, if it makes you feel any better, I will be wearing that dress and I'm gonna look fucking fabulous in it, so please take my money and let me leave before this gets even more embarrassing for everyone." The woman at the till stared at me for a moment. She took my card and completed the transaction in total silence. (I never entered that shop again.)
My best friend and I developed exit plans and secret codes for emergency situations, like if my skirt ever inched up too perilously high or if my breast padding got moved out of place—all formulated just in case my World of Warcraft friends discovered I was trans. I was scared to death about what might happen if they found out. How would they treat me?
Over the next few days, I got to know them over drinks, shopping, and group activities like bowling, paintball, and going to the movies. Thankfully, they were incredibly friendly. To their knowledge, I was just a quirky cisgender girl from rural Iceland.
For the first time, I walked this world regarded as something other than a boy. That feeling was liberating; a sense of freedom that made me feel alive. I knew the stark reality of being trans would soon settle in, but I decided I was going to enjoy every second of this trip. Not a single person was going to fuck that up—or so I thought.
During the trip, I grew close—romantically, that is—to one of the people on the meetup. It was a turn of events that would excite pretty much anyone, but I was scared shitless. As the group's last evening wound down, we said our goodbyes, and shared a kiss.
I started sobbing by the side of the toilet as soon as I reached my hotel room. (Hey, it seemed like a good place at the time.) Who would love a trans person? I thought. Why couldn't I just not like them? But then again, what's a vacation without a little doomed romance?
On the train to the airport, we met two Icelandic women, and as Icelanders do abroad, we introduced ourselves to each other. I changed back into men's clothing at the terminal—my passport had both my old name and the gender marker "M" on it. My old clothes felt heavier as I put them back on, as if the meaning behind them had been transcribed into actual physical weight.
As I stepped onto the plane, I was greeted by the two women we had met on the train. They were our flight attendants.
I could see the confusion in their eyes. This was the moment where it all came crashing down; it was where I realized the ridiculousness of the situation. Why couldn't I just face it? Why was I pretending to be a boy?
It was clear that I wouldn't be able to continue this charade for much longer. Driving back home from the airport, I decided I needed to change the way my life was going. Drowning myself in online gaming and eating chocolate-covered Oreos for dinner wasn't working anymore.
I wanted to give life another try—this time as myself. I will always be eternally grateful for my best friend, who supported me no matter what. In the end, however, this trip wasn't about anyone else but me—it was a journey I needed go through on my own. For the first time in my existence, I saw a future I could be content with. And that was a more valuable feeling than any I had ever felt.
I never would've guessed I'd end up living in the UK about ten years later. (Life has a funny way of taking you back to certain places.) I'm not really sure how I pulled my World of Warcraft meetup off—and I'm very aware that if I hadn't passed by fitting society's physical standards of femininity, this would've been an entirely different story. I wonder if these people ever actually knew, or if they'll find out by reading an article like this. What will they think? How will they react? Maybe I'll find out one day.
Traveling While Trans is a sister series to VICELAND's new show Twiz & Tuck, which follows the lives of a gender fluid person and his transgender best friend as the duo travel and take in all that is weird and wonderful along the way. Airs Mondays at 10:30 on VICELAND.
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