I can no longer imagine my future without her in it (Picture: Jorie McKibbin)
My first impression of Calliope was that she was actually a bit ‘off’. In particular, her word choices felt overly formal for a casual conversation.
Instead of saying she was ‘a bit drunk’ after a large glass of wine, she’d declare that all of her joints ‘felt like greased ball bearings’. I’d later learn that it had more than a little to do with her prolific reading habit.
Even still, I could tell she was extremely compassionate in her own slightly stilted way. Given I’m quite awkward myself, I actually found her oddities comforting.
It was June of 2014, and I had ‘met’ her on an internet forum for trans and nonbinary folks. This chance encounter has immeasurably shaped the rest of my life.
Nine years ago – in my early twenties around the start of 2014 – I began to seriously question my gender identity.
I had never really been comfortable with my socially-assigned male role, but it took me years of introspection to realise that what I was feeling was not normal for cisgender people. It was also interacting with some fellow queer people that helped me to really put these feelings into perspective, sorting out how I felt about gender and attraction.
Before I knew it, my entire concept of self was entirely disassembled and rebuilt. I learned I was trans, nonbinary, gay, and on the autism spectrum. Any one of those identities would have been a lot to process, so I definitely stumbled on more than I bargained for.
I found myself enduring a miserable bus ride to visit Calliope (Picture: Jorie McKibbin)
While coming to terms with all this, that’s when I found myself frequenting the aforementioned trans and nonbinary internet site, which I first joined in June of 2014. I’d managed to find this particular one on Google after systematically surveying every search result until I found one with a particularly welcoming and open-minded atmosphere.
Over time, I began to make friends on the forum. This was natural to me, as my neurodivergence means I’ve always found it easier to socialise online than in-person.
At the time, Calliope was just one of many new friends I made this way.
Early interactions were very supportive, as Calliope, myself, and the rest of the forum-goers discussed and experimented with various aspects of our identities. It was particularly common to ‘test-drive’ titles and pronouns by asking other members to temporarily refer to us a certain way, just to see how it felt.
Calliope was quite happy simply to be referred to by she/her pronouns and feminine titles like ‘Ms.’ I, on the other hand, wasn’t quite sure what I wanted at the time, only that I was very definitely not male.
As a result, I ‘tried on’ everything – such as she/her, they/them (what I ultimately settled on in the end) and various neopronouns like ze/zir or ne/nem.
But our first private message interaction was actually the aftermath of a disagreement. I can’t for the life of me remember what topic was in dispute – and it doesn’t really matter – but what I do remember was how quick she was to reach out and make sure there were no bruised feelings between us, which I felt was very considerate of her.
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It’s the earliest memory I can recall that evokes particularly fond feelings.
At some point, we became close enough to desire more immediate contact, leading to the exchange of Skype handles. Despite the availability of video calls on the platform, we actually used it for instant messaging exclusively.
We both felt most comfortable expressing ourselves in text — a common autistic trait — and we found we had several interests in common, like science fiction, creative writing as a hobby, and video games. We spent equal amounts of time enthusiastically discussing those as we did supporting each other through our respective struggles with depression and other mental health issues.
Some months passed, in which we both managed to act upon our plans of escaping toxic home lives. I moved from California to Utah and she from Georgia to Arizona, where we each happened to have friends willing to take us in. This meant that we were now in neighbouring states, rather than opposite sides of the country.
By this time, we’d become quite close.
Once we’d both moved, I had an undeniable urge to be near this person who had both celebrated the euphoria of self-discovery with me and stood by my proverbial side through the fathomless depths of mental illness.
So I found myself enduring a miserable bus ride to visit Calliope – sometime in early 2015. The trip was long and sleepless, but in hindsight, I can say it was well worth it.
It’s the earliest memory I can recall that evokes particularly fond feelings (Picture: Jorie McKibbin)
The initial meetup was about as awkward as you might expect for two people who had interacted almost exclusively via text up to this point. The general feeling here was one of nervous anticipation.
The awkward phase didn’t last very long though, as we quickly accustomed ourselves to the new mode of interaction. Only this time, we could actually hug each other.
Physical proximity hadn’t been necessary to forge enduring bonds of friendship, but it was what caused my fondness to crystallise into an obvious attraction I could no longer deny. Quite frankly, once I started hugging her, I simply did not want to stop. Ever.
While there, our activities in-person didn’t actually differ much from our established pattern of online interaction. That is to say, there was a lot of excited discussion of our shared interests, only now it could be coupled with walks around town and occasionally eating out.
We talked all day, and never seemed to get bored of it. In hindsight it was an excellent sign that we could carry on like that indefinitely, without boredom ever setting in.
I distinctly remember lounging on her bed in the small apartment room she called home, and feeling at peace in a way I never really had before. I’d led a very lonely life up to that point because my neurodivergence made it difficult to make accepting friends from childhood all the way into young adulthood.
It was only there, in Calliope’s apartment, sitting around talking about nothing and everything, that I understood what it was like to be truly comfortable in another human being’s company for the first time in my 20-some odd years of life up to that point.
The blow was slightly softened by the pendant necklace she gifted me during the visit (Picture: Jorie McKibbin)
Alas, the time came for my visit to end after a week and a half, and I felt as if I was leaving a piece of my heart behind when it did. The blow was slightly softened by the pendant necklace she gifted me during the visit, which I still wear to this day.
I knew with a sense of certainty never before experienced that I must return to her somehow. Luckily, Calliope and her flatmate agreed to help me move in with them in late 2015, since my stay in Utah wasn’t working out.
And so, one fateful day far too early in the morning, I packed everything I owned into the minivan of some very generous friends I’d made in Utah, and set off to my new home in Tucson, Arizona. Words truly cannot describe the relief and elation I felt upon our reunion.
‘You’re back,’ she said simply, those two words charged with more emotion than the most eloquent love poetry, before embracing me for what felt like an age. It didn’t take her very long after that to admit reciprocation of my affections.
That was nearly a decade ago, but today, I type this story just across the room from where Calliope sits at her own computer. We’ve had our share of troubles like any couple, but our enduring, companionate love has seen us come through them stronger for it, every time.
In truth, life hasn’t been easy for us, and to this day we struggle to make ends meet in a cruel, unforgiving world that refuses to accommodate anyone outside the hegemonic norm.
But we’ve been able to survive by leaning on each other, and I can no longer imagine my future — whatever that may bring — without her in it.
Pride and Joy
Pride and Joy is a weekly series spotlighting the first-person positive, affirming and joyful stories of transgender, non-binary, gender fluid and gender non-conforming people. Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]
The awkward phase didn’t last very long.