On the one hand, I despise social media, and I don’t mean that lightly. The way it’s used as a tool to market our personal or corporate brands (oftentimes both) and a space built for “connection” can really eat you up and can become a deeply isolating waste of time. Especially heavy to me is the way we have become conditioned to envy an idealized version of someone else’s life.
All of that aside, I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge how social media has been extremely helpful, and frankly, instrumental, in helping me understand who I am. Over the years online forums, blogs, YouTube, and the like have opened my eyes to new ways of envisioning myself and a life I could aspire to that I didn’t think was possible.
I’ve always had a voyeuristic relationship with social media. It first started in middle school with online forums as a form of escapism. Oftentimes I would get really into a particular band, and I would find communities of people who were into the same music. Aside from talking about the bands, they would also post about their lives and other interests, and although I never posted myself or interacted with them through words, these users still felt like friends. It got to the point where I’d get home from school and rush to the computer to check in on these people who didn’t even know I was reading their posts.
One of these phases was around age fourteen in high school when a Danish friend introduced me to this German pop band. I wasn’t that into the music but the band members were teenagers around the same age as me, and I became weirdly obsessed with the singer, who was this extremely androgynous boy who had crazy hair and wore full-on make-up. I was so intrigued by him but couldn’t fully figure out why.
In retrospect, I think a lot of it had to do with seeing someone my age playing music who seemed so comfortable and confident while challenging normative ideas of gender and presentation. There was just no one around me doing anything remotely similar. From there I continued to bounce through brief obsessive stages with a handful of bands and their various online communities (always lurking and never actually participating in the conversation myself), until I finally started to develop the idea that hey, maybe I could do this, too.
At age twenty-one I started playing music more seriously and touring, and right around the same time also started thinking about transitioning. Getting on stage in front of strangers every night quickly intensified an ever-present discomfort in my skin into a full-blown crisis. I had always had a feeling of dissonance bubbling below the surface, but it had grown to the point where it was preventing me from living.
There was a deep feeling of incongruity between my body, how I was perceived by others, and how I wanted to be seen, but I didn’t know how to put a name to the feeling, or if the way I felt was shared by other people. I remember staying up for hours watching people’s transition vlogs, often in the middle of the night, and crying in front of my computer.
At first I felt deeply envious, almost angry, that they were able to have the courage to transition, but still felt for some reason it wasn’t an option for me. That was until I started going on Tumblr and found a blogger who wrote ephemeral posts, which would only stay up for a day or oftentimes just a few hours. I could catch them if I happened to be online at the same time and I would get a brief window onto his world.
Everything he said was so true to my experience in a way that was totally uncanny. I would feel so much relief reading his posts. He was questioning whether or not transitioning was something he wanted to do and feeling really conflicted, and I was feeling the exact same way. I had never reached out to anyone before, but one day I sent him a message and said, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know your blog has been really helpful to me.” We struck up an online friendship and it turned out that when I was in Priests our first tour came through Montreal and we ended up being on the bill together—I didn’t even know where he lived!
Meeting the blogger was slightly awkward at first, but I already felt close to him because of the things he had written. We got along right away and stayed in touch, and now after five years we’re still friends in real life. Having someone close to me who was going through the same thing was so helpful and it wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t put himself out there online. Thanks to strangers on the Internet, I was able to decide that transitioning was the right path for me, and was able to find sources of support, both emotional and practical.
YouTube was also a resource I turned to when I had top surgery. Through watching people’s videos about their experiences I could confirm that ultimately this was the right choice for me. I kept watching and picked a surgeon through YouTube, and learned what to expect through videos—including how to manage aftercare. I am also constantly watching YouTube videos for the practical instructions for all things general and mundane, from watching user-uploaded home improvement videos that show how to change an electrical outlet, to a tutorial on how to perform a particular task on Photoshop.
In my current band, Flasher, I write lyrics along with one of my bandmates who’s non-binary. Even when we’re writing somewhat abstractly, we’re often questioning what it means to survive as a queer person and how to grapple with the identities and expectations that are forced upon us both externally and internally. Different listeners might connect with our music in different ways, and they might have their own interpretations of a song. That dynamic feels refreshingly different from listeners having an interpretation of me.
In addition to the band’s social media, I also have my own that I use relatively infrequently (still often looking, but not engaging); the idea of putting myself out there completely is still daunting and I’m not sure is something I’m interested in. I’m reluctant to be a trans spokesperson. I don’t want to be reduced to any one facet of my identity, and I certainly don’t want it to seem like my experience demands more attention or has more validity than anyone else’s.
But on the flip side, I also want to be visible and accessible—especially to young people—and acknowledge that having the option of *not* being visible is a privilege that many people don’t have. Over the years a number of people have reached out to me looking for guidance—from people I went to high school with to total strangers—and in every instance it’s felt so important to me to be there for them.
I do hope that if there’s a kid (or adult!) out there who’s questioning, they will be able to see me, and to think of me as someone to look to if they have any questions or concerns. When I think about what it was like when I was fifteen, trying to imagine myself at twenty-seven, it was impossible without those connections. Now when I think about myself in ten years I can look ahead to the rest of my life with a much clearer image of who that person might be.
Wanted/Needed/Loved: Musicians and the Stuff They Can’t Live Without is an illustrated column where musicians share the stories behind meaningful objects. As told to Allyson McCabe and illustrated by Esme Blegvad.
Taylor Mulitz plays guitar and shares vocal duties in the exciting DC-based post-punk trio Flasher, which has earned praise from publications including Stereogum and Pitchfork for its political edge, which is timely, and its musicality, which is retro-influenced. The band’s full-length debut, Constant Image, came out this June on Domino. Flasher is currently on tour.