Connecting Through Story: technology can help us with our own stories

Author Paige Maylott.The theme of the 2023 Whistler Writers Festival is “Connecting Through Story.” Paige Maylott, a guest author this year, shares what this means to her as we prepare for the festival in October.

It’s hard to believe it’s been over a decade since I was juggling three different lives. Most evident was the old me, the one everyone thought they knew, back when I worked at a busy office when my supervisors were slowly cluing into the existence of my other lives.

The second, known only to a trusted few, was my true self, Paige. Back then Paige was a timid, primordial thing who was secretly taking hormones, growing out her hair, and visiting an aesthetician on the weekends for laser hair removal. This painful process would leave my face swollen and crimson and required most of the weekend to heal. During this time, I would boot up my computer and immerse myself in my third and, at that time, most important life—the one I crafted online.

The online world was my haven, and there I could be a magician or a sultry burlesque dancer, or anything that my adventurous heart desired. Most importantly, I could be a woman without the uncertainty and fear that plagued the awkward, self-discovering trans woman Paige was at that time. Here I could leap forward to the person I aspired to be in the future. I could not only try on clothes but whole personas, freeing mannerisms I’d long suppressed for fear of compromising the fragile façade of masculinity I had constructed over a lifetime.

To say maintaining three intersecting lives was exhausting is a vast understatement. My professional work suffered as I grew increasingly anxious about my employers discovering my secret lives. Moreover, I was distracted by the growing realization that I couldn’t maintain the charade much longer. Despite slicking back my hair and binding my swelling breasts with a binder, people noticed the softness and smoothness of my skin, and I knew my time was running out.

To save my sanity and simplify my life, I decided it was time to come out. This process began with trusted friends and family, and by increments, I expanded my circle of disclosure with care. After the initial shock, people began to ask all the common questions that trans people receive. They would ask me how I first knew I was trans, if I had dressed in women’s clothes, but deep down I think this was more than a vetting process. Perhaps they too wanted to examine their identity, and like gender theorists continue to debate today, they wanted to better understand what the essence of womanhood meant to me.

For many trans women, these questions have straightforward answers. Some always knew, and others discovered themselves through affirming clothing. Those are the kind of answers I believe my family were expecting. But how do you convey that you realized you were a woman by playing on your computer? The truth is, just as every person is unique, so is every transition story. I sometimes joke about mine by saying that, while many trans women find themselves in their parents’ closets, I discovered myself in character creation.

In practice, however, justifying the value in exploring gender in digital spaces never translated as well as I hoped. Unless the person was also a gamer, it was challenging for them to understand the immersive value of virtual worlds and the deep connections that can be formed in those spaces. For close friends and family, virtual spaces were a foreign world. I might as well have said that I’m transitioning because I rocketed to Mars.

Translating these thoughts into writing was my next logical step. I have always felt more comfortable spreading out and arranging my thoughts on paper than through discussion. My first attempts were brief coming-out letters and short stories, but it wasn’t until I had connected those together by writing My Body is Distant that I realized for people to truly understand the value of my experience, I had to tell the whole story. I had to show how my early connection to virtual spaces intersected with my gender expression and how this exploration ultimately manifested in the Real Life version of Paige (2.0).

Initially, this memoir reflected a desperate attempt to reconnect with friends and family who had grown distant due to my transition. However, I now understand that my story resonates with an even broader audience than I first envisioned. The world has changed significantly from the pandemic, and I believe that many more of us, whether cis or trans, hetero or queer, can relate to the experience of living our lives predominantly online. As technology advances, incorporating exciting developments in augmented and virtual reality, I’m confident that there are, and will be, many more stories like mine, along with many more opportunities to understand each other a little better.

Maylott is the author of My Body Is Distant, A Memoir. Based in Hamilton, Ontario, Maylott is an avid gamer who enjoys collecting rabbit paraphernalia, eighties nostalgia, and caring for her adorable, but demanding, furry family.

Maylott is on the Writers of Non-Fiction Panel, which is Oct. 14 at 10 a.m. at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Tickets are on sale now and 10 percent off until Oct. 1.