Revealing Rolande in Israel
This post is the first in my brand new “Spotlight” series, where I’ll be publishing original content from other TGNC folx (as well as allies, when to a lesser degree). The purpose of this series is to incorporate perspectives other than my own into the site, with the intent of heightening awareness about our community’s incredible diversity. I’m looking for writers and creators of all sorts — I’m happy to share photo essays, music, poetry, and anything else trans-related. If you’d like to feature a post on Trans and Caffeinated, connect with me via e-mail!
When I decided to start this series, Rollie was the first person that came to mind. She is incredibly well-spoken, funny, witty, inspiring, passionate, and just about the most loving and compassionate person I have met in my life. Her story — from the years and weeks leading up to her decision to transition through today — is powerful and beautifully moving. I am beyond honored that I have the immense privilege of sharing her story with you all. Without further ado, I give you Rollie Edwards.
My name is Rolande Edwards, and I am a Jewish trans woman. I am also a classical musician pursuing my master’s degree in Canada in performance. I met Arielle this past summer in Israel on an LGBTQ+ Birthright trip, which is partially why she asked me to write this post. That trip changed….everything for me.
I am not going to talk about the plethora of controversies surrounding Israel and Birthright. This post is about a personal transformation, not a geopolitical one.
Now, what about Birthright changed so much for me? Prior to that trip, I was out to maybe four people in my life. Birthright changed that because it was one of the first times I truly felt seen (at least believed) as who I am, and I could show people who I was outside of a musical context. Inside that context, I am known simply as a violist, not as Rolande Edwards, one of the few trans classical musicians in the field (although one of the members of the Grammy award-winning Attacca Quartet is trans!). Without that restriction, I felt free to explore my femininity more fully with people whose support I knew I had and could act as a guide in my exploration.
Because I am early in transition, I still present/am read as fairly masculine (yay for not passing!). So, it has been hard to try and find adequate spaces to explore who I am and find my style. If I explored at home, I would be met with side eye and hesitation from my parents and confusion from my brothers. My dad’s reaction to me putting on nail polish of my own volition was him yelling in confusion before me rebutting that I don’t follow his thoughts on masculinity. My mom’s reactions are quieter and more subtle. What made me feel so safe to explore on Birthright was the absence of those reactions and the presence of enthusiastic and vocal support and love from (mainly) the TGNC folx on the trip. It was that love that opened the gates for Rollie to finally start to come out and show herself.
On that trip, I had two incredibly euphoric experiences that changed me: one at the Dead Sea and the other on top of Masada at around 6am (well…there were a few there, but only one of them was related to my identity).
At the Dead Sea, we were in a more touristy section. That means that there were a couple places to buy clothing, skin care products, food, etc. I had briefly eyed the clothing section since there were a number of dresses and other feminine items for sale (albeit rather marked up). I didn’t go in initially for fear of being side eyed, but, thankfully, that fear was unfounded. I recruited a couple people to help me shop, and I picked out a romper that might fit me well (both with my body and my style). The salesman let me try it on, and I was just about to walk away because of how it fit. I almost left it behind because ready-to-wear clothing is very cis-normative. An article designed for someone who went through puberty with estrogen won’t necessarily fit someone who went through puberty with testosterone. In my case, I am muscular and have long proportions, so I constantly worry that I will tear a garment when attempting to put it on. The salesman persisted a little bit and sold it to me at a discount, so of course I bought one of my first pieces of real feminine clothing. I’ve also gotten lucky that what most of my cis female friends have in boobs, I have in shoulders, so I can wear their old clothing! Some of my favorite outfits are hand-me-downs from friends in Toronto.
That evening was the best one on the trip so far. I spent it entirely in the romper and feeling like I was starting to show my colors. Arielle took photos of me wearing it, and those photos are some of my favorites from the trip! I was ecstatic that night: I felt like the people who were supporting me really started to see where I was headed and where I wanted to go. I loved myself.
The second major euphoric experience was the ceremony we held on top of Masada for those who wanted to become B’nei Mitzvot. Each ceremony section consisted of each B’nei Mitzvah talking about their chosen Hebrew name, their interpretation of their Torah portion, and their wishes for the future for themselves and the group. Many also shared personal anecdotes on top of that. I did not decide to receive a Bat Mitzvah because my womanhood wasn’t as fully realized last June. I also received my Bar Mitzvah at 13 and haven’t yet thought about organizing a Bat Mitzvah since coming out. I was there to celebrate those who wanted their B’nei Mitzvah, and one in particular: Arielle’s. I can confidently say that it was from her speech that the seed inside of me began to really blossom into who I am becoming today.
What made her presentation so powerful for me is twofold: I had never met a more confident, kind, and proud trans woman before; and she focused on the power of promises, between oneself and others. It was the latter thought that has stuck with me. It was the days around Masada that I started to seriously consider transitioning, but I usually have trouble keeping promises to myself because I know that my mood and situations can change on a whim. I have gained much control and introspection through analyzing that, but it’s those promises that I would most often break. It was once I moved to Canada and started to get to know one of my current friends that I actually put my foot down and started to transition. I made promises to him that I felt I could not break, so I started transitioning because of him. Once he left, I had to hold myself to a stronger account. I had to trust that I could see what I put my mind to through until the end. If I couldn’t trust myself to hold promises to myself – the only person I will live with my entire life – then who can I trust?
As influential as Birthright was, it was also the days after the trip that both destroyed and reaffirmed my resolve to start coming out to more people and transition. Immediately after the trip, I was in NYC for a couple days, so I spent some time with my ex, with Arielle, and with others who were on Birthright. Going to see my ex was a terrible choice; despite the fact that he and I are still incredibly close, I felt torn away from a new family I had just built. I am thankful that I can be vulnerable around him and that he remembered how to take care of me when I shut down because I needed someone to take care of me at that moment.
When I went home, my mental health swiftly declined: I was depressed, dysphoric, and barely functional for two straight (gay?) weeks. All the while, I was working a customer service job and had to put my feelings to the side. Furthermore, there wasn’t anyone in the city at that time who I felt I could trust with my feelings, and it wasn’t until a very close friend of mine connected me and one of my coworkers that I could feel heard and safe again.
It was his support and other mental health tools I developed over time that kept me functional. Dysphoria wasn’t something that came up very often for me, but when it reared its ugly head, I cowered in fear. It took a while to come back to a sort of normal. I combated and pulled myself out of my funk by my research into the Canadian health system and finding out that accessing transition-related healthcare would be significantly easier than I thought!
I also got to get closer to answering a question I had been asking myself since I was in elementary school: what would I be like as a woman? In my experience in the trans community, there are two general camps that trans women tend to fall into: those whose lives make sense if they see themselves as always being women and those whose lives make sense if they see themselves as transitioning into a woman. I fall into that latter group. I didn’t know I was trans until I was 16. Rollie is just figuring out who she is, and so far, it’s been full of joy and love. I was meant to be trans, and I look forward to living my future.