It's very easy for me to separate my life into "acts", for lack of a better term.
Before puberty, I sometimes thought about "boys" and "girls", but mostly just lived my life, with only some of the issues I ran into being things I can retrospectively chalk up to gender dysphoria.
After puberty came the worst years. Dysphoria hit big, my female friends treated me differently all of a sudden, I was teased for acting a certain way or doing things perceived as feminine, and I spent a lot of time desperately upset if I had to leave the house.
Then came my '20s through to figuring out - accepting - that was I trans in my very early '30s. That was, in a way, better. I developed coping strategies. They weren't good ones, but they worked well enough that I could socialise. Enough to have friends, and keep a relationship going with someone I loved. But I drank a lot, I mimicked the behaviour of men around me, and a lot of the time I slipped into patterns of toxic or acidic behaviour that I am sure confused or frustrated my friends who saw it. A few called me on it, but even I didn't know why I was doing it, so I suspect most of the time I just got defensive.
Then there's post-transition. My life is much harder now, but at the same time I am happier. What makes it harder is external factors - the sexism, homophobia and racism that pop up often, and even their respective internalised manifestations. But when things feel truly hard, one thing I am not doing, for the first time in my life, is struggling with my own mind. I feel like a whole person facing big problems, rather than a broken person facing small problems... or, at least, problems mostly extant because of my internal issues.
So the worst time in my life, without any hesitation, was definitely my teen years. High school, and the body horror of puberty.
Yet, when I get nostalgic for a time period prior to now, it's not the time when I had money and a job, living out of home and with the freedom to do what I wanted - it's that time period. The 1990s. Modems, bulletin boards, dial-up internet, ICQ, DOOM, Quake, my early days programming in Pascal and C, listening to the Triple-J hottest 100 countdown on the radio... I even get strangely nostalgic for high school, if not the specific hell school I went to, then that concept at least.
But why? I hated things back then, and yet I still keep a working DOS computer, built retro games for a living, glut myself on '90s-set media, and still often listen to '90s playlists for afternoons at a time.
It's something I first began to think about a year or so go, when I began to fully process not just that I was unhappy back then, but why I was unhappy. Then somebody else, another trans friend of mine, put it into words pretty succinctly for me: she explained that she felt like, having transitioned in her early '20s, she had missed out on a 'real' teenagehood. One as her - as a girl. Because if your dysphoria is bad enough, as it clearly was for her and definitely was for me, you're not just "a teenager, but of the wrong gender" - you spend so much of your time terrified and socially anxious, that you don't get much of what few parts of teenaged life can potentially be considered good.
The more I think of my '90s fixation, the more this makes sense. There are many reasons to be nostalgic, of course. But mine is because there is a specific time, with a certain kind of life, certain kinds of music and hardware and games and media, that I lived through, but only a fraction of the life. It's hard to not sometimes feel like it was stolen from you in some abstract way.
So when I get lost in day-dreaming about those years - when I absorb (especially lesbian-centric) media like the amazing Gone Home, or the deeply underrated Netflix show Everything Sucks!, I am not even truly being nostalgic I don't think, so much as living in a fantasy world where I got to be me - really be me - during that time of my life.
But then, I suppose that's what nostalgia really is - dishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth...
...don't mind me, just caught in a little '90s nostalgia again.