When I was coming to terms with how I really felt about myself, something that confused me was, if I KNEW I was female, how could I go all those years hiding it not only from everyone, but also from myself? Looking back I can see all the clues in my early childhood, but then what happened?
I always accepted I was male. I was one of four brothers. I looked, more or less, like them and we all had the same things between our legs. Of course I was a boy!
I didn’t think much of the fact I preferred playing with girls, or that I felt very out of place amongst most boys and especially in all male groups. I just felt I was… different…. from other boys. But I didn’t want to be. I wanted to be accepted and to fit in easily. It was never easy though.
In my early years I had strong feelings I SHOULD have been born a girl. I wasn’t like those kids you see on a Barbara Walters special, who KNOW they are the opposite gender and who insist on being treated that way. Usually, because I was a fairly contented kid, it only came up when I ran headlong into the gender divide.
“No, you can’t have a doll for Christmas, because that’s not a toy for boys” brought on such an out of control tirade in our driveway – “stupid God, I hate you! You should have made me a girl! I was supposed to be a girl!!” – that Santa apparently heard, and did give me that doll for Christmas.
The message I kept picking up as I grew older was that it wasn’t okay for me to do some ‘girl’ things I liked, although I was always allowed to hang out with girls. Well, except for the day I played dress-up with a neighbour. We merrily skipped and sang our way down the street, but when my dad found out he yelled at me and forbade me to play with girls anymore. I obeyed for a few days….
So, I do have to recognize this: I internalized misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic thinking when I was young.
This was the 1960’s. We used to make jokes at school that would be deemed racist and disgusting now. No one thought twice about it, although they always made me feel uncomfortable and I never thought they were funny. People didn’t seem to know much about homosexuality in those days – I can’t recall a single classmate through all my schooling that I knew was gay, although some of them must have been. No one dared even peek out of that closet in back then.
And being female, well that was apparently a fate worse than anything according to boys. Calling a guy a “girl” was the ultimate insult (unfortunately some guys still think that way). Who would want to be a girl? Even as a teen I had one friend whose Role-Playing character was magically transformed into a female and he chose to end his character’s life, rather than even attempt to play as a female.
I can understand now how scared I was to know myself as being female.
I felt sad for my girl friends. I could see how unfair so much of the world was to girls and women. It still is, although some things have improved.
I realized, then, I was undiscovered. I had the perfect disguise. I had dodged a bullet by being born with a penis. I had access to male privilege, even though I didn’t understand it that way then. I just knew it seemed way easier to be a boy than a girl.
It didn’t change the way I felt deep inside. In fact, as I grew older, and further away from my truth, I felt an indescribable loss, a longing for something I didn’t understand, but was often triggered by interaction with women. When “Our Bodies, Ourselves” came out I grabbed my brother’s girlfriend’s copy and read it cover to cover, fascinated, and feeling that strong sense of lack.
I also saw very clearly how much women came up against.
Sexual assault, pay inequality, lack of personal freedoms, objectification, degradation, discrimination…. Why would anyone who was male choose to live as female?
But in the end I felt I had no choice. It’s who I am.
I tried playing the game of deception for far too long. I don’t think I was ever very good at it, because I didn’t understand it, but I suppose I had my moments. I moulded myself in the image of what I would want in a guy, given what I had to work with. And in the end I was just me. I never really felt that male, or that female. The truth was, I wasn’t really feeling. I was numb, used to that low throb of ‘wrongness’ I felt about myself.
When I finally let my guard down and opened the door to my deeper self, I was surprised at the velocity, and volatility, of HER emergence. It was a force which couldn’t be denied, and it washed over me like a tsunami. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who was confused by where this had come from, and it took some time for me to start accepting it. In hindsight all the clues were there, and now seem obvious to me. But at the time I did not see. I understand now that it wasn’t that I couldn’t see it. It was because I didn’t want to.
It took as long as it needed to take for me to learn how to wield courage and conviction. All I needed was to be honest with myself, finally, and then I could be honest with the world, without fear and shame cloaking me.