October 2007


Mary and I were talking about my development, and focused on the early 90’s. Would I have transitioned if I hadn’t met her? I think I was on that trajectory. After Dee and I broke up around Thanksgiving (I used to have a very detailed diary, but I destroyed it when we moved), everything came exploding out: clothes, makeup, going out to a neighborhood gay bar that was very T-friendly. I told certain friends: Zubia, Yvonne, Susan and her husband, Debra and Suzy. I began holding social affairs as Joyce: dinners at my house, outings to the theater. They were days of revolution, of rebuilding the world, and they were both fun and desperate.

Three things happened, right in the midst of my transgender socialite phase. First, Peter Thomson came back to work, and it felt like cold water being thrown in my face. And rightly so, as I had been going out almost every night, allowing the pressure in the bottle to explode, but I wasn’t doing a terribly good job at our company in this wild Teenage Girl era. It wasn’t just that Peter gave me a reality check about what was important in my life, but I also look up to him and Frank and William, and felt perverse and ashamed of my gender explorations. I think this is a variant of all the rest of my life, of course, but I remember feeling it.

During the Peter stage, before William arrived, Kevin, a Macintosh programmer we had hired and helped to get a green card, announced one morning that he was transgendered. He was breathing heavily and was obviously worried we’d fire him or something. But we just said, ok, as long as the programming takes place. I remember feeling two things. First, I immediately thought, this is my chance to pipe in with “me, too!” — after all, Kevin was so brave and had taken this critical step, why shouldn’t I? There was a pregnant pause at the table, and I could have done it, but I didn’t. I guess I rationalized it by thinking that this was Kevin’s big coming out announcement, firstly, and that as an owner, I had a different relationship with propriety than an employee did, secondly. The next thing I thought was, oh, great, this will spoil everything, ’cause you can’t have two transgenders in the same office. I was fairly miffed. And, childish as it sounds, I quit going to crossdressing support groups because of a fear that Kevin, now Kendra, would be there, and would find out.

Pathetic.

Kendra began dressing like a junior high school girl, which is understandable, I suppose, but was awfully comical for a while, then settled down and began to look professional. She had surgery in 12 months and came to our housewarming party as a woman, accompanied by her mother.

Next thing was that William came back to the firm, and that meant I had two big brothers watching out for me. William and I were much more likely to go out and do things, so it was like Peter squared in its moderating influence.

Final thing was I met Mary, visited frequently to Madison, then Columbus, and as Jenny Boylan writes, I felt that this deep love, which was very different than the love I had had for Shari or Dee, was the final nail in the coffin, a good nail that would put to rest forever these conflicts.

Felt the physical sensation today for the first time of my buttocks bouncing as I was going down the stairs at work. I’ve been used to the feeling of breasts and hold them in with my right arm as a precaution against pain. But as I was going down the stairs, I was suddenly very, very aware of bouncing in my pants, which was pretty odd and a little freaky.

Intense days, these. Crying almost every day. Sobbing grief at every turn. Where’s that light at the end of the tunnel, again?

Mary is astounding. We’ve had such intense talks, honest and revealing. I don’t think I’ve ever had a relationship like this. I know I haven’t. The funny thing is that I don’t think it has anything to do with gender and everything to do with being honest with myself and someone else.

I feel as if everything has fallen down around me, and everything I thought I knew, everything I was certain about and confident about, has turned out to be wrong. I’ve been using the metaphor of walls or barriers that I have built over the years to protect me, and I think I’ve come to realize that not only did they protect me and my secrets, but they isolated me. It may have been common sense to others, but I am surprised at the realization that I have lived a very lonely, isolated life. So it’s no wonder that this new openness, which is really the only survival tool I have right now, feels so, well, open. It’s different and vulnerable, of course, but it’s also surprisingly empowering.

What does it mean to “be a man” about something? I’ve never heard, “Be a Woman” about something, so what’s the difference?

It’s not about sex, not overtly, of course. It’s about the connotation of the good qualities of men. Marlboro Man (before cancer killed him), John Wayne (or his movie persona), your father (if he didn’t beat you or abandon you), John Kennedy (of Camelot), Harry Truman, FDR, your football coach, your pastor, Charlemagne, Winston Churchill, Patton — in short, all the good values we boil down and call masculinity. Strength, decisiveness, power, intelligence, honesty, directness — who wouldn’t want those qualities? Who wouldn’t want to be a man, given these traits?

You could list all the negative stereotypes of men, as well, qualities like pigheadedness, cowardice, violence, misogyny, refusal to grow up, propensity to drunkenness, constant focus on sports, objectification of women, and so on, and no reasonable person would take “Be a man” to mean “adopt more of those qualities.”

The same goes for feminine qualities. We have the positive adjectives like empathetic, understanding, nurturing, communicative, collaborative, whimsical, and so on. And there are the negative adjectives like flighty, bitchy, catty, narcissistic, dumb, direction-impaired, clumsy with tools, two-faced, etc. No one in their right mind would turn away from the positive list, man or woman, and no one who’s a mature person would willingly adopt qualities from the second list.

If androgyny is an equal balance of masculine and feminine qualities, then it seems to me that there are two kinds of androgyny, the kind that has a balance of mostly positive traits from both genders, and the kind that has mostly negative traits from both genders. What a nasty person the second would be, violent, catty, pigheaded, cowardly, and dumb, and what a wonderful, whole person the first would be, decisive, caring, powerful, nurturing, and so on. Who wouldn’t aspire to a full and balanced list of those stereotypical adjectives from both genders, regardless of their sex?

In any case, I think the Be a Man command is usually taken to keep a stiff upper lip, to face your problems, to tell the truth, to do the difficult thing, to step up to the plate (baseball, not dinner), to “get ‘er done,” to hunker down, to find a solution.

So I’ve decided that I’m being a man about my GID, ironically, of course, by facing my demons, not slinking away from them, taking the bull by the horns, confronting my demons. It’s Beowulf facing Grendel, Jesus in the desert, James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or Vertigo or It’s a Wonderful Life.

My father was many things, but he believed that telling the truth was the noblest of virtues, something that trumped hard work, strength, power, or intelligence. It made up for weaknesses and foibles and plain old mistakes. I often heard him say, to superiors or inferiors, things like “I’m really sorry — I lied to you. The figure wasn’t $4000, but $3500,” even after a deal had been struck. Although he used the word “lie,” it wasn’t that he was confessing lying, although he did do that when he was a drunkard and coke addict, but it was a belief that revealing the truth was the right thing to do. A man’s word is his bond, and I also believe that and have tried to live by that code all my life.

Dad, I know this seems contradictory, but I was never more of a man than right now, when I am finally telling the truth. I hope you recognize that and forgive me all the other mistakes and lies and coverups and tight-lipped secrecy that I maintained all the years you were alive. I’m sorry about that and I wish I could have been honest, not only with myself, but with you, about this. I think you would have been supportive, but I’ll never know. I have squandered this chance at honesty, and it’s heartbreaking.

This past week was really hard, having been reading She’s Not There and having visited my hometown on Wednesday for a meeting. I’m not accusing Jenny Boylan of messing with my head, but this book helps to bring issues to the surface. I think my hometown reinforces my feeling of duty and perhaps makes me feel trapped.

In any case, on Thursday it was way down in the dumps, absolutely miserable, unable to sleep, woke up at 3:30 and just paced the house until sunrise. It was a lonely, sad day, one of those really low times when everything is tired and confused.

However, Friday, with Mary gone to an out-of-town event, I slept well and got a little lift, working at school in the morning and getting some action on getting a new doctor.

Home by lunch, I found myself standing in the closet looking for a shirt to wear, and all of Dad’s old work shirts just fit like tents, given my weight loss and my loss of muscle due to hormones. So I began looking at each one, kind of inventorying what to do about them, and decided I’d take them to the vacation place next time.

But the feeling I had at that moment was déjà vu, and it was just like walking through Mom’s house with it empty and her dead and trying to decide what to do with her things. Part of me wanted to say, she wouldn’t want me to mess with her things, while another, pragmatic part, said, she’s dead and there’s no point in keeping this stuff around.

I felt the same thing looking at my clothes, my unwearable underwear, my ancient makeup that our Amy and her mom packed up along with everything else when we moved to the country.

I felt horrible grief — sadness at a loss, helplessness at the uncertain future, anger at having been dealt this hand.

When you’re in this situation, you sort of drift from belonging to belonging, no particular search pattern in place, listening to the story of the item or wondering what its story might have been. Why did Dad ever buy this pair of boots? I remember when Mom wore this thing. Did we ever eat off these dishes? And the energy gets sapped out of you and you kind of shuffle things around and tell yourself that you’ll deal with it later, that it’s too monumental to deal with today, and thus enervated from the exploration, you close the door and vow to face it later. When you finally do manage to move things to give-away piles or to take-home piles, it is with some relief, but also a feeling like you’re betraying your parents, like you’re giving up on them. It’s as if you could keep alive the possibility of their returning to you if you just keep their things where they left them. Once you sell them or divvy them up, you destroy that possibility.

In taking inventory of my own life, my own clothes, my own belongings, I felt almost the same feeling. I’m not dead, but to hear some transsexuals talk about it, I’m killing off my George Baily, my male persona. He has a past filled with interests and loves and frustrations and accomplishments and failures — and it feels like a betrayal similar to the one above to think of pulling the plug on him. He didn’t do anything wrong, really, other than try to hide his difference, and it seems cruel to impose a death penalty on him. However, prolonging his agony is not unlike trying to keep my parents alive by refusing to clean out their belongings.

It’s not just George, either. I looked through the makeup drawer, the big collection of all sorts of lipstick tubes, powder compacts, eyeshadow cases, and nail polish bottles that Amy and her mother loaded up to help us finish moving from town a couple of years ago. And this drawer, like my parent’s house and my own closet, is an archaeological experience. There are crusty bottles of nail polish that have no business on this earth, tubes of pink lipstick I must have worn during a fluorescent streak in the 90’s, eyeshadows that aren’t fit for anyone but a 16 year old. I culled through my things and threw them away, along with underwear and socks that didn’t belong to me any more.

The grief is also for the past, Mary’s and mine, because that, too, is shimmering with uncertainty, like an old TV on the fritz that may, at any moment, blink out of existence with no hope of recovering the signal. These clothes, these makeup tubes, these images are all of the past, and I grieve for the past.

I’m also grieving about the future in an odd way. I found myself anticipating being at some point in the future, looking back on this day and grieving about what has been lost. In this way, this future-grief is a telescoping event that never ends — it’s a worldview that sort of dreads what living is going to feel like later on. If you let this take over you, you’ll be paralyzed with fear.

I think you have to have a mind to the two kinds of grief, the sadness at what’s lost and the anticipation of future loss, without allowing either one to dominate your life. You’re balancing the two, not wanting to ignore one or the other, but not wanting to put too much relative weight on either side, as well. If you are always looking backwards at what you’ve lost, then you’re hopelessly nostalgic, unable to see the world around you. However, if you never look back, then you’ve killed your history, your stories, your heritage, so that’s not an option to ignore the past, to stamp out the grief. On the other end of the time spectrum, if you dread the future and anticipate the future feelings of loss, you’ll be unable to step forward, and you’ll do harm to yourself and your family, afraid to take a step. But if you don’t think of the future, you’re ignorant and blind, for lessons do repeat and anticipating the future is a good thing.

I bought a digital video camera Saturday and began trying to capture the events of the present before they’re gone. We have done so-so at documenting our lives and I have a horrible fear that the boys won’t have any documentation about what their life was like when they were little. I want them to see that they were loved, even in the midst of turmoil, and that they had fun and that their parents laughed and lived. If my transition ends up causing them horrible embarrassment, then I hope they can look back nostalgically on these times and say Well, at least we had our youth, and if it weren’t for Dad, we’d have happy lives.

I feel as if I’m holding water in my hands trying to prevent change, watching our current existence, which feels normal and safe, trickle through the gaps, no matter how tightly I close the hands. I know you can’t stop change. If it’s not a sex change, then a disease, or an accident, or a natural disaster. The boys will grow up and will have their hearts broken by their first girlfriends. One of their parents will die unexpectedly. Something will happen to rock their faith in people, or government, or education. I don’t know how videotaping 2007 will make a difference, but I feel like it’s something. These are such tumultuous times that a little objective evidence couldn’t hurt. But I wonder if we’ll look at these movies in 10 years and snicker at just how stupid and naïve I was, how nothing I could do or could have done would fix the gaping wounds I’ve created. Will the videos be ironic, pathetic, and helpless documentaries of someone trying to stop time?

I have felt like a loser and have called myself a loser on and off during the past few months, and I’d like to work through just what I mean because it’s not really that simple. In a nutshell, I think I mean lose to mean a) not win, b) be dishonest with myself, c) anticipating massive change with society making fun of me, and d) seeing friends, family, possessions, and self vanish, leaving me lonely and frightened.

Losing is not winning

I’m a loser because I have not been able to “beat” this condition. I have always had a great deal of confidence that I can do anything. Hell, I’ve said it, to myself and to others. I refer to my trial by fire when I moved out of the country not knowing anyone or knowing the language as a perfect example of how I can overcome anything. I have brains, the upbringing, and the willpower to win any situation. I have advanced degrees and I also believe and hope that I have grown wiser through my experiences and my introspection.

So it’s incredibly painful for me to admit I cannot solve this problem. I have been in therapy, here in my current location and in my previous city in the 90’s. I have been to group gatherings in Los Angeles, San Antonio, Bedford Falls, and elsewhere. I have read widely from the time I became aware of the literature about sexuality. I have studied memoirs and blogs and theories. I have tried to put my self-awareness into an understandable category rather than admit this essential thing about myself — categories such as fetishistic transvestite or transgender socialite or non-practicing transgender. I have applied all my logic and common sense to try to bottle it all up. I have studied eastern religion, asked God for help, appealed to Jesus, looked at mysticism and rationality and humanism and feminism for help. I have tried being in denial, being in full-acceptance, being in good communication with my wife, and some close friends elsewhere. I’ve tried laughing it off as a great irony of life. I’ve tried feeling horribly victimized and sorry for myself. I’ve been the naïve postulate and the wise mother superior. I’ve written and talked about my experiences and feelings.

And, when I hit bottom in the fall of 2006, going into the winter, and hitting a very dark bottom during the winter, I had to come to the only conclusion possible: that I could not solve this problem. I am not capable of doing it. I’m a loser in this respect, that it was a problem that I was not able to fix, perhaps one of the only ones in my life, probably second to not being able to fix my first marriage when she was drifting away with her new friends and boyfriend and I was helpless. It’s a horrible feeling, being a loser, especially if you generally aren’t a loser in other parts of your life.

Of course, it’s not a hard intellectual trick to turn this identity of LOSER into something else. For example, I have just written that I cannot solve this problem. But if I redefine my situation, not as a problem, but as a condition, then things change. If I develop a condition or disease, then “solving” or “fixing” really must be (if you live in the real world) more like “adapting” or “surviving” or “living with.” For there is no “fixing” yourself if you have AIDS or Emphysema or any one of a number of diseases or conditions. Fixing is an unrealistic expectation if you mean FIX = SOLVE = MAKE IT GO AWAY. I have met hundreds of cross dressers, transgenders, transsexuals, have read hundreds of scholarly articles and blogs and memoirs and online forum posts, and I have yet to hear of a single case of making it go away. I’m a great believer in my abilities, but I’m also empirically realistic, and I think the odds of me being the only transsexual in history to manage to WILL THE PROBLEM AWAY are awfully slim. Would it not be better for me to apply my intellect and energy and love of life to some other purpose, so that instead of feeling like a loser, I feel like an adapter and a thriver?

Losing is realizing I’ve been dishonest with myself

I’m a loser because I have known about my situation all my life, and did nothing about it, or so it feels. I think being realistic about your lot in life is important, and I could have told my parents, my teachers, my sister, my friends about this. I could have told my family doctor when I was young. I could have demanded that things change, no matter what social consequences were. I am absolutely amazed by TV shows about kids insisting they’re the opposite sex. How come they’re so insistent and I was so frightened? How come I was such a coward and they’re so brave? I knew I was sad and odd and I did nothing about it.

This scenario is virtually impossible for me to actually imagine happening for a variety of reasons. I don’t think I could have articulated this belief to my parents or anyone else until I was in High School. There was no talk television in the 60’s, no Oprah, no Phil, no Maury. Even sensationalized, these shows at least reveal the complexity of the world to our youth. There was no internet, no cable television, only the world that came to us through ABC, NBC, and CBS, all happy families, normal people. No homosexuals, few blacks, definitely no transsexuals.

I did learn of these things, in tiny breadcrumbs of incomplete information. And each one was like a shot across my bow, and although I feigned boredom or disinterest, my ears pricked up at every morsel as I tried to get a glimpse of what I was.

We had a family health book, maybe Dr. Spock or something like that, and I remember reading through it and seeing something about cross dressing, but that edition was very polite and obscured things in advanced vocabulary. Same for masturbation, which was simply alluded to. I knew something was behind the words, but I couldn’t make it out. Nevertheless, I was buoyed by the realization that my feelings must be shared by someone else. I remember playing dress up with Liz, having access to all my mother’s really pretty things. She was a classy woman brought up as a socialite in the 50’s, with the manners books and an outfit for everything. We had furs and dresses and high heels and makeup and a large jewelry box and we had such fun. I loved it. I don’t recall ever playing dress up with cowboy things and the like, but it’s possible. But all I remember are these wonderful experiences with my sister and mother. It stopped one day, and I cannot remember anything about it. I vaguely remember one time, probably not the last time, maybe even a made up time, when we were dressed up, playing house or something at age 4 or 5, walking around the house, and Dad and one of his employees came up to the door and came in. I don’t remember hiding or running away or perhaps continuing to do what we were doing, but there must have been some sense of shame attached to this activity because I remember it so clearly today. My sister Liz would continue to get to play dress up.

When we had our place in Colorado, when I was in 5th grade, we were at a second hand store. We stopped in there often. There was this blue hoop skirt or maybe crinoline, and we were looking at it and talking about it and we saw that it was only 25 cents or something. Again, I don’t remember the details, but I think Mom said she’d get it for Liz and I must have said something snide or feeling left out or something, but I do remember that Mom said, well, would you like a hoop skirt, too? I’m ashamed to say that I said, no, of course not, when I really, really, really would have liked to have my own.

I remember in elementary school several things. One time, Mikey told us, his buddies, probably around 5th or 6th grade that some guys cut of their penises and used plastic vaginas instead. This was incredible to me and I was absolutely fascinated, but that was the end of the information. I remember arguing in cafeteria with someone that if you could surgically switch your balls with a girls’ parts, then the two participants in the experiment would change sex. I someone laughed at me and said, you idiot, girls don’t have balls, meaning, of course that only boys had gonads and there’s nothing to swap. It’s the case of seeing girls as neutral and boys as the ones with something extra, an ignorance of ovaries and female sexuality in general, but then again it was only 5th grade.

I know lots of grown up guys who are horribly ignorant of female sexuality. In grad school, we were talking about Molly Bloom in the last chapter of Ulysses, and she begins her period in that chapter, the very first sensation of it coming on, and she says something like rats, my rendezvous with Blazes Boylan in two days can’t happen. Bob, in a graduate seminar, said “I don’t get it, why would that cause any delay? I think she’s rationalizing her decision to commit to Bloom and to abandon Boylan.” Why, we asked. “Well, she’ll have her period tonight then she’ll be good to go tomorrow,” he said. I’m sure he didn’t appreciate the laughter, but we explained about periods and how in 1904 when you were on the rag you were ON THE RAG.

I was with my “friends” Robert and Mikey and maybe someone else, and we had been up playing football at my elementary school on a Saturday or something. I wasn’t that good at throwing and kicking, but I enjoyed running around. Robert, a closet torturer I’m sure, decided to pick on me, as he often did. “You’re really a girl,” he said. “Let’s have a test. Whoever can punt the ball through these uprights is a boy, and if you can’t do it, you’re a girl.” We all said, with lots of machismo, “of course we can do it.” But I had the horrible feeling that I wouldn’t be able to punt the ball through the uprights and thus would reveal my inner essence to my friends. Well, we punted and sure enough, I couldn’t get it through. They laughed and sang, George is a girl, George is a girl, and I toyed with the idea of getting in a fight, but decided to laugh it off, saying there’s no relationship between punting and your sex, what are you guys, stupid? But I knew they knew because I knew the truth about myself.

Often in my youth, my father would make fun of my chin, sort of playfully, saying things like you know, we can fix that cleft. Would you like to have it removed? And I’d say, of course not, it’s a family chin and I think it’s very cool. It’s the deepest cleft in the world, he’d say, just as deep as Kirk Douglass. After trying makeup or maybe thinking about dressing up, but certainly not having actually dressed up, as I would eventually do in college, I know I had the sense that I’d never pass as female with that chin, and after that dawning realization, when Dad would tease me about my chin, I’d half want to blurt out, hell yes, let’s have the dimple removed, but I never did. I felt he was making digs at the family when he did this, and I don’t think I could have bared to take him up on the offer to fix my chin because it would mean telling Mom that I was ashamed of being a a member of her side of the family, which I never was, and still am not.

In high school, Randy did his senior research paper on the mechanics of sex changes and I desperately wanted to ask him about it, but was afraid that my interest in the subject would reveal my essence. Randy was class of 77 (I was 78) and I looked up to him and the rest of my friends from that class (still do, in fact). I remember someone, maybe my girlfriend, but maybe someone else, saying they were worried about Randy because of this research paper, meaning, I suppose that they thought he was doing research for his own sex change, being somewhat effeminate. Turned out he was just gay and is living a very happy life as a dentist in the city.

In high school, I was over at Bob’s house, probably our senior year, and probably listening to Fleetwood Mac — as he was really into them and was probably trying to persuade me to like them. He had gone to Washington DC and to New York as part of a national spelling bee, or maybe it was just for some other reason. But during our wandering evening, at one point, he said, “Guess what I saw? I was coming out of the hotel on my way to dinner, and I saw a transvestite.” He said it very deliberately with great enunciation and precision, in a low tone in case anyone was listening: Trans Ves Tite. He continued, “And she, I mean he, looked really good, in a sequined dress and makeup and a bra and a wig and high heels and everything.” At that moment, I considered a couple of things. One, Bob was revealing something about himself, namely that he’s attracted to TV’s or that he’s one himself. Two, that regardless of his inclinations, this was a great opportunity to talk about myself to him, as we were great friends and he could be trusted. I am ashamed to report that I did neither. My heart was pounding and I thought that I might reveal something about myself, so I must have changed the conversation to something else.

Losing is anticipating being made fun of

I’m a loser because I can just hear it, perhaps from friends, but certainly from others, “Look at that freak.” I’ve never minded being something of a freak, maybe because I was downplaying my masculine façade because I never really believed in it. Or I’d tell myself and others, hey, it’s all about the inner me and who cares if they don’t see that.

Of course, I don’t really believe all that chip on the shoulder individualism stuff, not entirely, at least. I find Napoleon Dynamite both uplifting and painful, the first because the nerdy guy wins in the end and the second because it reminds me of myself.

Gender transition is frequently compared to puberty, and if that’s truly the case, then I’m really not looking forward to it. Jenny Boylan writes that you go through three steps, 1. there’s something weird about that guy, 2. there’s something really weird about that guy, 3. boy, that’s an ugly chick. Small differences, I suppose.

But I’ve always felt a bit like a freak, never hiding my baldness or my various lumps, scars, or crooked teeth. I honestly think I was ok with it, but it’s entirely possible that I was unconsciously making my male persona ugly. In this past year, I’ve worked on getting my teeth fixed, growing some hair on my head, and losing weight, so while those aren’t necessarily bad things, I think they suggest that maybe my new self will pay more attention to her image than the old self.

Having always been able to shrug off image, I think this new attention is going to be embarrassing. I never minded dressing in drag, so it’s not a matter of being concerned about a feminine presentation, but I think it’s rather a concern with how that presentation will be viewed and accepted (or rejected). I know from reading the blogs and postings that it’s uncomfortable passing one day and being completely unpassable the next, but that’s part of the process. Doesn’t mean it’s fun thinking about it. I have spent a lifetime building up defenses against others, and this process is going to open me up to scrutiny in ways that I think it may be hard to ignore.

The other thing that’s simply certain to happen is that everyone I know, from friends to colleagues to students, will want to see what I look like. If they’re supportive, like one of my friends is likely to be, then they’ll feel it’s their duty to come by and comment on how nice I look or to give me tips, etc. If they’re neutral, they’ll naturally be curious as to what a transsexual looks like and how Joyce is different from my masculine self. And if they’re hostile, either to me as a person or to transsexuals in general, then I’m going to be the focus of that hostility, representing not some abstraction, but a concrete example of a transsexual. But I think I’m ok with that — if I have Mary and the boys, I can face anyone.

It’s also going to be a test, and this is going to be harder, of how I act, which is a lot different from how I dress or present myself. I know there are those who will be incredulous that I’d want to change my sex, saying something like “There is no way George has any feminine qualities whatsoever. He’s distant, uncaring, competitive, and wholly masculine. This must be some sort of delusion.” In the face of this kind of scrutiny, there will be multiple tests of femininity, which is, of course, a silly thing to have happen because there is no litmus test. There are women who are touchy-feely and those who are not, women who are chatty and those who are reticent, women who are girly and those who are boyish or androgynous. I think it’s a trap with no solution to go down this road of passing a femininity test, and it’s foolish to try.

Still, the point of this little mini-essay is to get in touch with the common sense of the epithet, “What a Loser! I can’t believe he is throwing away his life.” What a loser! And while I don’t necessarily feel like a loser in this sense of the word, I feel the sting of the accusation. I flinch in anticipation. Shadowboxing.

Losing is seeing your things, family, friends, and self go away

I’m a loser because I fear that everything I’ve worked on will go away. My self esteem, my friends, my works and my deeds will all vanish in a puff of retributive smoke. Losing, in this sense, is about having things and people slip away from me. It’s a frightening thing, losing instead of gathering. I keep thinking, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” and I’m not sure I want that kind of freedom, but I know what the words mean. When you’ve lost everything, when all your gathering behavior has been thwarted and you lay claim to nothing, then you are free to be yourself.

But that can’t possibly be the only route to freedom, can it?

  • My friends will abandon me.
  • My family will disown me.
  • My employer will fire me.
  • My money will drain away from me.
  • My self will fall away like the husk of the pecan fruit, and I will have no connection with my past.

I will be like a raw nerve in the tooth after all the rotten enamel and marrow has fallen away, alive, shockingly so. Feeling the world new, but begging for Novocain and some sort of repair, some sort of new gathering of friends, family, employment, money, and self.

When I look at this list, I think it’s clear it represents the worst-case scenario. In actuality, it’s unlikely every single friend I have will abandon me. Given the nature of the academic population, I might hazard a guess and say no more than 25% will assume a cordial distance from me, thus re-shaping our relationship from friend to colleague. As for family disownment, it’s odd I should use “own” to describe it, as I’m independent by virtue of my parents’ estates, but I think I mean more than that, something akin go “owning up to something,” or claiming it as your own.

Is “own” as in “my own” the same as “own” as in “legally possess?”

I would hope that my sister Liz would stick with me. I would probably expect my aunt to be ok. I think Uncle John will be hard, but will come around. I don’t really care about the cousins, to be honest. As for being fired, that’s just a fear — it ain’t gonna happen. If anything, the university will be delighted to be able to work on its diversity profile. I’m actually afraid I’ll be put out there in a more public sense than I really want. Money won’t fall away, other than spending on the sex change.

But this last sense of loss, the losing of my self, this isn’t so easily dismissed. It’s something you read in online forums all the time, where transitioning (or thinking of transitioning) transsexuals want to know if they can still keep doing X or believing Y. Why can’t I still be a baseball fan after I’m finished, they’ll ask? Do I have to give up skateboarding asks a young one? It seems to me that this is a case of confusing broad social gender stereotypes with personal gender identity. Just because I change doesn’t mean that everything changes, and yet I think there’s a fear that a biochemical change, and a fat distribution change, and a clothing change, and an appearance change, and a pronoun and public perception change, and ultimately a legal change will somehow cause or force all the other aspects of one’s identity to change, as well. Now that I’m a woman, one might say, I shouldn’t enjoy football, or I should take up knitting, or I like watching chick-flicks, or whatever. And while I think it’s important to be open about your mind and your experiences, there’s no reason to jettison all the qualities that made you unique.

I was reading today’s list of events, and was reminded of today’s Boss’s lunch that our secretaries throw for us yearly. I suddenly remembered, and I had completely forgotten this incident, last year’s Boss’s day at a local restaurant. I was just beginning this terrible slide into self-awareness of my transgenderism, and Mary Lou, as part of her ice-breaker technique during lunch, said something like, I know something about one of our bosses that no one knows. She paused and everyone at the table leaned in, ready for juicy gossip.

I was mortified — what if she somehow knew I was transgendered? Why would she do this to me? I got an adrenaline rush, my body flushed, and I anticipated being terribly embarrassed. I steeled myself to quickly think of a joke, an intellectual observation, something or anything that would deflect attention away from me.

As it was, it was related to me, but nothing that caused the earth to swallow me up — something like “two of our male bosses have pierced ears and used to wear earrings.” Shawn and I both confessed, which everyone knew, anyway, and we mumbled something about graduate school and youth, and that was that.

But that dread, that sense of impending doom that I felt at being outed, is something I’ve felt my entire life. I think it created a lot of my persona, secretive and guarded, that I don’t think would have been a part of me otherwise. It’s easy to focus on the obvious, and funny, changes that one undertakes when dealing with this problem — because they’re so present and so different that they demand attention. But what’s really also interesting is the impact of this secret on one’s development, and that’s not nearly as visible to others because you are already who you are and you can’t reengineer the past. As we work on ourselves in therapy and in reflection, it seems to me that equal attention ought to be paid to the past, as well as the future, not that you can change the past, but you can have moments of insight when you suddenly see a pattern or a reason for the way you are.

It’s not helpful to think of a “real” you that needs revealing and that there’s a “fake” you that’s been an imposter in your body for all your life. I suppose some might find comfort in that, but I don’t — I am completely real and my life experiences have brought me to this point. Perhaps there are hundreds of alternative universes with different versions of me in them, and while it might be a fun mind-experiment designed to blow the lid of one’s sense of pre-destination, I don’t know what else you do with it except mourn those alternatives that have you happier, healthier, or wiser and breathe a sigh of relief about those alternatives that found you dead, sick, down-and-out, and generally more miserable than you are in this reality.

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