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.
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.