Suppressing and repressing your true gender is really hard on your psyche. I have been quite a wreck at different times in my life as I tried to grapple with just who and what I was. When did I know I was different? I knew something around age 4 or 5, but what that ‘something’ was shifted during my life, probably because an understanding of that “something” was confined and constrained by experience, education, and culture. The more I experienced the world, the better I understood what “IT” was.

When I was young, I just thought I was different — I didn’t have a word for what I felt, and thus my self definition was only that I felt weird.

When I found the library, both in high school and in college, I found books on the subject and learned that I was probably a garden-variety crossdresser, and knowing this label actually brought me a degree of comfort since the books and articles had statistics about how prevalent this feeling is, and knowing I wasn’t alone was important to me at the time.

However, after meeting cross-dressers, attending support groups and social groups, and wearing the label of “cross-dresser” for a while, it began to dawn on me that I didn’t really feel that I fit in with those girls. They seemed to get a great deal of joy out of wearing a dress as if it were a special Halloween costume, and while I myself also felt a lot of initial excitement about clothing, that feeling wore off quickly, and I realized that I probably really needed to a woman in a more essential way, whatever that might entail, instead of just being happy dressing like a woman.

Bear in mind that I think one can be a perfectly happy cross-dresser — it’s a harmless and healthy activity that channels gender dysphoria into safe and fun places. I would never knock CD’s, believe me — I remember as recently as 9 months ago telling Mary Jo that I wish I were a normal crossdresser, which was a pretty funny utterance when you think of it, but at the time, it seemed as if being a transsexual was so awful that I’d settle for anything else.

In any case, I found I needed a lot more than just clothes, and that’s when it began dawning on me that I probably wasn’t a CD, but something more, or different. I began to hope that maybe I was some kind of socialite trans*person, not quite full TS, but more social/psychological than a CD. I hosted dinner parties as Joyce, went to the theater as Joyce, went for coffee as Joyce, and began telling friends about the new me — and this new self-definition worked for quite a while.

But after marrying Mary Jo, having Lane and Ezra, and changing professions, I put Joyce away (she wasn’t needed, wasn’t even interesting), and my self-definition became something like “a non-dressing transgender person,” which is a little like the idea of the non-drinking alcoholic, a person who is always biologically alcoholic, but who can choose not to drink. And this was a viable self-definition for 11 years, during which time the trans* part of me was safely folded on a shelf like a heavy sweater you know you’ll never need because you live where it hardly ever snows, almost forgotten up there with the other never-worn clothes.

But even this highly-functional self-definition eventually fell apart, and when it did, it was a mighty tumble, everything I’d done and believed simply crumbling around me until all I was left to define myself was “wreckage.” You have read the blog posts and know that I have somehow managed to reclaim a self-definition that combines “transsexual” and “father/parent” and “husband/spouse” and “brother/sister” and “professor” and, much to my surprise, finally “human” again.

I’m not saying my evolution is complete or my self-definition written in permanent ink, but it’s a nice place to be, here in this spot of calm, enjoying life and friendship and work and family.

Liz, my sister, remarked on how good I was at pretending when we were growing up, and was expressing how difficult it must have been for me trying to be somebody I wasn’t and having to be that person for so long. But it wasn’t all bad — it was mostly a case of being constantly confused, which is a lot like cisgendered kids feel as they grow up, as I understand them.

In my case, it wasn’t simply a case of hating my body or my life and feeling desperation all the time. I was torn between some sense of gender dysphoria and also trying to fit into my assigned sex role. So not only did I study girls, envy them, and imagine how I could somehow grow up to be one of them, but I also remember studying guys and trying to figure out how I could be a better boy. However, despite all that scrutiny of boys and girls, men and women, masculinity and femininity, I was unable to come to any conclusions. I found that I was jealous of guys who made being a guy seem effortless and I was jealous of girls because they were girls — and there I was in the middle, left out in the cold, feeling totally clueless about girls, boys, and myself.

I survived by reading, studying my homework, and finding self-worth in things like choir, athletics, and hard ranch work. I fell in love with the world of ideas, so seemingly disembodied from my awkward struggles. Philosophy, poetry, and literature kept my head away from thinking about my body and my fate, and so I think it is entirely possible that my current profession owes something to my juvenile gender identity confusion.

As I grew up and ran with a fairly androgynous group of friends (high school choir buddies and fellow intellectuals), I felt a lot more at home, and was often able to stay one step ahead of gender troubles, but what I learned, and what I’ll write about later, was that even as I got more sophisticated, my gender trouble also got more sophisticated and harder to ignore or thwart.

I ended up in a long distance race with me and my wits on one team and the specter of gender trouble on the other team, the former determined to pull away from the latter, which was equally determined to catch up. And even though I often pulled far ahead of the other team, leaving it broken down on the side of the dusty course, the race was very long with lots of surprises, and we know how it turned out, don’t we?

In dealing with my hometown, my family, and my friends, I often ask myself the questions that I imagine everyone else is asking: What would your parents think? What about Elizabeth, your dear mom, and Frank (nicknamed “Rowdy,” for a reason), your good-ole-boy father? Would they be proud of you? Would they disown you? Would they make ashamed apologies to their friends at the bank, coffee shop, post office, or bridge club?

Rowdy died in 2002 and Elizabeth in 2005, and I won’t have a chance to find out what they’d think. I do know that my sister and I have embodied all of their values (whether we liked it or not), and we’re doing just fine with me, so I’d like to think that we can extend that acceptance and love backwards a generation to imagine a homecoming that’s loving and excited and proud. And that’s the image I carry with me in my dealings with hometown people — I’m a little bit Elizabeth and a little bit Rowdy, and even through I’m doing something really different, I’m not ashamed of it, and I don’t expect anyone I tell to be ashamed, either.

Your good name and your word were all you’ve got, I was told growing up, and I believe my name is still good and I keep my word in all my dealings, perhaps even more so now that I don’t have the albatross of GID around my neck.

My mother was a Law, and I still have my uncle John Law to keep me tied with her family, and I still have my aunt Phoebe and uncle Pat on the Bailey side of the family, and these siblings of my parents represent to me a tracing of my family history and values through which Elizabeth and Rowdy are tangible. Our relationships are just evolving with my personal news, and I’m looking forward to talking about our families in the coming years.

Last time I was home, my sister Liz said that I looked just like our mother, which is not only a beautiful compliment to me, but is perhaps yet another kind of external proof that I’m still a member of our family, that I’m still welcome at our holiday table, with immediate and extended family all seated together in a supportive holiday gathering.

Joyce and Mom 1962
Joyce and Mom, 1962

I have been in my hometown for a couple of days with my two boys, as there was work to be done and Mary Jo is doing horse events this weekend. This is the first time I’ve visited since everyone learned that I’m transsexual and since becoming Joyce full-time. In the days leading up to this trip, I felt somewhat anxious, but not terribly so.

Joyce arrives in her hometown for the very first time
The drives from Bedford Falls takes about 3 hours, and I was in a desperate need for a bathroom when I arrived at my office in Empire Falls. The boys ran into the office to play as soon as I got the door unlocked, and just as I was dropping off my stuff to head to the toilet, my banker stopped me in the hall and said it was good to see me — Debra Burns is a veteran banker and I have always liked her, and I was quite happy to see she had gone out of her way to stop and chat, making very solid eye contact and a broad smile that spoke volumes. Welcome home, indeed.

Uncle Jack and sister Liz arrive to discuss family business
As Debra left to go over to her office, my sister and uncle showed up — I shook hands, made eye contact and smiled, then said that I absolutely had to dash out. I was worried that Uncle Jack would take offense since I had learned from Liz that he had worried about meeting Joyce for the first time, but when you have to pee, you simply have to pee. Turns out there was nothing to worry about, as the 2-hour discussion was easy and fruitful, and I never felt any sense of tension around “the Joyce issue.” I suspect that having business to transact really makes a difference — you can’t get too freaked out by transgender people if you want to work a deal, can you? The downside of conducting business is that we never set aside any time for talking about “the Joyce issue.” For now, however, I am happy and satisfied.

We are joined by Aunt DeeAnne at the Abstract office
We had to be at Empire Falls Title Company at 2:00, so we ceased our business discussion at 1:45 and split up to rendezvous at the title company on time. When the boys and I walked in, Jack and DeeAnne Law were already there, as was Liz, so we entered and said hello. DeeAnne may have been thinking about the house deal intensely and thus had no energy for me, but I suspect she was worried about meeting me and was having trouble making eye contact or conversing. It’s all right, of course, as no one’s head exploded and we were able to sign all our documents without a hitch.

Liz treated me and Lane and Ezra to a steak dinner to celebrate this milestone of settling the very last asset in our mother’s estate, then we parted ways and bought supplies for our ranch house at the grocery store. Didn’t run into anyone I knew.

We visit Liz and Gerald at their ranch
Later in the evening, we drove over to Liz’s house to see her grandson Rye and to say hi to her husband Gerald. He didn’t bat an eye and we joked about “you look different.” “hmmmm, is it losing 10 pounds?” “no, I think it’s something different.” And so on — it was a very nice, comfortable visit to end a very long day.

The boys and I go for a misty walk
This morning, the boys and I got up early, ate bacon, eggs, and biscuits, and then went for a nice long walk down to the creek. There were low, scudding clouds that created mist that hung on the bluffs and all the prairie birds were chirping. We saw a deer and picked wildflowers. We talked about Joyce, about coming back later in the summer, about how beautiful the plains can be, about how concepts of beauty and nature seem to depend on where you’re brought up, and about whether we would see any rattle snakes (we didn’t). It was a wonderful time together.

We visit Liz before lunch
The boys wanted to play with little Rye, their cousin, so we went back over to Liz’s place after our walk. While they were playing, Liz brought out all this unused LancĂ´me makeup, some beautiful handbags, and some unused jewelry, handing it to me and asking me what I thought about it. Not only was Liz’s sense of what would look good on me excellent, but the whole interaction felt so warm and so easy that I was nearly overwhelmed. I don’t recall ever having that sort of connection with Liz, and I found it wonderful. She gave me a necklace and matching bracelet that really completed my black-and-white striped shirt and black shorts, and she also gave me a sparkling black handbag that looks fabulous. I know it’s frou-frou and I know I’m attaching perhaps more significance to these things than necessary, but it’s a first for me and I felt like I belonged and that Liz was simply accepting her sister Joyce without dwelling on brother George at all. I’m making up for lost time and all I know is that I like this kind of interaction with my sister. I don’t know if it’s something she had to brace herself for, but our interaction seemed awfully genuine, and I’m grateful to have family like her.

Lunch and shopping in town
A trip to the bookstore, video game store, and restaurant proved uneventful.

Final visit to Gerald’s, Liz’s, and Rye’s place
After a mighty hailstorm passed overhead and Lane and Ezra tempted the fates by running out into the falling hail, we went over to the Rhapsody household one last time. The boys played with Rye and I watched the last few holes of the US open (third round) with Gerald. Liz and I talked some more, inspected her kitchen remodeling project, and generally bonded. A cool breeze was blowing from the south and as we sat outside we could see distant lighting in the thunderheads off to the east in the deepening dusk. I don’t believe I have ever felt closer to my sister, and I don’t know whether it’s because I’m finally being honest with myself, because the gender dynamic is different, or simply because we have learned to share more as we have aged. Whatever the reason, this was one of the best parts of the visit, which ended with long hugs all around.

We drive back to Bedford Falls tomorrow, but we’ll be back in late July, when I propose to hold a small party for friends of mine who are attending the Bedford Falls High School 30th reunion. I have decided not to go to the official reunion events so as not to make waves, but if any of my old friends want to see me, I’ll have barbecue and beer at my place as an alternative or a precursor to the official reunion activities. After my welcome these past two days, I’m feeling more and more at ease about the prospects of reestablishing my connections in my hometown.

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