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.