My own sense of gender has never been 100% masculine or feminine, as I have always felt more or less androgynous, especially when I was a little child and at other times of relative freedom from rigid expectations from family, work, or society. I was such a girl when I was growing up! Not a girly girl, but a tomboy girl, as was my sister, Liz. We did everything together: dressing up with my mother’s fabulous furs and pearls and makeup and heels, playing army man out on the vast ranch where we grew up, creating doll-houses for GI Joe and Barbie and horses and horny toads and other things to make really cool scenarios, cooking on what I guess would be the precursor to the little light-bulb-powered kids oven, and generally singing and playing and being ourselves, genderless and free. It was a really wonderful childhood.
I really can’t pinpoint when it changed. The first jolt was probably going to school in kindergarten, beginning the long, inevitable process of education and socialization. We all have to leave the nest and grow up, of course, but I think I probably felt a deep sense of melancholy at my losses. I remember being very curious about how other girls moved, stood, held their heads. At a time when boys wanted nothing to do with girls, I (not wanting trouble) wanted nothing to do with them; however, I studied them and pictured myself in their company, one of them. Sex was mysterious, as it must be for 7-10 year olds, but I distinctly remember that the bigger mystery for me lay in the riddle of just what it was that made them different from me.
Puberty must have been another jolt. I recall that I willed myself to stop being so chatty, so sissy, so vulnerable around 5th or 6th grade. I would now be the the boy with piercing and solitary silence. I would speak only when spoken to. I pictured myself as standing outside of society, a philosopher and observer of human nature not unlike Cane in Kung Fu, which debuted when I was in 7th grade. I built an immense wall around me, maybe to keep the little girl safe from the outside world, or maybe to prevent her from showing her face. I still maintained a nice balance of gendered activities, playing football and singing in choir and enjoying both equally, keeping equal number of girl and boy friends, but never, never revealed the girl behind the wall.
When I think of the story of my gendered life, it’s not so much a tragedy of horrible pain for 30 years, but rather the story of stunted development. Joyce was categorized as an oddity or an aberration who couldn’t socialize or even find embodiment, and I think my feminine side became squashed down because of not having any place to be. She was a latch-key child who peeped out of the house from time to time, desperate to become herself, but also increasingly terrified of what’s out there in the world. George was encouraged to be the winner, the guy’s guy, the competent and masculine firstborn son of the firstborn son of the firstborn son, a position that was both honorable and oppressive. Because of the honor and in spite of the oppression, those expectations sunk in, oozed down into my the dark corners of my emerging personality, penetrated every hallway, landing, and closet of my psyche, so even when I wanted to rebel, my rebellions were largely symbolic. I grew my hair longer to make my father angry. I argued for blood, no matter how absurd the position I took. I was tenacious in all things.
Regardless of these symbolic rebellions, I was also at heart the good kid, the smart kid, the golden child, and that role pushed Joyce into a tinier and tinier room because it would be devastating for such a winner with such high expectations from family, teachers, and society to admit the existence of such a horrible inner self to the world, wouldn’t it? Yes, I write “horrible,” for that’s what the latchkey child eventually becomes, being locked away, unsocialized, unrealized, unkempt and unloved. Bringing her out into the light of society would be mean disappointing all those people, and the golden child is motivated by pleasing others. Giving a life to Joyce would literally mean the death of the main character in the story of my family, the story that has been living me all my life with a script that was written before I was born.
Coming to a place of self acceptance and then disclosing my authentic self to others these past three months involved erasing that role and writing a new one for me, and that process was far more traumatic than being transgendered. A lot of my current joy comes from that feeling that I’m actually living my own life with my own complex body and psyche, perhaps for the first time since those girlish, androgynous childhood days. It’s corny, but I feel I’ve given the wounded inner child a chance to heal, and she’s getting stronger and stronger every single day, pointing the way to a fully-realized Joyce, whom I love for the first time since childhood.
This journey of becoming is powerful medicine that operates in my psyche and in my relationships, and is perhaps far more powerful than the hormone medicines that operate on my body. Sometimes it seems as if my existence is so different than it used to be — and that it’s continuing to differentiate steadily from what it used to be — that every week is like waking up from a groggy dream. I’m simply amazed at this process — hell, I’d be fascinated by this process even if I weren’t going through it myself.
But I am.
Simultaneously frightening and exhilarating, it is process that ties up a bunch of loose ends from the first half of my life and opens up a ton of new possibilities for the second half of my life. It’s astounding, really, to have finally broken through the fear and shame to undertake something I’ve known I needed to do for decades, to look at my body and recognize newness in it, to feel emotions and connections with awe and power. I may have daydreamed this transformation in youthful and melancholy fantasies, but I never, ever, visualized or imagined the power that comes with actually taking these steps, the power of life that follows the little girl who, released from her locked-in state, takes her first steps into a brave new world and becomes human.