WHO AM I?
The story of a young transgendered person.
This story is an autobiographical account of a young transgendered person. Growing up is difficult and fitting in even more so. This story is not uncommon.
Once upon a time I was a child. The joy of the day was defined by new discoveries fresh and sweet. Feelings were neither wrong nor right but just experienced. It was only later that they were defined for me, by either a gold star on the corner of lined yellow paper or the taste of Ivory soap.
I clearly remember many yesterdays. Some of them fondly, others with heart-wrenching pain and salty tears. All of them blend together to form my life. The happy times harvest a reward unto themselves. The amusement park rides, and presents on Christmas morning are reminisced through a fuzzy filtered lens, both soft and kind.
The difficult times, however, glean something better. There is a purity of thought and emotion that can only be achieved when stumbling through the fiery furnace of adversity. The insights inherent to this process usually flower over time. Difficulties experienced are what define my character and mold my perception of the path on which I journey. The joys that are birthed through fire are more akin to the safe warmth of an old sweater than the elation of a roller coaster ride.
Chapter One: School Rules
A red rubber playground ball thumps a hollow twang that is immediately echoed by the clank of a recess line-up bell. Sounding more like a broken alarm clock, the chime rings out the one-minute warning. I race past my 6-year-old-peers to get to the front of the line. We had to line up for everything; entering and exiting the brown and beige colored classrooms for breaks, getting food at the cafeteria, and finally waiting to board the yellow school bus that would take us home. (I loathe lines to this day.) I am met this time by a grumpy volunteer mom who reminds me in a rather coarse voice that “ladies” go first. She tells me to be polite and stand aside. I wait as the parade of pink, soft blue and purple dresses queue up in front of me.
“Girls first?” I thought. “I wish I were a girl, then I could go first.” I mulled over what life would be like as a girl. Lining up as requested, I follow my classmates into room “2.” The smell of stale chalk and paper greet me as I am herded past our teacher, Mrs. Gunder, into my stall. Still, I couldn’t shake the thought. “I wish I were a girl…” The sentence reverberated in my mind. I fantasized about it during the rest of the day.
I went home and played with my sister.
As the weeks and months went by, I still could not shake the thought. “I wish I were a girl”. Even after that ridiculous “girls first” rule became politically incorrect the thought remained and grew stronger.
My younger sister of two years loved me, her big brother. I was creative and inventive. We would play dress-up together, she would squeal in delight at my interest. My older brother laughed at this exercise as only an older sibling could. So I played dress-up when he wasn’t around. One of my favorite games was to take the heads off “Barbie” and “Ken” and switch them. They never quite fit right. But I attempted it often. GI Joe fit better but the result was rather disturbing.
I went through many male playmates. I never seemed to hold onto those relationships as easily as the girls who I considered friends. I didn’t know why. It seemed like I just wore them out. When I tried to get “into” a group of my male peers, I found it rather confusing and lonely.
On a sunny Friday afternoon, during forth grade, I began to become aware that something was wrong. I tried hard to fit in, by just being myself. But a lot of the guy talk I found offensive. My saving grace was church and playing sports. People who you admired in the classroom could be on the same team as you and you both would for a brief time be working for a common goal. A form of temporary friendship. I loved the competition and wished the games could go on forever. I thought I was pretty good too, but this assessment was not shared by my peers especially when it came time to pick teams.
Usually Dave and Bob were the team captains. They were the biggest and fastest, so we naturally, deferred to their wisdom.
Dave would always pick Brian first (his best friend).
Bob was a little more democratic and not always so predictable, he chose Paul this time.
Dave looked right at me and then asked for “Mike.”
Bob thought carefully as we, the remaining 6 applicants, all shuffled our feet and tried to look cool. “I’ll take Mark.”
Dave quickly fired back, “Joe.” Joe didn’t move.
“My name is Joseph, not Joe.” he said deliberately. He reminded us of the distinction on a daily basis, but at least no one ever called him Joey. The proper correction made, he too took his place.
Bob countered with, “Raymond” (clear to all a better choice than Joe).
Only three spots left and four “want-to-plays”. I would be sure to go soon. After all I was well rested. I hadn’t been picked all week. Hey… look at me… fresh legs!
Dave started to speak, hesitated, then paused and thought hard. The universal signs that the pickings had gotten pretty slim. I guess I’ll take “Peter.”
Now I was getting nervous. Me, little Mike and Doug started to plead our case with winning looks. Dave never chose me and it was Bob’s turn. I did the math. If I didn’t go this round I would be out again. Would Bob pick Doug? No, Doug was terrible. He was big, but slow and not real bright. This year I was slightly taller than little Mike, so maybe I would have the advantage. Mike and I compared our heights to each other at regular intervals. One of us was always the shortest in the class, depending on who had the latest “growth spurt.” It had been that way all throughout Elementary school.
I liked Bob, he was thoughtful. He looked at me and then Little Mike and glanced over at Doug. The three of us could hardly contain our anxiety. Pick me, pick me our bodies screamed! He turned and looked Dave straight in the eye. Then he broke with tradition, “You can have Doug and I’ll take the other two.” he suggested. Bob waited quietly for a reply.
Dave was caught off guard. What? Not play with even teams? That was the standard excuse not to get stuck with what was perceived as the weakest player. However, Dave rationalized, “If I don’t agree, then Bob will surely pick Doug and I’ll get stuck with one of the other two.” So he agreed.
Today both “Little Mike” and I were picked. I still thought I should have realistically gone in the third round and I mentioned this to Bob who only smiled back.
Because it was football season that was the game of the day. With only 15 minutes of recess left, we quickly went to work.
It now started to dawn on Dave that he had fewer players and perhaps had made a fatal error in judgement. So insisted on “us” kicking off to “them.”
It was easy to stop their weak attack. Dave usually tried to throw to one of the first two draft picks, so Bob had those players well covered. Bob had both Little Mike and I blitz on the agreed “three alligator” count. This left poor Dave, who always played center, with the task of blocking both of us. We were an unstoppable combination.
On offense, it was a dream come true. Bob did the unexpected and actually used Little Mike and I on pass patterns. Doug was no match for the two of us. I scored three touchdowns and had one interception. It felt better than great. Easily one of my best young moments. I was elated the rest of the day and into the weekend.
The weekend flew by. I could hardly wait till it was time for recess again. I got up Monday morning eager to get to school. I boarded the yellow and black school bus with pride, knowing I was finally viewed by its occupants in the way I should have been all along, the same way I always viewed myself.
Year after year, I was one of the shortest boys in my grade. Even so I did not think myself as radically different or inferior. Quite the opposite. I always had a healthy self-esteem. I knew that God loved me and so did my parents. I was aware that I was short, but I liked it. I liked who I was and didn’t wish to be someone else. I knew I was smarter than most of the kids and loved to banter with the teachers about all sorts of topics. I challenged myself with difficult math problems and would draw and color for hours. When I wasn’t inventing a new product, I was writing books, jokes and planning out academy award winning screenplays. When I wasn’t included in their “reindeer games” I figured it was their loss not mine. They just didn’t know what they were missing. I felt like Rudolph on a foggy Christmas Eve.
Today as the bus bounded along the roughly paved roads, all things seemed new. Last Friday I flew on the playground for the first time and all had watched. They finally saw some of my vast hidden potential, tapped into it and I’m sure had marveled at its depth.
We queued up for class and entered the school room, ladies first. As I sat at my desk I became impatient with our instructor Mr. Wallis as he droned on and on about what? Japan and the industrial revolution? What does that have to do with this glorious day? I’m sure he must of heard about my overwhelming victory on the field of honor. I counted the minutes before the next recess.
My mind wondered, “Perhaps I would be picked first.” I could see it now. The logic was so obvious. I smiled.
The recess bell never sounded so clear.
We all rushed outside in a hurry to get as much playtime as possible. This was one day I was glad I wasn’t ball monitor. Usually I enjoyed being ball monitor. It was a low-key position of authority. I requested the opportunity from Mr. Wallis often. Ball monitor meant you had to wait until all the balls had been taken, or the last student had gone and visa versa at the end of recess. You counted them and marked down who took what. Also the ball monitor got to go into the classroom first, along with the girls.
Today was different. I would be picked first and had to hurry to get out to the field. “C’mon guys, let’s play football.” I hurried my fellow classmates along as if I had invented the game myself and wanted to show it to them for the first time.
Much too slowly the applicants lined up for the selection process. Bob wasn’t here today, so it was agreed that Paul and Dave would be captains.
Dave, as usual, went first and chose Brian. Not a big surprise.
Now I was sure it was my turn. I think I even began to step forward in expectation.
Paul looked right at me and then asked for “Mike.”
The rest was like a bad dream. I think I had my first out-of-body experience. The air around me took on a surreal quality. Colors became confused and the world looked twisted, unfamiliar and frightening as one by one players were selected until I was standing, again, alone. As they all walked away, a protest which was churning deep inside my heart vomited forth in a single word. “Stop!” I cried.
As the heaviness in the air cleared I hurried up to Dave. “What’s happening here? What happened to last week? I scored, don’t you remember?”
Dave was startled. He fumbled for an answer. What he said, I don’t remember. I wasn’t really listening. It made no sense. It wasn’t fair. I had been exposed for the first time to the “Good-ol-boys club” and realized that my membership had been denied. I had won, proven myself worthy. What was the matter? What did they know about me that I didn’t?
I enjoyed the company of the girls a lot and would play with them when it was acceptable. I would usually focus in on one male friend at a time. These male relationships usually last about half a school year. I was never sure why they would shy away from me. I found the company of females much more relaxing.
Church was one of my favorite places to go. I loved the bible stories. The weak conquering by the grace of God. Jesus’ amazing life quite often confused me, but the discovery of truth, doctrine and the interpretations which followed were a source of revelation and excitement.
I talked to God constantly, he was a source of comfort and extreme joy. Most of my peers wanted to be sports heroes or firemen, I wanted to be a minister. I had declared to my mother at the tender age of four my intentions and had not wavered much since then. Sometimes it was a missionary, or a pastor, and for a while I wanted to be a nun. I really enjoyed the TV series with “Sally Fields.” I thought that being able to fly would have been the greatest feeling imaginable. Often I would dream of flying and wake up knowing that if the right conditions existed, I could fly.
Sally Fields really helped fuel my imagination. A small weak woman who loves and serves God, and could fly. Wouldn’t that be something? She would use her special powers each week to help others, and also to get some outrageous aerial footage. Forget Bart Star, I’ll take Sister Sally Fields. She was easily one of my first crushes. I wanted to know her; I wanted to be her. I freely told others about my love of Sally Fields. I honestly didn’t know that my desires were any different that those of the children around me.
Chapter 2: The Fight
It was about a month before graduating from sixth grade. It was a windy day, and we had spent most of the recess holding our coats over our heads like sails and letting the wind blow us around. Don and I were playing jacks with the girls when Dave with a small entourage approached. He walked straight up to me and for a moment I felt honored by the attention. He asked me to stand, and not seeing any reason not to, I complied. He had a funny look on his face and I couldn’t read what he was thinking. Just then a couple of his friends pushed Little Mike forward. He forced us back to back and declared it would be a fair fight.
For some reason I would get into a lot of fights. I was often challenged, and never backed down. The competition was exhilarating and the contact not unpleasant. I had a strange sense of humor and my timing often wasn’t the best. Usually saying exactly what you think tends to annoy people. And I did so on a daily basis. Here I was again.
The time as usual was after school. The place (surprise, surprise) the baseballs diamond. Oh great -- dirt. Well, I’ll just try not to fall this time. My favorite place to fight, however, was the Fire Station. The grass was softer, the field smaller, and exposed to traffic on two sides. Harder to get ganged up on there, and it felt a little more intimate. Besides, medical attention was close by.
School let out, and we all made our way out to the dirt lot. Dave laid down the rules. “No kicking you know where…” he went on with the traditional verbiage for gentlemanly conduct.
I fought a lot, not usually questioning why. Sometimes my friends and I would do so just for the sake of competition.
Dave startled me with what he said next.
“This is to determine who the smallest and the weakest in our class is,” he blurted out.
I was about to object, so was Little Mike.
Then he continued, as he fluffed himself up to his height of nearly 6 feet. “Whoever backs out will not be allowed to play with us anymore. He will lose by chickening out.” He crowed this out like some red and white-striped carnival ring announcer. The crowd, which had gathered, confessed the inescapable sixth grade logic of the statement with a series of grunts and groans. Heads bobbed up and down and it reminded me of birds floating on the sea being tossed about by waves.
I liked Little Mike. We were not exactly friends, but he was always nice enough. I think we had been good friends once, for the usual 6-month stint. Dave encouraged us not to keep the crowd waiting. If I walked I would be ostracized. I thought I already was in most ways. Seldom did I get to play with them anyway. I think my perspective on life confused them.
This declaration of Dave’s seemed to me rather rigid and pointless. Little Mike made the decision clearer by agreeing first. The ball was in my court now, would I chicken out? My possible future success on the playground was inexplicably and irrationally at stake. How was this possible? What or who gave Dave the right to determine, on a whim, our destinies? I suppose we did. The crowd waited.
As was my custom, I would not hit first, so I motioned to Mike if he wanted to start something he would have to throw the first punch. This may sound magnanimous, but I had discovered three things. The first punch is tentative and usually didn’t do much damage. Also, you could always claim you were defending yourself (I did not want to get into trouble), and finally, more often than not, it left your opponent wide open to retaliation. His first punch landed on my upper body, I cradled it and returned two swift blows. A right and then left to the face. Little Mike went down and the “fight” was over. The crowed cheered, and I was given the obligatory congratulations by being hoisted up into the air.
This lasted all of a few seconds. My thoughts quickly returned to Little Mike. I hope he wasn’t hurt too bad. I went to his house after school to check on him.
Nothing, for either me or Little Mike really changed much. I was glad that I wasn’t the tool after all of his official banishment to the world of the un-befriended. As usual, we were still both picked last, if at all. I felt used. I was angry with Dave, but mostly with myself for allowing myself to be goaded into such a pointless and mean-spirited contest. I liked the competition. I didn’t like the feelings of shame and remorse. Although I didn’t hit the ground, I felt dirtier than Little Mike who had. I determined not to allow myself to be used that way again.
Sixth grade ended, and so my journey into the world of puberty was about to begin. I was actually looking forward to it. Ignorance is, as they say, bliss.
Chapter 3: Experimenting
Okay, so I liked Barbara Strisand. I also loved to watch Sally Fields (who gets better with age) as well as Katherine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn. I freely offered my opinions, but slowly began to realize that many of my interests were not shared by my male peers.
At this point in my life, I started to become aware of the need for separation. Playing dress-up with my sister stopped, and became something hidden and more personal. The more I suppressed these emotions and desires, the more intense they became. I was not yet (sexually) developed, but from the shore of my childhood I could see the tidal wave approaching. I was unclear what color the water would be.
During the day much of what I did was normal. I was very polite and never swore. I did not rebel and felt sorry for those who did. I had a reputation as being funny, artistic, and very quirky. The girls liked my gentle nature and soft heart. I treasured a deep love of biblical scriptures and freely spoke to others about Jesus Christ. I found friends (many girls), of like mind, and had a very good time.
The playground rules, as known in elementary, disappeared somewhat in intermediate school. There were lots of new faces and most everyone felt a little lost at first. I was however destined to continue some of the same relationships as before. But this time we had a common bond, fear. Fear of the unknown. I began to grow up and so did the attitudes of most of my peers. Many of those same boys who tried to shun me eventually wore down, and I was accepted in the sports arena. We played a lot of street ball and sandlot ball together. I wasn’t always picked last, and usually played.
I loved to dance, and even took some classes. My parents were usually very supportive of my interest in art, writing, music and sports.
Our neighborhood had lots of backyard dances. Thank God for Crystal Blue Persuasions. It was a great slow song. It was a safe way for us boys to explore our sexuality with the neighborhood girls.
I finally grew a little and was no longer the absolute shortest. I also stopped measuring completely. It was not relevant. During this time I landed a job, which provided me hours alone by myself in a private home. This provided a venue quite different than any I had experienced.
It was a Monday morning. I had been working for a couple of days previously. My dad pulled his car up to the front of the job sight and dropped me off. I would not picked up until later in the day.
At lunchtime I walked down to a small shopping center to purchase food. I purchased the usual, cold cuts, melted cheese, chips and an orange soda. I sat down outside on the soft grass and leaned back, letting the sun warm me. I then got an impulse. I went next door to the five and dime. The cosmetic counter was full of the missing pieces that could make my transformations more believable: false eyelashes, lipstick, makeup, and stockings. I gathered up my purchases and walked sheepishly up to the counter.
Walking up to the lady in the blue and white checked apron working the cash register, I declared, “It is my sister's birthday and she is turning 13.” She was actually turning 11, but 13 sounded more plausible. “As a joke I am purchasing some items for her. Do you have any suggestions?”
She looked me up and down.
“Are you sure you’re not purchasing these for yourself?” she questioned.
I laughed. “That’s pretty funny,” I said and then continued. “No, really, any other suggestions?” She helped me pick out a few more items and I left. I couldn’t walk back to the abandoned home fast enough. I wasn’t embarrassed; I was excited.
I experimented with the different items and at home that night snuck back into the bathroom for a more complete look. I really liked what I saw. So much so that I would risk walking around the house at night with the lights off just to feel the air brushing past the skirts and tops and nylons. It was a risk, but the desire to experiment was stronger than the apprehension.
My dress-up sessions had become more frequent. This was probably due to the coming of the aforementioned wave. I would hide my mother’s clothes near my bed and then slip into the bathroom when everyone was asleep. She owned wigs and a whole assortment of boots and jewelry. These made a quick transformation easy. To my later disbelief, I never got caught. I thought they must know, but they didn’t.
At this time, the wave still had not crashed upon the shore. My desire to connect with my feminine side was more innocent than sexual. Although ready for the onslaught, I had not yet developed physically enough to understand the feelings inside, nor fan the pre-puberty embers which were glowing.
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