As an older trans woman, who fought with herself for decades before finally being able to throw off the internalized transphobia and even misogyny that frightened me from embracing myself, there are consequences to having waited so long to transition.
This needs to be recorded so I can easily relay it to others, and for those interested in parts of the background about this. There will be additional blog entries about this history, different aspects of it, but this is the first.
I was born in 1957. The 1950s were the era when PSAs ran on black and white television, sponsored by the government itself, about the perversions of homosexuality and how early “help” could “turn” a child away from these “perversions”. Further, my father was a steel mill worker and I grew up in eastern Ohio – coal mine and steel mill country. Being “queer” in that region and that era could literally get you killed. That was the atmosphere in which I grew up, just so we understand that as reference, ok?
I apparently showed girlish tendencies from early on. My grandmother initially indulged these, according to reports, until I was about 3 years old and my mother and father didn’t want that. There are surviving photos (that I’d love to get copies of) that showed me with bows in my hair and frilly dresses on. But that ended and unfortunately, I currently don’t have any copies of those photos.
My first crude understanding that something was “wrong” with me came again, at the hands of my grandmother, though I am sure she intended no harm. Up until I was about 5 years old she would take me with her on her regular hair dressing appointments. It was a family ritual. Hair dresser, Elby’s Big Boy restaurtant, then a bit of shopping in downtown Wheeling, West Virginia, always concluding at the LS Good and Company Department Store. We always finished there because her name was known there, and her younger sister worked there as a regional buyer and senior saleswoman.
We were in the children’s clothing section and I must have been about 5 years old or so. My grandmother saw this navy blue boy’s summer dress outfit. Navy blue shorts and jacket, white shirt, bow tie, for a child. She picked that up off the rack and knelt down to hold it up to me and said “This would be so cute on you!”
I distinctly remember pointing across the aisle at a yellow sundress with flowers and saying “I want that.”
My grandmother, bless her heart, reacted as you might expect someone in that era. She didn’t raise her voice, and truthfully my memory of her voice was her trying to be calm, quiet, and loving, but the look of sheer horror on her face didn’t leave despite her trying to talk to me as if I had not just done something completely evil. She explained, softly, almost in a whisper, that I was a little boy and little boys didn’t wear dresses.
We didn’t buy the navy blue outfit that day. And that was my last trip with my grandmother to the hair dresser. You can see from the results how my words caused a reaction – she wasn’t going to risk “feminizing” me any further lest I turn out to be a “queer” stain on the family.
That was my first inkling that something was wrong. I was pushed by my parents to play with the boys in the neighborhood, Charlie, Greg, Steve. But truthfully, I preferred playing with Virginia, Cindy, and Linda. I remember being embarrassed as others made fun of me early in school for getting in line with the girls. I quickly stopped, because of the ostracism but that’s where my initial reaction led.
Now I had no language to describe how I felt. I didn’t identify as a girl because I was constantly reminded that I was a boy, but it didn’t feel right. By the time I was 9 years old, I’d begun wearing some of my mother’s clothing whenever I could get away with it. We lived with my grandmother after age 9 when my father divorced my mother and left my life never to be seen again so consequently, I could slip into my grandmother’s extra bedroom where she kept entire wardrobes of dresses and clothes (she was a clothes hound) and play there. I never dared try on her clothes though. For some reason I feared her retribution more than my mother should I be caught, but I wanted to wear those clothes. And I played with her scarves, her jewelry, etc.
My grandparents ran a motel they had built themselves back in the early 1950s. Because of that, we had a regular maid staff who cleaned the rooms daily. And we had regular guests among the random guests. Those regular guests were traveling salesmen on regular trade routes. They made up maybe a third of my grandparent’s motel’s regular occupancy. And many of them read porn. These magazines would be gathered up by the maid staff and placed in the large industrial trash bins. I would raid these bins to get these magazines.
I would take these magazines deep into the nearby woods and sit and read. Or I would read them in my grandmother’s extra bedroom, often hiding them under one of her beds. This was “safe” because no one but me regularly went into those woods or those bedrooms. My younger brothers turned out to not like the woods, at least at that age and they had no interest in those bedrooms full of clothing.
I read these magazines to try to understand sexuality, and why I felt as I did. I admired those women and really didn’t lust after them at all, at least at that age. And I read the articles. Yes, I really read the articles and that’s what also got me in further trouble.
You see, I found a magazine with an article about “sex change” operations and I was fascinated. There were pictures of women who had been men. I had no idea up to that time that this was even a possible thing.
Normally, I read with all ears alert, because I didn’t want to get caught. The few times my grandmother had walked in on me, I’d heard her coming, hid the magazines and began reading a sci-fi book. If she ever questioned me, I told her I liked the quiet of those bedrooms to read because nobody would bother me there. She accepted that.
Until the day I was reading that article about sex change operations. I must have been about 12 or 13 years old. That day I became so engrossed that I didn’t hear her coming. I didn’t even hear her enter the room until she was standing over me. She snatched that magazine from my hands, glanced at it, and began yelling me at me about perverts and degenerates, and how only evil, vile people did this, and I wasn’t an evil, vile abomination, was I?
I was totally cowed. My grandmother was the matriarch of the family. My grandfather bowed to her will as did my uncle and everyone else. When she spoke, we listened. When she yelled, we all cowered in fear.
The psychological impact of that moment stayed with me for years. I could not even intellectually conceive of engaging in a “sex change” operation because it was burned into my mind as something totally aberrant and evil.
Between that moment and bullying from many of the “jocks” at school (which is an entirely separate discussion), I began to try to force myself to be the male that everyone expected me to be. And I largely succeeded for two reasons – I was exceptionally fast, which made me stand out in football and track, and because one of my best friends was one of the best athletes our high school ever saw, before or since. Those two things got people off my back about being “queer”, but they still whispered behind my back, just not in front of me or my friend who was defensive of me about that.
I only began to shake off all that negative early cultural imprinting about trans people in my early 20s while in the Army (yes I joined the Army partly because they “make a man” out of you and partly because I needed a job with a pregnant wife at that point) and taking college sociology courses at night.
I vented my frustrations by reading sci-fi with strong women characters, and later by playing video games with the option to play as a woman. It took me clear until 2004 to admit to myself who and what I really was but I was then convinced that if you didn’t transition early in life, you never could, so I kept on soldiering as a male through life, being a father and husband.
That lasted until 2010 when I experienced what I called the “mother of all dysphoria” episodes that simply would not stop. All the time prior, I always found a rock that I could shove my dysphoria under, an obsession that would take most of my free time so I wouldn’t obsess over my dysphoria. That always worked before. In 2010, starting in September, that didn’t work anymore and culminated with me planning a suicide that would look like an accident so my spouse would get the insurance money in February 2012. Fortunately, a friend realized I was depressed and pushed me towards therapy.
And the rest, as they say, is herstory. 🙂