Tuesday, July 26, 2016

For Dani's Report

My dear friend Dani is writing a report on gender identity in children.  I was honored to be asked to contribute.  Her question was...

 I was mostly curious as to what age you were when you formed your gender identity (feminine) and what sorts of environmental influences affected you in terms of how you presented yourself socially in "masculine" form (parents, teachers, peers).

This is my response, edited a bit to keep some things private.

Thank you for the opportunity, Dani.


When did I first know I was female?  When did YOU know?  My first conscious thought of it were when I was four years old.  There were only three girls around my age on my street growing up back then (this was 1969-70.) 

One lived across the street.  She was my age, and her name was Dawn.  Another lived up the street, and I forget her name, but her older brother George hung out with my older brother, [OB].  When we played “team” games, George and OB would be on one side, while she and I would be on the other.  The third was named Tammy.  He parents were very strict, and we rarely saw her.  About 1970, she was hit by a car.  We never saw her again, as her parents moved away.  In fact, we kids had no idea if she even survived it.  Every other kid on the block was a boy, and all were older than me. 

I had no problems playing with the girls. It never occurred to me that they were “different.”  The boys on the streets made fun of me for it (and everything else) so I didn’t hang out with them.  I saw myself as “one of the girls.”  And when I was with them, I was happy. 

I was four years old.  I was already dreaming of being a mommy one day.  I wondered why mommies had boobs, and when I would get mine.  As I saw my mom every day, I assumed women were in charge of the world, and that daddies just enforced their will.  I quickly learned differently. 

Kindergarten, 1971.  I was four when this was taken.  

One day, again when I was four, I remember distinctly.  It was a bright warm day: mid-summer.  Dawn lived across the street from me, and we were playing “house” in her yard.  Now, the house I grew up in was slightly elevated, so there was a clear view of this yard from there.  Later that day, my dad came home from work, and I was called indoors.

When I went in, my dad was in the “dining” room.  Mom and OB were nowhere to be seen.  My dad had his belt in his hand.  He called me into the room with him.  I don’t remember the exact words he used, as I was terrified.  You see, I was already used to beatings.  In any case, he told me, in so many words, that no boy of his was going to grow up to be a “sissy” (that word I remember) and forbade me from playing with the girls.  Then to emphasize the point, he beat me with the belt for what seemed an eternity (but was probably about a minute.)

I’m guessing OB must’ve told him what I was doing. 

The street where I grew up (pic from July 2016)

I don't really blame him- he knew what "different" boys were up against, and didn't want that for his son.  As for the beatings- EVERY child was beaten in that era.  It was a given.  Ask any guy my age, and he'll tell you.  We used to compare method- how some dads preferred belts, some switches, some their hands.  That's the way it was then.  Times were different.  As for the results, well, look it up- there's lots of scholarship on the topic.  And many people my age wonder if the end of corporal punishment isn't why younger generations "don't have any respect for things."  That's a different story.  Back to the topic.

In any case, I had to do a crash course in “Guy.”  My dad was obviously the model: angry, gruff, no nonsense, hardworking, hard drinking.  The other boys on the street loved playing sports or “Army,” neither of which I was any good at.  I was always picked last for teams.  Their favorite games were tackle football (played on the asphalt parking lot) and “smear the queer,” on which the person with the football would be gang tackled by everyone else.  “Smear the queer” was somehow always called when I had the ball.

We played football here. Pic from July 2016

This was the 70s.  In the news, I saw images of Vietnam, and of women fighting for their rights.  My dad and grandfather always had choice words for those “bitches” who “didn’t know their places.”  And God forbid if the topic of Gay people came up.

I knew I was different, and that I had to play a role.  So I watched the neighborhood kids and my dad.  And I stayed to myself as much as possible as I didn’t like being beat up.  Every summer, OB and I worked on tasks assigned by my dad- chopping firewood, chipping cement off bricks, digging the garden… chores that built strength and work ethic, I guess.  After all, dad was raising Men.  Many summers, we had crew cuts.  Meanwhile, the girls’ hair got longer, and they wore dresses and played happily.  I watched them as I worked, but I did not cry.  Crying was for sissies… for girls.
In the late 1970s, I saw a news report on “transsexuals” on the news.  And I froze.  That was me!  I knew the word for what I was.  My dad and grandfather did their usual rant about queers and how they needed to all “go away.”

When I was growing up, being a boy meant being physical.  Fighting, running, sports… taking pain without complaint or crying.  And when my early teens arrived, the girls began to change.  They started becoming women.  And I… was left behind.  I was a late bloomer anyway, so I was ostracized by everyone.  I cursed the hair growing on my chest.  My voice deepening.  I felt cursed.  

I started dressing in my early teens whenever the house was empty.  Eventually, I used money from my paper route and Burger King to amass a small wardrobe.  I knew that I were caught, I’d be beaten to death and thrown out.  But, I HAD to do it.  I HAD to show my feminine side.  I HAD to see a girl in the mirror.  I rotated hiding places for my stash, and it was never discovered that I know of.

And, in August of 1983, I stopped dressing, as "MEN don't do this.  Only FREAKS do."  Depression set in.  I had been doing martial arts- trained by a friend who was a Green beret, and lost an arm in Vietnam.  Now I channeled my rage and self-anger into fighting.  I isolated myself.  I wanted to die- badly. 

I started doing rescue work.  Maybe I'd get lucky and die a hero...

I lived my life of absolute hate and misery all through my life, punctuated by rejection by any woman I wanted to date.  “I don’t see you as a guy.”  “Let’s just be friends.”  “You’re too nice.”  (I dropped my anger when with women.)

First suicide attempt in 1990.  By then, I was drinking heavily. When I was drunk, the wolf didn’t have me by the throat.

I met my wife in 1991.

Daughter came along in 2007.  She was a surprise, as I didn’t think Wife could have children. 

Then, Halloween 2008.  The seal broke…

July 2016.

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