Sunday, June 13, 2010

Whatever happened to the Classics?

I am what they used to call a "True" or "Classic Transsexual." These terms are bordering on the archaic now, but the narrative has never gone away. What is it like to be the kind of text book transsexual the "experts" used to write about it , anyway?

I can only speak for myself here. So here goes.

I knew I was a girl when I was 3 years old. THREE. Whenever anyone asked if I was a boy or a girl, I said girl. My mother was mortified. She was always apologizing for me for some reason. I couldn't understand why. Was it wrong to answer the question? I was a bit young to pick up on the fact that they weren't really asking me, they were trying gently and sometimes not so gently to CORRECT my behavior. Subtlety tends to be lost on 3 year olds, if you haven't heard.

One of my earliest most vivid memories is of arguing with my Mother that I was going to grow up to be WonderWoman. I was about 3 or 4 years old, the age when most people start making life plans. But noooo she kept correcting me, saying "You mean you are going to grow up to MARRY Wonder Woman!"

I thought she was... insane. Maybe she had gone deaf or something? As far as I knew, "being" and "marrying" were NOT the same word!! And why on earth would a girl marry another girl?? Absurd! (Remember my fellow Same-Sex Marriage advocates, I was only 3 or 4!)

The exchange got pretty heated and my mother turned in exasperation to my father, who had up until that point been stubbornly refusing to look away from the television or get involved in our
"conversation" and she said "WILL YOU PLEASE EXPLAIN TO YOUR SON THAT HE IS A BOY!!" My father looked up, looked at me a long pace, opened his mouth as if to say something profound.... then grunted and threw up his hands as he trudged out of the living room into the bedroom to be left alone.

HA! BUSTED!! She had no witnesses to back up this RIDICULOUS claim that I was a boy!! Case closed! I flounced off triumphantly to my room, leaving my mother to stew in her defeat!

I always kept that unwaivering certainty about being a girl with me. Even as the "truth" became painfully clear that the rest of the world did not agree, I was still certain that I was right and that somehow, everybody else was WRONG. They just had to be... the way they saw me just didnt make any sense. And no amount of explaining that boys have penises and girls have vaginas made a dent with me. I was an only child (then) so I had never even seen anybody's penis or vagina anyway. I'm supposed to base my whole life on something nobody else but me gets to see?? Even then that didn't make any sense to me.

Starting kindergarten and realizing that boys and girls went to different bathrooms and that I HAD to go to the boy's bathroom, I recall this as one of the truly most devastating revelations of my life. The revelation wasn't "Oh my god its TRUE! I AM a boy!" It was very specifically, "Oh My God. They're serious! They really intend to make me do this Boy thing!"

It was the most deeply terrifying and despairing feeling I have ever felt before or since. The feeling that I was being held hostage,being erased, and forced to play a cruel game all at the same time. Sadly it's a feeling that has never completely gone away to this day, some 30 years later.

And just like the classic transsexual narrative, I never went thru a period of denial or confusion or "figuring out" about my being a girl. I was adamant from day one. I learned eventually that I had to identify myself as a boy or people would get VERY upset with me, and that I definitely had to pee where I was "supposed" to go or things would end badly for me... but I made a conscious decision to only comply with people's boyish expectations of me to the bare minimum I had to and absolutely no more. I caught hell for this. I became the classic "effeminate" male child, a target of constant ridicule and commentary, oddly enough not so much from my child peers in class but from Grown Ass Adults in my neighborhood and in stores who felt perfectly entitled to approach me and my mother (or whichever adult I was with at the time) and demand to know if I was a little boy or a little girl.

The attention I seemed to demand everywhere I went deeply humiliated my parents... but for me it was validating. My attitude was that you can make me pretend like I'm a boy, but you can't make me do a good job of it! No matter what they were making me say or do I made sure that they could still SEE me, and thus their mistake. I endured this scrutiny by thinking to myself that surely, somehow, some way everything was going to be okay in the longrun. One day I would grow up to be a woman and they would see how wrong they were, I WOULD SHOW THEM!

I had no idea how this would happen, mind you, but I just KNEW that it would. There simply was no other way. I was going to be a woman when I grew up. Maybe not Wonder Woman (she was a white lady after all!), but a grown woman and NOT NO GODDAMN MAN. Not a gay man. Not a feminine man. Not a man in a dress! But a W-O-M-A-N.

And then puberty. Oh puberty... The ultimate betrayal. My body... my very fucking BODY began to mutiny, to ruin my "plans." Getting taller I didn't mind so much. By the time I was 12 I was taller than both my parents. But they were little taller than smurfs and everybody knew that and commented on it. My father capped out at 5'4 after all. At least I wouldn't have THAT stigma to deal with. But I knew of plenty of tall girls at my school and in my world, and tall beautiful women were always in the magazines and on videos, so maybe I would end up being one of them??

Then 13 came and I noticed something about my voice. It was sounding... weird... it had been deepening for a while but not in an unfeminine way... in fact I sounded exactly like my mother on the phone (and exploited this advantage frequently, which I should blog about another time). But one day while leaning out of the backdoor shouting, to get my Aunt's attention in the backyard to come inside "Ainnee You have a PHOOOONE CAAAALLL!!" my voice did this horrible thing. It cracked and fell!!! I sounded like a moose just then!! FUCK THAT!!!

By then I could no longer deny that something was going terribly wrong. I wasn't becoming a woman after all. I was becoming a DUDE just like the other dudes in my class with their funky body odors and their ridiculous cracked baritones and their pubes.. OH GOD THE PUBES.

I became obsessed with hair. I remember my first arm pit hair, and ripping it out with tweezers. Then the next and the next, until I started shaving under my arms everyday. I remember the hair on my crotch coming in too fast to even try to keep up with. I remember the hair on my legs changing,darkening, and shaving that. But so far.. No hair on my face. No hair on my chest. (For the record the males in my family are fairly naturally hairless, so at least I dodged that bullet *sigh*)... So far... so good.

By the time I was 14 i was shaving my legs and armpits everyday and practising my voice by talking and singing to myself nonstop. Yes I was a total freak. But more than that I had shut down in a sort of mental autopilot of despair. I began to notice that more and more often whenever I'd go out in public people were likely to stare even more than ever before, stare openly at me, but there was more than bewilderment in their eyes now. There was naked hostility. Rage even? Why?? What had I done? Why was everybody so mad at me?? The former refrain "What is that? Is that a boy or a girl?" Had evolved into "Is that fag?" FAG FAG FAG! FAGGOT, OMG LOOK AT THAT FAG MAMA HE MUST THINK HES A GURRRRL!!

Nothing had changed about me except my body but suddenly my world was upside down. I felt powerless to stop my body from masculinizing and powerless to stop the escalating harassment from strangers I now faced whenever I stepped outside of my house. I had no idea what to do.

I began starving myself. I had read somewhere that starving yourself could stunt your growth, and I thought maybe it could stunt your puberty as well. I had no idea about hormones. I had heard of transsexuals on shows like Donahue and Sally Jessy Raphael, but the only thing I knew about them is that they had had "the surgery." I had no idea how to go about getting "The Surgery" and I had no money to get it even if I did know. It seemed like a distant far away solution to a very here and now problem I was facing so I did the only things I knew how to do. I trained my voice to stay put. And I starved myself like hell to try and stunt my growth and development.

By the time I was 16 I was an automaton. I had no emotion. No expressions. I just existed and barely. I had been hospitalized a couple of times for passing out from hunger, so my mother was forcing me to go to a string of doctors and psychiatrists to find out what the hell was wrong with me and why I seemed hellbent on starving myself to death. I had no idea how to explain myself to any of them. And honestly, no desire to do so either. I knew they wouldnt help me even if I did explain, so why give them the satisfaction of knowing? Why give anyone yet another chance to say "You may THINK you wanna be a girl, you might even ACT like a girl, but you're really a guy and you're going to have to accept that."

In fact if it hadn't been for being fed up with shrink number eleventy three trying to get all up in my head and me shouting out "Because I would rather DIE than become a MAN, alright??" I probably wouldn't have found out about transition, or hormones or any of the steps that led up to the Holy Grail of "The Surgery" for perhaps for many years later.

But this guy surprised me. He was somewhat sympathetic and knowledgeable. He said, "Well what you're talking about is called transsexuallity. And there is a process for it."

I was floored. There was a whole process? Like steps to take in order to change your body from one thing into another?? How do I sign up??

And then the brickwall. "Oh well you're only 16 and that's too young to take such a drastic step. No doctor would even think of treating you until you were AT LEAST 18 or older."

18?? Two more years of this? Two more years of shaving my chin and upper lip? Two more years of struggling to keep my voice right where it is? Two more years of my shoulders getting bigger and my hands and feet and my JAW??? Why do you think i've been doing all this anorexia bullshit anyway? You think I'm indifferent to what's been happening with my body??? And here you're telling me that there is a cure for whats happening to me, a way OUT of this hell my body is becoming... and you're saying to wait TWO MORE YEARS before I even start??

Fuck that.

See, he already made the mistake of telling me about where transsexuals hang out. He had told me how they gather in the gay neighborhoods, that alot were drag performers and female illusionists, and that there were whole communities of "irresponsible" transsexuals who gathered in big cities who used "black market illegal" hormones and received treatment from "shady" doctors under the table.

He didn't tell me much but he had told me everything I needed to know.

That summer I took off for the biggest and nearest Big city I could get to (Oklahoma City) in search of "irresponsible" transsexuals. I was not disappointed.

I would like to blog about my early experiences with the"transsexual underground" I found another time. That is a period of my life where I have so much unpacking to do, so much trauma to work thru and regrets to overcome, but ultimately starting transition when and where and how I started it is something I was and am very much grateful for, no matter how "irresponsible" it was of me.

As much as I've come to abhor the requisite "transsexual autobiography"... I wanted to put my story out here because my story as far as I knew wasn't at all uncommon among the transwomen I met during early transition. And yet this narrative is all but unheard of in trans discourse today.

For the life of me I keep wondering why? Most of my Trans friends today are white, and most of the trans feminine spectrum friends are late transitioners. In fact, every single one of them is a late transitioner. But the majority of my trans friends of color, whether I met them in the "underground" or not, were early transitioners such as myself.

And I keep asking.. why ?? How can that be? What dynamic could be at play to motivate one group of trans folk to delay transition well into adulthood, and another to get started with transition as soon as humanly possible?

I'm not interested in answering these questions in order to create a hierarchy of trans experience. I don't feel "more transsexual" than other transfolk who have had different narratives, tho some would claim exactly that. But I do have trouble finding myself represented in the current trans narratives... and I find that awfully odd considering how many people I met who were startlingly similar to ME... but who are now all but silent or invisible today?

Did they all die? Did they not make it? Did they just crawl into the woodwork? I did that myself for a long while... maybe they just stayed? Or maybe they stayed on the margins, never really leaving the "underground"? I'm not sure... I have so much looking backwards to do... and its some intimidating shit.

1 comment:

  1. my goodness.

    i LOVE your blog.

    thank you for writing all this truth.