Sunday, July 17, 2016

Playing with Dolls

When did you know?  When did you know you are the gender that you are?  You know, when did you realize you’re a boy, a girl, a man, a woman, or something else?

Can you recall that moment in time? Do you remember what year was it? How old were you?

No? I didn’t think so, but don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Most folks don’t know and the majority of people I’ve asked have never thought about the very idea, people just accept what they’ve been told. Humans are very compliant.

But if I asked a room full of trans folk, I’d get a completely different response. Hands would fill the air.  “Oh, I remember, it was when I was four and….”

Why is that you may ask. That’s an honest question.  It’s probably for many reasons. Perhaps we were corrected, or we notice a difference in our bodies, or were told were not who we think we are.

For me, I’ve known since I was very young, I was probably three or four years old when I realized I was more like my sisters and mom, than my four older brothers, and my dad. I liked their clothes, jewelry and makeup, playing with dolls, cooking, and hanging out with their friends

Don’t get me wrong, I liked doing some “traditional boys” thing too, and still do, and I was definitely praised for doing them, the more masculine the better.  You can never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement.

But for some reason, I knew my attraction in girly things, feminine things, was wrong. But don’t know why.

Did I pick up hints from my surroundings and society that what I was doing was wrong? Was I corrected like so many young trans kids or feminine boys?

“Don’t let me catch you wearing that again or else…."

While it’s pretty hazy looking back nearly fifty years now, I do remember some special moments from my youth. You see, I grew up in a house with nine people and a cat, or a series of cats, (Sandy, Roosevelt, and Ashley). And I shared a room with my younger sister till I was twelve.

While it was often chaotic, there were some bonuses living in such a full house, especially when six of us were going to elementary at the same time. Getting dressed for school was left up to each of us, I guess so my mom could focus on making six peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sign any permission slips and iron my dad’s shirts. 
My fascination or fixation for feminine things continued, but I told no one. And for years, I stole and wore clothes from my sisters and my mom, not really understanding why.

I remember the first time I wore my sister’s underwear under my boy clothes to elementary school. I felt like a criminal. By the way, they were white with a satin ribbon trim.

In fact I wore girl clothes, underwear to be specific as much possible, even under my little league uniform on several occasions.

There was one game where I slide into second base, only have my baseball pants rip open at my hip reveling underwear taken from my mom’s dresser just hours earlier.

I played the rest of my game holding the rip together with my right hand terrified someone might see my secret if I had to field a ground ball.

Puberty arrived and as you might imagine, it was hell. If you’ve ever seen the film, American Werewolf in London, you might recall the scene where the main character transforms from human into wolf. It’s portrayed as the most painful and terrifying metamorphosis. That’s what I felt like as my body began to betray me.  

As my body became more masculine I found that I needed more time and space to be a girl outwardly, but in a house with nine people, one full bathroom, and no locks on any doors, being a trans teenager in secret was a challenge.
So I looked for other options to express myself in safety. I often would sneak out at night and walk around my quiet suburban neighborhood dressed as girl. I also started watering the plants and feeding the cats of my neighbors when they went on vacation.  What I realized when I got inside, is that I had their whole house to myself, so guess what I did?

That’s right! I dressed like the girl I wanted to be, now for hours at a time in the relative safety in my neighbor’s house. I would bring a bag of clothes, and even tried on some of my neighbor’s clothes, she was a little more risqué than my mom. These adventures in cat sitting continued for a few months, but since I was only 12 and wasn’t good at covering my tracks. I got caught.

At dinner, my dad let me know we needed to talk about something. We met in the back yard. I knew exactly why I was there. I had noticed my neighbor’s minivan in their driveway earlier that afternoon, indicating they had returned from their weekend trip and must have found something out of place. I sat across from my parents on that warm summer night and never felt so alone.

They confronted me about what I had been doing at my neighbor’s house and also informed me that they found my stash of women’s clothes under my bed. I could tell they were humiliated and embarrassed.

Dumbfounded, they asked why? Why are you doing this? Why are you acting this way?

Mind you, this was 1980.

There was little or no information about being trans out in the world, no Internet or YouTube. Laverne Cox wasn’t be born yet. And while Caitlyn Jenner was on front of the Wheaties box sitting on my kitchen table, it wasn’t because she was trans. She had just won the gold medal at the Montreal Olympics and was the greatest athlete in the world.

Not having the language or knowledge to explain myself, I just said, “it makes me feel good and I’m happy when I do it.”

They didn’t know what to do with that response. Well, you’re going to have to apologize to the neighbors; they’re waiting for you.

Ugh. I walked across the street to my neighbor’s.

They were waiting for me. With my head looking at the ground, hiding my embarrassed face, I apologized. You know what, they seemed to be okay about it. I shouldn’t have been surprised. They were more liberal and younger than my parents and I had been using their first names since they moved in.

I returned to my parents who were still in my backyard waiting. While they were satisfied with my apology, they were still visible agitated and confused by my behavior.

“Well, do you want to talk to someone about this, how about a priest? “

Too embarrassed.  I replied, “Do I have to... I promise never to do it again”