Monday, February 25, 2013

....Gender, Biological Sex and Transition

When I started this blog, I told myself it wasn't going to be a soap box.  It wasn't going to a place for me to whine about my past or spew out all the mental diarrhea on subjects that tend to be inflammatory, namely my opinions on politics, religion, the state of the Nation and how we can fix it.  Maybe when I get done with this post, I can still say that, though many of the things I'm going to express are opinions, have socio-political undertones and possibly could be considered by some to be inflammatory.  But, at the same time I feel like I both have the duty and the right to say, essentially "Here I am, take me as I am or don't, it's on you," so here's my most public step on that path to date.

I often describe myself as an open book in a private library.  It's because I'm honest about who I am, what it means to me to use the sorts of words I use to define myself to myself, but I don't go shouting it from roof tops with a megaphone hooked up to 20' Marshall amps with fireworks and parades and glitter.  Maybe I should once or twice, cause that just sounds awesome and rock'n'roll, and who doesn't like fireworks? 

Anyway, I reckon that most folks don't honestly have the time to delve the depths of the multi-faceted layers of the simple and complex person I am, so why spend the energy trying to shove it down their throats?  If they want to know, they will ask.  If they don't want to know, fine.  It doesn't hurt me for them not to know every last detail of my life.

Some things about myself I've never been able to hide, like my insatiable need to learn something new in nearly every waking minute of the day.  I was unwilling to dumb down my vocabulary for my first grade teacher, but instead would help her look up the ridiculously advanced words in the dictionary.  I've learned about eight different Georgia accents, but had such a hard time learning how to get along with the kids I kept getting told were my peers. 

I was a gregarious, bossy, opinionated, abolitionist, tomboy, Yankee, Hungarian, Welsh, Catholic with a weird name, who was into carpentry, drama, rocks and geology, history, science, sci-fi, fantasy, movies, action packed TV shows, comedy, comic books, art, music, religion, the occult, the paranormal, aliens, world cultures, role playing, board games, shot put, skateboarding and BMX.  Oh and my Father is a resident alien, so he's only kind of an immigrant and he was a chef before being a chef was remotely cool.  I had a mixed closet of boys and girls clothes and seemed to always be on the wrong side of whichever end of gender expectations other people had for me.  In second grade I carried a Buck Rogers lunch box.  It would have been Empire Strikes Back, but the store sold out of them before we could get back to get one.  I had a fully romantic crush on Wonder Woman, and wanted to be Princess Leia because I thought she was what my mother expected me to see a strong, powerful, intelligent, beautiful woman was like.  In hindsight, I think I had a crush on her too.  But at the same time, I had loads of crushes on men too, and like most girls, I learned how to flirt with men at a disturbingly young age to garner what ever sort of attention I wanted from them at the time.

The first time I heard the term 'gay' used in a derogatory way to describe homosexuals I was in fourth grade, 9 or 10 years old, and I didn't understand that's what the girls who were giggling behind their permed hair and nail-polished hands meant.  They used this word like an accusation, like it wasn't something good.  I thought gay meant happy and light hearted, so being the overly honest person I tend to be I responded "I used to be gay, but ya'll have made me miserable," to which they giggled all the more and ran off to tell everyone the "truth" about me.  Only, it wasn't the truth, because I wasn't then, nor ever have been homosexual.

The experience made me so afraid to see the duality in myself, that I could in fact be attracted to men and women, find beauty and pleasure in both genders for the subtle and the obvious reasons.  I didn't become 'okay' with this idea within myself until I was 22, married and had two children.  It wasn't earth shattering, this revelation, it was more like the proverbial "I coulda had a V8!" moment.  I think I even said to myself, laughing in the mirror "WELL DUH!" with a punctuating eye roll at my own stupidity.

In a bit of a twist, I was never homophobic about other people.  I had loads of gays and lesbians traipse through my life and I never feared or hated them.  I defended them to other people I knew, all the while afraid to let myself be seen as a lesbian.  I had self loathing, sure but it wasn't connected to my sexuality oddly enough.  It was connected to all those other things that I was that people in my supposed peer group just couldn't grasp all of at once.

I've always had boyish or mannish traits.  Until half way through fourth grade, I was either the tallest kid in class, or in the top five.  I loved competitions, tests, pop quizzes, board games, card games, sports (but only if I was playing them or we were at a live game) and played less and less with the girls in my grade on the playground.  I wanted to build tree forts to read my comics in, play with Star Wars figures and argue who would win in a fight, Spidey or Captain America while the girls in my class gossiped about each other and started wearing make up and pairing up with boys.  I was the odd girl out, while the guys and I would talk about the last episode of V or The Master or Voyagers, none of them wanted to pair up with me.  It would be years before I would realise the slight.

By fifth grade, the girls became more vicious, and the guys were starting to treat me differently, I wasn't one of them so much anymore, I was this weird, alien concept they just couldn't get their heads around.  At one point I even had this fantasy that I was actually an extraterrestrial being stuck here on earth, having to study how the humans live to assimilate into their culture so as to not be found out.  I was terrible at blending.  Awful at passing.  I wasn't human, how could I be?  And they all seemed to know it.

By sixth grade I was ostracised and picked on, by seventh it was actual bullying with physical attacks that no one believed were going on, because if I was being attacked, surely my parents would have been called about it.  The problem was that the teacher who's class it happened most often in, let it.  She watched the kid behind me slam his book into the back of my head and send me sprawling across my desk and did nothing.  And because she did nothing, I became afraid to speak up for myself.  I tried to kill myself more than once in middle school because of how the other kids treated me, and how I felt like my parents didn't care that this was happening to me.  Thankfully, I failed at the self-ending.

On darker, more frightening notes, I had daydreams about coming into the school with M-16s and shooting each of them, laying waste to the whole school.  I walked the halls singing the Boomtown Rat's song, "I Don't Like Mondays", imagining blood splatter and righteous slaughter.  It was a revenge fest that would have been fit for a Tarantino film, if I had known he was out there at the time.  Another day dream was standing up in front of the class with a gun to my head and telling them that they were the reason for this, and that I was going to do to them in one minute what they had done to me for years.  In my fantasies, I pulled the trigger and they were traumatised, lamenting how poorly they had treated me for so long and how they never realised how brave I was for just trying to be who I am and how wrong they were for being so vicious to me. 

One day in January of eighth grade, this guy in my class had actually done it, he had actually killed himself.  The whole school mourned him, he was a popular kid, an athlete with a girl friend.  He seemed to have everything going for him, but there was something he just couldn't get himself through.  Selfishly, I replayed the suicide in class fantasy and the ending was different after that.  No one noticed at first.  Until someone, somewhere in the class said "Well it's about time!"  I realised that none of them would care if I did kill myself and that pissed me off.  I decided they weren't worth that, they weren't worth my life.  It was the first time in my life I really decided to get over myself.  I still got picked on and bullied, but I didn't take it the same way anymore.  I cut my hair in artsy, funky ways, I wore crazy clothes, I started lifting weights, I stopped growing, packed on at least thirty pounds of muscle, had my first asthma attacks (which my mother thought I was faking for attention because she was convinced that asthma always gets diagnosed in very early childhood, she didn't know that most women with asthma develop it while their boobs are growing for the first time.) and I FINALLY started going through puberty near the end of the school year. 

Despite my late entry into adolescence, I had always been a hairy child, and got made fun of when I told the other kids that I couldn't help being hirsute, it was just my genetics.  They didn't understand the words hirsute or genetics apparently.  I shaved my legs for the first time at the age of 10, and by the time I was 14, I was sick to death of it.  I hated the razor burn, the stubble that seemed to come back an hour after I scraped my legs free of hair and often skin.  There were ingrown hairs and it seemed to be a skill I was just never going to get the hang of.  But I was deeply embarrassed by it at the same time.  Laser hair removal didn't yet exist, epi-ladys were grossly expensive spa treatments and I was too sensitive to pain to put up with waxing, so it was shave, or try not to pass out and puke at the smell of Nair and then have to explain why my legs looked like burnt bacon in gym class and deal with the finger pointing and the name calling.  None of it ever felt....right.  It felt like trying to pass for Human as a miniature Wookie.

Take the 5 o'clock shadow at 8 am, mix with the late arrival of puberty and add in 30 pounds of muscle I didn't have at the start of eighth grade, and the words lesbo and dyke and gay started to cling to my name.  But I had a crush on a guy in my science class called Kip.  He was tall, athletic, handsome, didn't cheat off my papers because he didn't need to and before he had really gotten the social lay of the land, he defended me. Two guys in our class decided that my attire one day was up for ridicule and Kip, ever so effortlessly gallant, asked them why they cared, why I couldn't just wear what ever I wanted.  I reckoned I was madly in love with him for it. 

My over dramatic mind built up a rich fantasy of martyrdom where I sacrificed my own happiness so that he could retain his social standing as one of the popular kids.  It had to be True Love because I was willing to give up what would make me ever so happy so that he wouldn't have to suffer at the hands of our unworthy peers.  Kip was honestly a pretty nice guy going into High School, he took the time to talk to me on the phone like I was a real person, and I repaid that kindness by never betraying to anyone that he talked to me willingly.  Sometimes if he missed my call, he even called me back, which no one else would have done at that point.  I did eventually get over the crush, but I do still think fondly of Kip for his unexpected kindness to me.

At the same time I was being called a lesbo and a dyke, there were rumors I was dating a guy I had played with since fourth grade, Jason.  They teased him about the supposed relationship almost as relentlessly as they teased me about carpet munching (which I didn't initially understand on any level).  If I weren't so empathic, I might have been smart enough to ask him why it bothered him so greatly to be considered to be my boyfriend.  But instead, I tried to do everything I could to dissuade those who were accusing us of going steady.  It all back fired, and the kids seemed convinced we were going out.  I thought of Jason as my friend, even if he was unwilling to lob himself on the social grenade that was being associated with me at all.  Our mothers were friends, and sometimes I rode his bus over to his house because that's where my Mom was.  We played with his action figures, and played wiffle ball with the neighborhood kids, took trowel and paint brush to a small patch of his back yard like we were archaeologists on a dig in Egypt a la Indiana Jones (though we never found more than rocks, which I always tried to take home with me, but my Mom didn't understand my rock-hound heart, so she made me leave them).  I think our Mom's even took Jason, myself and my little brother to see Space Camp in the theatre together.  We shared experiences, and adventures, built worlds with his Lego's, had epic battles with GI Joe, Insectors, He-Man and Star Wars figures, we argued about what would be found on the surface of Mars.  He never made fun of me for being smart, he never made fun of me to my face at all.  If he joined in on the jibes I didn't hear, I understood.  I didn't want to be in my shoes, I certainly wouldn't have asked for anyone else to be there either.  Better to suffer alone, than drag someone down with me.  I still think fondly of Jason too, he was my first best guy-friend, really.  In many ways, my first real peer, I never minded actually having to be human around him and he always let me pick all three of his Princess Leia action figures, and Scarlet, Lady Jane and the Baroness.

I guess I never expected anyone to defend me, no matter how much I craved it.  It's hard to stand alone, unprotected against a tidal wave of hate and acrimony, but being a person so deeply imbued with empathy, it's harder still to blame other people for not wading into the crushing waves with you.

High School was such a different life for me.  Not only was I in a different school, with all new people, I had decided to start accepting that which made me weird and different from other people, which gave me a sort of confidence.  I was still kind of sensitive and broken from the years of social abuse, but I didn't wear them like a sandwich board announcing to everyone the depths of my despair.  I had boyfriends in High School too, and I think kindly on them.  Well, all the ones I didn't marry.  I learned about life and relationships and how another person cannot save me from myself.  Don't get me wrong, I don't wish ill on my ex-husband.  I don't regret marrying him, or giving birth to our daughters.  Most of the time I don't regret that it took me 10 years to realise our marriage wasn't going to work out.   It took both of us to make our girls, and it took both of us to screw up our marriage.

Anyway, in High School I was still afraid of being considered a lesbian.  I went to my first Sci-fi cons, I learned to play the drums and was in a series of bands that never made it to the gig playing stage.  Writing and art were vastly important to me, and the formation of my gaming group began to take place.  I was in a very fem place through High School, even though I still did all those "butch" things.  But now I wore make up when I was skating, and sometimes skirts when I bought my comic books. 

I met my ex-husband at a sci-fi con.  We started dating, I got pregnant despite the statistical unlikely hood of 3 different methods of birth control all failing.  I call my elder daughter my Miracle Child, because statically speaking, she shouldn't exist.  We got married.  Had a second daughter and I tried a new method of birth control because I wasn't ready for more kids.  This new method caused fibroid cysts to form on my ovaries, and screwed up my hormones.  My doctors tried hormone therapy and for the first time since the January of eighth grade, I became so depressed I was teetering on the edge of suicide.  I stopped the hormone treatments and worked on getting my head right again.

But somewhere in there, I discovered that I am indeed equally attracted to both sexes.  I like dressing like a man, and there are times I really enjoy passing as a man.  I'm sure the term Drag King existed before I uttered it for the first time in 1994, but I'd never heard it used before that.  At that point, for me it was Drag.  It was Theatre and Rocky and drama and "oooooo, I'm sooo naughty in my silly nerdy vanilla way".  I was married to a man, the father of my children and it was fun to express my more masculine side in that way sometimes.

Years later, I leave him, we get divorced, and I go through fluctuations of feminine and masculine modes.  I start dating again, and end up being with my best friend, a guy.  I call  him my HeLP, Hetero Life Partner, a term we stole shamelessly from Kevin Smith because it fits us.  Kind of.  Mostly.  Sometimes.  I call us the strangest gay couple anyone has ever met because he's XY chromosomes and I'm XX.  Throughout all our years together we've built our own family of people we love, and in that family some of the folk start having kids of their own. 

One day, one of these kids having just learned our names calls us Uncle Nock and Uncle Mev (the HeLP and I have first names that are the Irish and Welsh versions of John and Jane, one letter apart so we often go by our SCA names, Loch and Myf to avoid confusion).  The kid was two at the time, and so didn't have all the social ques that I'm a biologically a woman.  He recognised something overtly masculine in me and instantly accepted it.  I've been Uncle Mev ever since.

Another friend's neighbor's son used every masculine pronoun when he first met me, again a young child just accepting a certain truth he's recognised about a person. 

All that being said, I'm not in transition from female to male.  I'm not seeking to change my legal or physical gender status.  It's not that I'm afraid of what the perception of me would be.  For me, transition isn't the right choice.  Though most of the time I would like to go on hormones to change my voice.  I think I often sound like a Southern Fran Drescher, if you can imagine that.  Most of the clothes I wear these days come from the Men's section.  Right now, they fit better because I've put on weight since I stopped being a chef myself.  They fit my personality better too.  Right now, I'm in a masculine phase and that might well change as my hormone levels shift as I finally plunge into menopause.  Or it might not, since I try to avoid estrogen in general.  I've learned that nothing in my life is permanent beyond my love for the people I love.  Hard times and good times both come to their own ends, there have been times I have worn make up and dresses, and other times I've glued on mustaches and taken a piss in the men's room.

I've come to enjoy my duality.  I'm bi-sexual and dual-gendered.  My gender lines might be blurred, crossed, erased or blown up Michael Bay style in some cases, but I'm anything but androgynous.  For me, I'm right where I should be, I don't have that deep need to be a man full time, I'm content and happy being a guy most of the time.  I don't hate my breasts, there's not really all that much there to hate.  I don't dread my nethers, they've given me years of pleasure.

But if you're out there, swimming in a riptide uncertainty, not knowing if you can stay afloat against crashing waves of doubt and social constrains of gender identity, don't despair.  You aren't alone, even if I'm doing the backstroke while you tread water.  If you are profoundly unhappy with who you are, if you can't feel connected to your own body, do something about it.  Your life is too short to spend all of it fearful and miserable and uncomfortable with yourself.  Be who you are, and if other people don't like it, that's their problem, not yours. 

You aren't alone, and neither am I.

1 comment:

  1. I came for the roux and somehow found this. I like you, and I know the other people were wrong. You grew up with primates and it wasn't your fault. It makes me shake to read how you were abused. I'm really sorry and I hope you continue to figure things out. Peace and love :)