Donna and I were at a dinner party at a friend’s house. We were talking about how we see ourselves; how as we get older we “photoshop” our own image in the mirror. We all saw ourselves as younger than our chronological age. For Donna, the magic number was 37. I was embarrassed to say that mine was 12. Pre-everything. I did not add that the 12 year-old is a boy.
When I am asked why I haven’t transitioned, I usually joke back that the last thing the world needs is another schlubby, short, bald, un-athletic, middle-aged, nerdy, straight, Jewish, white guy. It is a completely uncool image. It is not whom I want to be.
The more accurate answer is that I can picture myself as a boy but not as a man. The truth is, I do not picture myself as an adult of either sex. When I picture myself as a child or as an adolescent, I only see myself as a boy. WIthout breasts. Sometimes I think about top surgery. Mostly I try to look at myself from the shoulders up.
What happens to tomboys when they age out? When being a jock or a nerd no longer protects you? When the pressure to conform mounts? When you find yourself becoming marginalized in settings where you used to fit in? How much do you bend, how much do you give in?
I came out when I was 17. In 1976, if you were a tomboy, and you were attracted to women, you pitched your tent in the butch camp. You were supposed to be a woman-identified-woman. Even if you had short hair, and wore jeans, flannel shirts, and construction boots. The biggest put-down was to be called a male-identified lesbian.
Being an out lesbian was supposed to liberate you from your internalized masculinity. You were encouraged to reject all that was male. The women espousing this line were doctrinaire. They had little empathy for incorrigible butches.
I suppressed my desire to be a boy, but I still lived my life as-if. I evolved into an adult tomboy. I expected to outgrow it and become a well-adjusted butch. First I thought this would happen when I got out of school and had to be in the real world. Then, I thought maybe when I got a job and had to go to work. Then, I figured when I fell in love and got into a relationship. Then, I thought if I worked on it in therapy. The older I got the more uncomfortable I became with the contradiction between how I felt and who I said I was.
I don’t know if this is how I want to live for the rest of my life. It is not easy to stay on the border of butch and trans*. I don’t see a better option, so I continue to muddle along. What will my life be like at 60? At 70? At 80? At 90? Do I want to be the world’s oldest living tomboy?
Note: the picture is of Albert D. J. Cashier; a soldier in the U.S. Civil War.