When I was a five I was a tomboy. At night, I wished to wake up in the morning and be a boy. This is not unusual. It is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Some girls feel this way. Some girls feel this way so much and for so long that they manage to become someone other than a teenage girl. Someone other than an adult woman. I knew what I was not. I’ve had a difficult time accepting what I am and figuring out what to call myself. Labels and authenticity do not mix.
In Kindergarten, I wouldn’t play house unless I could be the daddy. I refused to play with baby dolls, or toy kitchens, or plastic vegetables. Instead, I stuck to blocks, books, puzzles, and stuffed animals. I knew what I was doing. I grew up to be a gender non-conforming Civil Engineer who reads a lot, does Ken-Ken, and plays with my dog.
In second grade I developed my long term strategy. The school librarian asked me why I was only taking out boy’s books. I shrugged my shoulders. I hadn’t realized it was obvious. I started taking out twice as many books. For every two boy’s books I took out two girl’s books. Even Steven. The librarian left me alone. I only read the boy’s books. Adults paid attention, but it was superficial. I could be a boy under the radar. I had to be a little less blatant and claim it didn’t mean anything.
I didn’t have crushes on David Cassidy or Bobby Sherman. I didn’t wear flavored lip gloss or paint my nails. I could avoid a lot of girly things by claiming they were stupid or boring. I had more important things to do (like develop crushes on every female teacher I ever had). I kept reading.
I was a boyish and asexual teenager. Never dated. Never shaved my legs or under my arms. If anyone asked why I told them it was an unnatural and barbaric modern custom. I fell in love with Stella, broke-up with Stella, and came out as a butch lesbian at 17. I didn’t masturbate until I was over the age of consent; I had to read a book with diagrams to figure out what to do. I kept reading.
I knew that I was hiding my desire to be a boy, but being a butch lesbian offered community and the prospect of being in a relationship with a woman. Being butch was as close as I could get to expressing my desire to be a boy. I knew I had a woman’s body, but I also knew I desperately longed to be a boy. This is my butch experience. This is my transgender experience.
Transgender is a wildcard. It changes the game. It offers up a lot of options, some of which I am choosing (see this post on pronouns and this post on name change). The changes I am making (and not making) do not make me any more or any less transgender. My experience is that I couldn’t stop wanting to be a boy, and I couldn’t get used to being a woman. I am incorrigibly gender non-conforming. I’m still not sure what to call myself (butch, queer, genderqueer, bigender, trans*, transgender) even though I know who I am. Even though I knew exactly who I was when I was five.
Note: The picture of Anna P. is in the public domain. She was photographed by Magnus Hirschfeld in 1922 for his book Sexual Intermediates.