The Tipping Point

If-I-were-as-butch-as-TonyMy first tipping point was the summer between kindergarten and first grade. I developed a crush on Sandy and I developed a way to deal with my world.

It was the summer my grandfather died from lung cancer. It was a hot New York summer. We lived in an apartment that was not wired for air conditioning. My grandmother decided that she should take us (my mother, my brother and me) for a couple of weeks to Sacks Lodge in the Catskills. My Dad took the bus up from the city on weekends.

Sacks Lodge had a day camp and a children’s dining room for breakfast and lunch. They kept us busy and out-of-the-way until dinner. Sandy worked in the dining room. She was 17, and had long blond hair pulled back in a pony tail.

I wanted Sandy to pay attention to me, but I was tongue-tied in her presence. I could barely tell her whether I wanted Cheerios or Frosted Flakes. I watched her work the room. I was envious if she ruffled a kid’s hair, or put her hand on their shoulder. One day I saw her lift up this kid, Tyler, and give him a big hug and a twirl. I wanted to be Tyler.

That night in bed I pretended I was Tyler. I imagined that Sandy picked me up and gave me a hug and held me tight. It felt good and right. I fell asleep hugging my pillow and imagining that it was Sandy. I knew two things. I loved women and I wanted to be a boy. I never backed down from those thoughts. I didn’t discuss them either.

I recognized the complexities. I wasn’t supposed to want affection from people outside of my family. I wasn’t supposed to be attracted to women. I wasn’t supposed to want to be a boy. I wasn’t supposed to feel so good when it all came together. I suspected it was perverse because I couldn’t stop myself from returning to that image. I did not restrain myself.

There were a string of other crushes. More elaborate scenarios. Daydreams. Every night I fell asleep, a boy in some woman’s arms, hugging my bolster. It remained my secret. It remained unlabeled. It remained unexamined.

I didn’t know exactly what it meant, but I knew that this was not what girls were supposed to dream about. I kept hoping that I would magically turn into a boy and then I hoped that I would magically outgrow the wish. I thought I might outgrow it when I left home for college. Or when I came out. Or when I took a lover. Or when I got into a serious relationship. Or when I started therapy. But I did not outgrow it. I did not talk about it. Shame and silence.

For many years I accepted the duality of a separate inner life and a separate outer life. My inner life seemed more real and more compelling. I struggled to be present. Then I had my second tipping point. In the middle of a session I corrected my therapist and blurted out “I’m not a girl.” This time I started talking, and I may never stop.

Note: Malcolm Gladwell wrote the book “The Tipping Point” which is subtitled “How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.”  While the book is about how ideas, trends, and social behaviors spread, it is also about the moment that those ideas seed themselves and how individuals respond to them. While we think our “Aha!” moments are purely personal, Gladwell discusses how they are manipulated by outside sources. I have no idea why I experienced my tipping points exactly when I did, nor can I pinpoint any other influences. But that doesn’t mean they are not there.

67 thoughts on “The Tipping Point

  1. RonaFraser

    Thanks for sharing. I think it is great to tell people this kind of thing because it really demonstrates how it is an ingrown reaction rather than a “choice”, if you know what I mean. I too was quiet about some things but now I talk about them in the hopes that what I say (eg about depression) can help others feel like someone else understands or has been there and made it through etc. I think your posts are fantastic for folks with similar experiences, but also for folks like me who have perhaps not experienced the same thing but want to understand what others experience. (I don’t know if this is coming across the way I mean it… just woke up…).

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      What I like about blogging is being able to figure out how to tell my story without having to worry about editing it for any particular audience, and having absolutely no control over who reads it. It is just my story – admittedly an idiosyncratic one. It goes out there and some people subscribe and read it regularly (which is great), some search precisely for it (“Am I butch or trans?”), and others find it by accident looking for something else (like lederhosen) because Google can’t read their mind and I used the word in a post.

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  2. Jamie Ray Post author

    You are welcome. Thanks for reading/subscribing and commenting. It helps me to know that people get it (since some of my “friends” just don’t get it at all).

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  3. middleagebutch

    Really liked this post, Jamie. I had never thought of these moments as “tipping points,” but that’s certainly what they are. It reminded me of the chapters in my memoir — each one representing a moment in time that was pivotal in my life in some way. Your writing is so effective because it is so honest. Great post!

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  4. Jamie Ray Post author

    Thanks. I thought it was a good post but (as I said above) I was afraid it would creep people out. There is a fine line between honesty and TMI (sometimes I tell Donna to skip reading a post).
    I am looking forward to reading your memoir – I hope that your writing group is giving you good feedback and support for it. Those “pivotal moments” are interesting because they are often unexpected and unremarkable when they occur – but they change everything that comes after them.

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  5. Alex

    “Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.”
    ― Audre Lorde

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you. I like using the blog format to write about what I am thinking because each week is slightly different and random (and it gets the noise out of my head). A memoir seems like a lot of work and I’m not sure my style would hold up for more than 600 words at a time.

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  6. Ryan

    Reading your post this morning reminded me how difficult it was to embrace identity and sexuality in youth. So much noise swirling around in our brains. And in cases where shame and social “norms” are factors, how this can continue into adulthood.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you for reading and commenting on the post. The strange thing is that when it gets some air on it the shame becomes bearable and then dissipates. When it is suppressed it seems insurmountable.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for you good wishes. The world is a different place now then when I was growing up (pre-Stonewall). But shame that is learnt as a child has a way of sticking with you, and it is hard to shake it off.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you. I generally think of myself as a niche writer (butch lesbians and people who identify as trans*, genderqueer, or transgender) so it is a little strange to get read by the general public of WordPress.

      I like the pictures on your blog – my dog Gracie is a Border Collie mix (with all the intensity of the breed but no interest in frisbees or fetch).

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you Barry! I have a Popeye picture on one of my posts – partly in reference to eating my spinach (I also have had to lose some weight, although thankfully before I had a health crisis).

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  7. v0ndab

    I just created my account 10 minutes ago. I just finished working Atlanta Pride last weekend. I just found YOUR blog. Coincidence? I think not! I am a lesbian with a long story, hence my new account and my heart longs to write.
    As a kid, I felt a bit as you did. Shame because I liked girls, yet wasn’t a male. What was wrong with me? Now I realize there were lots of other folks like me. Some trapped, some confused. Glad I found you! You give me hope, and your writing is great!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Glad you found me. If you keep looking on the reader under the relevant topics to you (e.g. butch, femme, lesbian, lgbt, queer, genderqueer etc.) you will find everyone else. And we will find you if you tag your work the same way when you post it. It is like a treasure hunt with clues.
      Don’t be disappointed if you your posts don’t get a lot of traffic, just keep writing and putting it out there. Good luck.

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  8. stevensalvatores

    You are beautiful.

    Thank you for contributing to a conversation that’s too often a series of distorted, broken whispers.

    Have fun figuring out how you want to tell your story! That’s the best part of writing! Writing is the process of discovery…

    Also, have you read Julie Anne Peter’s “Luna”? If not, look it up, it’s an exquisite YA book (which is my genre). YA could use more voices like yours!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you! Haven’t read Luna, but I will take a look for it – there seems to be a lot more YA stuff out there that is trans* and queer than there used to be. In my regular reading I tend towards non-fiction and literary biography, and I probably should branch out. Great piece on your site. Thanks for providing the link.

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  9. jenny mason

    Thank you for sharing this. I have never understood this, I’ve always thought it was a choice. You are very Precious and Hugely Loved and adored by God. Call out to God and I promise you He will help you. He is waiting for you with outstretched arms. Singing – Holy Spirit Thou art welcome in this place, Holy Spirit thou art welcome in this place, omnipotent Father of Mercy and Grace, Thou Art Welcome in this place. –

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you for reading my post and for commenting. This post is just part of my story, and not necessarily what other people who identify as butch lesbians or trans* have experienced. Personally, I think both gender identitiy and sexual identity are intrinsic, which is to say we are “born this way.” I also think that there is more variation than our culture likes to admit – American society likes everything binary (male/female, black/white, Democrat/Republican) and doesn’t leave much room for nuance. For me the “choice” is whether to accept who I am or to fight it, and I have “chosen” to accept it. I am a happier and better person for it.

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      1. Jamie Ray Post author

        Jenny,
        You are probably subscribed to get comments back. You are the only person who can unsubscribe yourself – I can’t unsubscribe followers to the blog or to the comments. Try going to the reader, blogs I follow, Edit, and look for A Boy and Her Dog. You can unsubscribe from comments there.

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  10. Dave Furry

    This is a beautiful story Jamie and I applaud you for sharing it. I have had a few tipping points myself and what I have found is that I certainly feel better about it within myself. Facing my feelings and sometimes acting on them has freed me to accept my desires as they are. thank you for sharing this, I look forward to reading more of your work.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you. I liked your piece about reaching forks in the road and not becoming an architect. I took some architecture courses at CCNY while in high school – but I did not have the patience for drafting or model building (I am by nature a bit of a slob). I ended up in civil engineering and urban planning, which is a better fit for my temperament. The upside was ending up in a state pension system, which never would have happened if I’d gone to architecture school (what kid thinks about pensions at 23?).

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  11. timethief

    You’re awesomely authentic, Jamie Ray and I’ve known that since we first met. You’re courageously determined to be who you are and I’m loving you for having what it takes to learn to love yourself and to share your journey. Blog on!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks timethief. The truth is that this was supposed to be a “practice blog”. I was thinking that I would blog about my major interest (small ethnic food markets/shops in New York for interesting ingredients) when I retired. Donna told me that I should figure out if I liked blogging before I retired, and suggested that I start small and write a personal blog to learn the technology and etiquette. That way I wouldn’t make a lot of mistakes when I started blogging “for real”. She had no idea what she was getting me into.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you. I was surprised to selected, particularly for this post. One of the things I like about WordPress is that people who overlap in my Venn Diagram of niches can find me via the tag/categories function. Getting Freshly Pressed is kind of strange because all of these people share blogging, but most are not part of the LGBTQ… communities. They read about me but without the context and continuity of the posts or the framework. I like that WordPress frequently selects pieces from the community to press.

      It is a thrill to look at the Stats and see a big spike (temporary), and I did turn the ringer up on my iPhone so I could hear the ding when someone liked the post. It feels like getting 3 cherries on the slot machine and I am trying to enjoy it.

      Thanks again for your support.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I think we need to put our stories out there because I am both unusual (gender non-conforming) and mundane (middle-class, in a long term relationship, and hold down a Civil Service job with a pension). The more stories out there the better; the less we are pathologized and depersonalized.

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  12. Surya Bhattacharya

    I randomly came here through freshly pressed, because the title caught my eye. And I’m glad I did. My sister and I both try to understand trans-situations (I don’t know what’s the appropriate term 😦 sorry), but since we have no one to talk to, we just have to keep guessing and reading.
    Thank you for this post. I will be visiting often, I’m sure!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you. If you want some good basic reading about people who are trans* (a wide range of gender non-comforming people) you can browse the topics of transgender, ftm, and genderqueer in the WordPress Reader. There are a lot of bloggers out there and all of our stories are unique. From my “What I am Reading” list you can look at “neutrois nonsense”, “tranifesto”, and “Michelliana” for starters.

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      1. Surya Bhattacharya

        Thanks!! I don’t like to accept it, but it’s true that I’m a little uncomfortable about things I don’t understand. I’m going to have a look at everything you’ve mentioned. Thanks a lot 🙂

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      2. Jamie Ray Post author

        You are welcome. Gender non-comformance is hard to understand unless you fall into it. But that is true of trying to understand any different culture. I’ve travelled twice in India (once New Delhi to Jaisalmer, and once Chennai to Kochi) and both times knew that what I thought I was “seeing” – through American eyes – was not what was actually happening – and that I could not always get the meaning of what I saw. An example is putting empty pea pods out in the street. In the USA this is littering, in Jaipur it was leaving food for the cows. I was just lucky that I saw the cow came along and eat the pea pods (and leave a cow patty for someone else to pick up for fuel).

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      3. Jamie Ray Post author

        Feel free to borrow my example (the other would have been traffic round-abouts with no agreement on who has the right of way).

        I would love to go back to India. Both trips were amazing (even if I felt turned up-side down by the cultural contrasts) and I still have a long list of places I’d like to see. Hopefully I’ll get back in a couple of years.

        Enjoy Italy.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for reading and commenting. The problem with “changing places” is that you still bring all of your old experiences with you and see everything through those lenses. There is no way to really “start over” and I think people who try to shake loose of their past as if it never happened continue to be haunted by it.

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  13. Jamie Ray Post author

    Thanks! The truth is that I consider myself a niche blogger writing for gender non-conforming people of various identities, who pretty much understand what I mean and don’t pay too much attention to it. It is odd (but a pleasure) to all of a sudden to be in a big tent. I am surprised and heartened by other blogger’s openness to reading and thinking about the issue (and honored to have had my post selected). Thanks again.

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  14. delilahsangels

    Stumbled upon your blog on Freshly Pressed and I am so glad that I did! As a heterosexual girl, thus someone who has it pretty bloody easy, I really feel for you as a young child feeling like that and not knowing what it meant but only that it wasn’t “normal.” I’m so glad you’ve managed to open up about it and be honest with people about who you really are x

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for reading and for stopping to comment. It is one of the pleasures of blogging to get to drop in on other blogger’s life and read a couple of chapters.

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  15. Pingback: Not the Retiring Kind | A Boy and Her Dog

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