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.