Mourning a Lost Boyhood

lost-boyhood-converse

Photo by xakeshot on deviantART

I can accept that I am butch and transgender, but I have trouble accepting that I will never be a boy. It should be obvious; I am chronologically an adult. I can’t time-travel backwards. It is unfair that I only got to be a child once, and that I went through it as a girl. No second chance.

The adults tried to convince me that I should want to be a girl. That I should be happy I was a girl. I kept hoping I would morph into a boy. I refused to believe that body parts were destiny. I kicked and screamed and dragged my feet through childhood. I would not march willingly into the strange territory of teenage girls. I dug in my heels and hoped for a miracle.

This is evidently how fetishes are made. One of mine is a sneaker fetish. I will not wear women’s sneakers. Every time I’ve bought a pair, no matter how plain they were, they ended up discarded at the back of the closet. I like men’s sneakers. I own a few pairs.

Up to the age of eight, sneakers were simple. Cheap kid’s sneakers, and my parents were cheap, were for all kids. They were canvas, had round toes with rubber toe caps, and came in red, white, or navy blue. Once my feet hit a certain size, cheap sneakers diverged into boy’s or girl’s. The boy’s kept the rounded toes and had a larger rubber cap, and the girl’s sneakers had pointy toes and no rubber bumper. I was given the later. I hated them. I hated them as if they were pink with purple polka dots and glitter.

I dragged my feet. On the swing, back and forth, over the pavement. Scraping where the rubber would have been. Grey smudges and holes. One pair, and then the replacement pair. My parents were cheap. The third pair were boy’s Converse All-Stars. They lasted until I grew out of them. They were replaced with a similar pair, one size larger. I took good care of them.

Most of my problems did not have elegant solutions. I was unable to will myself into a boy; there were no miracles. I settled for being a tomboy. Adults expected me to step out of it and do things that boys would not do. I avoided and resisted as much as I could; the victories were few but memorable.

I spent a lot of years in therapy tiptoeing around wanting to be a boy. Somehow, unexpectedly, I finally got out the words “I’m not a girl.” I had often said I didn’t want to be girl, but I’d never said I wasn’t one. A few months later I was sitting in my therapist’s office crying that I wanted to be a boy. Kathy looked up and said “You are never going to be a boy.” Even though I knew it was the truth, it made me angry. I was not ready to hear it. The eight year old in me had not given up hope.

I was not raised, loved, and socialized as a boy. My history is looking, yearning, waiting, throwing tantrums, and conniving. I can not change my history.

lost-boyhood-1964I used to believe that therapy would heal my childhood pain. It didn’t. I didn’t realize that mourning helps you live with the pain, not get over it. My lost boyhood will always be there, just out of my reach. I’m not happy about it, but I have stopped crying about it.

Note: Bobbito Garcia’s book “Where’d You Get Those?” is a great history of NYC sneaker culture. It has just been re-issued.

35 thoughts on “Mourning a Lost Boyhood

  1. alesbianspeaks

    It could be a helpful tribute to your young boy self if you were to compile a list of things you would have done as a boy and did them now anyway 🙂 It would never make up for your loss but it may make you feel like your young boy self was not completely forgotten.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think that is why I got a dog (dogs were prohibited in the apartment project that I grew up in and I always wanted one). Gracie lets me be my boy self in play. I also bought hockey skates and I have my sneakers.
      Watching and following baseball is probably what I miss the most. When I came out I gave up following “men’s sports” and tried to be a good feminist and pay more attention to women’s tennis and basketball, but I never really got into it.

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  2. RonaFraser

    I hear ya. I realized in the last year (late 40s) that I would never be a teenager with a boyfriend. Sounds stupid and obvious, but I have never had a boyfriend, and even if I ever get one, it will be a mature relationship (agewise at least). I will never experience being a silly girl all wrapped up in some cute boy who actually likes me… in the shy holding-hands-maybe-he’ll-kiss-me kind of way. (I know, real life is likely different, but how would I know?) And I am of an age where the guys I would date are likely divorced, likely have grown kids, likely have greying hair. They are so experienced in both the physicality and relationshippy parts of life, and I only know what I’ve seen and heard from others. I’ve been mourning that loss — of the first young love — and still don’t know that I’ve really accepted it. It seems so unfair and inconceivable. Sometimes I think “maybe in my next life”, but a) who knows if that’s how it works and b) what if I do a repeat performance! Anyways, all that to say I get what you mean about mourning a past you will not have.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Old longings “sound stupid and obvious” when you say them, but they do lie there and wait for a vulnerable moment to pop out and get you. It is hard to let go of them. And I’m selfish, I don’t want to wait for a next life; I want everything now!
      The corollary, which I should have written about (this is how we get ideas for posts) are all the things I put off because “I wasn’t a boy.” The gender version of waiting to do something until you lose weight, or get in shape, or get out of a depression…when I really might be able to do them now anyway.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. It took me a very long time to realize that my pain was not going to be “fixed” and that I am going to have to learn to live with it. The positive part is accepting that I am not “broken” I am just in pain, and that nothing – not even transitioning – can take the past pain away. All I can change is the future. Perhaps I could ask your wise third grader about it.

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      1. Georgeann

        I wanted to write more compliments toward your insights on the pain issue yesterday, but then I spilled coffee on my computer. I had to stop what I was doing, submit the comment (of course) and check to see if the computer would pull through. But I think you are on to something. As a long time ‘survivor’ of painful things in life, I actually have been looking for an answer to the grief question, and your words were particularly helpful yesterday. And, yes, I am sure my third grader would have some sound advice too!

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      1. micah

        In my next life I’m gonna learn how to skate, snowboard, and surf. In this life, I will keep trying hoping not to die each time!

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  3. Lesboi

    About a year ago I realized the same thing about my youth. I went out and bought myself a pair of Converse which I hadn’t worn in a very long time. I remember so clearly having the sneaker war with my own mother and eventually winning as well. I also remember wearing my Sunday dress shoes that I hated out to play one day….they were tight patent leather girl’s shoes…and dragging the toes on the pavement as I rode my bike to ruin them.

    I made a list of things that I could do now for myself to reclaim my boyhood and decided to “father” myself. I have a couple “father-son” projects on my to-do list that I’m looking forward to and some activities that I would like to do. I also talk to my lost boy sometimes and let him know I haven’t forgotten him and have apologized to him for neglecting him for so many years. What I have come to realize is that I DID have a boyhood after all even though it might have been fraught with wars I shouldn’t have had to fight and more tears then I should have had to shed. There was very little about my early years that resembled a girlhood so I choose to remember it as my boyhood. I really enjoy connecting with and honoring my boy self. Luckily, now I can do whatever I want and there is no mean mommy to yell at me. I hope you can turn this mourning into a celebration and acknowledgement of the boy that you actually were and that still lives inside you. Good luck!

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  4. Meike

    Right before I went on T this happened to me a lot. I worked at Target, and even though I was never much into action figures and other things you might find in the toy section, I would stock the shelves and wish that I were getting these things, and wanting to be a (boy) child, if only to make up for the boyhood I could have had. Like others mentioned, I ended up doing a few things here and there — nothing big, mind you — just to help me relive my childhood in the way that I would have liked to live it in the first place. You’re never too old to indulge your inner child.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      That is where my dog Gracie comes in. She will play with me and never reminds me that I am an adult (except if she has an urgency or I forgot to feed her). I hear what you are saying, I held on for so many years to longing to be a boy, and I need to let go of the longing and just let myself be.

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      1. Lesboi

        I buy myself toys if I want to now. I’ve always been into models of planes and cars and still build them. I recently bought a Capt. America action figure to ride around in my RC Jeep that I got for Christmas. He rocks that jeep! I think it’s important to love that little kid in ourselves and spoil it a bit now that we’re older and can afford to do it. I know, for me, it is very healing.

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  5. tky756

    Like you, I feel I am somewhere between butch and trans, though I started taking T almost three years ago. I cannot forget or let go my struggle as a masculine girl/woman nor will I ever feel like a ‘man’ whatever that is. In my forties, with the transition, I have reached a level of calmness, or at least, an absence of daily sadness. I hadn’t thought about mourning a lost boyhood, but it is an interesting notion, and I shall…think about it that is. Thank you.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for stopping in and reading and commenting. I felt a tremendous relief when I stopped suppressing my transness, but I am still trying to figure out where I am going with it. The mourning is part of letting go of that daily mantra of “I wish I was a boy” and letting myself be more authentic.

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  6. RonaFraser

    You have all inspired me — I can’t do much about giving myself a first romance or whatever, but I also feel my childhood was kinda stern and un-fun and over-cautious and very un-cuddly (new word!), and am already thinking of ways I could give myself what I feel I didn’t get as a child, even simply in terms of being more cuddly to myself (instead of just tough love). Thanks!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Good luck! So yet one more time I will invoke my dog, Gracie, the cure all for what I did not have as a child (play, company, and snuggles). Gracie does not expect me to act like an adult and I think she only cares about the gender identity of dogs, not people (she likes boy dogs).

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      1. Lesboi

        I concur with Jamie here. A pet can be a great way to get that unconditional love and cuddle time that we all crave. Also, you might think about “romancing” yourself in a way. Buy yourself flowers, go for a nice dinner and a movie, take a bubble bath, whatever would make you feel loved and pampered. Love yourself unconditionally and then, you never know, maybe you will find love when you least expect it.

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      2. RonaFraser

        Hmm. Interesting idea (the romancing myself thing).

        PS. Just back from seeing the Lego Movie. I think that’s a fun movie for the kid in us all. Not in a superhero-sci-fi way, but in a silly fun way. I recommend it.

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  7. halitentwo

    A late entry here. I so didn’t want to “like” this post. Because it was excruciating, leaving me choking back that lump in my throat. I know you are right. But I don’t want you to be. I remember my daughter (who has cerebral palsy) telling me when she was 3 that she couldn’t wait to be a grownup because then it would be easy for her to walk. There was no way I was telling her at 3, no honey, it will never be easy for you to walk. On some level I know that I am not male. But I cannot give up the knowledge that on some plane I am a boy, that I need to be a boy. And I will not be a girl. And I am not ready to hear that it will never be easy.
    As always Jamie, thank you for sharing your pain and letting us know we are not alone.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Yes, perhaps we can get WordPress to do a nuanced “like” button based on Facebook’s new gender list.

      The pain is so much more bearable being allowed out than pushed down. I’ll never really understand why I waited so long to give it air, or how I did that dual thing of knowing but denying. I just wish I could talk to that eight year old self and tell them to keep the faith.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think it is natural to expect coming out or transitioning to cure or heal your pain. But there are also losses (no matter how crappy things were before), and I think it is important to think/talk/write about them. It keeps you from being paralyzed or haunted by them, and hopefully allows you to move on.

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  8. parkerkierce

    Reblogged this on Parker Kierce and commented:
    “Most of my problems did not have elegant solutions. I was unable to will myself into a boy; there were no miracles. I settled for being a tomboy. Adults expected me to step out of it and do things that boys would not do. I avoided and resisted as much as I could; the victories were few but memorable.”

    Words do not come to me quite this easily, but this post / blogger captures a lot of what I’d like to express.

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