Living with the Dichotomy

Butch-cognitive-dissonanceI am trying to listen. Without interrupting, without succumbing to distraction, without shutting down. This is what I hear my six-year-old self say (in not quite six-year-old language):

I’m not a girl. I don’t want to be a girl. It doesn’t feel right. I can’t pretend I’m a girl. I hate being a girl. I can’t pretend I’m happy. I don’t want to grow up unless I can be a boy. I want to wear boy’s clothes and play baseball. I want a boy’s name and a crew cut. 

I want to be like my Dad. Not like my mother. Not like my grandmother. I don’t want to grow up and be a wife or a mother. If I could, I would turn myself into a boy.

I see myself at school, the kid with the cooties. I don’t play at recess. I don’t have friends. I daydream about being a boy. I develop serial crushes. They are all on women. Teachers, student teachers, baby sitters, girls who are a few years older than me. When I fantasize about them I am always a boy.

The Board of Education requires me to wear a dress to school. When I get home I change into the least undesirable pants and tops in my dresser. I pretend they are boy’s clothes, even though they are not quite right. I look at myself and try as hard as I can to see a boy.

I refuse to go to gymnastics or take dance. I avoid thinking about what it means. I lie and tell people I know I’m a girl, I’m a tomboy, I don’t want to be a boy, I just like boy stuff. I don’t believe it; I know they need to hear it. I hold out hope that one day I will turn into a boy.

I learn to live with the dichotomy by not examining it. It is too painful to admit the truth. I develop an intricate set of diversions and defenses. I avoid mirrors and reflective surfaces. I stuff my feelings down by overeating. I hide behind my weight. I refuse to wear anything pink or paisley or lacy. Mostly, I duck into fantasy. I wait childhood out. I find ways to manage.

I read The Hardy Boys and watch the Mets on Channel 9. In reality, that is as close as I get to being a boy. It is not close enough. I long for everything that I am not allowed to have. It is unfair. I throw tantrums.

I convince myself I will deal with “it” when I go away to college, after I come out, after I finish my thesis, when I get a job, when I find someone who loves me, when I start therapy, after I switch therapists.

I kept procrastinating. I kept finding ways to get through they day. It took a long time to find the words.

a-lost-boyhoodI can not reconcile myself with being a woman; I do not want to reinvent myself as a man. I can not turn the clock back and become a boy. I am what I am. I live a butch life. I am transgender at heart. For a long time, I was unable to complete the loop. I short circuited my thoughts each time I came close.

I am trying to listen to that child without hushing him, without telling him to grow up, be realistic, accept his fate. I can not make up for my lost boyhood. I can not wave the pain away. I can only tell him that I am sorry that I made him wait for so long.

24 thoughts on “Living with the Dichotomy

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I have my doubts about how far to “transition” and whether I can still listen to all that stuff in my head (in the hopes that if I listen eventually it will quiet down) without feeling like I have to obey that child’s wish to transform into a boy. Yet from an adult perspective, I am not sure I would feel any more authentic as a middle aged straight white guy, than as a transgender butch. I do think as a child I would have felt more authentic if I had been accepted as a boy than a girl.

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      1. genderneutral

        I so relate. I definitely do not feel at all comfortable being perceived as a straight white guy and do not feel any authenticity in it. There are many reasons for this including my age and years as a woman. However, slowly and uncomfortably, I am discovering it doesn’t have to be so black and white. That feels really good. I think all we can do is listen to all the layers of wisdom and need inside, weeding out the external static, to find our way. Every step forward takes us where we are going and it is rarely a straight and narrow path. The steps allow for us to explore and know what feels right, taking it out of the imagination and into real experience. Trust

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      2. Jamie Ray Post author

        The older I get the less appealing straight-white-guy is. I think if I was considering this at 22, I’d just go and transition (if I could transition and be a 22 year old guy right now, it might be tempting to do it). But having spent my whole working life surrounded by guys going through their mid-life crises, and even though I feel empathy for them, I don’t feel like they are my “community”
        So as much as I need to listen to my inner self, I still have to do that “authenticity check” which is difficult. It will be interesting for me to see how getting top surgery (December) affects my outlook.

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  1. Alex

    Your story is full of grief, very recognizable. Years ago, when I finally told my therapist about the frustration I felt as a kid the moment I realized I was not a boy ( cause somehow my genderneutral upbringing did’t make me a girl before) asked me if I had ever mourned about losing the boy. Her question made me remember how desperate and angry I had felt with discovering the dichotomy. I had never really allowed myself to mourn the loss, because I hadn’t realized at that moment how much pain it caused me to say goodbye to that boy. It took me many years to do that and to find a way to deal with my genderdysphoria. I can see I have much more peace with the boy ‘in’ me then you, because my butch identification made room for him again and it’s enough for me. My mourning is mostly over, I hope yours will too one day.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think I had so much shame about the deepness of my desire, and how unacceptable it was to my parents, that I did not find a good way to integrate my boy into the rest of my life (way too much time spent on daydreams and fantasy). I don’t to that anymore, but I still find myself struggling with it. Writing helps me to sit with it to think it through, and overall when I look where I was 5 years ago, I’m in a much better place (I am giving the boy some air instead of trying to hide him).

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  2. Tam

    I too fought that constant struggle to let him be out and free. And when my body betrayed me at puberty I literally felt like I was dying. While trying to fit in as a lesbian I was soft butch. I was afraid to be as butch as I felt and, in retrospect think this was actually my own internalized transphobia. Sometimes I feel grief for the boy I couldn’t fully be. And I imagine him sitting at a table with the girl I was forced to be playing a board game and making peace with the fact they both struggled together to carry me safely to now.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I was in complete denial about puberty, I was hoping it would pass me by and I would stay a kid. I couldn’t believe I was going to grow up to be a woman. Even while it was happening I refused to acknowledge it. I went right from tomboy to baby butch.
      I think butch would have felt better if I didn’t feel that I had to downplay my masculinity or deny that part of me wanted to be a guy (both to straight people and within the lesbian community) – and if it was more acceptable to be openly ambivalent about being female.

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      1. Tam

        Yes. I think i was in a similar boat with my butchness while still being read as female. Friends sometimes talk about how much courage it takes to transition. For me it tiok much more courage to be butch – so much so that I modulated it because of my discomfort and fear. It became a very tense balacing act between my dysphoria and fear of being “too male”.

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  3. Lesboi

    It seems so many of our stories, histories, overlap with stark similarities. Your pain is our pain. And this is such important work to be doing for ourselves to heal and be able to move forward in our lives. I’ve given this subject quite a bit of thought and have come to see my childhood, though imperfect as they all are, as a boyhood. I was fortunate that my mother allowed me to be a boy when she could. It was such a different time then.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m glad that what I write resonates with you. You are lucky that your mother was indulgent, but even so there were few options and very little information available at the time. Even with the internet and with the surge in FTM transitions in the last 20 years, I think across the generations there are a lot of similarities in how we all felt as kids growing up and trying to handle/sort out the trans feelings on our own.
      I feel a lot of solidarity with everyone on the trans-masculine spectrum – because regardless of the path taken – we have all been in that place as kids. I try not to judge anyone for transitioning (or choosing a particular form of transition) or not transitioning or for using whatever identity/label fits them best. And I have to keep putting myself in that pile and not judge my own actions as harshly as I am prone to do.

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  4. Carl

    Sex is separate from gender. Man and woman are different from male and female, which are each unique from masculine and feminine. The ancients also recognized a broad third, androgynous category. There are plenty of times I label myself as a (trans-)masculine androgyne.

    Remember to look at the yin-yang symbol, and its related cousin, the yin-yang-yuan. In the first, each half still has elements of the other. In the later, each of the trichotomy. Each third still has elements of the other two.

    In the West, we are used to seeing things as either-or, if-else, black-white. In many strands of oriental and eastern philosophy, they see things in threes and spectrums. The youth of today not only embrace trans people’s, they embrace trans beyond the male and female, who have both, who are neither, who are all gender, who are even gender fluid.

    I had to put off college for the better part of 10 years. During those years I regretted making the mistakes I did that put me in that situation. Now I have a second chance. I appreciate the present much more than had I lived my life according to the American “dream” and never have fooled around when I did. You can’t change the past, but you can always change your present and future. Let go of what was, and don’t worry about was, because you really have is now, and there is a reason why it’s called the present, because it’s the only real gift we truly have.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for throwing your thoughts into the mix. You are right that I can’t change the past, but I don’t want to run away from it and pretend it didn’t happen either. The question for me is what do I do with the internal boy self that I suppressed (repressed) and tried to hide now that I am allowing myself to admit that I am transgender – and how do I integrate him into my life in a positive way.

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      1. Carl

        There is a song by Kaskade and Deadmau5, “I remember”. While the song can, by default, be about letting go of past love, it can be about learning to move on from anythinng, without having to let go. I’ve done my fsir share of a TON of mistakes, tou would think I have a million regrets. It’s okay to have guilt, said a Rabbi, but never okay to have regret. (DON’T make me break out and sing that one song feom “Rent”!)

        There is a difference between walking away from something, and runnjn away. I’m walking away from fights I’ve tried to battle for years but could never live with nor win, because it’s a waste of a lifetime. runningt away is a sign of cowardice; walkkng awah is a sign of wisdom. I won’t fight everyrhing thrown my way; I have my priorities and a short life to choose which ones to pick.

        Trans women have an increasig number of role models to pick from, but trans men in the discussion are still by large invisible. We have few, if any, visible role models to copy (I’m not a big fan of Chaz Bono, he did not defend our sister Carmen Carrera, nor help RuPaul, where was his voice in that discussion?) We are the first visible generation of our community, sonwe are still figuring out who we are and how to defjne ourselves.

        Look at the doubts of Saint Thomas. ehk said doubt and confusion have to be bad rhigs? In my mind, it’s a sign of a thinker, of a curiosity that has not been lost as we outgrew our childhood. Science and self-discovery root themselves in doubt and confusion. It shows tou are flexible and dynamic, not stoic and static. Try to see this unsure sense of self as something good and positive, rather than something negative. You are not bound or tied down by tradition as heteronormatives sadly too often are. You have the freedom to discover who you are without ancient restraints. Enjoy your journey. I know as I am, helping my fellow cis bros rewrite what it really means to be a man. And so far, for many guys, they see it as refreshing. And women are refreshed to see a man who’s not tying himself to a narrow sense of machismo nor feeling bad if he can’t make the grade. And these genderqueers love seeing a binary trans man who’s cool with their identites and knows of ancient peoples who did note their existence.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Hi Sara,
      I had a difficult childhood, but somehow managed to survive it – kids are resilient, and my Dad kept telling me it would be easier when I was an adult, which was true.
      If I had to describe “happy moments” they were the rare times that I could transcend being aware of my situation – so some times when I was playing with my Dad and my brother and I just felt natural – watching baseball or playing catch, being at the beach and going swimming – but there are not a lot of them. I was also a big reader.
      Somewhere I read that what made you happy when you were 10 years old is what will make you happy as an adult and there is some truth to that – I am at my happiest when I am at the beach, swimming, or reading.

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  5. dexxwizard

    Everything said above, will not reiterate the feelings of coming to terms and wishing had dealt with all this sooner, great post…no reason why you cannot live a boyhood now, in a round about way, buy some models kits, buy some boys toys to keep as mementoes on a shelf. Just a thought, not trying to be the answer to all your thoughts. Thank you for giving me a new perspective, now I am thinking about how I never got to play with Barbie! Dexxy xx

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      One of the things I did, before I came out as trans, but when I was realizing that I missed ice skating, was to go and get a pair of boys hockey skates. I had always wanted them, but growing up I had to wear white figure skates – which kind of ruined the experience for me as a kid. I love my skates.
      The one thing I do regret is never having the right cowboy outfit – my brother had the black cowboy stuff (holster on the belt, vest, hat, boots) and I got the red cowgirl stuff (ugh). However, even I must admit that I would not wear cowboy attire now, no matter how much I missed out on it as an 8 year old. I tried a western shirt and I tried cowboy boots, and I accept that I will never experience dressing up like a cowboy.

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  6. asynca

    Such a deep, soulful longing in this. It’s heartbreaking.

    I hope you collect the things you always wanted, now that you can. The toys you weren’t allowed to have. The clothes you weren’t allowed to wear. I hope you buy them now and hold them and imagine how much you would have loved to have them when you were younger. There’s still joy in that, even if it’s bittersweet.

    I think it’s never too late to reclaim a childhood you should have had. Deep inside us all, there’s a child who knows in their heart who they are and what they want to become.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for your kind comments. Grief is that way – it comes and goes – it has been on my mind a lot lately – probably because I’ve got surgery scheduled and I’ve been thinking about what I expect to get out of it.
      I’ve been trying to reclaim some of the activities that I liked doing as kid – I’ve always been a reader – I wrote back to dexx that I started ice skating again with hockey skates (instead of white figure skates).
      I tried the last two years to reclaim the beach – but I think it will be easier next year (after top surgery) even if I have to wear a rash guard with swim trunks.
      Having a dog is really where my boy comes out – partly because there is nothing to challenge my sense of being a boy – and because no one gives you the hairy eye ball for playing with your dog – or taking a long walk with one.

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  7. The Little Butch That Could (TLBTC)

    I think you should let that little boy out and go play. . . do something you couldn’t, or were not allowed to do. Your pain, suffering, shame, regret, hatred. . . it all comes out in your writing. It’s okay, little Jaime, can come out now. Tell him it’s okay. Cheers, bro. 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. That is Gracie’s job (it is a big job but dogs like to have work to do and even though she is lazy she is a working dog).
      Once the outdoor ice rinks open up I’m going to break out my hockey skates. There are two open air rinks in Central Park that are very large and play good music.

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