Tag Archives: Gender

Reconsidering Puberty

Roz Chast's take on puberty from The New Yorker.

Roz Chast’s take on puberty, from The New Yorker.

I was ten years old, when my brother was Bar Mitzvah’d. It was a big deal. The synagogue was packed and there was a big party at a fancy restaurant afterward. I have no memories of the event at all. I don’t even remember what my mother made me wear.

I do remember watching my brother prepare for the ceremony. Week after week, he struggled to read his Torah portion, in Hebrew, out loud. His voice kept cracking. He was becoming a man. I was still a girl.

The next year I got my period. I didn’t want to become a woman. I didn’t want my breasts to grow. I didn’t want to wear a bra. I didn’t want to get my period or sprout pimples all over my face. I didn’t want to shave under my arms. I alternated between being angry and wanting to cry. I hated that everyone was waiting for me to “blossom”. I withdrew. I didn’t want any parties or celebrations.

I think, if you asked me, at age 11, if I’d rather go through female puberty, male puberty, or no puberty at all, I would have answered no puberty at all. I mistrusted adults. I did not understand teenagers. I was scared of dating, sex, pregnancy, marriage, and parenthood. I wanted to be a boy. I wanted to keep things simple. Continue reading

Magical Thinking

fast-transitionWhen I was a child, I believed that I could become a boy by wearing boy’s clothes and acting like a boy. My first attempt to transition was when I was five. I got a short hair cut and I took a new name (I didn’t tell anyone that I changed my name, but I thought of myself as Paul). I refused to wear dresses. I waited for other changes to start happening. I waited for people to notice that I was really a boy. 

It was magical thinking. I really believed that if I tried hard enough and wished for it fervently, then something would happen. Then my mother would finally allow me to wear pants to school. Then my teacher would allow me to lineup with the boys. 

I refused to accept the obvious because it hurt more than insisting on the imaginary. I kept believing that it was possible, even probable, that I would wake up one day and be boy. While I waited, I lived “as if”.

According to Piaget, the prime ages for magical thinking are between two and seven years old. I started on time, but I missed the cutoff by about 50 years. I am a magical thinker. Continue reading

What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

The correct answer to this question was a mother and a wife. The second best answer was a doctor, a lawyer, or a rocket scientist (or more realistically a nurse, a librarian, or a teacher). I knew not to answer a baseball player, a fireman, or a cowboy.

I didn’t know what happened to kids like me, but I wasn’t ever going to be a wife and a mother. To be safe, I said I wanted to be a lawyer (we watched Perry Mason on TV). Then I read The Fountainhead in high school and decided to become an architect. It was all based on image, not innate skill. I didn’t question why all my role models were men.

Highway engineer in Nebraska, 1960.

Highway engineer in Nebraska, 1960.

I enrolled in an architecture program but I was no Howard Roark. I was too sloppy to pass the introductory drafting class. I transferred to civil engineering because it had a promising job board. I pictured myself on a construction site wearing Carhartt canvas pants and Red Wing boots. I aced my classes. I also came out as butch. It was the first identity that I could identify with. It seemed natural, as if it had been waiting for me all along.

The term butch only came into usage in the 1940’s. Regardless of the label, the religious, legal, medical, and psychiatric authorities have pathologized, criminalized, and demonized people like me since they realized we existed. I say people like me, because even though we’ve been around forever, the words used to describe us keep evolving. The bigotry seems to stay the same.  Continue reading

I Speak Through My Clothes

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Wolfgang Krodel – Adam and Eve

Everyone uses clothing to tell a story about themselves. We dress to communicate our identity, religion, gender, marital status, tribe or clan, sub-culture, profession, and/or social status. Some people dress to blend in and others dress to stand out. We expect that everyone will understand the meaning of our choices. Conversely, we expect to read others accurately.

Humans first started to wear clothing 170,000 years ago (warning: tied to the evolution of body lice). They made garments to protect themselves from the cold, the sun, rain, thorns, insects, and poison plants. The first evidence of ornamental clothing or jewelry is from 75,000 years ago. As humans developed better skills at farming, tanning, weaving, sewing, and metal working, they created more durable, comfortable, and decorative clothing. Clothing laws were not far behind.

The Bible has many rules about clothing. It prohibits women from wearing men’s clothing and men from wearing women’s clothing. There is a prohibition on wearing cloth woven from a mix of linen and wool. There are prohibitions on flaunting your wealth. There are modesty codes to prove piety and restrict sexuality. These rules are the Judeo-Christian origins of contemporary gender policing. Continue reading

Reason for Visit?

LOW-DOSE-TESTOSTERONE-RISKSOn the part of the form that said “Reason for visit?” I wrote “discuss high cholesterol and the potential health risks of starting testosterone”. The Cardiologist listened to my heart with a stethoscope, took an EKG, looked at my blood work, asked me some questions about my exercise and diet, and asked about the circumstances of my parents’ deaths. I walked out with a prescription for low dose Atorvastatin (20mg once a week to lower my cholesterol) and a follow-up appointment in May.

He also gave me the green light for going on testosterone. He said that if I thought I’d be overall happier and healthier on testosterone then I should start taking it and we’d watch and manage my cholesterol. I should be ecstatic; my cholesterol was the only medical obstacle to starting testosterone. Instead, it sent me into another confused tailspin.

I talked to my Nurse Practitioner at Callen-Lorde. She offered to write me a prescription for testosterone and I told her I wanted to wait. She said to call her when I was ready. My next appointment isn’t until September.

Putting off taking taking testosterone feels different than saying “I’ve decided not to go on it.” Even if the outcome is the same. When I think about never going on testosterone, I get very sad. Crying sad. Raging at the unfairness sad.

It lets loose all of my childhood denial. I’m not really a girl, I can’t really be a girl, there has got to be a fix for this, I’m really a boy, and someday I’m going to turn into one. Somewhere in there I still have hope, even though nothing short of a time travel machine can turn me back into a boy. Starting testosterone won’t do it; it will make me look and sound like a man.

My reasons for wanting to start are straight forward. If I don’t try it then I will never know if it is the right thing for me to do. If I don’t like it, I can stop and call it quits. I want it to lower my voice. I want it to make people stop Ma’aming me. I want it to nudge me along.

My reasons for refraining are also simple. I might not like how I masculinize. Donna might not like how I masculinize. I will have a lot of explaining to do as I change, and I’m not sure what to say about it. Continue reading

Being Visibly Queer

darn-butchI was visibly queer before I was conscious of being queer. Back then, I was one of those kids you could spot a mile away and say “She’s going to be a lesbian when she grows up.” Now, you’d probably say “That kid is going to transition as soon as they can.” I’ve never been able to hide it. I never tried to look “normal”.

I didn’t know that I was trying to manage my dysphoria, I just knew that I wanted to look like a boy. I knew that every compromise hurt.

All through elementary school I wore dresses to school because it was “the law”. I wore the least feminine dress possible, but a dress is a dress, even if it is olive drab. Putting a dress on felt like a punishment for waking up. I swore that when I grew up I wouldn’t get married, have kids, or ever wear a dress.

I said I was a tomboy, and that I didn’t mind being a girl. I claimed that I wanted to wear boy’s clothing and sneakers because they were comfortable and practical. I didn’t tell anyone that I wanted to be a boy, or that I was a boy. No one wanted to hear the truth, even though it was obvious.

I repeated versions of that lie right through my adolescence and into adulthood. The olive drab dress gave way to jeans and a flannel shirt. When I came out, I liked that I was visibly, recognizably, butch. What was once a problem was now a solution. I went from being an outcast to being part of a community. Continue reading

Running from Femininity

what is femininity?I’ve written over 150 posts on this blog. I’ve never written about my own femininity.

Femininity. It’s a word I run from even if I can’t explain what it is. I’ve spent over 50 years resisting compulsory femininity. I know that everyone, from John Wayne to Dolly Parton, is a mix of masculine and feminine. No matter what your gender identity is, there is some femininity in it. I have a hard time admitting to mine.

In nice weather, Donna likes to walk with me to our local playground. She likes to point out how cute the girls are, and she wishes she could find outfits that are as bright and lively as what they are wearing. She’d gladly trade places with them. I tell her I understand how she feels, even though that isn’t what I feel. I remember what it feels like to be in a playground, at recess, wearing a dress. I’d gladly trade places with the boys.

My mother and my grandmother dressed modestly and neatly; they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. They looked in the mirror before leaving the house to make sure their hair was in place and their make up was fresh. They looked down on women who dressed provocatively or flamboyantly and on women who tried too hard to be stylish. They looked down on women who “let themselves go”. Their notion of femininity was narrow and constrained. Continue reading