You've Got a Chance. Don't Waste It!
For going on fifty years, I have been trying to figure out what I could have done better at the time I first knew I was transgendered. I am sixty-three now, and I was eleven going on twelve when I realized I was dramatically different from every other kid I knew or had ever heard of.
I'd been reasonably OK up through 7th grade; then my parents moved us out past the edge of the suburbs. At my old school, I'd gotten along pretty well, notwithstanding underdeveloped social skills and close-to-zero athletic ability. In fact, I liked school, liked learning stuff.
It took about three days at my new school for a consensus to form that I was the Geek of the Year. I was so clueless that I didn't even see it coming. The standard guy thing is to fight back, get the crap hammered out of me, and then be accepted, but I didn't want to fight. I just wanted to find someplace safe, where I wasn't every morning pushed and tripped and punched and taunted with words like "fairy" and "faggot" . neither of which I understood! In short, I had all the wrong moves and no friends.
A consequence was that I had plenty of time to think. What I knew was that my world had turned upside down. What I concluded was that if only I were a girl, I could have kept on doing the things I liked (including being conspicuously smart), it would have been OK to be lousy at team sports, and I would have had friends. Without anyone's help, and still not knowing what a "fairy" or a "faggot" was, I worked it out that God had made a big mistake; I should have been a girl..
Did I share this insight with anyone? Nope. There were a couple of teachers and a next door neighbor who I think would have listened sympathetically if I'd opened up. If they.d known me better, they might have opened me up. I worked up the courage to ask my Mom what "a fairy" was, and she failed the test miserably. (My parents. quaint belief was that the less a kid knew about sex, the less trouble he.d get into.)
I coped as best I could. That was before contraceptives and women's lib, way before gay rights and the Internet. At the library, the books about human sexuality were locked up behind the librarian's desk. As time went by, I learned some male survival skills, like not raising your hand when you know the answer, and letting jocks copy answers off your test paper. When school started again in ninth grade, it was no longer automatic social death to talk to me. However, I didn't have a girl friend and I dressed hiding in a corner of the locker room at gym class, embarrassed by my laughably inadequate genitalia. Weekends, if my parents went to a party and I was securely alone in the house, I'd head straight for my Mom's closet. Did she really not notice that her things had been tried on?? I wonder??
By tenth grade, I was one of the mainstream kids. By eleventh grade, I'd found my extracurricular niche as iconoclastic school newspaper editor, started dating a Catholic girl who thought French kissing was the direct route to Hell, and mounted a respectable run for student council president. In twelfth grade, a bunch of other kids who passed in those days for wierdies and I formed our own clique, and I fell really and truly in love. Lynn was an emotionally needy, sexually adventurous, smart, beautiful girl and to my amazement she thought I was cool. I sent off my college applications and was accepted at my Dad.s Ivy League alma mater.
Believe it or not, I had had sex before I discovered the joys of masturbation. I mention this only to emphasize what a straight arrow context I came from. Long before I learned how to find solo relief, I would lie in bed spinning elaborate, comforting fantasies. In my half-waking dreams, my parents recognized my unspoken need and allowed me to experience girlhood, at least for a while, at least until the unmistakable stigmata of maleness were undeniable. In those days, where I was, there was not the possibility of looking forward to femininity.
Four years later, I was no closer to figuring it out. In college I fell into a pattern that has persisted . 75 percent of my conscious life ostensibly a male striver, 10 percent denying my condition and 15 percent closet transgender person. Trying to make sense of my situation and confirm my attractiveness to other women, I let Lynn slip away. She married someone else and I graduated from college deeply in depression. Instead of joy that I had been accepted by the best law school in America, I felt only regret that I had pissed away much of four years. opportunity to learn and grow in a futile attempt to be a successful frat guy.
I ducked law school, rationalizing that I couldn't bear to take my Dad.s money for another three years. I had an alternative " the US Foreign Service " and in the Kennedy years, that was pretty exciting. Politics and international relations fascinated me. Should I mention that back then women weren't taken seriously as diplomats or as lawyers? I remember thinking that if I were in fact a woman, I would not be able to work at what I wanted to do . not that ever being a woman seemed possible, anyway.
So, I entered a profession that over the years became much less hostile to women but remained very hostile to non-traditional sexuality. It.s clear with hindsight that I was trying to do was construct a situation that prevented me from expressing my longing to be female. I hoped it would "go away". I hoped it was just a phase. Of course, it didn't and wasn't.
At twenty-six I married. At thirty-one and again at thirty-four I was a father. I moved up through the ranks and in time I was caught up in a web of family and professional obligations from which there was no honorable escape. And still I fantasized, bungled many interpersonal (especially male-male) relationships, and failed to live up to my professional potential.
People like me . that is to say, transgender people of my generation . necessarily spent many long hours in search of truth, paging through whatever came to hand, from sleazy porn to tracts like Harry Benjamin.s paradigm-redefining research. As time went by, it became clearer and clearer to me that I'd missed the bus. Endocrinology had made it possible to live credibly as a transgendered person.
In my mid-fifties, about the time I was facing an honorable but deeply depressing retirement from my career as an American diplomat, I .came out. to my wife. It was bad for both of us. She couldn't deal with the idea . enough said. Most people can't. And by then I myself knew the notion was preposterous. The full-size, balding, big-footed, square-shouldered man I saw in the mirror, however tastefully dressed and carefully made up, could only pass for female by the grace of other people's lack of imagination.
My wife and I are still married, still life partners and still very much in love, and I am not going to ruin her life or my kids. security by an overly late eruption from my closet. Often in life, one has to settle for second choice and it.s not entirely bad. Still, I look back, and believe that as a woman I would have been far happier and achieved much more . perhaps as a crusader for transgender rights. I also know that I never knew enough soon enough nor was brave enough to be a pioneer, and so what I have lived was just half a life.
If I could go back to being twelve and miserable in my realization that .God made a mistake,. of course I would try to change the course of my life. There's nothing like hindsight . in my case, knowing there was an alternative to being stuck in the wrong gender . to make you regret the tough choices you never made.
You kids . whether you are genetic boys who are mentally girls, or genetic girls who are mentally boys . are riding a bus that.s way out of control. It is going over a cliff. Adults should quit debating whether you were programmed to be this way because of some endocrine aberration. You don't need a reason to feel the way you do. It is enough that you feel, down to your belly button, that God screwed up in your case. If you have that feeling, it isn't going to go away, and the only thing that is certain if you do nothing is that puberty and all the rest of the baggage that goes with "growing up" will come clanging down on you.
If you are one of the maybe 5000 American pre-pubescent kids each year* that face the reality of being gender-dysporic, it isn't fair that you should have to deal with this now and alone. That is, however, the way it is. Parents love you but hope and pray that your sexual confusion will go away. Teachers, social workers, pastors and other caregivers are pulled this way and that by regulations, research and their own sense of what.s right. If you give them your problem and ask them to solve it for you, they are going to diddle around for months and years. The longer they diddle around, the harder it will be for you to make a good and graceful escape from the gender that doesn't fit you.
It.s not fair, but if you are going to survive and be happy, you yourself have to take charge of the issue of your gender. You can do it. You are scared but smart, or else you wouldn't have found your way to this website and be reading this advice.
Given a chance to do it all over again in 2006 instead of 1956, here's what I would do:
Talk to adults. Don't be embarrassed or intimidated. Don't worry that some jerk might laugh at you. Make it unmistakably clear to anyone that you believe cares for you that your life has gone down the toilet and that you are trying to deal with a very big, life-defining problem.
Look around you . can you talk to your parents?? Who can help?? Do you need an advocate, someone who can help you talk to your Mom and Dad?? Are there teachers or guidance counselors who seem to be approachable??
Be ready to lay it out to the psychiatrist. As soon as you confess your gender issues, someone (parents, school, social workers, whoever) will refer you to a psychiatrist. State law and school policy probably says they have to. The shrink is likely going to look up gender dysphoria in his copy of DSM-IV-TR, which defines all the recognized mental aberrations. Find those criteria on the web (for example, http://www.behavenet.com/capsules/disorders/genderiddis.htm) and consider your testimony. If your conscience allows, make up some stuff about being aware that you were already mentally of the other sex when you were three or five. Don't admit that just putting on a dress (or jock strap) will make you happy. If you give the .right. answers, it will be it much easier for the shrink to do what he knows he should do, i.e., certify that you have real problems.
Cut a deal, the best you can. Minimally, you need to buy time to get your head and emotions in order. That means being allowed to take hormones that arrest your adult male or female development until you are ready to go forward. Probably you can find people who will help you advocate for putting puberty on hold. If your parents can't agree, if they are that deep into denial, that.s child abuse in my opinion. Don't give up on your parents, but don't surrender to their view either.
Argue that the earlier you transition, the more likely you.ll be able to put it all together and be the person your parents dreamed you.d be. Help them understand that unlike in the past, yours is now a solvable problem. Pills, surgery, presto, change-o. Sad Sam is now happy Sue, or the reverse.
As soon as you are allowed to start on hormones, concentrate on getting good grades again. Pay attention to your personal grooming and be some help around the house. This will send your parents and other care-givers an unmistakable signal that they made the right decision.
.Happy. is what most parents aspire for their kids to be. Help them understand what happiness is for you, step by step. Give them a list of websites to browse late into the night. Start with AntiJen's.
If you.ve tried communicating but still hit nothing but walls where you live, maybe you need to move away from home, to a school where you can be yourself and (this is fundamentally important) hang up a bunch of A.s. Who do you know that can help you . a relative, or a friend of Mom and Dad?, perhaps just an acquaintance in a .blue state. with more liberal laws? Foster care is a last resort. You won't have to go into the closet or onto the streets if you are up front and persistent in saying that you have a problem that the system needs to deal with now, not later when your mental issues have fully blossomed.
Be realistic about how far and how fast you can go. Don't scare your caregivers by insisting on acting out in public. Your first objective should be to stop puberty while you and the people who love you work out a plan. Parents, shrinks and other authority persons will have a real hard time agreeing to irreversible steps. Stopping puberty is by comparison a no-brainer. Once they.ve agreed to that, started you on pills and seen your mental health improve dramatically, you can have a rational dialogue with adults about changing your gender presentation.
People who love you may argue that gender identity is no big deal, just a side-effect of raging hormones, or whatever. They may say that you can have a perfectly good life living as God designed you. They.ll worry that you.ll be treated like a freak, as though you haven't been already. If their own self-esteem is low, they.ll worry that people will laugh at them.
Take it from one who knows . if you got the wake-up call at eleven or twelve, you will never get back to sleep. Don't let anybody tell you different. And tell those who love you that now, in the 21st century, there is a win-win solution, and its name is drugs that postpone puberty while you work things out.
Finally, if by bad luck and lack of courage, like me you never escape from your gender-dysphoric dilemma . being in the wrong places, at the wrong time, after the bus has gone . it is not fatal, it just means your life is going to be more of a challenge. I have raised two loveable kids with a generally wonderful but non-accepting wife. I.m a responsible, self-supporting, aware citizen of the world. I'd grade myself a B for doing the best I could under the circumstances.
But no kidding, if the circumstances had been different, if I'd hit puberty in 2006 instead of 1956 and known what you now know, I'd have done exactly as I advised you to do.
Wishing you better luck than I had and love to you all, Sincerely, David
* 5,000 is my guess, aware that there are 300,000,000 Americans, assuming that each year five million kids reach puberty, and that at least one kid in 1000 is gender-dysphoric.