Tuesday, April 10, 2007

the old girls' club

There was an article in my support group's newsletter about a road trip to see a presentation by Jennifer Finney Boylan, the author She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders.

According to the article, “After her presentation Ms Boylan opened up the floor for questions. After several ‘easy’ questions… Jenny was hit with a rather uncomfortable question from a genetic woman in her early 50s. The woman was truly trying to work this thing called transgenderism out, but she took the mood of the whole night in a different direction with her barrage of questions and comments.

“The tone of her questions was searching, but antagonistic. She basically said that she didn’t get transgenderism and that how can Jenny, after living the life of a privileged upper class white male, now expect to be welcomed as a woman. She further pointed out that Jenny did not have to go through growing up as a female, being teased by boys, dealing with menstruation, dealing with childbirth, and facing everyday discrimination. The woman topped it off by saying ‘frankly, I don’t want you as a member of my club.’

“Jenny was clearly shocked as was most of the audience and was taken aback and put on the defensive. She paused to compose herself, thought, and delivered her answer. Jenny agreed that these were all fair questions but that she did not expect them and could not answer them all right now…”

True, Jenny (and I) “did not have to go through growing up as a female, being teased by boys, dealing with menstruation, dealing with childbirth, and facing everyday discrimination.” However, growing up as a white male, who had yearnings to be female, at least some of the time, I was teased by boys and faced discrimination.

As a boy, I was not considered “macho,” although that term did not even exist in the English language when I was growing up. Other boys called me “fairy,” “twinky,” ”faggot,” and “sissy.” I did not know why. I did not think that I acted effeminately. I did not think that I looked effeminate either; I was the biggest kid in my class (200 pounds by the 5th grade) and I was the first boy who had to shave (by the 8th grade). I loved playing baseball and football, but I was usually picked last when choosing up sides (I could hit the baseball a mile, but I threw “like a girl.”). I did very well in grammar school (salutatorian in my graduating class) and was often considered the “teacher’s pet.” Maybe that gave the other boys mixed messages.

Things were not much better in high school. Some of the jocks got on my case. On graduation day, I recall a jock asking why I was in line with the boy graduates instead of the girl graduates. I also remember my Spanish teacher wondering aloud if I would dress like a senorita for “Spanish Night.” (I threw her for a loop when I showed up dressed like a Cuban revolutionary sporting a fake beard, cigar, and fatigues.)

By the time I was in high school, I had been experimenting for years with my sister’s and mother’s wardrobe. I felt very guilty about it and was sure that I was destined to spend eternity in Hell.

Attending a Catholic high school did not help matters. Once a month, the nuns marched us to church next door to confess our sins. One time, I remember making up my mind to confess my crossdressing sins, but when I got in the confession booth, I froze up and could not get out the words describing my sins. The priest sensed something was wrong and said he would forgive any sin I was too embarrassed to recall to him. All I had to do was admit that I had sins(s) I was too embarrassed to enumerate.

Here was my chance to get off the hook, a free pass that would enable me to start anew with a clean slate, but I blew it. I could not admit that I was hiding something from the priest! I ended up saying two Hail Mary’s and two Our Father’s and berating myself for years over that flub!

College was no better, but by then, I was used to my status and made the best of it. Boys and now even some girls teased me. Try asking a girl for a date when that girl thinks you are a “fairy” or worse. How many times did I hear “you are a nice guy, but…?” It hurt and I could not understand why I was being hurt. In my mind, I was not effeminate, so why was I being treated as if I was effeminate.

Today, I still don’t think I am effeminate; I act like I always acted and that is as my natural self; I am not faking it, I am not pretentious; I am not trying to fool anybody. But, now that I am older and a little wiser, I can put two and two together and realize that there must be some feminine traces in my male persona that other people recognize.

So be it. I try not to be concerned how others think about me. In my gut, I still care some of the time, but I try to convince myself that I shouldn’t care and maybe someday, I will be completely free of guilt.

And, in response to the woman who said she did not want Jennifer Boylan as a member of her club, I say “that’s ok,” because, as Marx once said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

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