Thursday, March 19, 2015

A fish out of water

By Paula Gaikowski

paula_coach Reading Stana recollections about the growing up transgender and being part of the Young Marines brought back some memories of my own childhood.

Oh yes, abusive coaches and youth leaders. As baby boomers growing up, we all experienced some pretty bizarre and offensive behavior from our teachers, coaches and youth leaders. Standards and expected norms were to say the least, different back then.

I was tall and in gym class, I was expected to be a good basketball player. Not being very comfortable in the competitive male environment, I didn’t excel.

One amongst many humiliating experiences was when the coach put me in front of the gym class and had me do a lay-up. I failed terribly and he then screamed out, “Look at the fish!” For the rest of middle school, he called me “fish. Another coach liked to call me “banana.”

Looking back, I just can’t comprehend the thought process in an adult teacher’s mind to pick one of the weakest and vulnerable children in your care and then torment and humiliate them? Even with times being different, I still say that’s one sick bastard! Even a few years later, when I went through military boot camp, the taunts and heckling were less vicious and done to encourage effort.

“Gee whiz, I wonder why I never liked sports?”

At the same time, I was struggling with gender identity issues. I started crossdressing at 8-years-old and by middle school, I was dressing secretly several days a week. In retrospect, I am startled by the harshness of the situation. Here I was a young, impressionable person trying to come of age and instead of support, I was being harassed.

I remember just feeling bad about myself. I thought, because I was such a bad athlete and didn’t fit in that I deserved to be called that name. I never thought to tell my parents or other school officials because I didn’t want my Dad to be disappointed in me and I thought the school officials had the same opinion of me. I was after all a “banana.” I was a banana who was also secretly a sissy and a fag. Talk about developing low self-esteem. I felt like a girl and was trying to fit in, and trying to fit in with the boys, but received nothing but mistreatment when I tried.

So would start the cycle of shame, guilt and anxiety that would propel the different stages of my life. Doing always what was expected of me at that point of my life and inside, feeling compromised.

In 2009, I was emerging from the darkness of yet another purge. But as any transgender person knows, purging doesn’t work. My need for feminine expression had returned with a vengeance. I had tried to solve the problem by myself for 50 years. I tried reading all the books and websites, wrote countless e-mails to peers and posted on all the forums.

Finding an objective and informed person to discuss, share and solve your issues with was a key ingredient in my journey. In my case this was a therapist. I’ve grown a lot over the last few years. I no longer see being transgender as a problem to be solved. I am not doing anything wrong. I’ve cast off society’s condemnation of being transgender and realize that I am a good person, and that part of my personality and character involves being transgender. Attributes I see missing in many men, such as nurturing, kindness, compassion and cooperation are parts of my personality that I believe come from my feminine side.

It dawned on me one day and I wrote this statement a manifesto of self-acceptance: I am 50-years-old. I am hard-working and have a successful career. I am financially successful. I am a dedicated spouse and parent. I give back to my community and I am active in my church. I strive to be caring, kind and thoughtful. I don’t drink or abuse drugs. I am honest and trustworthy. This is a part of my personality that has caused me shame and anxiety for years. There are medical and biological reasons for this. It doesn’t make me an awful person, it means I’m different. I won’t feel bad about myself anymore.

Oh yeah, one more thing.

“Coach, my self-worth is not determined by how well I play basketball nor is it determined by you.”





Source: Le Redoute

Wearing Le Redoute.






Fred Armisen in television’s Portlandia (2014).


  1. Ouch!! You're giving me flashbacks.

    I started putting on my height earlier than most of the boys, which I now understand is common with girls. Like you, everyone thought I should be good at basketball and my results were just like yours. Coaches were sadists. Probably picked up commissions from the therapists, which is where I've spent a lot of my time.

    I was terrible at all team sports and locker rooms were terrifying. I had big boobs for a boy and no one let me forget it. I'm 60. I was recently on a walk with my wife. We took a short cut across some playing fields, which led us across a deserted football field. She has always been a great athlete and was surprised when I told her that I could feel a whiff of anxiety for just walking across the empty field.

    Interesting, the exclusion from team sports eventually led me to extreme individual sports. In my younger days I jumped out of airplanes, scaled frozen waterfalls, scuba dived on old shipwrecks, and similar stuff. Bless my alpha wife, the two of us still ski extreme terrain, although with more huffing and puffing than I once did. I've enjoyed these activities but often wondered if they were an unconscious over-compensation for being called a sissy, fem, whimp and all the other sweet terms the sadists had for me back then.

    Unlike you, I did not have the good sense to stay away from alcohol. Bless my Irish genes, how I could drink. That pretty much stopped the bullying. Tough to bully when you are driving the porcelain bus. Alcohol comes with a cost, however, and when I chose my femme name, I picked the last name as a reminder of the destruction that drinking can bring to relationships. Drink to excess and I dishonor my name. It's worked.

    Thanks for a great post. Sorry to hear you lived through it. Glad to hear I was not alone. :-)

  2. Paula, what a coincidence! I was too called a "banana" during my youth, but for different reasons. In Singapore, when a Chinese (or any yellow-skinned oriental) shows preference for "western" ways (which I do, in many ways) he or she is called a "banana", that is, yellow on the outside, white on the inside, like a banana!