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.”
Wearing Le Redoute.
Fred Armisen in television’s Portlandia (2014).