Monday, May 23, 2022

Minus 4

By Francesca Pankewicz

When I was four, I discovered the movie The Little Mermaid. I couldn’t help but feel this automatic connection with the movie. This feeling of excitement would fill my body each time the colorful pictures would pop up on the screen. 

Ariel taught me how to sing and act. That had become a huge part of my self expression as a child and still do to this day. Of course the music and plot of the story were great. But I saw a daring young mermaid ready to take on a new world. 

Ariel dreamed of adventure and excitement. She would never let anyone get in her way. She was determined, tenacious and headstrong. Which was the dream of any young girl, but the only difference was I felt like I couldn’t be like them... because I wasn’t born female. 

Growing up I would run around in princess dresses and play with dolls. I was obsessed with mermaids, hair and makeup. I would sing, act and dance and was always born to be heard in this world. I would look up to female celebrity pop culture icons for fashion inspiration and enjoy the content they would create.

But I was supposed to be playing sports, wrestling and whatever else the male ideal is for a young boy. I never fit in with it. My relationship with the male ideal never changed because I always felt female. I almost went against it in my head because that wasn’t who I wanted to be. I would be in my head as a child thinking of being the princess and saved by a charming prince. I would play with Ariel dolls and wish I could be like her, have her hair, smile and personality. I connected with women more; it was just natural. 

Dolls for me were a huge deal and I was quite obsessed with them for a little too long in life. It was because I got to live out my life through them. I got to act like the girl I wanted to be. I could feel their hair and feel as it was mine and create my own little perfect reality. 

Hair is a huge thing for expressing femininity. Ideally it’s long according to stereotypes for women. I’d have to wear a short bowl haircut and wear polo shirts. 

I held onto playing with dolls until I was about ten because I couldn’t let go. If I didn’t have my dolls I could never be who I wanted to be. My parents would say to me, “You’re too old to be playing with those” and whisper about how they thought I would’ve grown out of that “phase.” But it wasn’t a phase – it was me. 

One of the first times I felt transphobia was when I was four. I had just lost my grandmother Rosalinde and she was my best friend. She started out my life and taught me it was okay to be myself. Let me play however I wanted wherever I wanted. It wasn’t a secret she loved me for me and wouldn’t care what anyone would think. My parents would pay attention to the dirty stares and side comments. But I never cared because I was who I was. I didn’t have a concept of gender identity, it was just me. 

She had recorded me in a princess dress acting out the movie Snow White and it was put on a VHS tape. The first Thanksgiving dinner after Rosalinde had passed, we had it at my grandfather’s and we were going over home movies. The recording of me and the princess dress came up and everyone started to laugh at me. I didn’t know why, but I started to feel ashamed. That was the first time that I realized I wasn’t normal, I wasn’t supposed to be who I wanted to be. A child should never feel that way. 

“You need to grow out of that phase!” But if it makes me unhappy, why would I do that? When I would play with my dolls, I could live the life I wanted. They became so much more to me once my Grandma passed – it was my only escape. 

The princess dresses and princess shoes stopped, so did my femininity. The only way I could do something was in my head fantasizing. Sometimes I would get access to wigs and dresses and shoes, but I’d have to sneak around to do it. I would go in the bathroom with my Mom’s makeup and sneak doing my makeup. 

My Dad would sometimes catch me and say I was a sissy or sometimes use the F slur towards me. The transphobia was real, but it was always said as “I'm protecting you.” 

I started getting depressed. Once my dolls were taken away and I felt shame for them afterwards my life got so boring. The best comparison I have for this is when Ariel’s Dad found her grotto and wrecked all of her treasures she’d spent years collecting. She begged and pleaded for her father to stop, as did I, but it didn’t stop. 

I wasn’t the same. I started to not like my makeup done or my hair done anymore. I didn’t know what was missing in my life at this point. I had fully come to accept who I was taught to be and forgot about who I truly was. 

I turned 15, and some feeling came back. It was the same as when I was a child. I knew it wasn’t right, was not who I was taught to act like but I couldn’t take it anymore. Like in old ways, I went again and snuck my Mom’s makeup for the first time in about four years. I was listening for people to be awake and didn’t hear anything. So I went to the bathroom and began my attempt at makeup. I heard footsteps coming, but I didn’t worry because I was under the impression that the door was locked. It was not. 

My Dad comes barging in and says the same offensive slurs as usual. I felt this extreme anger inside instead of shame. Usually I would try to hide what I was doing and have my face hidden looking the other way, but I stood my ground. I looked him in the eyes and I responded with “I don’t care, f*** you.” 

I finally felt this feeling that I missed it and I knew I wasn’t going to let it go. The next morning I bought $100 worth of makeup. I saw a video of James Charles doing his makeup and I thought why can’t I? The next day I went to school with my makeup on. I put on press-on nails and my hair was already growing out. 

Of course the makeup looked horrible and yes, people did judge me. I didn’t care anymore. I finally got the confidence to do it. Everything started to fit in one place. The puzzle was coming together. Before you knew it, I subtracted four letters in my name and was Fran.

Source: ShopBop
Source: ShopBop

Roaring Twenties
Femulating in the Roaring Twenties


  1. Lovely to see a contribution here from the younger generation.

  2. AnonymousMay 23, 2022

    Thanks again for that heartfelt contribution.

  3. Ah, the things people say when they're 'protecting' you. How about accepting and not judging instead? Thanks for sharing your history.

  4. AnonymousMay 24, 2022

    I think your father was trying to get you to give up dressing because he could see you were going to have serious problems with life in general plus transphobia
    He meant well
    My father would hit the ceiling at any suggestion of me wearing a dress to a fancy dress do

    1. AnonymousMay 24, 2022

      He did it to protect me from others yes, it took me til I was an adult to understand that. But, it doesn’t make up for the way he approached it.

    2. Francesca PankewiczMay 24, 2022

      Yes he did it out of my protection, it took me years to process that. The problem I have with it is how he went about it. I will be posting more articles to explain how I got there.

    3. AnonymousMay 24, 2022

      TO THE CONTRARY ..... by Velma
      Your father/family felt shame because of your feminine behavior, as well as what others would feel and put off on him.

      The list is practically endless.
      I got plenty of the same &#!+ from my own 'loving family'. For numerous 'transgressions' from the above list.
      This has nothing to so with REAL LEGITIMATE SHAME...
      YOU DID NOTHING SHAMEFUL, as I hope you know.
      Your father would have had LESS SHAME IF YOU HAD TURNED OUT TO BE A VIOLENT CRIMINAL-- at least THIS is an example of MACHO(?).
      Please do refer to John Bradshaw's book "Healing the Shame that BINDS YOU".
      Plenty copies on EBAY. Cheaper than therapy.

  5. AnonymousMay 24, 2022

    What a beautifully written piece. Part of me wants to defend your father because I think like others have said he wanted to protect you from the hurt he knew you would face. The problem was he handled it wrong because he didn't know how to deal with something he didn't know anything about.

    There is another part of me that is angry with both of your parents for not sitting down with you and asking you what are you feeling, what's going on, trying to understand you. Also for taking away the things you love. I stood my ground with my husband when he kept wanting to throw away my son'sblanket. I knew if we did that it would cause him unneeded stress and anxiety. So he had it all of his life inside his pillow even at college until he was ready to part with it. No one needed to know you had dolls, because like my son's blanket it was no one's business.

    Those dolls and dressing up was not only the part of you that needed to come out and show the world this is who I am. It was also your connection to your grandma and that was taking away and belittled which wasn't fair.

    I know on a personal level when my son came out it broke my heart when he told my husband & I that he was afraid to tell us because he thought we would be upset. We were shocked because we thought he knew he could come to us with anything.

    So, Fran I am so glad you had your grandma in your life to tell you to be yourself. Because it would be a sad world without your beauty.

    I can't wait to read the next installment.
    Remember Fran ( All the world is made of faith, love and pixie dust *)

  6. AnonymousMay 24, 2022

    You are an amazing beautiful woman. Thank you for taking the time to write this all out. This subject can be a difficult one who is curious of the who, what, where, when and why you wanted to make the transformation. I’m so glad you did, I love that you educate people that it is ok to be yourself and have confidence in the person you are in your soul. Thank you for always being you. Keep doing what you are doing, you will touch so many lives.

  7. ChristineMay 25, 2022

    You’re such a beautiful woman, both inside and out! Thank you for taking the time to do this.

  8. AnonymousMay 28, 2022

    Beautiful Francesca, you are who you are, as I am who I am. Be you! Be strong! Be a voice for others! Never, EVER be ashamed of who you are. Yes, there will be more hurdles and obstructions that look like roadblocks. With that being said, let me tell you one thing.......the only roadblock you have is YOU! Be proud, stand tall! We live one life. As long as you are good and respectful to others......that is all that matters..............................except the fact that you always need to be true to yourself, because if you are are only lying to yourself and EVERYONE around you! Love ya~

  9. The above is from Ms.HunterMay 28, 2022

    The above is from Ms. Hunter