Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Our Conundrum

By Paula Gaikowski

Conundrum: a problem or puzzle which is difficult or impossible to solve. 

Jan Morris
I cannot think of a better way to describe being transgender. And perhaps neither could the travel writer and historian Jan Morris, which is why she chose “conundrum” as the title to her autobiography chronicling her transition from James to Jan. 

What is most interesting about her transition is it occurred in 1972 when gender transition was still a rarity. While Renee Richards was making headlines, Jan Morris very quietly transitioned and continued writing and publishing highly acclaimed books. One of her best-known was the Pax Britannica Trilogy, a history of the British empire. I had heard about her transition back in 1972 and consumed anything I could find about her in newspapers and magazines. But I never got to read her autobiography.

Jump ahead to the 1990’s and I was working as a field engineer for Motorola in northern New Jersey. In between service calls, we needed to stay in our territory. Subsequently, I found local libraries a great place to do paperwork and read while waiting for the next service call. The Morris County library was a huge regional library that had many books on sexuality and topics like transgender, which was still very new. I would read anything I could find by transgender authors like Caroline Cossey, April Ashley, Paula Grossman, Lili Elbe, Coccinelle, Renee Richards, Christine Jorgensen and I finally came across Jan Morris’s book Conundrum.

I just want to add a bit of context here. I was reading and researching in a library (using the Internet was not an option then). When that happened, our world would open – we would be connected and able to share with each other as we do here in the Femulate community. However, in the 1990’s, we were isolated souls lost in the forest trying to find our way. 

It took me a few days to finish the book. I’d visit the library and grab the book and find my favorite chair off to the side and read for a while. Finally, as I neared the end of the book, I was feeling a bit melancholy and downhearted. As I turned the last page, in the back I noticed a folded piece of paper tucked away in the cover. A piece of lined notepad, ripped and heavily creased, I unfolded it with mild anticipation and there written in blue ink in a friendly cursive script were the words, Know, that you are not alone

My heart quickened, my mouth was opened in a gasp, I looked around fearful of what I’m not sure. Then I quickly came to the realization that I wasn’t the only one like this! Someone else cared. There were others like me right here, they came to this place and read the same books. Perhaps then, just maybe we could find our way out of the forest. Our conundrum.

Source: Joie
Wearing Joie

Ross Adams
Ross Adams femulating in British televisions Hollyoaks.


  1. In a word: wow. I know how that must have felt. First, reading books (academic stuff) in the university library, during my first year, trying to figure out what the hell I was (or what was wrong with me). And second, seeing cross-dressers on the Donahue show, watching them remain dignified in the face of audience reaction, and feeling that first blush of community and even pride. Intoxicating!
    Amanda Hawkins

    1. Yes Amanda there is a lot of water under the our bridge, I remember scanning the TV guide looking at all the talk shows for the week Sally Jesse, Donahue, Oprah, etc and looking for anything about transgender persons. --Paula G

  2. What a heart warming story, it's such an important moment when we realise we are not alone.

    1. Yes that note has echo in my mind til this day....

  3. A well written wonderful post! Thank you!

  4. A good to us all to offer a kind word, even when we don’t know if it will be heard. As I was doing the same thing, I would have been overjoyed to have read those words. Lisa P

  5. What a wonderful story! I can't imagine how tingly I would have felt reading that note back then at that time. Makes me wonder how many others read that note. How wonderful!

  6. Melissa RobertsFebruary 22, 2023

    ….wow. Enough said

  7. What a lovely story and how kind of the note writer. 💜

    An interview with Ross about his character in Hollyoaks:

  8. What a wonderful story - and yes, what a wonderful note. I read Jan Morris' book years ago and it still rings in my head.