Difference between revisions of "Writing/2004/Gender Articles"

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On the other hand, I've come to realize that there are certain subtle aspects of behavior I had adopted in order not to seem overly "feminine". I have been uncovering these as I can and endeavoring to strip them away so that what's left is what comes naturally. I don't know that anyone will notice, but it makes me feel better.
On the other hand, I've come to realize that there are certain subtle aspects of behavior I had adopted in order not to seem overly "feminine". I have been uncovering these as I can and endeavoring to strip them away so that what's left is what comes naturally. I don't know that anyone will notice, but it makes me feel better.
Shortly before the story broke on this whole thing, I had been testing the waters a bit to see how certain parental units might react to the idea that their supposed son wasn’t really a son, behaviorally speaking. Historically, parents have not taken this news well. Read, for example, one story [ insert transsexual.org link ]. I didn’t think it likely that I would receive quite that hot a reception, but it certainly was enough to cause misgivings.
Shortly before the story broke on this whole thing, I had been testing the waters a bit to see how certain parental units might react to the idea that their supposed son wasn’t really a son, behaviorally speaking. Historically, parents have not taken this news well. Read, for example, [http://transsexual.org/mystory.html one story]. I didn’t think it likely that I would receive quite that hot a reception, but it certainly was enough to cause misgivings.
As far as physical issues... I don’t know yet. But I do know I don’t want to make any major visible changes. And I would like to leave it at that for now.
As far as physical issues... I don’t know yet. But I do know I don’t want to make any major visible changes. And I would like to leave it at that for now.
==Why Do I Think This, and Why Now==
==Why Do I Think This, and Why Now==
This will probably make the most sense if I go into some history first, plus that will help me remember. I seem to have a terrible time remembering certain kinds of details -- such as things which taken individually only happened once but which together add up to a clear pattern. The pattern may seem obvious to me, but on the spot I might not be able to recall a single particular incident.
This will probably make the most sense if I go into some history first, plus that will help me remember. I seem to have a terrible time remembering certain kinds of details -- such as things which taken individually only happened once but which together add up to a clear pattern. The pattern may seem obvious to me, but on the spot I might not be able to recall a single particular incident.

Latest revision as of 00:33, 2 December 2019

(originally written as an OpenOffice document on 2004-01-05, and never published/sent)

Oops, Wrong Gender

After months of mulling over different approaches to this subject, it occurred to me suddenly one day that perhaps the best approach would be as a series of articles written as if for a newspaper column or magazine article. That way I could break it down into manageable chunks without necessarily having to follow any logical chain of thought from one chunk to the next. It would also let me approach this subject, which is admittedly rather icky in places, in a relaxed, more-or-less casual kind of way -- this hopefully being easier to swallow (for anxious relatives especially) than might an emotion-laden outpouring of tormented angst.

Furthermore, once all the chunks ("all"? I don't know that I'll ever have them "all", but presumably at some point a critical mass will be reached) have been written, there would be nothing to stop me from organizing them in some (more or less) logical fashion.

So that's what this is.

Whatever Happened to Faye Wray?

Just in case anyone was confused on this point, I did not wake up one morning with an overpowering urge to wear fishnet stockings and mascara.

In fact, I've never liked stockings (much less fishnet) or makeup (or fancy hair or perfume, for that matter) -- on anyone, much less myself. This has not changed. Nor do I suddenly want to have babies (or even the right to have babies) or to be called Loretta.

What has changed is that a lifetime of details and observations about my behavior, curious anomalies and painful longings and everything in between, suddenly fits into a pattern. The pattern was obvious before; at some not-quite-conscious level I simply wouldn’t let myself think the obvious conclusion because it seemed unthinkable (impossible) – just as it probably now seems unthinkable (or at least unbelievable) to some people reading this.

Before I figured out what was going on with me, I used to wish (fervently) that some unexpected piece of medical evidence would turn up to prove that I wasn’t really male. A genetic test would reveal that, although I appear physically male in just about every way, I actually had XX chromosomes... or at least something ambiguous, like XXY... (The conception of Anna pretty much put the nails in the coffin of that little hope, and was thus a bit of a trauma for me quite aside from the usual traumas of incipient parenthood.)

In the absence of any such evidence, all I have to argue with is basically in my head – as in “it's all in your head”. There’s nothing objective, no physical evidence of any kind, much less proof. Nobody has to believe me, because it’s so easy to dismiss a phenomenon when you can’t perceive it with your own senses.

Do You Really Want to Know This?

Part of the problem with this subject, of course, is that much of it delves into areas of human sexuality that most people would rather just avoid thinking about. (What’s ironic about this is that for me, this whole thing has very little to do with [the act of] sex – which is why I prefer to use the word “gender” when talking about it. In some ways, it’s specifically about not-sex... but maybe we’ll get to that part of it later.)

And really, as far as I can see, the only people who really need to know about the icky aspects of it would be me and possibly my emotional support staff. Due to certain details of how this phenomenon has affected me in particular, I don’t feel a need to go through any grand outward transformation. Those who prefer the current pronoun may continue using it. As much as possible, I want to avoid giving off any social signals that might “clash”.

That goal is second only to the main goal of making it possible for me to be able to feel at ease with myself. There’s some conflict between those goals, but I see no reason why the conflict can’t be kept to a comfortable level. I do ok pretending to be what I seem to be; I can manage to go on appearing to be what people are comfortable with, as long as I can somehow really be what I'm comfortable with. (I know that probably doesn’t seem to make much sense; the sense lies in areas I don’t think I want to go into at the moment, and may never need to.)

A certain relative asked to be notified beforehand if I decided to do "anything permanent". Feeling somewhat under pressure (the discussion was in public, for one thing), I reluctantly agreed.

Over the past decade or so and especially in the last few years and months, I’ve discovered that I have a disturbing tendency to give into demands if they are phrased strongly enough; to "go with the flow". My giving into that request was, I think, another example of this, and somewhat ill-considered.

So, if you really want to know: I intend to have my facial hair permanently removed at the earliest opportunity. I consider this information to satisfy the terms of and thereby terminate our agreement. If you really want to know anything else, don’t act like what you really want is for me to change my mind about what I really need in order to be happier than I am.

What I Really Need

How to explain what I need is not easy. I should probably start with the fact that soon after I figured out what was going on, I discovered that if I thought of myself as female (or at least as not-male) I could maintain a much more positive outlook on the world. All the time I thought of myself as male, I mainly wanted to pretend I didn’t exist; the best alternative I could manage was to avoid thinking about myself (especially my physical existence) as much as possible.

This explains, for example, why I always tended to hide behind my close friends (who were invariably female) whenever we were interacting with other people. They represented an appearance with which I was comfortable, a face I could present to the world with relative ease, whereas my own appearance made me cringe. I'm sure it played a large part in my near-suicidal depression in high school, though there were other factors involved there. It also explains other things such as why I hated being photographed and why I hated changing clothes or trying on new ones (because I had to re-evaluate how I looked, and all my evaluations of myself invariably involved the fact of appearing male).

So there is something you need to understand. Although this discovery has made things much more difficult in a lot of ways and of course hasn't magically solved everything, it  comes as a tremendous relief. Not freedom from hurt, exactly, but understanding of where the hurt was coming from. The knowledge that many of the worst possible explanations for the hurt's source are, in fact, not at all the case; I am not what I feared I might be, but something at least distantly related to what I secretly always wished I could be. Any actions I take as a result of this will only be because I am confident they will cause further relief, and absolutely certain (within reason) that they will cause no harm to my general well-being. In other words, if I decide to do anything “drastic”, it is only because I feel very bad and I want to feel better.

What's to Tell

To reiterate: I don't expect that this will lead to any significant outward changes. If there are any, I expect they will be gradual and subtle.

Let's take behavioral issues first.

My tendency to prefer females to males for close friendship is well known and established, as is my disdain for many things generally considered de rigeur for males in our culture.

On the other hand, I've come to realize that there are certain subtle aspects of behavior I had adopted in order not to seem overly "feminine". I have been uncovering these as I can and endeavoring to strip them away so that what's left is what comes naturally. I don't know that anyone will notice, but it makes me feel better.

Shortly before the story broke on this whole thing, I had been testing the waters a bit to see how certain parental units might react to the idea that their supposed son wasn’t really a son, behaviorally speaking. Historically, parents have not taken this news well. Read, for example, one story. I didn’t think it likely that I would receive quite that hot a reception, but it certainly was enough to cause misgivings.

As far as physical issues... I don’t know yet. But I do know I don’t want to make any major visible changes. And I would like to leave it at that for now.

Why Do I Think This, and Why Now

This will probably make the most sense if I go into some history first, plus that will help me remember. I seem to have a terrible time remembering certain kinds of details -- such as things which taken individually only happened once but which together add up to a clear pattern. The pattern may seem obvious to me, but on the spot I might not be able to recall a single particular incident.

It's a little like the difference between a phone bill and an electric bill; the phone bill could tell you exactly why house A spent twice as much on phone calls as house B, but an electric bill can only tell you that it happened. With a little work, you may be able to figure out that someone is regularly leaving the oven on overnight, or forgetting to turn off the air conditioning during the day -- but further research is needed; it’s not on the bill.

I'm the electric bill; I have to track these things down to figure out what's going on. It takes time and research.

In this case, it took about 35 years. Think of it as trying to figure out why the electric bill, gas bill and phone bill are so high, on a wet piece of paper, while unclogging the toilet and bailing water out of the basement. I knew something seemed very wrong with me, and yet there was nothing I could point to. I had no other life to compare with, so I could only assume that everyone's life was this way. I was repeatedly told that everyone’s life was this way, too, which made it easiest to believe that other people's answers to life somehow offered answers to my own issues (even though they usually seemed like the wrong answers).

It was only after a near-brush with suicide (1984) that it became plain other people's solutions and advice really weren't working for me. Up to that point I had accepted that it must simply be a matter of being more patient, trying harder, "applying myself" more fastidiously, doing more of the “right” things I had been told to do. I always had the feeling that this was incorrect, that I was receiving bad advice -- but the "good kid" in me was always willing to come back into the fold and try one more time.

It was only when I found myself ready to bail out (flip the off-switch, buy the farm, kick the bucket) because I was so intensely unhappy with life that I was able to believe I had to be right, and the “mommy/daddy knows best” training had to be wrong.

Many other misgendered people I've read about have come to a similar turning point in their lives; usually, it is the point at which they realize that gender is the core issue causing most of their problems. Unfortunately, I didn't.

Maybe it was because I was already quite aware that I didn't fit in to normal male patterns of behavior, and therefore missed the real answer because I thought I'd "explained" that part of the problem already. Most of the misgendered seem to go through a long phase of denial, completely repressing their true behavior and wishes; I never did that, at least not in most ways, not as thoroughly as most. (Since figuring this all out, I've become aware of a lot of more subtle ways in which I've forced my behavior to be more "normal" -- but that's another article.)

Maybe it's because my case is less extreme than some; most of the apparently-male misgendered seem to have had early fascination with doll-play, or girls' clothing, or some other dead giveaway. They seem to feel most clearly identified with the sort of girl who generally grows up to be a very normal woman -- happily wearing dresses and make-up, being interested in marrying a man and having children and generally fitting the typical feminine role as if it had been written for her. I rarely liked those sorts of girls (although I could tolerate them better than I could deal with most boys), and I certainly didn't identify with them.

It was the girls in the middle who fascinated me. For years I tried to figure out what was the pattern, what was the attraction. Did I want a girl to be strong, non-prissy, so that she wouldn't be afraid of me? Did I want a girl who was "different" so she would be an outsider, low in social rank and therefore accessible to me? Did I want a girl to be tall so that she could climb the same things I could climb and we'd see more "eye to eye"? And (especially as I got older) why did it seem to go beyond simple choice in companionship -- why was I so fascinated with them (those who fit the pattern)?

And of course the real answer was staring me in the face the whole time, but thinking it meant also thinking some things that just didn't fit into my understanding of the world yet: I “wanted”* a girl who thought like me and looked the way I imagined myself looking, somehow. The reason I wanted this was that my own appearance wasn't communicating the things that it should; at some unconscious, almost instinctual level I understood that the girls I was most drawn to were being seen in the way I thought I should be seen. (*I put quotes around this because it was always very difficult for me to define what the feeling was; “wanting” is just the obvious word, and conveys something of the flavor, but also probably gives you the wrong idea.)

And what way was that, exactly? That’s probably fodder for another article, if I can ever figure out how to explain it.

How To Be Seen

I've lamented at length about not being seen in the right way, so I suppose I’d better try to explain what that means and why it’s important.

Again, this gets into the "telephone vs. power meter" metaphor; my gut feelings on the matter are much stronger than the evidence I will probably be able to come up with. I will try to recall some key items.

Item: I get along better with female people, in general, better than with male people; however, people assume that because I look male I will get along better with male people. This leads to repeatedly being grouped with people of the gender with which I tend to feel much less comfortable. This sounds so minor and petty when I say it that way, but it’s not. It’s one thing to accidentally end up in the wrong homeroom at school one semester – say, with all the jocks and you’re a computer geek – but when it happens repeatedly, year after year in every aspect of your life (and nobody sees anything wrong with it, so you will always be grouped that way), it is a problem.

Item: I tend to be cooperative and verbal when interacting socially. Most men tend to be less verbal and there tends to be a certain sort of competitive undercurrent to all their dealings. (Not that there aren’t exceptions, but it is a very strong trend.) People dealing with me, especially if they don’t know me, tend to color my reactions with the preconception that I will be behaving the way a typical male behaves. The verbosity may be taken as sarcastic, possibly, or may just put them off balance; the lack of competitiveness is harder to see, and people (especially female people) tend to assume it’s there and use it to fill in the blanks.

Item: In the 70s at least, being another male who was interested in computers and electronics was of only passing unusualness. I never could get along very well with most male geeks, though, and I assumed that this was somehow reflective of my abilities in those areas. If I’d been interested in those things and been female, however – although I’m sure I would have gotten some negative peer feedback about it, but it would have worked out better for several reasons. First, I wouldn’t have expected to get along with male geeks, and so wouldn’t have shot myself down when I didn’t. Second, if I had happened to run into any female geeks, it would have been more likely that we could have struck up a working relationship. (I remember coming within sensor range of at least one and knowing that although for some reason I longed intensely to be friends, I just couldn’t figure out any way to make it happen – because I would just be one of the zillions of male geeks “competing” for her attention.) Third, even if there had been much the same animosity in grade school, the whole logic of “I’m not unusual enough to warrant this” would have been short-circuited because computer geek chicks were definitely unusual enough to meet just about any standard, at least in the 1970s.

Item: In a social context, girls and women tend to be seen, somehow, as... I don’t know... intrinsically valuable, at least by other girls/women. There’s this sort of appreciation most people seem to have towards girls/women – that they’re a sort of resource, as people, because they tend to be empathetic and non-competitive maybe (I don’t think it’s so much the womb-thing, though that may be part of it). Or maybe it’s that women know that other women like to feel appreciated in a certain way, whereas men like to be appreciated in different ways – and so they tend to give me the latter sort of appreciation, when what I really want is the former. It’s subtle and difficult to explain and I’d probably have to do a lot more observing of people’s interactions to come up with some examples...

Maybe this will get across some faint ghost of what I mean by some of this. The other day in the grocery store, there was a mom there with her kid, maybe 10 years old. The mom had gone off to get something in another aisle, and the kid was hanging around the cart and kind of looking at people. The kid was bundled up in headwear and a bulky sweater, so I wasn’t sure at first if it was a boy or a girl. I decided it had to be a boy, because usually girls (even androgynous ones) in this culture wear some kind of social-signaling device (e.g. earrings) to prevent exactly that sort of confusion, and I couldn’t see any such.

In some part of my mind, I remember thinking “ok, he’s probably a bit ticked off that he has to go grocery shopping with his mom, and he’s going to be impatient for her to get back to the cart so they can get out of here. If he looks directly at anyone, it’s a sort of social challenge – he’s thinking he’s better than they are, and daring them to prove otherwise.” This sounds a bit weird, written out like that, but it has been my observation of how most (not all, but most) boys would behave in that situation, if slightly exaggerated.

In any case, my overall reaction was avoidance. No sympathetic conversation here, even if we’d been the same age; just another male animal wanting to dominate its surroundings.

It was only a little bit later when I saw her talking calmly with her mom that I realized I had guessed wrong – and it was at that point that all those behavioral assessments in the previous paragraph suddenly became obvious when they suddenly became absent. She was watching people because people are interesting; girls do that. When she happened to look at me, it wasn’t a challenge; if anything, it was the faintest trace of an overture to some kind of friendly interaction. (Which, just to emphasize an earlier point, seems to happen much more frequently when I’m with Sandy. I can somehow project that I mean to be friendly when at least one of us is visibly female.)

The point is not how icky boys are; the point is that boys usually behave differently from how girls usually behave, and that people’s feelings about whether or not [and not just how] they want to interact with a person is based heavily on knowledge of those patterns of difference (and the reasonable assumption that those patterns are applicable to a person who is otherwise an unknown quantity).

I remember repeatedly being in situations where I would happen to come across one girl or another and think "she should be my friend" (because she looked unconventional or tomboyish in just the right sort of way, or she seemed slightly sad in a way that touched me, or she said something that seemed witty in a way I appreciated, or whatever). When I was below about 7 or 8, I could sometimes make a casual conversation happen – though many times the gender barrier at least would slow down and convolute the process. Above 9 or 10, forget it. (Except in very rare circumstances – which is only part of why Jenny was so precious to me.)

So basically, starting somewhere around age 9, I’ve been going through life being denied by my own kind. That’s what it feels like. (At the time, it also felt like there must be something wrong with me because I kept looking at girls who might or might not have been my age, and wanting to be their friends. It also felt like there must have been something wrong with me for thinking they were “my kind”. Every time this happened, I would wonder if I was secretly a rapist or something and I just hadn’t given into the urge yet. Because there was an urge, and even though it didn’t seem to be urging anything violent or harmful, it couldn’t be anything good could it?) That’s why I sometimes even now wonder why I bother breathing; I’ve found other ways to convince myself I’m worthwhile, but the self-image laid down during those formative years stays with you forever.

1965 And All That: Some Personal History

with an emphasis on Revealing Patterns of Behavior in the Early Woozle

Part One: Elementary School

One of the first things I remember about kindergarten was being knocked to the ground, almost as a form of ritual greeting-challenge, by a couple of boys.

Boys, I learned soon thereafter, like playing sports and knocking each other over. Later, I learned that they also like G.I. Joe and pretending to be cowboys and Indians. If you don't, you're a sissy or a girly or something. Young Woozle was a peaceful creature at heart and not prone to rough physical contact, much less fighting back when assaulted. Young Woozle was most definitely not into combat, real or pretend.

Girls, on the other hand, while often enamored of make-believe play involving boring stuff like babies and mommies and daddies, were at least relatively civilized in their approach. They used these things called “words” to communicate. Woozle could deal with this, especially when they would play other more fanciful games. Early on, I was quite convinced that girls were smarter than boys, and more fun to be with besides.

Thus were the early seeds of inadequacy planted – being supposedly a boy, I would undoubtedly (I remember thinking) have to be careful and attentive not to sink into the violent ways which were apparently my nature. Perhaps it was just a matter of time; I was fated to display those traits, probably already buried deep within my animal psyche (ok, I didn’t think it in those exact words, but very much the same idea – one thinks these things when one is raised by a Darwinian behaviorist), and no amount of wishing on my part would change that. And I would have to be on my toes if I were going to appear as smart as the girls, to keep up. At any moment, this seeming veneer of civilization might fall away, the rug would be yanked out, and my true nature would surface. After all, why should I be different?

Other people – grownups and children, especially if they didn’t know me -- would assume that I would want to play with boys, and would group me with such. Whenever there was a game where the girls played against the boys, I was forced to fight against the side towards which I felt more friendly, teaming with boys towards whom I often still felt fresh anger over some recent battle. Whenever girls and boys were lined up separately, I was in unsafe territory -- surrounded by violent pushers and beaters -- unwillingly allied with them, against my friends. (I think I’m still blotting out a lot of memories of this sort of thing.)

Yes, I did have a few friends who were boys; it was inevitable, given how much it was assumed that I would prefer them. Even so, I remember thinking that boys were kind of dry and dusty and uninteresting; there was something fundamentally unappealing about boy-ness. Girls, on the other hand, had something. Something which I, apparently, didn’t have – and therefore didn’t deserve, wasn’t worthy of, couldn’t aspire to, and had no right to participate in. More seeds of inadequacy were planted.

Side note: or, at any rate, certain girls; I think it's very telling that the type to which I've always been drawn is wiry or willowy but strong without being "butch" -- rather androgynous (but not too androgynous) in a quite particular way. I used to wonder if I was displacing latent homosexual feelings onto an "acceptable" target. I can't imagine "acceptability" would be much of an issue for me, though. I think what it means is that I specifically feel most closely identified with a particular somewhat tomboyish variety of femaleness.

The same pattern continued more or less unabated through grade school. Most of the friends I remember really liking were girls (Christine E. the tomboy, Amy T., Sylvia D., Selah W., Lucy W.), although of course I was exposed to boys much more often than to girls. This was true especially as I got older and inter-gender play became, apparently, less "appropriate". I remember spending many hours playing with boys and I’m sure it all seemed perfectly fine and happy to anyone looking on -- but I do remember feeling uncomfortable much of the time about certain attitudes most of them seemed to share. A vague feeling that something was wrong, probably with me, for not feeling comfortable and for feeling like I was missing a sense of companionship and mutual support that should have been there.

How much to skip over at this point... Am I writing to persuade, or simply to convey? I could talk about the intense teasing that went into full swing in fourth grade, but it’s so easy to dismiss that as mob psychology -- the studied conformity of prep school detecting an agent outside the acceptable limits; the student body trying to expel foreign matter. I was “different”, so teasing was inevitable; no need to invoke some exotic theory involving gender or neural wiring.

Different how? Well, clearly more intelligent, the argument goes. You were brighter than they were, and they couldn’t deal with it because they were reared in a culture of competition; they had to prove that they were better than you somehow.

Ok, so why was math whiz Adam Falk universally well-liked (5th - 8th grades at Durham Academy)? He was much better at math than I ever was, always at the top of the class in math and often one or two other subjects, and had a British accent besides. (And the full braces-and-headset nerd-trap arrangement, one year.) Well, he liked baseball; I guess that helped him to fit in. Maybe if I had just been into some popular sport, that would have been the key to acceptance.

But the extent of their disregard for me seemed so much deeper than that... I can’t believe that simply being enthusiastic about one or more sports would have been enough to bridge it.

We could go back and forth about it all night. There’s not really any point in my trying to prove anything; unfortunately, no scientific data is available for my childhood, much less the inner workings of my head. I’m just trying to explain why I think what I think – that Adam very naturally behaved like a boy, which was acceptable, and I simply couldn’t -- and, to show you how I arrived at the conclusions I finally arrived at many years later despite the fact that my nose was being rubbed in them repeatedly all the while.

Regardless of what you think might have caused it, this logic set up another spiral of self-doubt. If the only acceptable reason for their hatred of me was that I was more intelligent than they, what did it mean if it actually turned out that I wasn’t? Why, then, I must really be worthy of their contempt. And the evidence seemed clear that although I was more intelligent in certain ways, it wasn’t a show-stopper; my grades were okay, generally; not fabulous. So how could this supposed extra intelligence, faint as it was, be the cause of all this enmity? Either it was somehow radically different – in a way that was only slightly good at getting good grades – or else it couldn’t be enough to be the cause. So there had to be a different cause.

The only other cause I could think of -- that I must somehow have earned the abuse, that I must actually deserve it -- was constantly in the back of my head throughout the remainder of my academic career.

This line of thought has little or nothing to do with gender, except that do I think my not behaving "like a boy", plus some other behavioral oddities, combined to make me One Peculiar Fish in their eyes. “Something in my behavior seemed to provoke an amazing hostility in my classmates” appears to be a near-universal theme in the early histories of the misgendered (at least the physically-male ones). Had I understood any part of that at the time, I could have avoided a lot of grief.

Part Two: The Importance of Being Jenny

I remember noticing sometime during the middle school that my coterie of active female friends had dwindled to about zero and remained that way for some time, and feeling rather deprived and desolate because of it. At the same time, I thought mockingly of phrases like “not getting any” and figured I was just being like any other horny near-adolescent male sniffing around the girls. I was feeling pointless and abandoned, and punishing myself for it into the bargain.

So this hiatus only increases the impact when in high school I ran into Jenny and suddenly felt -- it's kind of difficult to describe, but words like "safe", "comfortable", and "at home" come to mind -- with someone, for the first time in a very long time and more so than I had ever felt before.

The significance of Jenny cannot be overstated, but I will try to stick to the parts pertaining to the gender issues. It makes so much more sense now; at the time, I simply pulled out the horny-male theory, dusted it off, patched it up a bit, and held it up to explain my intense feelings -- and flogged myself with it whenever I seemed to be having a hard time or behaving badly towards her.

I adored her, utterly and completely. She was "more like me than I am" – that was something I often found myself thinking, then quickly suppressed the thought because Cindy (a mutual friend) would have been contemptuous of such feelings. That would be “hero-worship”, and not worthy of me. (Hell, at least I was apparently worthy of something for a change; I was not inclined to challenge Cindy’s judgement on matters of interpersonal relationship.)

We were great friends for maybe four or five trimesters -- joking and casual at first, then emotionally supportive and intensely close. She had issues nobody would take seriously (and which she was afraid to bring up around her parents for fear of losing her "good girl" status or possibly being committed for psychiatric treatment, as her older sister had been). I had issues I had never thought to examine consciously before because I had never even gotten near to discussing them with anyone.

The uncovering of these hidden demons was at first enormously liberating. As time went by and the pain they were causing still wasn't going away, I became insatiable -- I wanted more discussion, more closeness, more companionship. I became clingy. I was still haunted by feelings of hopeless inadequacy and abandonment, and I saw her as the only possible source of rescue; nothing else had come close to being able to affect those old, buried psychological catch-22s. We had unearthed them, turned them over, started trying to untangle the knots -- but there were so many, for both of us. The knots themselves were interfering with our ability to communicate, aside from being what we were trying to communicate about.

I saw her as the key to fixing my inner torment, if you will. When the hurt didn't go away (and was amplified, in a way, because I wasn’t repressing it anymore), I would lash out in various ways – demanding more time, unsympathetic when she needed time alone, attacking her philosophy when it didn’t agree with mine, attacking her choice of clothing when it threatened my sense of identity.

Remember, she was like a truer representation of myself than I ever could be; I was, I think, using her as a substitute identity for the parts of me that I found repulsive (mainly the fact that I couldn’t escape having to play a male role, socially). At the time, of course, I was dismissing that thought (“more me than me”) as sick and obsessive, and the idea that there was something so wrong with me that I would feel that way only heightened the sense of inadequacy – and the need for more Jenny-therapy. But it makes sense – because what the thought really meant, had I but the wit to have examined it instead of rejecting it, was that her appearance was, somehow, a far better representation of my “inner self” than the actual physical form I seemed to be stuck with.

during the Jenny era, a family visited our school from New Zealand. Two girls, both about my age (maybe a year apart?) and a younger brother. The younger girl, Charlotte, was quite androgynous -- short hair, dressed without the usual "feminine cues" that (in the U.S.) even tomboys usually adopt -- to the point that at first I thought she was a boy -- just an unusually nice one. (Ironically, Jenny introduced us.

When I realized the truth, some part of me inside had this ultra-intense reaction which I find very difficult to describe. Call it the "stealth girl" reaction; it has occurred many times since then -- usually regarding fictional girls: the girl on the boys' soccer team in "My Life as a Dog" and the eponymous lead character of "Mulan" come to mind the most readily.

Much as with Jenny, the only feeling I could extract (at the time) from the chaos of these overwhelming reactions was that the secret to quenching my inner hurt was to somehow become close with someone like that, to have her in my life every moment of the day. I think now that this was so that I wouldn't have to face the feeling of wrongness in my own existence. I didn't quite know what I'd do with her when she was there (vague pictures of Going Everywhere Together, and Being Happy As A Result), but on bad days I would figure it probably had something to do with the Horny Male Theory and I would therefore berate myself accordingly.

So what happened next, basically, was she got tired of my clinginess and demandingness and terminated the intensity aspect of our relationship. (The way she phrased it was, “Let's not be friends any more.”)

I thought my life was over. I spent months picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild some kind of motivation for myself -- it had been failing when I met her, and it was only the sense of self-assurance I got from being with her which kept it propped up during the time we were friends.

I certainly couldn't deal with seeing her at school and yet not being close, not having any hope of accessing whatever it was I craved from her, so I escaped by going to college, where of course I did terribly: I was hideously depressed, but had been taught to ignore such things. “If you're feeling depressed (‘a little down’), you work harder or join a club or something” was what I had been led to believe. I went into counseling because I was having a hard time concentrating on my schoolwork -- and it never even occurred to me to talk about Jenny, although she was hardly ever off my mind.

I think this is the same kind of thing as being totally aware that I had some kind of gender problem and yet not being able to state what it was. It was staring me in the face -- I was hideously depressed because someone who (almost literally) meant the world to me couldn't deal with me anymore, and that was making it difficult for me to be motivated about anything.

I dreamed about her, drew pictures of her, wrote long letters which I didn't allow myself to send because it would be more of the same intensity she couldn't deal with, a violation of the separation to which I had agreed out of respect for whatever might be salvaged of the friendship I still held sacred. But I didn’t even mention her to the counsellor.

And then, after a year and a half of my on-again-off-again but always unsuccessful attempts at college, she disappeared.

Then a year later they found what was left of her and at last, having lost her for the third and final time, I knew that my life was over.

Which, of course, was when I had that little talk with myself and decided certain things had to change. It wasn't a cure, but it was a band-aid which allowed me to continue.

And Now

Some days, the situation seems hopeless.

I'll never get to be just one of the girls in preschool; I’ll never get back the natural companionship of girls my age through grade school, going home to each others’ houses and working together on homework; the sleepovers, the long talks of adolescence weighed down only by the usual issues of those years. Those experiences should have laid the foundation for a confident adulthood in which I could possibly have done well at college and then been able to find a career in which I could feel reasonably happy and content – and in which I could, as a matter of course, enjoy the casual friendship of female co-workers and acquaintances.

What I have is memories of never really belonging in preschool, being shunned by everyone in grade school, a best friend in high school who couldn’t tolerate me and is now dead. College was a disaster and although I have marketable skills I find it increasingly difficult to work a regular job (much less interview for one) because the social interaction is too painful. At least one person I know wonders how I could possibly have survived any part of that, much less the sum.

I suppose I’m rather bitter about it; does it sound bitter to say it was my fault for taking other people’s advice too seriously? Perhaps if I say it was my fault for not believing my own gut feelings, then that is fair.

Furthermore, the way things are now, I can’t even physically become the person I wish I looked like. I can perhaps make small moves in that direction – but only at great cost, in awkwardness of appearance and having to fight on several fronts for my right to do it, among other things. (Not to mention the money, which is looking especially scarce right now.)

On the other hand, I think the future offers a lot of possibilities, a lot of ways for hope to get in the door. (It was much this sort of thinking that tipped the balance against suicide in 1984: let’s see what happens. If it gets too horrible, you can always take the permanent option later.)

I'm also in a somewhat unique position as an observer of the human condition (or some small part of it, anyway) at the moment. Even among the misgendered, I seem to be far from typical. I feel an enormous urge to write, draw, and otherwise try to communicate the feelings on these issues that sometimes seem to want to rip me apart. Perhaps I have an obligation to follow those creative urges as far as they will lead me, for as long as they’re around; perhaps I have an obligation to postpone doing anything much about them so as to maximize this creative output.

On the other other hand, I think I would still have plenty to offer as a creative force without needing those feelings to draw on for inspiration. Furthermore, those same feelings are probably hindering my ability to be productive, and my output would probably have a much wider audience if my perspective were just a little less unique. (And there’s something to be said for just being a bit happier.)

Boys Will Be Boys

Zander and Benjamin run in and out of the room brandishing imaginary laser pistols and light sabers. They stumble across the bed, “pow”ing and pounding into each other and other obstacles as if practicing for incipient careers in pro-wrestling or rugby. Zander catches sight of some of my stuff sitting on the bedside table – and fires at it, sending me abruptly into a sort of flashback.

It was exactly that sort of behavior that caused me endless grief in preschool. I had my intricate little electronic or Lego things set up somewhere, arranged carefully and purposefully, with the hopes that other kids would investigate and perhaps admire them.

In would charge some brainless boy, obviously in a different universe. The classroom was a battlefield. The tables were perhaps walls of a foxhole, chairs were enemy soldiers, anything generally long and narrow became a firearm, and anyone else’s possessions unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time became enemy emplacements to be wiped out.

That was the flashback; I’ve carefully arranged some clever piece of electronic or mechanical engineering on a table, and some boy comes in and knocks it down on the floor, loudly. I always found that rather upsetting. Not only wasn’t it clever; it was somehow bad, something to be destroyed. My efforts were worthless and therefore I was worthless (at least, as far as that boy – and the others who behaved the same way on other occasions – was concerned).

Sometimes, though, I can see how this casual mayhem is every bit as innocent and well-intentioned as the stereotype of the little girl singing “tra-la-la” while collecting flowers. Boys seem to relate to their world in terms of conquering and controlling; girls generally relate to their world in a different way which I would guess has more to do with collecting and arranging beautiful things. (“And pleasing others”, I almost added – though I think boys perhaps seek to please others too, by showing how well they can master their environment through their strength and ability to manipulate imaginary weapons. Unlike girls, however, they seem oblivious to the fact that Nobody Cares how many imaginary robots they can kill.)

“I hate boys”, I said to myself as they charged back out of the room. Meaning no real harm to them, of course.