When I was a Boy

I hadn’t listened to Dar Williams in a while but today this song came up. I found I had a much deeper perspective on it than I did when I first heard it years ago. Seems like it needs to make the rounds to a lot of kids these days.

I wont forget when Peter Pan
Came to my house, took my hand
I said, “I was a boy”
Im glad he didnt check

I learned to fly, I learned to fight
I lived a whole life in one night
We saved each others lives
Out on the pirates deck

And I remember that night
When Im leaving a late night with some friends
And I hear somebody tell me
Its not safe, someone should help me

I need to find a nice man to walk me home
When I was a boy
I scared the pants off of my mom
Climbed what I could climb upon

And I dont know how I survived
I guess I knew the tricks that all boys knew
And you can walk me home
But I was a boy, too

I was a kid that you would like
Just a small boy on her bike
Riding topless, yeah
I never cared who saw

My neighbor come outside
To say, “Get your shirt, ”
I said “No way, it’s the last time
I’m not breaking any law”

And now I’m in this clothing store
And the signs say less is more
More that’s tight means more to see
More for them, not more for me
That can’t help me climb a tree in ten seconds flat

When I was a boy, see that picture? That was me
Grass-stained shirt and dusty knees
And I know things have gotta change
They got pills to sell, they’ve got implants to put in

They’ve got implants to remove
But I am not forgetting
That I was a boy too

And like the woods where I would creep
It’s a secret I can keep
Except when I’m tired
‘Cept when I’m being caught off guard

And I’ve had a lonesome awful day
The conversation finds its way
To catching fire-flies
Out in the backyard

And I so tell the man I’m with
About the other life I lived
And I say now you’re top gun
I have lost and you have won
And he says, “Oh no, no, can’t you see

When I was a girl, my mom
And I we always talked
And I picked flowers
Everywhere that I walked

And I could always cry
Now even when I’m alone I seldom do
And I have lost some kindness
But I was a girl too
And you were just like me
And I was just like you

If You Think You Are

“If you think you’re trans, you probably are.”

“Can you imagine waking up as the opposite sex and being okay with it? If so, you’re probably trans.”

Today is the six-month anniversary of the day I woke up and said to myself there has to be another way. There has to be another way to handle this “gender dysphoria” thing; there has to be another way to approach and unwind the confusion and discomfort I’ve struggled with since my childhood. It took me a while to find that way, to sort through a lot of outside perspectives and a lot of personal pain, but it did eventually all unravel. Last night while I was putting on my pajamas and catching glimpses of myself in the mirror I thought, “I would never want to be anything but a woman. There is nothing anyone could do or say to me that would make me want to change into a man.”

I was struck by that thought at that moment – you know when you think something that surprises you?  It made me pause, because a little more than six months ago I believed wholeheartedly in those two statements at the top of the page. I wanted to wake up in the morning and be a man, because I had thought about being trans so I probably was.

It’s amazing how our thoughts and beliefs can change once we step back and look at them objectively.

My last post here brought up some interesting commentary about childhood escapism, fixations and fantasy worlds that helped us cope with growing up a little different in such a homogenized world. It made me, to use an old and perhaps oddly related turn of phrase, “lie back and think of England.”  I’ve been in love with England since I was eleven-years-old and read James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. I’m not sure exactly what it was, some passing similarity to the things I loved most about my own home – the green fields, the Sunday dinners – with less of the things that rubbed me the wrong way, like American gun culture, pressures to be a girly-girl and “date boys” (I put it in quotes because of the way my Midwestern mother always says it, that draws to mind images of 1950’s boys buying milkshakes for girls in poodle skirts in chrome diners.)  I watched British sitcoms about intelligent and funny old people and built models of spitfires to the Two Fat Ladies on their motorcycle with their pounds of butter; I was frightened by the daleks AND Tom Baker’s Doctor on PBS, intrigued and amused by The Hitchhiker’s Guide and spent a few months asking my friends to call me Zaphod. Later on I read books about Nelson and wrote about the Royal Navy and painted pictures of sheep on hillsides of the Yorkshire Dales. Several years ago I made 300-some tea sandwiches for an afternoon tea for my mother’s church, because I insisted they be authentic and not bastardized American versions. I perfected the scone and the plum pudding even though it was hard to find the right ingredients. And then I actually went over there for three weeks, stayed with a friend and tasted real cask ales in a real pub (and back bacon and sausages, mmm) and never, never, never wanted to go home.

I really can’t tell how much I love it without going on for another few paragraphs. I know it’s not some perfect utopia – I’ve seen poor parts and ugly parts and have read UK news and politics – but there’s something about it all that has been so precious to me for so long that makes England such a dear, beloved part of my life. In my perfect vision of the future, I end up in a nice little cottage in a nice little village where I can go have a pint every day and buy phenomenal cheeses at Sainsbury’s, and there’s a great place for curry that delivers nearby.  But that’s an escapist fantasy, isn’t it?

I asked myself last night what I would have done if, at a low point in my life – like last year, when I was out of work and directionless, embarrassed about leaving the only really lucrative job I’d ever had, battling with terrible depression about that, lonely for my friends who had moved on to other pastimes, socially isolated, anxious about my health and everything else – someone had come to me and said, “You could be English, you know, if you wanted to be. You could just BE that, if you love it so much. If you could just wake up tomorrow and live that life, wouldn’t you? After all, you sure do think about it a lot.”

It seems like a ridiculous comparison, but in all honestly, the angst I felt when I came home from those three weeks in England to my middle-class American life was not unlike the angst I felt when the trans narrative promised me I could live comfortably if I just identified as trans. Sure, it would take hormones and name changes and surgery and all this other stuff, but I’d be happy, right? After all, I could imagine it. I thought about it a lot. It lined up with so many things that were already a part of me –

And if I had five million dollars I’d pick up and restart my life in England. Bacon and sausages, here I come.

But both of those things are pure fantasy, pure escapism. One of the most painful things I experienced after July 20th was sitting down and admitting to myself that I’m a lesbian and I’m going to have to live with that. I’m going to have to deal with people not liking me because of it. I’m going to have to deal with there always being this chasm between myself and my straight friends. I’m going to have to deal with homophobia, internal and external. I’m going to have to deal with being one of those gay people myself.

I’m going to have to deal with my real life. Accept it and deal with it, everything about it, from my lack of work and financial success to my living arrangement with my mother to my sexuality to my gender non-conformity and the way I can’t always trust my mental state. I’m going to have to look at this and accept this for what it is because there ain’t no quaint English cottage in this American girl’s future.

(Well, let’s not write that off just yet -)

The funny thing is, eight years ago when I finally came to terms with being a lesbian, when I finally climbed out of the denial built on years of a conservative upbringing where it wasn’t an option, I didn’t ask any questions. I didn’t go online and google “Am I a lesbian?” and nobody offered “If you think you’re a lesbian, you probably are.”  Nobody asked if I would be happy if I woke up a lesbian tomorrow.  I watched Helen Mirren kiss Kyra Sedgewick in a clip from the movie Losing Chase (just a clip mind you!) and said to myself, “Oh my god, yes.”  I’d been thinking about it, roleplaying a more definitively female character than any I’d ever had, and gosh, she wanted to kiss that other female character just like that. Just like that. There were no questions or doubts. It was crushing and terrifying, yes, but also expansive and wonderful.

I remember years later going to sleep at night after roleplaying or writing or just watching a certain movie or tv show and thinking, man, no matter what happens, nobody can ever take this away from me. Nobody can ever stop me from loving women and I will love women until the day I die because it is just that true and pure. It was just an essential fact of my life, no fantasy, nothing to escape to, nothing else to try to be.

And I felt that last night, for the first time, really, about being a woman myself. As corny as it sounds, I felt proud to be female. I felt rich and powerful in my own skin, with nothing but pajamas on, on a cold night with no partner to go to bed to and no money coming in and no trips to England planned. It just was some clear, essential fact I’d finally come to terms with. Maybe I got “sir’ed” at the grocery store the same day, maybe I had a slight panic attack because an old man insisted on kissing my cheek, but at the end of the day, I was all right. I was all right, at last, with this body, this life, this existence as a female human being. I could finally deal with this.

Six months, or six months and thirty-eight years later. Finally. I just had to write about it today.

 

No More Broccoli

It’s strange to be a woman who doesn’t want to look pretty. It’s strange to be a woman who doesn’t own a skirt or a dress or a pair of women’s shoes. It’s strange to be a woman who doesn’t wear makeup. It’s strange to be a woman who doesn’t care for the company of men. It’s strange, at times – very strange.

I say these things knowing that many women who read them here might very well say, “That’s not strange! I’m just like that, too!”  And thank heavens for that, thank heavens I’ve finally found some kindred souls. But I say it’s strange relative to the women I see every day out in the world, on TV, in the media. Every time I leave the house I keep my eyes open for any woman like me, but seldom find them. I grew up without any female role models I could identify with. I grew up thinking I was strange and alone.

Not that I didn’t try to find role models, especially when I would run into a woman I found attractive and appealing in some way. We could even call it the League of Their Own Narrative. I was in high school when A League of Their Own hit the theaters and liked it so much I had the soundtrack on cassette (with James Taylor’s lovely It’s Only A Paper Moon) and the movie on VHS. We all remember Geena Davis in that movie, right? Before she got into archery and telling Hollywood to put more women in films. This wonderful woman:

a-league-of-their-own-geena-davis-13994961-853-480

I admit, I swooned. And not only swooned, I saw a woman I could relate to. Like her, I was a little taller, a little broader, than the girls around me. I too had big features (though I rounded out the set with a big nose, too) and was very good at throwing and catching baseballs. That movie – bless it – was designed to provide heroes for girls, and I so badly wanted that hero –

And then Bob came home from the war.

For those unfamiliar, Bob is the incredibly nice husband to Geena Davis’s Dottie, and she gives up her incredibly promising baseball career to go home with him. Nothing can change it or alter the storyline. Bob comes home and at that moment my heart would sink and I’d lose interest in the rest of the movie (except, of course, the part where the little sister yells at her for it. Good on you, little sister. I’m right with you there.)  She wasn’t my hero after all. She wasn’t really like me.

At some point I simply stopped trying to find women like me and gave in to the prevalence of men. After all, there were men who were “not like other men”, who were sensitive and creative and interesting, who seemed to exist outside of the usual roles. Those men became my role models, and I loved them dearly, always working very hard internally to keep them separated from mainstream male roles. So dedicated was I to keeping them separate that when I would find one of them was married to a woman – and, mind you, they were all celebrities or fictional characters, of course – I would be crestfallen. He wasn’t, after all, something different, something like me. He was just another man married to just another woman just like everyone else. Once again I was left with no one to relate to, no person anything like me anywhere. Just always men, either overshadowing the lives of the women I loved or simply existing instead of any alternative.

It was like finding a pile of broccoli on your dinner plate every day when broccoli turns your stomach and makes you gag.

But I ate my broccoli, because it was all I had. And I felt I had to. I ate so much broccoli I thought I might just become broccoli myself. There was just so much broccoli everywhere I turned, always shoved in my face, always at the end of every pursuit of something else. I look at it now and it feels somewhat like being an atheist in a room full of Christians. Everyone else is seeing something, believing in something, touched and comforted by something I just don’t comprehend. In my experience, going to church as an atheist is boring at best and alienating at worst. Heterosexuality and the overwhelming, pervasive influence of men is, as lesbian, boring at best and alienating at worst.

But what else is there?

It took me until almost sacrificing myself to realize that if I have to live on crumbs I find under the table then I will go under the table and find those crumbs. In fact, if I can get enough of them to strengthen myself, I will go in the kitchen and start cooking with the ingredients I can find. Because no one else is going to provide strong female role models if we don’t provide them ourselves. No one is going to write authentic lesbians if we don’t write them ourselves. No one is going to embrace and support and nurture us so that we don’t feel so strange if we don’t do it ourselves.

During my teenage years, I spent a lot of time writing about a “strange farm girl no man could ever love” and the man – not like other men, of course – who proves her wrong. With a new perspective I revisited this story, this tome of wishful thinking, and I snapped my fingers: why not do what Geena Davis recommends, and make that male role a female role? If I did so, if I wrote the story of two women learning they are worthy of each other’s love, it would become the story I had so needed to read when I was fifteen years old and feeling so helpless and alone. I started rewriting the story (which, coincidentally or not, now made so much more sense) with Nanowrimo in November. I’m about halfway through now and nothing has been more healing. It’s like finally having good food and pure water and a warm bed to sleep in. It is a joy every time I sit down with it. If I try to express in words how inspiring and beautiful it has been I will take far too much of your time.

In my last post I wrote about wanting to center women in my artwork as well, and over the past weeks began to put that resolution into practical application. Could I practice figure drawing, for example, with no male models? Could I only draw and paint women – not as a creative pursuit but in everyday practice? It took some doing to find references of female nudes that weren’t affected by the male gaze, that weren’t pornographic in some way, all breasts and bottoms and arched backs and slightly-parted lips. I don’t want women who have been turned into men’s playthings. I don’t want men in any way involved.

Because now when I draw a woman I’m drawing a person I would love to love. I am drawing her in all her physical presence and all her expressed personality – and without makeup, without high heels, without men. I am drawing the women I needed to see when I was young. My art has never been better and I’ve never enjoyed it more or intensely cared about it more. I keep asking myself, can I get away with this?  Can I state as an artist that I focus my creative energy on female subjects alone? Will there be backlash?  Will there be criticism? Will there be someone telling me to eat my broccoli?

In the back of my mind, I still feel guilty about that broccoli. I still feel I’m doing something wrong, that I’m disrespecting all the good men out there, that I’m being selfish and indulgent, that maybe – oh, perhaps maybe – I feel they will always condemn me for succumbing to this “twisted perversion” called homosexuality. But if we don’t get selfish and indulgent and give ourselves what we need for the sake of who we are, who will?

I’ve spent most of my life feeling entirely alone, sitting in a corner sadly poking at the broccoli on my plate. And that diet of broccoli lead me down a path I never want to revisit again. Can a person be blamed for saying “No more”? No more broccoli, please. I have something else that nourishes me so much more.

This past week I saw a post on tumblr of Captain Phasma from The Force Awakens, claiming she is “genderfluid.” As if there is some part of her that might not be a woman, some broccoli wedged under her stormtrooper helmet, apparently because her armor has no giant breasts. Step off. Just step off. We will take back every crumb that is our own.

captainphasma

And in the meantime, I’ve got a few things cooking.

 

And then I woke up: Guest post

Second part of my guest post for 4thwavenow, dealing with the real meat of deciding not to transition and finding my true self. I cannot express how wonderful it has been to finally find real common ground with others through this experience, from a very open, vulnerable space. So often we want to hide away what hurts most, but there is a lot of truth in how our struggles bind us together.

4thWaveNow

This is a Part II (Part I is here) of a guest post by thissoftspace, a woman in her late 30s who experienced gender dysphoria, began transition to FTM, but pulled back and now writes her own Tumblr and WordPress blogs celebrating her return to herself as female. As in Part I, her mother’s thoughts are also included in this piece. thissoftspace is available to respond personally to questions and discussion in the comments section below.

 As I read this second part,  I was struck by the extent to which her insight and overall mental maturity helped thissoftspace to desist from a trans identity:

 I am so grateful I have had the life experience with my mental highs and lows that I was able to recognize the patterns as soon as I did.

How much more difficult must it be for younger people to change their minds?…

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To crush every doubt: Just pronouns and a name

This is my guest post for 4thwavenow’s blog; I thought the best way to store it here would be to hit this fancy reblog button. I’m grateful for her invitation to write a guest post, to share a story of approaching transition and turning away from that option on her platform, which reaches so many families and individuals dealing with these struggles. My mother’s words and experiences are intertwined with my own, because this is never a journey we take entirely alone. I have to say here that the other people in my life – my mother, my close friends, old family friends, even my less-accepting family members and those old classmate’s names on Facebook, all played an important role in influencing my decisions and my thought process about all of this. Because in the end, it is so much about how other people see us and how we see ourselves through their eyes.

4thWaveNow

This is a guest post by commenter thissoftspace, a woman who experienced gender dysphoria, began transition to FTM, but pulled back to embrace herself as female.

This account is a bit different from the previous two in my ongoing series of guest posts from women who’ve experienced dysphoria or dis-identification from female. Woven into the narrative are vignettes from thissofstspace‘s mother, who shares her own thoughts and feelings about her daughter’s journey.

Parents and their offspring who decide to “transition” are sometimes ripped away from each other in the process–whether the transitioner is a child or an adult with the right to make her own medical decisions. Some online trans activists even encourage young, questioning people to forsake their “transphobic” families and seek community only with strangers on Internet forums. This account from thissoftspace and her mother is a testament to the bond that endures between us parents…

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