I am fascinated by the subject of transgender men and women and their stories. Earlier this year I read Janet Mock’s new book, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. It was a wonderful book that I could not put it down. I am now reading another autobiography by a transgender woman, A Queer and Pleasant Danger: A Memoir by Kate Bornstein. This is a very different kind of book, but also quite enjoyable.
Transgender is certainly not a topic that I would say that I understand well, but one I would like to understand better. While, I never felt that I wanted to change my gender, I am more open today to the whole spectrum of the LGBTQ experience.
The whole question of sexual orientation and gender identity are topics that in some way I have been trying to understand since I was 14. It never occurred to me until, at age 14, I masturbated to the point of orgasm for the first time, that I was attracted to men. It was only the first masturbatory experience, looking at pictures of naked men and women in Screw Magazine, that I realized I was turned on by the men and not the woman.
That 14 year old awakening began a search to make sense of who I was and why I was the way I was. Clearly some of my early efforts at making sense of where I had landed led me in the wrong direction. It was the mid 1970s and homosexuality was just beginning to emerge from being labeled a mental illness. I endured years of unnecessary therapy with the express purpose of changing from homosexuality, followed by another few years ‘studying’ a ‘philosophy’ that said that through study of their philosophy, men could change from hosoxesuality. My sexual orientation didn’t change. Today I have fully accepted my sexual orientation, but still wonder why we are created the way we are.
I don’t know that I would have used these words as a child, but reading the writings of transgender women about how they always felt like a girl inside or transgender men who describe knowing inside they were a boy at a very young age is in some ways similar to the way I always knew that I was different.
I did not know that I was attracted to men before my awakening at the age of 14, but I always knew that I felt different from other boys. I felt like an outsider in boy culture. Looking back I had affectations and mannerisms that were more feminine and softer. I also had a complete lack of interest in sports, which does not endear you to your male peers.
So while I always felt different from the other boys, it was not as black and white as knowing I had a different sexual orientation or gender identity. Unfortunately the way I felt different had the effect of making me feel bad about myself. Always being an outsider in boy culture can make you feel terrible. I was never picked on much because I was always taller and bigger than the other guys, but I was always picked last for sports and generally ignored by the more sports minded of the boys in school. My few male friends in elementary school were, looking back, much like me, outsiders to the rest of boy culture.
For some unknown reason, in third grade my parents sent me to an all boys Episcopal school through six grade. When I think back to those years I remember the boys who seemed so masculine, so sure of themselves, and so full of athletic prowess. Then there was me. I was un-athletic, slightly overweight, a little bit effeminate, and did not fit in at all. I felt isolated, lonely, an outsider. There was no adult in the culture of the 1960s who could see my isolation or was able understand what I was going through.
To me, real boys were masculine, well liked by other boys and were good at sports, especially football. They screamed and yelled and made all kinds of guttural noises when football plays happened—something I have never quite understood. I think that feeling inside of not being good enough when measured up to real boys has been a constant feeling inside of me in since childhood and played a large underlying role in my life.
Even as a teenager, when I heard from adults that I was growing into a handsome man or later when I had successful early job experiences that gave me confidence, I never felt inside that I measured up to those athletic, self assured, rough and tumble boys of my youth. Even today when I meet a cocky, self assured, handsome, muscular guy I will find myself getting unsure of myself and my self worth lowering.
Embracing my sexual identity has been tremendously empowering. For the first time it feels like all of these things I felt as a child are coming into focus. All these things I saw as inadequacies in myself, hidden away, now seem to make sense. I feel, possibly for the first time in my adult life, okay with who I am. I know now that there is a whole spectrum of human experience and sexual expression that was invisible to me growing up. This may be why I find the transgender experience so fascinating.
I am grateful for the transformative nature of coming out. Because coming out really does sweep away so much of the old internal garbage, or at least brings it into focus so it can be dealt with. For me there have been different levels of coming out. I began to come out to my family and friends three and a half years ago, but it was only this past April that I started to come out at work.
Each step of coming out has been transformative and empowering in different ways. Today being fully out at work, which is very different from being out with family and friends, truly sends the message that the world accepts you, (or in some cases, does not). The old feelings of being different don’t seem to be very strong these days and I am less intimidated by men that once would have made me unsure of myself. It has been a surprising, empowering and fascinating journey and it is far from over.