First of all, let’s get one thing straight. I am a woman. I was born with a penis, my body followed the typical development for male bodies, and more than likely, I have XY chromosomes (I’ve never been tested). But I am a woman, and I always have been. You see, all those things which I listed are markers for being male, which I freely admit – I was born with a male body. But inside of me, inside my brain, inside my heart, I am and always have been a woman.
When I was in elementary school and the teachers had us line up in lines for boys and girls, I knew I belonged with the girls. But I knew if I joined that line, the teacher would make me go to the boys line, and I would have an entire class laughing at me for my “mistake”.
When I went to church, I saw the girls in their pretty dresses and I was jealous — so jealous — that they got to wear such pretty things, and I was stuck wearing boring and constricting boy clothes.
I was picked on almost incessantly in elementary school for being different. I had rationalized that it had to do with my academic achievement, but now I’m not so sure. Now, I wonder if those kids picked up on something I was unable to verbalize (or even consciously admit to myself). And when I search for the happy times in those primary years, the ones which stand out are the ones when I was with other girls – only girls – and my being perceived as a boy wasn’t important to any of us. I spent time in the school library as part of a “bookworms” club (we were advanced readers, and instead of making us sit in the regular classroom for reading lessons, they allowed us to work and read independently – probably one of the best things the teachers could have done for us!). And it was me and four other girls, united in our love of reading. I was happy!
I was a girl in a boy’s body. A confused girl. A misunderstood girl. An invisible girl.
I was a girl who didn’t even know she was a girl. But I was still a girl.
Puberty didn’t help matters much. Puberty is hard for everyone, but imagine a puberty where to your neverending horror, your body is turning into something monstrous, something alien, something distorted and unrecognizable. Imagine a puberty where your body feels increasingly wrong, increasingly further from where you instinctively know it is supposed to be going. My response was to lose myself more. I read more books – fantasy, sci-fi, horror – all of them felt more familiar and real to me than my own body. When I couldn’t read, I tuned out – creating fantasy worlds in my head where I could be the girl I felt myself to be, even if I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I was a girl inside. And I punished my body – eating everything I could whether I was hungry, and sometimes even when I didn’t particularly care for the food I was eating. I could put away a whole pizza by myself and still have room for 5 scoops of ice cream. My metabolism (with the body of a teenage boy) was able to keep up with my eating, so I didn’t get obese. I wrestle with food to this day, especially now that my metabolism has slowed and I can easily be 80 pounds over my ideal weight.
In short, to an extent, I separated from my body. I dissociated. Not enough to become a psychological disorder, but I was definitely not very well connected to my body.
And I still couldn’t consciously process that I was a girl, now a woman, inside.
I am information-driven. I am evidence-based. And I had no evidence that I was a woman. My body was obviously male. Every person I’d ever known had reinforced the idea that I was a boy/man, whether they intended to. The only examples I could find of people who might be having similar experiences were on shows like Jerry Springer, where they were shouted at, sneered at, had things thrown at them, were told they were mentally ill, and treated like the worst scum on the planet; I couldn’t be like that!
I scoured the library for information on what I was feeling, and all I found were psychological texts and medical journals, all of which pathologized the transsexual experience. I found texts which called it a fetish, a perversion, a mental illness. I was scared to death! I couldn’t be like that!
Then the beginnings of the Internet emerged, and I again scoured it for anything I could find. Now I found stories and articles about people who had feelings like mine, but they were sexualized, made to be titillating and exotic. These people were treated like objects, devoid of humanity. And worse, there was an emerging hypothesis about “men who were sexually aroused by the thought of themselves as woman”, which made it clear that these were faulty and spurious thoughts and feelings – the products of perverted and unhealthy minds. I couldn’t be like that!
But I was like that. Not an object, not mentally ill, not a pervert, but I was experiencing many of the same things that the people in those texts, journals, TV shows, and Internet stories were. I was experiencing the fundamental misalignment between the gender I had been told I was and taught to portray, and the gender I actually was inside. I was experiencing Gender Incongruity. I was experiencing Gender Dysphoria. And I had learned from all of my experiences that to be that way was shameful and wrong, that I must not allow myself to be like that!
It took me 40-something years to finally acknowledge and embrace my truth. It took me that long to reach a point where the cost and consequences of facing my truth felt smaller than the cost and consequences of not. And now I have 40-something years worth of memories and lessons to revisit and reprocess, and 40-something years of lost time and missed experiences. That’s a lot!
I have a lot of emotions wrapped up in this. I’m hurt that I didn’t get the experiences that my peers got. I’m sad for the little girl I once was – for how scared and confused she was for all those years. And I’m proud of that same little girl for surviving – how strong she had to be to make it through. I’m thankful for the experiences I do have – while I missed out on many of the things I would have liked to experienced, I have had a great life so far – I am extremely blessed! I am grateful for my family – they have loved me through these most challenging of times. I am relieved that I am finally living as the woman I have always been, even if I didn’t always know that I was.