The year is 1968 and I am 4 years old. Our TV is black and white and it has three channels, and PBS which my family never watches. I amplaying Lone Ranger outside alone. The other girls on the block would rather play dolls. With a hearty Hid-ho, Silver I gallop around in the yard, shooting bad guys and saving the wild west. I’m called to dinner.
As we eat around our TV, the news comes on. Walter Cronkite tells us about politics, the anti war movement, the latest doing of the hippies.
And then there is a special story. I remember it starts in an airport, this beautiful woman descends from a plane and enters the small airport. She’s wearing a beautiful dress, her hair is quaffed to perfection and her makeup is impeccable. She’s Sophia Loren beautiful. Glamorous. I am struck by her.
“Today,” Walter intones in his mid western accent. “Christina Jorgonsen has returned from Europe to the United states.”
“Oh, that freak.” My grandmother says. “That one is a fruit loop.” The message is clear.
“Jorgensen, who was born (deadname) here in the US, is the first person to complete transexual surgery.”
These were the sixties. Yes, Jorgensen was repeatedly dead named for the next 20 years at every gala, new article, photo shoot. Yes, she was considered a a freak by a lot of people. Yes, most people thought it was weird. She was ridiculed and frequently fled to Europe for respite.
But that’s her story. Mine is that 4 year old whose mind as filled with a possibility. That maybe there wasn’t something wrong with me mentally. Maybe it was that I was in the wrong body. And I could change that. I didn’t want to be a girl. I hated this body and all the weird things it did.
From that point on, unconsciously, I absorbed information on Trans gender surgery. I could tell you at any time how much it cost, what hoops you had to jump through. Used to be you had to undergo a battery of psychological tests, wait years, live as the opposite gender for a while and then pay an exorbitant amount of money to get a breast reduction and unfeeling penis.
It wasn’t good enough and so I ignored that need. We make excuses, don’t we. Pretending to have crushes on the men we want to be. Telling ourselves we just have a lot of male energy, or that we were reincarnated into the wrong body for some higher purpose or that we are tomboys.
Over and over again in the media we were fed these images – tomboys who acted like boys until that first kiss magically made them like makeup and dresses. But that we know that really, they are men in girls bodies trying to express something they have been yet convinced is wrong. Tranvestites who were really straight, just had an “Unnatural Fetish” for women’s clothing. But we know they are just trying to express who they are in a context straight people can accept. These were tropes. The underlying message was, though, there was something wrong with us that could be fixed by true loves kiss or some other stupid concept..
It was hard for me to reconcile. Because I’m a gay man. I like and prefer the company of guys. External questions become internal struggles, don’t they? If you like guys, why not just be a girl. If you like guys, why not just dress like a girl? But it never occurred that somehow I was always welcomed into the good old boys club, privy to the secret stuff men only tell other men. Even then while I was struggling so hard to be a girl, everyone else was responding to a man.
It took me fifty five years to understand that gender, sexuality and love are three different categories. I am a gay male. I want to change because my body offends me and always had. I was mortified when I had my first period, terrified to tell anyone when I was pregnant and horrified when I was diagnosed with a fibroid. Those were women things, ways my body betrayed me. I love son, but not the pregnant part. There was no miracle, just something weird happening to me. I had a lot of trouble inviting people to my wedding because I didn’t want to walk down that aisle in a white dress. I always felt awkward and unfinished in women’s clothing.
I think another symptom of this was relationships. I always went in with a time limit. I couldn’t love people because my whole existence was a lie.
What saved me was a breakdown. For many years I had panic attacks. Not weird, random panic attacks, waves of panic attacks blending into day or weeks. One would subside and another would start. People would frequently ask if I needed and ambulance.
It finally all came crashing down. I became agoraphobic and could not leave my home for a year. I was on suicide watch for six months. I had an excellent medical team who got me on meds and saved me life.
And at some point, you have to start climbing back to health. When you have a total breakdown, it’s like you are carrying all this stuff and you just fall and drop it. If you are introspective, it occurs to you at some point to investigate all that stuff. A new broom sweeps clean, they say and a nervous breakdown destroys all in it’s wake, you start fresh.
Most of what I carried wasn’t mine. Nietzsche talks about how as we grow up, we are camels in a wadi and we are heaped with burdens, the cant’s and shoulds and expectations of the adult around us. And then they send us to the desert. Once we’re there we encounter a dragon. Most camels run back to the wadi and live their lives as beast of burden. But some linger and examine the dragon. They realize it isn’t a dragon at all, it’s a lizard with mirrors and a smoke machine. And they throw off their burdens and become lions of the desert.
That’s where I was, finally on meds and talking to my therapist. I started sorting the burdens in my saddle bags. I got rid of a lot of stuff, people, religion, old beliefs. I stopped caring what people thought of me.
And finally, I’m at the end of my bed, and there she is again, looking just as lovely in my minds eye. Christine, back from Paris, smiling in the glow of the camera. And I took that moment apart. Why was it so important to me? Why had I kept that for fifty one years? Of course I knew. Because she was like me. In the wrong body. And she had the guts to do something about it. And I said three words that made all the difference.
“I’m a man.” No riders or explanations. Just. “I’m a man.” And suddenly the camel skin unfurled and wafted away and I sat there a lion. I was more confident, and clever, I looked in the mirror and liked who I saw for the first time ever. The lizard scurried off and I was in control of my life for the first time. Within two months I was off meds and stable. No more panic attacks.
Being older I’ve had fewer negative experiences. I’d long since started throwing out people who weren’t “my tribe” and so I got a lot of support and love from my fellows. My Brother and ex husband were the best. “My brother said “I’ve always wanted a brother. I love you.” My ex tells everyone I’m his baby daddy.
There was a meeting at work about my transition. The gist was I was transitioning and everyone needed to keep their mouths shut. They didn’t need to, though. Four other people came out at my meeting.
Also ,I am very open and unapologetic and so most strangers have met me with curiosity and support. I think most people want to understand but it’s so new they don’t know how to ask the right questions. I know a lot of trans people are uncomfortable with certain questions so I spend a lot of time teaching people trans etiquette.
Another sweet story. The woman who gave me my first haircut. I said “It’s a boy hair cut.” She said “Hair cuts don’t have gender.” I said “I just came out as trans.” She said “This is the most masculine haircut I’ve ever given.”
A friend said, “It’s like you went under cover to teach men how to act.” I love that compliment.
The only negative was I lived in North Carolina in a very small town. There were a couple of places I couldn’t go in for fear of being hurt. People very aggressively called me ma’am. I made them uncomfortable. And this one weird thing, apparently my landlord had a crush on me and when I came out, he went full stalker. He would drive around and give me dirty looks all the time. It worried me because he’d been to jail for manslaughter before.
That is my journey. I thank the people who paved the way, every drag queen, transvestite and trans sexual and yes, Beautiful Christine, who worked to make the way for me to live my truth. I thank the kids, too, who are working so hard to make an inclusive environment. And thank you for reading.