These are complicated questions for me, and they have complicated answers. When I first realized I needed to transition, I could have pinpointed specific days or times to answer either of those questions. However, my perspective on my past has changed quite a bit in the past few years. I no longer look back with regret or hate, as I once did. I can now fully analyze myself and my actions without being repulsed by my shame or guilt. And in doing so, I have different answers now.
As a child, I grew up the oldest of three children with a brother almost four years younger than me and a sister 11 years younger. I don’t recall a lot of memories from when I was an only child, but of those I do remember it was spending time with my mom and my maternal grandmother. My dad worked hard. He would drive coal trucks eight hours a day, and then afterwards he would spend up to eight hours working as a mechanic, yes up to 16 hour days. I didn’t see him much, nor did I understand his gruff attitude. I insisted on sleeping next to him most nights. Mom would come in hours later to take me back to my own room.
For both my parents, parenthood came well before I think they were ready. They were quite young. How young? Well, let’s just say I remember well four out of my eight great-grandparents, and all of my grandparents. I was around thirty-three when my maternal grandmother passed away in her seventies; my last living grandparent. I believe it was tough on my mom and dad, and I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to make them proud of me, to show them it was all worth it. It was that mindset that was the last mental roadblock to accepting myself. I shouldn’t jump ahead, but I will say that I developed that mindset and therefore that strong personal pressure when I was quite young.
Also, when I was very young, I developed a fear of being laughed at. I can’t pinpoint exactly what triggered this for me, but mentally I did everything possible to avoid it. As I got older, I avoided this fear by constantly being a jokester. I would tell funny stories; better to have my friends, family, and coworkers laugh with me and not at me. Subtle difference, but distinct in my mind.
So the question that forms now, as I look back: did I know then when I was very young? Was all it just a way my subconscious hid my feminine self as a way of self-preservation? Did I not want to be laughed at for fear of other people finding me out?
I don’t know for sure, but I think so. What needs to be understood is that at that time there were no positive transgender (transsexual then) role models for me to compare myself to. And even as I discovered what transgender was, it was always draped in such a negative light (Jerry Springer), that I found it more repulsive, which didn’t allow me to expand the light, and instead caused me to be critical of my thoughts and feelings.
If you had asked the five year old me if they felt like a girl or boy what would the answer have been? Well, I would have said boy, but considering I did not have any foundation to compare how one felt and differed from the other, the default response would be my reply. I had male genitalia; the only thing I had to go on. But that hardly accounts for the discomfort I felt about myself.
This was how most of my childhood existed. I had periods or episodes back then that my recollections of today confirm how there was confusion back then, a sense of how I felt “wrong. I cried a lot, especially when I didn’t get my way, or when I got embarrassed. In second grade, I cried everyday in the classroom for an extended time. I couldn’t say how long; in my mind a month, but it was probably more like a week. The school brought my mom in to talk about it. My parents spent a lot of time with my brother, especially when he was younger, dealing with his ADHD issues. They would find out years later that he was on the autistic spectrum, very high functioning.
The school interpreted that I was possibly crying for attention, maybe I was. Mom took me to the park one day, and I had a great time, just me and her. But in the end, it was guilt that stopped my everyday crying. I felt bad putting my mom through that. And the issue went away. But to me now, I think it was another cry out for understanding that I felt “wrong” or “different.” But again, I didn’t know how to deal with it. Unfortunately, instead of opening a door to discovery, I further shut any possibility of discovering myself.
Basically, in some ways, you could say my life mirrors the story of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. Everything added on more bricks, separating myself from my true identity in order to protect myself. How could it have been different? I can pinpoint and evaluate those events and feelings, but could they have turned out different; with it being the mid-eighties and in north-central West Virginia—no, probably not. We can say that based on today’s standards, what I went through was traumatic and could have been done better. But then, at that time, it just wouldn’t have been possible. I didn’t even know what was wrong with me. It was likely to have been just as traumatic to have tried.
I don’t want to come across as an unhappy child; that would not be accurate. What I can say is that I spent a great deal of time at play, creating imaginary environments to get away from myself. If I played basketball, I was playing a college game and being the sports hero. How is that different than any other kid? Well I did it to not think about myself, but to escape from myself. When left to my own devices, I had a very negative self-opinion. This constant self-doubt and unhappiness at being me is why it took me so long. I could never look back and enjoy seeing myself, because I hated it. Think of it as always looking back and seeing disappointment and failure. Now I can see I made the best decisions I could at the time with the information available to me. If I had known then what I know now? I would have been able to make a better, more informed decision, but I didn’t know then what I know now. So what I once perceived as disappointment and failure was more of a success, or at least admirable to me now.
Part 2 to come…