Here’s the scenario in most gender therapist’s offices around the world, it plays out like this:
Therapist: “How can I help you?”
Patient: “I was hoping that you could help me figure out what is wrong with me?”
Therapist: “What do you feel is wrong, do you feel like you were born in the wrong body?”
Patient: “Yes, yes, I do.”
Therapist: “How long have you felt this way?”
Patient: “I guess, ever since I was four or five…”
Ah yes, it never fails, so many of us recount the story of how we discovered our cross-gender feelings when we were yet really young. I am not going to say that everyone does but I think that it is safe to say that most of us who identify as transgender do indeed feel this way. So unsurprisingly to you, I also have the same story if you will. I mean, I can’t really remember what was going on in my life at four but it seems like I remember a lot from five onward. As I stated in my earlier blogs, turning five for me turned out being quite momentous and life-altering for me. Here is probably the biggest reason why…
Deep breath…here goes…
My first experience with school was when I turned five. I still remember the day that my mom dropped me off at preschool for the first day and it was traumatic for me to say the least. I had never been taken care of by anyone but my mom, grandma and sister up until then. First let me back up though, because there was this one day when everything changed. It changed my life in ways that I am still, to this day, at 46, still trying to make sense of.
Like I said before, my older sister used to babysit me when mom was away at work during the summer. Let’s see, 1975, um, she was eight years older than me, so that would make her thirteen according to my California math (I was never a math wiz by any stretch!). I honestly do not know if my sister every really liked me. She was always putting me down as I grew up. You’re ugly, you’re fat, you pick your nose too much, you’re such a brat, you’re adopted, you’re cross-eyed. Mean things to say to anyone but I was her baby brother and she wanted me to know my place.
I remember one particular day in the summer, the radio was playing “Afternoon Delight” or some other 70’s song and my sister abruptly turned off the radio and ran into my room. She had this look of panic as she grabbed me and whispered that we needed to be really quiet because she thought that a burglar had broken into our house. She motioned me to get under the bed and hide. I had never been so scared in all of my life, so I did what she said. She came with me under the bed too and with every creak of the floor, she let me know that he might be coming into my bedroom too. I remember the puddle of tears that I left underneath me, when after what seemed like hours, which was probably only twenty minutes, she allowed us both to re-emerge from underneath my bed and she gave the all clear. To this day, I have no idea why she liked to scare me and make me feel so bad. I would ask her now but the thing is that she and I have not spoken since my accident almost a couple of years ago.
One day though, she was all nicey nice with me and asked me to come over to the bathroom for a sec. I went in and she said, “Paulie, do you want to play make believe with me? I was like, “sure”. “Okay, let’s see? Hmm…Oh ok, I got it, I am going to make you into my little sister.” I was like, “ok”. Then she smiled and got out her curling iron and started to curl my hair. I remember feeling relaxed and wondering what I was going to look like. I had an oversized white t-shirt on and she did something where she gathered up shirt and twisted it and folded it into what ended up looking like a makeshift dress. She then put some lipgloss on my face and smiled and told me to turn around and look at the mirror.
It was like nothing that I remember feeling because when I saw my reflection, I was shocked. My sister had her little sister. Maybe that it was what she always wanted all along? Maybe that was why she was so mean and hurtful towards me? Maybe her having God give her a younger brother was a huge disappointment to her? I don’t really know the answers to those questions and I may never know. All that I do know was that at that moment, my sister was smiling and actually liked me and I liked me too. It was all pretend though right? Little brothers have these things done to them all of the time by their sisters, you might say? Come on, she was just playing around, after all, she was just thirteen?
The thing is that that moment changed my life in many ways. I know now that, the mind of a five year old is very formable and malleable. As babies and toddlers, we are all making mental connections to the world around us by what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell. The mental synapses are firing and constantly trying to help us find our sense of being. That moment triggered something inside of me that I still wrestle with in this present day.
I remember going to back to preschool with this sense of not feeling comfortable that I was a boy. I wanted it to just not be true, I just did not want to be a boy. I remember that it affected me so much so that every time after lunch was over and we had a mandatory nap time where we would have to lie down on a mat underneath our desks, we would all be encouraged to say our prayers before we fell asleep. Mine was always, “Dear God, when I wake up, can you make me a girl? Amen.” It never happened and every time I was disappointed for sure.
Ever since that moment with my sister, I have never been the same. It has led to so much confusion for me growing up. I remember telling my sister when I first had the courage to confide in her that I was dealing with being transgender back in 2012. She was like what? “I never did anything like that? So, you want to say that your feelings are somehow my fault? Uh, uh no way Paulie, I am not to blame here.” I told her that I was not blaming her for how I have dealt with these issues in my life but yes, I was not crazy, I had definitely had that experience for sure. This was not some dream or fantasy of mine. Just like my previous experience of running away from home was very much a real event, so was this.
So I continued to explore these realities in my life…