I was a sensitive boy, my family reminded me of that fact all of the time. I remember my uncle telling me when I was just 10, “Pauly, why do you cry so much? Stop acting like a little girl!” Yeah, as if I could figure out how not to be me? Looking back now, who did he think that he was to tell me that?! You know, sometimes I just wish that gender roles were not such a thing in society. They really do suck big time.
One time, I went to Knott’s Berry Farm with my sister and mom. We had a great time riding the rides and enjoying the boysenberry punch. I loved that place for sure! They also had an arcade where you would win prizes if you say, landed the ping pong balls on the right colored dish or if you broke the right amount of dishes with a ball. Well, I won big time on the ping pong ball game. I had a choice of which grand prize and I chose a pair of these big brown and white St. Bernard dog stuffed animals. I was so proud of them! I knew exactly where they were going to go in my room. Problem is that my sister wanted my prizes too. She started telling me, “Pauly, boys don’t play with stuffed animals, that’s girl stuff.” I was like, “nuh uh, I want them, they are mine”. She kept on taunting me and making fun of me as we wandered through the park.
We stopped at this one attraction that was where you could walk up to an old west town jail cell and this old convict would literally talk to you. I had no idea how this guy even knew my name but it was no doubt something which would make an impression on any kid. What really would happen is that there was this window where a parent would go to while their child was in line to talk to this convict and they would give personal information about their child so that the person in the window could then have a personal conversation with the child. My sister told the operator my name and explained the whole stuffed animal situation to them and how she wanted him to tell me that stuffed animals were for girls and that I should give them to my sister. Well, he did just that and I was devastated. I was in tears afterwards and told my sister that she could have my dogs because the jailed man had told me that little boys aren’t supposed to have them.
It may seem little to you, you might think but these little markers which serve to demasculinize a little boy little by little literally collect and build up inside of one’s self. These are things that should not be just passed over on children like me and many others should indeed have been able to express themselves without repressing them or making fun of them. It is so dangerous to bottle up a child in any way because then things will be shoved away, potentially for decades and reappear as larger issues in the future.
Constant instances of demasculinization in the life of a young boy will cause him to hate his maleness. It will cause him to question his gender and hurt him internally in a very deep place. He will not want to ever admit it because the pain is locked away sometimes in an unconscious part of his personality but make no mistake, it is there and it will have to be dealt with eventually.
I was considered too sensitive so many times. Dad would say things like, “why can’t you be more like your sister, I really respect how she handles things in her life son.” What is a boy to think when he is not even treated like a man by his dad? These things are not easily forgotten and eventually they make long-lasting and in my case life-altering impacts. How many of you have a similar story to mine? What ways do we utilize to cope with the challenges that we face? I know that I did not want to face my male born reality, I wanted to just escape it.
The dressing continued as I grew older, it was a safe place to escape to during my summers. I remember being obsessed with scouring TV Guide and reading descriptions of tv shows and movies, talk shows and programs that had anything to do with gender. From cartoons like Speed Buggy, H.R. Puff-n-Stuff, The Little Rascals, The Jetsons, Fantasy Island, there were so many things to watch. My fascination with gender continued into the mid 80’s and I remember that this was when my family had Group W Cable (now Comcast) offer them the chance to get something called cable tv for free. They had a service to offer and they wanted people to say yes and eventually pay for this new technology. My parents said yes and all of a sudden my choices of things to watch grew almost overnight and a little something called HBO showed up.
All of a sudden my world opened up and I took advantage of all of it. There were shows like Bosom Buddies, which happened to launch the career of Tom Hanks but who could forget the movie Tootsie which starred Dustin Hoffman? The talk shows were starting to have topics covering what are now known as trans issues but back then it was shows like Phil Donahue covering topics like transvestite children and other controversial issues.
I made my way downstairs after my mom and dad went to bed and quietly turned on the tv and watched whatever I could. Sometimes my mom would catch me and I would get in trouble for sneaking downstairs. I mean, in my family, we couldn’t even go the movies, it was labeled as sinful to do so. My parents were gullible, they apparently did not realize that HBO was the movies.
I was growing up though and eventually my ability to use my mom’s and my sister’s clothes was just not possible because I was getting too big. I did have one final experience though and that was in the summer of 84. My sister married that July and was on her honeymoon in Hawaii. So, I helped myself in a big way over those two weeks. She had a closet full of clothes in her room and this was going to be my last chance because she was moving out when she got back. She also had one particular item in her closet that I was really interested in, her wedding dress.
I know that for many of us in the transgender community, clothing holds so much importance to us. It is, for some of us, especially early on, the only way that we can connect with our female self, the woman inside of all of us. I know that MTFs can understand these things quite well because in the case of FTMs, gender bending is not really frowned upon in society that much. If a girl wears jeans and a t-shirt or even a suit and tie, they won’t get jeered at or made fun of. These are still cultural taboos in American society. Men are simply not supposed to behave that way.
So you can imagine the excitement that I felt when I had the opportunity to escape into my female self and put on a wedding dress for the first time. It was exhilarating and such a wonderful moment for sure. I was zipping up the petticoat and I heard a “rrrrip” and I freaked out. I mean this was my sister’s wedding dress and I had damaged it. I was able to get in on and then pulled the wedding dress itself up and onto me. My now 14 year old frame was a bit bigger than my sister’s figure at 22 but I was able to make the most of it and enjoy the escape from my male reality. I was not to try on my sister’s clothes again until I was 21.
I did find other ways to express and connect with my inner self that did not need the clothes. Eventually my sister did move into an apartment with her husband and I was now officially an only child and high school was just around the corner. In high school, as a Freshman, I was just a quiet guy, kept to myself but still very much trying to discover me. Since my opportunities to crossdress were greatly diminished, I tried to find other things to occupy my mind. One day though, I leaped at the chance to get my hands on my very own cheerleading outfit. My school was changing names, so they were throwing a lot of things away that were associated with the old name. One of those things were the cheerleading uniforms. I remember the rush of excitement as I planned for the chance to get my hands on one of them.
I got my chance and quickly stuffed one of them into my backpack. I hoped that no one would notice what I had done. I figured, hey, they’re going into the trash anyway right? So, I brought it home with me but where would I hide it when I got home? My plan was to stuff it somewhere where my mom wouldn’t see it but when I got home, I just had to try it on, so I did. The problem was that my mom was coming home soon. I barely got the skirt on and had barely slipped the top over my head when I heard the garage door opener. That could mean one of two things. Either A: my dad had come home from work or B: my mom was about to walk through the door. Either option was a bad option for me, so I quickly removed the skirt and top and stuffed it up on the top shelf in the laundry room.
No sooner than I had put my pants and shirt back on, my mom walked through the door. I acted as if nothing had happened but my heart was racing. I went up to my room after kissing her hi and just tried to calm myself down. Eventually, everything was back to normal in my world, until a week later when my mom called me downstairs and asked me what this was all about. She apparently had discovered my stash as she was doing the week’s laundry. I had made a poor decision, what could I do now? Should I just tell her the truth and risk the shame? How much of the truth should I tell? Do I need to come clean and tell her how I had felt ever since I was little? What did I need to do?
Well, she asked me if I knew about these items of clothing and I chose to tell her a lie. I invented the story of how I had no idea how I came home with it but that it had somehow landed in my backpack by accident. I said that there was a girl who had my same backpack and she must have put it into my backpack by mistake. She believed my story, my lie. She told me that I needed to return the items back to her immediately because she was probably worried that she had lost them. I assured her that I would do that. Gosh, I was such a liar, I would do anything to cover up my gender issues and this was just the start of a lifetime of covering things up…