Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I Asked My Mother, "What Will I Be?"

People seem to enjoy reading about my gender transition, and it's healing and helpful for me to write about it. So I thought I'd put together a post on what it was like for me growing up trans - and not knowing it.

Before I was ever born, my very Christian mother prayed to Jesus to send her a little girl. I know this because she frequently told me how the only thing she ever wanted in life was a little girl. She meant it in only the best way: an expression of how happy she was to have me! But as I got older, it began to trouble me, because I wasn't so little anymore and I wasn't very good at being a girl.

Some trans people can look back to early childhood and point out a lot of signs that they were "born this way". For me, there were only two. The first was my twin brother Bobby, who held the distinction of being imaginary - or "invisible" as I insisted at the time. Bobby was a boy version of me, we were "identical" despite being opposite-sex, and he went everywhere I did. I would later learn that it's not uncommon for trans kids to imagine an opposite-sex twin! At the time, though, I just knew I wanted to spend all of my time being with a boy.

The other clue came one day when I was watching my grandpa shave. I asked if I would shave when I grew up, and I will never forget his response: "Only if you grow up to be a man". Now, by this age I was pretty fully socialized as a girl, and I protested, "But I'm a girl, won't I grow up to be a woman?" My grandpa told me, "I used to be a little girl". Excitedly, I asked how he turned into a boy, and he said he didn't remember. I rushed out of the bathroom to go and figure out how I could trade places and become Bobby. I loved the idea of growing up to be a man and learning to shave like my grandpa. When I asked my mom, she said that my grandpa was pulling my leg and stressed that I absolutely could NOT become a boy. I remember being pretty disappointed by that, and I don't remember spending much time with Bobby afterwards.

The full story about my grandpa, by the way, is that when he was little my great-grandparents divorced, and my great-grandfather was granted custody. My great-grandmother felt she had a right to her son, so she kidnapped him and made him live as a girl, since the police were looking for a little boy. He was eventually returned to his father, but only after living as a girl for long enough to remember it in his 70s!

For the next several years, I seemed like a normal enough little girl. I liked my Barbies and Babysitters Club books, and lots of gender-neutral activities like drawing and playing on the swingset. But there were a few little signs that I was different. For one, no one could convince me to care about being pretty. I wore baggy clothes and my hair was in a big knot because I wouldn't let anyone brush it (but I wouldn't let them cut it short, either). I loved to play in dirt and mud - I once got in trouble at school for making a "sand angel" since we didn't have snow in Florida! I was also a pretty sensory-sensitive kid, though, so all that stuff could be just as much the result of that as anything to do with my gender.

Puberty is when shit started to hit the fan, gender-wise. I cried and screamed when I had to get my first bra, and then I refused to wear anything but a sports bra. When I got my period I remember laying in my grandmother's bed, curled up in a ball, wishing I could wake up the next day and be three again. This was as close as my kid-mind got to feeling suicidal - I knew my life as it was was intolerable and I wanted to escape. By age 11 I had retreated to spending most of my time in my room, watching VH1 to see gender-bending people like Michael Jackson and Boy George. I liked certain girly things, like nail polish and glitter, but I idolized boys who liked those things, instead of women. So I spent my preteen years wanting my body to stop becoming feminine and wanting to be like men who wore makeup. But I still didn't consciously have thoughts of wanting to be a boy.

As I grew into a teen, I started realizing I was different. I had a lot of deep-down, confusing feelings about being queer but not being quite sure how. I knew I was attracted to boys, I knew I was fascinated by gay men and gay male culture, but I also knew I couldn't be a gay boy because I wasn't a boy! So I came out as a lesbian, then as bisexual, then I decided I was straight, then bisexual again. I couldn't figure myself out. By this point I knew about trans people, but I believed two myths about trans men: That they were all very, very masculine, and that they all knew they were boys from the time they were toddlers. So while I loved and ate up any story about any kind of gender-bending, I didn't feel any sort of identification with trans men. At the same time, I kept going through phases where I'd wear boys' jeans and baggy t-shirts, which I felt super comfortable in. Unfortunately, those times were less common than the times I spent trying really, really hard to be a girl and act the way girls were supposed to act. I didn't feel comfortable enough with who I was to even really get to know myself.

It wasn't until I was 24 that I consciously began to think of myself as a trans person. I had known lots of trans people by then, but it wasn't until I discovered the word genderqueer that I started to question my own gender identity. I found the website Genderfork and something resonated deep inside, so strongly that it was terrifying. Since then, I've played around with my gender expression and found that I'm more comfortable presenting in a more masculine way. I still chose a gender-ambiguous name, Elisha Aster, and I still don't feel completely like a man. But in 2011 I started gender therapy, and on August 1st, 2011 I began testosterone. Whether or not I feel completely like a man, being on T feels great! And yes, just like my grandpa promised, I get to shave my face.

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