By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist-
I have (a question) that I am asked all the time by straight and gay people. “I have read and heard that transgender people are confused. That many like Chaz Bono first thought he was a lesbian and now he is transgender. Isn’t there a risk that a transgender person may want to ‘switch’ back?”
Lorelei, I am sure you have heard this question before. And I am shocked every time I hear it and I know what to say to the people that ask it, but we need to think about the proactive approach of this.
I’m glad you asked this question Tom. It’s certainly not an easy one and it is definitely one that can be thorny to bring up.
The basic problem with this question is that, really it’s a much more complex thing they are asking than most folks who ask it actually realize. Many of us can take years and years to fully figure out just what or who exactly we are. There can be a lot of starts and stops. A plethora of identities we may try on until we can accept ourselves. I know I certainly did.
I’ve mentioned before that I “knew” I was a woman for about as far back as I have thoughts. That doesn’t mean I understood exactly what was going on. I may have known in my heart of hearts that I was female, but everyone around me was treating me like a boy.
I had a boy name, I wore boy clothes, and I even had boy parts. So how could I possibly be a girl? It made no sense.
Although my parents were good, progressive, hippie types and they never really imposed a lot of gender roles on me; never forced me to play sports or be rough; gender roles were, nonetheless, pretty hard to ignore.
At home I remember spending every spare moment I could get alone, sneaking into my Mom’s room and getting all dressed up like a girl. I would stare out the widows of the school bus and fantasize about magically trading places with the girls walking by. I wanted to be a girl. I often felt like a girl. But, I was also savvy enough or intimidated enough I suppose, to think I needed to keep my feelings a secret.
There was no internet, few books that I could find, and almost no media presence for transgender people. I found what there was to find, I was a voracious reader and consumer of media. Everything I found in years of searching represented less than a single percent of what I can pull up on Google now in five minutes.
The only time I ever went to a therapist, he told me it was a phase and it would pass. Not much help there.
So, I was left to figure out who and what I was, alone, with what few scraps of examples I could glean. When I was teenager, I figured maybe I was gay. I liked musicals and was a pretty snappy dresser. But then I realized I was primarily attracted to women, guys, not so much. So no go there.
I was still sneaking any chance I got to get all dressed up. I still wanted more than anything to be a girl, though I was more and more terrified to admit that part even to myself.
So, I decided I must be a transvestite, or a cross dresser, or what was the difference again?! (I know, I know, I’m speaking of then not now. No need for those cards and letters!) But, the more I came into myself, the less I fit the popular (and often false) image of the lonely cross dresser, hiding myself from the world.
I was going out “en femme” more and more often and although I would still get all dressed up by myself, alone in my room, almost everyone who knew me, knew that I liked to play with gender.
I also moved to Northampton when I was 18 and so many of my closest friends were lesbians and gay men. There was even a period when I felt like I was about the only “straight boy” in my circle of friends! “Aww, isn’t he cute! He likes girls!”
A number of women I dated over the years even met me while I was dressed in “girl drag!” Many of them dated me partly because of my gender flexibility. Heck, I even had a close lesbian friend, who had only ever dated women, who decided to see “what boys were like” with me.
That really should have been a clue.
Also around this time I was given a big stack of “Forced Feminization” type magazines by a friend, whose former roommate had left them behind when he split rather surreptitiously. They blew my mind; especially the ads for “feminizing hormone supplements” in the back. I fantasized endlessly about ordering them, but could never quite work up the courage.
After a while I decided my identity was as a straight Drag Queen! I always had kind of an over the top presentation, whether it was in girl or boy mode. And I knew by now that Theatre was going to be my life. I loved performing!
But, even this was never quite right. For one thing, I can’t stand Barbara Streisand and I’d much rather listen to The Dead Milkmen than Madonna. Also, I’m not so crazy about sequins. And yeah, I’m a terrible dancer. Despite having worked as a nightclub cage dancer for a stint in Boston as well as a singing, dancing waitress, who was I?
Come back next month to read the rest!
*Lorelei Erisis, former Miss Trans New England, can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.