I think about my childhood a lot. I don’t really mean to, but it seems to be something that a lot of trans people talk about. When did you know you were really a ___________ (pick a gender)? This question always takes me back to my earliest memories and no where in there do I think I knew that I was anything other than different. I’m not even sure if I knew that. I just knew that what I wanted was at odds with what the authority figures in my life wanted. I grew up in the dark ages, before the internet and reality tv. No one knew anything about being transgender and no one ever said anything positive about gay people. All of this was way too taboo and exotic. My small town upbringing did not prepare me to live 30 years as a lesbian who is now living as a man. I was ignorant about all of this stuff growing up and so was everyone I knew, even the authorities in my life. How could I have known I was transgender at 4 years old? I knew that I liked boy stuff and wanted to be like my brother and uncles.
I was a flower girl in my cousin’s wedding when I was about 7 years old. I had no idea what that meant until the day of the wedding and they put me in a little light blue dress and stood me next to my male cousin who was the ring bearer. He was wearing a black tuxedo. Suddenly the difference in us just smacked me in the face like a wet dishrag. I wanted to wear that tuxedo and I was so jealous of him. It was experiences like this that I can tell you about where I felt jealousy because the boys got to do or wear things that I wanted to do or wear. But I couldn’t tell you why that was.
And then there are friendships. Friendship, for me, was complicated. From an early age (5 or 6?), I got crushes on girls. But I was expected to play with girls and develop friendships with them and get crushes on boys. I tried. Really, I did. I could play with a girl as long as we could do what I wanted, but if she wanted to do really girly things, like play Barbie where I had to be one of the girl dolls, I was out of there. I could deal with being Ken, but not Barbie. Luckily, there weren’t all that many kids around for me to play with when I was young. I lived on a short street with big houses on it that a lot of old people lived in. We did not live in a big house. We lived in a tiny bungalow that belonged to one of the big houses. There was a seedy apartment building up the street from my house that mostly had single people who could barely pay their bills. The place reeked of cigarettes and booze. I hated going in there, but my one friend lived there. His name was Scott. I liked Scott because he was a real boy’s boy and he made me feel like a boy when we hung out. We did boy stuff, whatever that was, and I didn’t have to worry about being the Barbie with him. Occasionally, my mom would force me to play with his little sister because I really shouldn’t be friends with Scott. I guess the adults were worried that we would end up having sex or something. I don’t know what they were worried about, but I hated playing with his little sister. Usually I managed to wiggle myself out of it after just a few minutes of torture. I remember, one day being over at his apartment and his grandmother was there. She gave me the most hateful look I had ever seen anyone give me. I had no idea why she hated me so much, but every time I saw her she looked at me that way.
Scott moved away after a few years and I really never saw him again. I didn’t really have friends until middle school. I met this girl in band class who was new to me. She was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen and I was immediately infatuated with her. We became best friends and hung out together all the time. We had sleep overs and participated in three-legged races and shit like that. I would do anything I could to be near her. This “friendship” of ours grew into a circle of girls who hung out together and did the sleep over thing and all that goes with it. There was another girl in that group that I later developed a big crush on as well. This circle of friends endured throughout high school and college, even though we all went different places. Today, we are still friends and I’m out to all of them.
What I wonder about today is whether we were ever really friends and how different it would have been if I’d been born with a penis. I mean, I was in love with two of them and what I really wanted wasn’t just friendship. Of course, they had no idea how I felt at the time (or now, for that matter). This was my big dark secret that I never told anyone. I almost kissed one of them one time and I did tell her that I loved her, but you know, she just interpreted that as friendship love. Life got really complicated when they were dating and going steady with boyfriends. God that sucked. I was so jealous of the boyfriends, yet I had to be nice to them and be happy for my “friend”. I had crushes/feelings for these girls for a long time. All through high school I was still obsessed with that original girl, even though she always had a handsome boyfriend. And, to complicate things even more, I dated a couple of boys in high school on a semi serious basis. It was, for me, way less serious than it probably seemed to my friends. It was really just a cover for who I really was. The boys I dated were nice guys that I liked as friends and had zero interest in as a romantic partner. We never did anything more than kiss occasionally.
The fact that I’m still friends with my high school group is unusual and awkward now that I’m awake and knowledgeable about who and what I am. Since they know I’m transitioning, I wonder whether they ever put pieces of our pasts together and truly understand why I was part of their group. There’s a part of me that feels like I did something wrong all those years ago. I know that I understood on some level, even back then, that I was not like them. I feel like our friendships were built on a lie, or at least a falsehood. It makes me feel like my whole life was built on a lie, like every relationship I had was false. I was always just doing the best I could to pretend to really be a girl, but deep down I knew that I wasn’t. I didn’t understand any of this at all, so I don’t blame myself. And I don’t blame the world I grew up in either. We were all navigating in the dark without a map or compass. We were all ignorant. Still, I wonder. What do they think when they see me becoming my true self? Do they realize that the thing that drew me to them was that I had a crush? Do they wonder if we would have been friends if I’d been recognized as a boy? Would we have dated? I know for sure that I wouldn’t have been invited to the sleep overs. And then I think that there was attraction on their part too, because, even in friendship, there is an attraction that brings people together. I can honestly say that I did and do feel true friendship for these women and I cherish our long standing relationships. I enjoy visiting with them and even like their husbands quite a bit. Of the five women in my circle, I only had a crush on two of them. One of them I don’t even really like at all, but the others do so we make nice with each other (it’s mutual). I give this group of friends a lot of credit for helping me through my weird and awkward childhood and adolescent years. They were my lifeline. I don’t have any idea how I would have gotten through high school without them. Still, I feel like I deceived them and that eats at me, even today. I don’t still have those feelings for any of them and haven’t for a really long time. At some point in high school I made a conscious decision to disengage from the notion of them as romantic partners. It was too difficult to see them with their boyfriends and not even be able to tell them how I felt. That’s probably when I started to date boys a little bit.
Unfortunately, I thought my story started and ended with my physical attraction to girls, so when I finally kissed a girl my freshman year of college and declared myself a lesbian, I thought that was the end of the story. It took 30 years for me to realize that that was just the tip of the iceberg. Unraveling my past and discovering who I really am has been like peeling the layers of an onion. It’s taken a long time to get to the core of my onion and I’m not entirely sure I’ve arrived there yet, but I’m pretty close. Processing through my relationship with these women, some of which I’ve known since kindergarten, has been just a small part of it. Small, but vitally important.