Last night someone shared something with me on Facebook that sparked a lot of memories, a lot of recollections that I’ve kept locked away in that part of my mind to which I never wander. I would not call the memories repressed; I would, however, say that they were unconsciously avoided.
The first one that returned was one that I’ve actually thought about a lot through the past year: when I was 12 or so, my grandmother (snooping, as she does) found women’s clothing hidden between my mattresses. There were a few pairs of underwear I’d pilfered from my sister, a skirt I’d taken from my grandmother–it’s not like I had a way to get my own. This is one of the things that makes everything so bloody obvious in hindsight.
The fallout was enormous. My father took me out back with his belt, and, though he didn’t whip me, it was only because one of our neighbors happened to come outside. I’d forgotten that detail, but I never forgot the disgust, fear, and almost hatred in my father’s voice when he asked in exasperation, “Why are they there, son? Do you wear them?”
There was no window of opportunity to answer that question honestly, because I overheard my dad and grandmother’s conversation before he took me outside, and she wanted to send me to a home, saying that she was not going to have that in her house, and that she’d send me to a home for troubled youth. When you’re in danger of literally being kicked out of your home at twelve years old, honesty isn’t a luxury you’re afforded.
I’ve often fantasized what my life might be like if I’d answered honestly. I’d have been kicked out and/or sent to a home, but maybe some reasonable couple disgusted by such horrendous behavior would have taken me in and fostered, rather than stifled, my development. But it’s idle fantasy, because that wouldn’t be how it happened. I’d have been sent to what we colloquially called “The Village,” which was a sort of foster facility run by extremely religious people and funded by local churches. However bad my situation was at my grandmother’s, it would have been infinitely worse there, with no way to hide anything.
It did get better in high school, when I moved in with my father. I stole clothes from my cousin next door, because I had no other way to acquire them still, and there were also some left in the house that had belonged to my great grandmother. Despite all his flaws, my dad is an extremely loose parent, and he worked swing shift at the nearby Burger King. Another thing that I’d forgotten: the sole reason that I wanted to move in with my dad was to have that time to myself, to dress and be as I chose instead of how other people chose.
And I wasted no time. I recall clearly spending nearly every night dressing appropriately, talking on the phone with friends throughout, and finding great solace in video games, particularly those that let me play as a female. Like I said, in hindsight it’s all so obvious.
But in those days, it was largely a sexual thing for me. It had taken on a taboo nature of necessity, which pushed it closer to being about exploring the sexual taboo than addressing the larger issue. Plus, this was the late 90s and early 00s. There was no talk of transgenderism, at least none that would have reached a high school student in Mississippi. All I knew was that I liked cross dressing, which was a difficult thing to accept about myself when “That’s evil” came from every direction. Even then, I had already abandoned the dehumanization of organised religion, but indoctrination runs deep. Years later, in my early 20s, I had sex with a guy, and the overwhelming sense of shame and feeling that I’d sinned crippled me even then, and I had for a decade or so rejected the mantras of Christianity. But they indoctrinate children for a reason: because that’s how it sticks.
The first person I ever told was J., and she was just the right type of chick to handle it wonderfully; she thought it was the most awesome thing ever. Hell, she had me try on her prom dress before she did. So I did have that refuge. She gave me clothing and was tremendously helpful, but, as high school relationships do, it came crashing down and I handled it very badly. Very badly.
But it’s nearly impossible to hide things of this scope indefinitely. One day I accidentally greeted my cousin at the door while I was wearing jeans I’d taken from her. I don’t believe she ever said anything to anyone, but she did point to them and ask about it. I ran back inside and changed clothes, then denied that it had happened.
So much could have been different, and I’d just about give anything to have had different circumstances. And the doctors I’m dealing with don’t seem to grasp this. Yes, doc, I am in a hurry. No, doc, I’m not willing to wait two months for you and an endocrinologist to give me permission to move forward. I’ve lost 29 years that I’ll never get back. I’m not willing to lose another month. And since the hormones in question can be acquired legally in the US without a prescription, I don’t need a therapist’s blessing or an endocrinologist that I can’t afford anyway. I just need people to get the hell out of my way and let me be me.
Those who know me also know that I have nothing but vitriol for Caitlyn Jenner, but it’s not out of envy. It’s partially because of the supremely ignorant shit that she said a few weeks ago, and it’s partially because she still talks about playing roles when, for myself and the majority of transgender people, it’s about CEASING to play a role, not picking a different role to play.
It’s because Caitlyn Jenner will never understand what it’s like to deal with the struggles that the ordinary transgender person goes through, yet she has the audacity to speak out on behalf of transgender people. She will never spend long nights laying awake and trying to figure out how in the world she’s supposed to have a job while transitioning. She will never wonder how she’s going to pay for all this. She will never have family and friends reject her, call her evil, and cast her from their lives. She was praised for being brave enough to do this in full view of the media, but that isn’t the case at all. The media protected her from discrimination. No one could insult her openly, no family member could call her a wicked sinner, and no company could refuse service to her, because the firestorm of an unbridled media backlash would have decimated anyone who did. Let’s see her transition away from the spotlight, where she wouldn’t be able to run crying to the media when someone insulted her, where she would have to do what the rest of us do: just deal with it.
Caitlyn’s transition was a walk in the park, not the least of which was because she could just throw money at whatever problems rose. I don’t mean to minimize her internal conflict, because that’s something that every transgender person faces and can’t be solved with money, but the internal conflict was the only battle she had to fight once she made her decision. For the rest of us, the decision to proceed is simply the first of countless battles. For her, it was almost the only battle. I don’t begrudge her for that, but I do think it means she doesn’t have the right to speak about transgender issues.
As alluded to, the transition in Mississippi is inordinately difficult, and employment is going to become virtually impossible very soon. I am doing everything that I can to resolve that: I write for a website, I’m writing a new novel, I’m trying to find an agent for the novel I finished last year, and I’m now considering “camming.” I’m not that kind of girl, and I don’t think I actually have it in me, but I’m gonna have to pay for things somehow, and it’s just a matter of time before every client drops me. Any help you could provide, even if you’re just sharing the page, would be appreciated beyond my ability to express: