It was a pivotal scene. A mom was brushing a boy’s long hair, the boy slowly turned his head to look at her. In a tentative voice, he asked, “Would you love me if I were a boy?” The mom was raising her boy to become a trans-girl.
In that split second, I was transported back to my childhood. I remembered my grandmother standing over me, guiding me, dressing me in a purple chiffon dress. The boy in that glowing documentary about parents raising transgender kids dared to voice a question I always wanted to ask. Why didn’t she love me the way I was?
I am haunted by that boy and his question. What will the trans-kids of 2015 be like sixty years from now? Documentaries and news stories only give us a snapshot in time. They are edited to romanticize and normalize the notion of changing genders and to convince us that enlightened parents should help their children realize their dreams of being the opposite gender.
I want to tell you my story. I want you to have the opportunity to see the life of a trans-kid, not in a polished television special, but across more than seven decades of life, with all of its confusion, pain, and redemption.
It wasn’t my mother but my grandmother who clothed me in a purple chiffon dress she made for me. That dress set in motion a life filled with gender dysphoria, sexual abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, and finally, an unnecessary gender reassignment surgery. My life was ripped apart by a trusted adult who enjoyed dressing me as a girl.
My mom and dad didn’t have any idea that when they dropped their son off for a weekend at Grandma’s that she was dressing their boy in girls’ clothes. Grandma told me it was our little secret. My grandmother withheld affirmations of me as a boy, but she lavished delighted praise upon me when I was dressed as a girl. Feelings of euphoria swept over me with her praise, followed later by depression and insecurity about being a boy. Her actions planted the idea in me that I was born in the wrong body. She nourished and encouraged the idea, and over time it took on a life of its own.
I became so accustomed to wearing the purple dress at Grandma’s house that, without telling her, I took it home so I could secretly wear it there too. I hid it in the back of a drawer in my dresser. When my mom found it, an explosion of yelling and screaming erupted between my mom and dad. My father was terrified his boy was not developing into a man, so he ramped up his discipline. I felt singled out because, in my view, my older brother didn’t receive the same heavy-handed punishment as I did. The unfairness hurt more than anything else.
Thankfully, my parents decided I would never be allowed to go to Grandma’s house again without them. They couldn’t know I was scared of seeing Grandma because I had exposed her secret.
Uncle Fred’s Influence
My worst nightmare was realized when my dad’s much younger adopted brother, Uncle Fred, discovered the secret of the dress and began teasing me. He pulled down my pants, taunting and laughing at me. At only nine years of age, I couldn’t fight back, so I turned to eating as a way to cope with the anxiety. Fred’s teasing caused a meal of six tuna-fish sandwiches and a quart of milk to become my way of suppressing the pain.
One day Uncle Fred took me in his car on a dirt road up the hill from my house and tried to take off all my clothes. Terrified of what might happen, I escaped, ran home, and told my mom. She looked at me accusingly and said, “You’re a liar. Fred would never do that.” When my dad got home, she told him what I said, and he went to talk to Fred. But Fred shrugged it off as a tall tale, and my dad believed him instead of me. I could see no use in telling people about what Fred was doing, so I kept silent from that point on about his continuing abuse.
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