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Growing Up Queer

May 2001

My story is not unlike a lot of other people's stories. I could sit here and talk forever about how I knew I was different from such a young age. How I was always Luke Duke when we played "The Dukes of Hazard" out in the yard, even when my sister wasn't around to play Daisy. I could tell you about the time I came home from school in the second grade and my next door neighbor couldn't wait to tell me about the people he'd seen on the talk show that day, women who used to be men, and how he knew that as soon as I heard about it that I'd want to do it too. And how in that instant, I felt so amazing, until I heard my mother and his mother laughing at the idea that anyone would ever actually do something like that, and what freaks they must be. I wonder if they knew how small that made me feel or how for the next few days I felt so wrong about myself that I didn't want to leave my room to go to school or even to go play outside. I could tell you about how I heard the girls on the playground talking about why you should always sleep on your back, because it would make your breasts come in bigger and faster, and how from that time on I always made sure I fell asleep on my stomach, hoping mine would never show up. I could tell you how, when at the age of 16 I finally got my period, I didn't rush to tell my mother the way my sister had, but instead I cried and searched the bathroom for a pad and stole tampons from my sister because I was too ashamed to buy them for myself.

But I also have stories about times when everything seemed perfect. Summers spent outside in the sun, riding bikes and trading baseball cards with the other boys down the street. Running through the sprinkler with our shirts off in my back yard. Talking about the girls we wanted to marry when we grew up, before any of us were old enough to understand that things weren't going to work out as easily as we all expected.

I remember sitting out on the front steps with my father, watching a summer thunderstorm, when he said to me that he wished I'd been born a boy because things would be so much easier for me, and how I should really start thinking about changing some things because it just wasn't right for a young lady to go around acting the way I did. I remember having to fight my church before they let me choose Saint Francis to be my patron saint for Confirmation, because I was a girl and he was a man and that just wasn't allowed. I remember waking up in a sweat the first time I had a dream where I had a male body, scared by how good it made me feel to see myself that way. I was twelve years old.

There was never a time when I decided that I was going to conform to what other people wanted me to be, it just kind of happened that way. Through high school I grew my hair long, wore dresses to the prom, played softball... it never occurred to me that I had other options. I still wasn't a girl girl though. I was thirteen the first time I ever heard the word "butch" used to describe me. I had no idea what it meant, but I knew it had to be bad. I wasn't like the popular girls who wore makeup and did their nails and always had a boyfriend. By no means was I one of the boys either. The guys down the street got older too, and made it clear that I couldn't hang out with them anymore. I wasn't allowed to look at their dirty magazines, I couldn't play on the same baseball teams, they all got girlfriends and I was left behind.

So I coasted along on my own. I got used to being alone. Something about me was just different. I started to feel really close to some of my girl friends, wanting to spend all of my time with them, thinking about how nice it would be to be together with them all the time. Sure, in the back of my mind I had thought "am I gay?", but no way, that couldn't be me. I remember sitting in my bedroom, eating McDonalds with a friend while we watched an Indigo Girls video on TV, and for the first time actually letting myself feel sexually attracted to a woman. I don't know how I kept a straight face while inside I felt like everything was turning upside down. It was almost a year later that I first told another person about what I began feeling that day.

I went to college, I got a girlfriend, and suddenly I was out to my family and friends as a lesbian. I thought I'd finally figured everything out, that this must be why I'd felt so different for all those years. For a while, things were making sense to me again. People were accepting me for who I was, or at least for the person I was showing them. But if everything was better, why did my stomach sink when my partner told me how handsome I was, or when she said she knew I would make a good daddy someday? She bought me a copy of Stone Butch Blues for my birthday and I read it cover to cover in two days. I felt like I should be taking notes, somehow documenting what I was feeling as I read. For the first time in my life I found my feelings and experience echoed back to me in someone else's story. It was like Pandora's Box. I hated myself for how good those things made me feel. A door was opening, one that I wasn't sure I would be strong enough to ever go through no matter how desperately I wanted to.

These new thoughts flooded my mind and heart with excitement and fear. I turned to the internet for more information. I found more and more people like me; transguys, brave men and boys whose stories sounded a lot like mine. I felt torn because I couldn't get enough information, but at the same time, the more I learned, the harder it was for me to deal with what I was realizing about myself. There was no turning back.

One night I went by myself to WalMart and grabbed a package of men's Hanes briefs, opened it up and stuffed a pair into my coat pocket. I have no idea what I would have done if I'd ever been caught, but I knew there was no way I was going to be able to bring them up to the register, at least not then. I got back to my dorm room and locked the door, pulled the shades and turned my music on loud. I put them on and stood there for a minute taking it in. The thick white cotton felt so right, so much better than plain Hanes Her Ways or even the boxers that I usually wore. Almost without thinking I opened my underwear drawer and took out a pair of gym socks, rolled one into a ball and stuffed it into my new briefs. I stood up on a chair so I could see myself in the mirror on the wall. It was exhilarating to be doing something that seemed so forbidden but made me feel so complete. I turned to each side, checking out my package in the mirror and feeling it in my hands. I probably stood on that chair for three minutes before getting down and putting on some nice khakis, a man's dress shirt, leather shoes and belt, and a tie. I wore the tightest sports bra I had and went to the bathroom to put gel in my hair. I spent that night alone in my dorm room listening to music and reading. Every once in a while I would move and feel a shift in my pants and that rush would come back to me as I remembered what I had down there.

Since then I've had other similar experiences, like the day I bought my first binder, a six-inch wide ACE Bandage from the drug store. I was so excited to try it out that I stopped in a thrift store and put it on in the dressing room because I couldn't even make it all the way home. I wrapped it around myself as tightly as I could and I almost cried when I looked in the mirror and saw my shirt actually fitting the way I had pictured it when I chose it off the rack, nice and flat against my chest. As I walked out of the store paranoid that the women at the counter would notice the difference in me, I felt about 3,000 times better about myself than I had just ten minutes ago. I wasn't feeling quite so good by the time I got home though, I could hardly breathe because it hurt to take in air. I quickly learned my first lesson about binding too tightly.

It was like I had to grow up all over again and learn how to live as a new person, as a transguy. There were a lot more "firsts"; first time shaving my face, first trip to a "real" barber shop, first time buying a suit. But I still look back at that night in my dorm room with the stolen underwear as the beginning of what has been, and is going to be, a long road of self-discovery.

I'm not ashamed anymore of who I am. I have friends that support me and a family that is trying to understand what's happening to their "little girl." I work as an activist for trans folks and other queer youth, sharing my story with as many people as I can. Through exploring and understanding my trans self, my mind has been opened to ideas and people that I hadn't even heard of before. I've made connections and friendships that I hope I never lose.

The hardest thing for me to deal with is knowing that my family will never really see me as their son, and that I will miss out on a lot of things that should be special experiences with them. My father will never stand beside me on my wedding day and wish me luck with my new family or tell me that he is proud of me for becoming an honest and confident young man. My mother will not see the importance of the work I do in the GLBT community because she can't get past her own discomfort with who I am. Those are some things I've had to give up in order to be true to myself in other parts of my life. It might not be the easiest path, but if I could sit with my father watching a thunderstorm on my front steps tonight, I would tell him that I don't wish I had been "born a boy" and that I am proud to be a strong transman.

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