May, age 12
Cape Cod, Massachusetts (2000)
This is the picture I clutched sitting at the local, gay community support group meeting for female-to-male trans men (FTMs). I'm on the far right, at a church retreat with my best girlfriends. I'm wearing the boys' jeans and flannel shirt that I begged my mother to buy me, and which I continue to purchase now as a gainfully employed lesbian grown-up.
When I first put on those jeans and cut my hair during college, my sense of relief was so palpable, I thought:
'God, this is what I’ve always wanted, and what I've always been.'
But I'd like to contribute to this blog by criticizing my own first thoughts, and ask: 'What is the what that any of us have always been?' A lesbian now, an FTM in the past? I can't identify anyone but a contemplative kid in this picture.
I came to the FTM meeting hoping to find similar pictures. The theme of the night was, "The Way We Were: What We Were Like As Kids." Guys brought pictures of themselves in Halloween costumes, reading in a field, or standing proudly in front of a car wash. But I did not see other pictures of the awkward or trans kid I intended to show with my photo.
The guys didn’t necessarily want to talk about trans childhoods, either. Halfway through the session, the conversation stayed focused on a member's question about declaring himself as male or female on his work's health insurance form.
And I left the support group more confused than ever. I'd hoped the guys there might share stories like those I read of many FTMs, similar to my picture: stories of childhood "body dysphoria," "tomboyishness," and awkwardness in dresses.
Looking at our childhood pictures in search of who we are now, is a common practice in our "community" - and what a complicated community it is! It's a way for us to relate with each other and foster community. And this website is a marvelous case in point: 'You, too? That tomboy is what it means to be gay?'
But to me, being gay means we have the gift of thinking critically about gender role stereotypes. I don't want what was imposed on me repeated, when my mother and sister cornered me in the living room, yelling about the trans-related books I brought home. My sister said, 'May, you've always been a lesbian!
We've always known it! All of us!'
But who was she to know my experiences or my childhood desires to be a boy? Or understand the confusion I felt seeing my own reflection, or what it felt like to bind my chest, or have sex? I felt so confused that I couldn't put words to what I felt, and so how could she?
And if I don’t want others to impose stereotypes on me, how can I impose them on myself? I look at my childhood and consider: I am lesbian now, and I have been other things. I've been a kid (like many lesbians, FTMs, and even straight women), who wanted to be a boy. I have been trans. I have been something I didn't know.
Was I looking to my childhood photo for an answer because was I afraid of being trans, or being gay? Does our sense that it must be wrong now make us search for those reasons? The "It's nature" argument is fundamental to many of us, to explain ourselves to family, friends, and much of America. We can’t help it, and so we should be allowed to be who we are.
But shouldn't we be allowed to be whoever we want to be? Trans, a man, a woman, whoever we were, and whoever we are now? The ultimate sexual and gender freedom will involve the freedom to change.
Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"
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