November 17, 2014


Tommy, age 2
San Jose, California (1975)

My mother tells me the staff at the Sears portrait studio were so impressed with this photo of me, that they wanted to hang it on their wall in the lobby. 

"What does the T stand for? Is it Tammy?" they said. "No," my mother corrected. "More like Tommy." This was my first reported instance of an occasion that would become a regular theme in my life.

I was 2-years old and people were already doing double-takes while apologizing under their breath for misidentifying my gender. "He’s pretty for a boy” was the first of the backhanded compliments I was poised to receive as I got older.

As  a kid, it used to bother me that I was often mistaken for a girl, and my easily mortified teenage self suffered accordingly. Because people didn’t quite know how to categorize me by sight, I learned to transcend polarization. 

I understood early that gender was a social construction that was completely malleable. I felt the need to refrain from conforming to the gender biases of popular culture and to create my own. 

If I liked a shirt in the girl’s department and it fit me, I wasn’t stymied by the fact that it buttoned up the opposite side. I learned how to bridge the gap between my yin and yang. 

I trace the early understanding of gender politics I had to this photo.
T was for Tommy but it was also for trans - as in transcending transgender. 

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1 comment:

Jacquilin DeWolf said...

Thank you for sharing! Your story leaves me with a huge smile!