When I was a kid, I wanted to be a girl. Some of my earliest memories are of me praying to G-d to change me into a girl when I woke up. I idolized my grandmother adopting her mannerisms and her personal style. She let me try on her rings and jewelry, and I even got away with wearing her scarves. She painted my nails and even highlighted my hair, to test the color before using it herself. I followed the girls around at school and would even invent elaborate games where I hid to play My Little Pony with them without getting caught by my teacher. I can remember a girl in my class who raised her hand in a particularly feminine way and I began mimicking her. She pulled me aside one day and told me ‘You can be my friend without doing everything I do.’
My father simply did not know what to do. His dream was for me to fulfill the sports fantasizes he could never accomplish himself, and he tried his absolute best to push me into participating. I could not have cared less. In baseball, I would always end up in right field spinning in circles or chasing butterflies around oblivious to the game happening around me. In basketball, I was, unfortunately, tall at an early age but managed just enough incompetence never to be given any real responsibility on the court. I just run back and forth until it was time to go home.
I had long strawberry blonde hair that curled at the ends, and my grandmother loved it. Once when facing the other way, a man called out ‘Who is that little girl over there?’ while pointing at me. My dad nearly punched the man in the face. It was agreed I could have a mullet to satisfy both parties. I was delicate, emotional, nervous and far too sensitive. Eventually, the adults in my life realized no socialization was better than forcing me into group activities I hated and let me wander off along the river bank lost in my imagination. I just didn’t have friends until I reached the latter part of middle school. I didn’t develop stable long-term friendships at all until my mid-20’s.
The irony of all of this is that throughout my childhood I utterly obsessed over masculinity. I loved comic books, X-Men and Superman being my favorite. I loved WWE wrestling. I loved watching bodybuilding competitions and looking through muscle magazines. I fantasized about superheroes appearing out of the sky, telling me I too had a superpower and then rescuing me from a life that just did not seem to include me in it. I wanted giant muscular men to be my friends, protect me from bullies and help me become one of them.
The truth was I simply longed to be accepted by the other boys, and I wanted to join in with them. I just had no idea how. I never learned how to communicate with boys. I would awkwardly stand quietly when forced to engage with them, and they just looked at me like I was an alien. But deep down I only wanted to be one of them. I can remember the reasoning, very early, that since I couldn’t master the art of being a boy, perhaps being a girl would allow me access into their world. Boys liked girls. If I were a girl, it would just be so much easier.
I carried that belief well into my 20’s.
In my early 20’s I explored the idea that I was transgender and spoke with several therapists about the topic. I watched documentaries, read books, studied online, and I knew the steps needed to complete the transition. I even had a plan for managing work while I transitioned. I bought women’s clothing, a wig, and some makeup and I tried very hard to pass for something that didn’t resemble a drag queen at around 3 am. I practiced my voice and my mannerisms. I told my friends and even my family. I was set. The only problem was money.
This was the early 2000’s so transitioning in your early 20’s was just not as common outside of bigger gay centers. Today I see young men in their late teens transitioned from the waist up living their day to day lives. So at the time, I realized I would just have to wait until I could afford to do it. Although this filled me with anxiety and frustration I accepted it as the cold reality I was faced with. But then something changed.
I was in college and by pure accident of scheduling, spent time with a guy my same age and his girlfriend who decided we were all going to be friends. He was sort of gruff and didn’t talk much, but she and I got along great. Soon I was spending most evenings with them and more importantly, spending time with him without her there as a buffer. I always made sure to have a girl around when dealing with boys. Somehow he and I bonded even though we had very little in common except his girlfriend and a general interest in video games. Today he is one of my best friends. He became the first male connection I had that did not involve sex, and he managed to teach me everything I had been longing to know since childhood.
I learned how boys talk. I learned how they banter. I learned how they jockey for position. He made fun of me endlessly, and at first, I broke down every time he did it when I was by myself. Somehow I learned over time it was his way of bonding with me. To this day he humiliates me multiple times when we hang out, and I have learned how to punch back and laugh. He physically challenged me, taught me how to do things and even when he laughs that I am a girl to him, he always includes me.
Two years ago I met another guy my age by pure chance who I would have been terrified to make eye contact with in high school. In fact, we went to high school together, and he barely noticed me. He is older, extremely masculine and on the outside a guy you would never expect to be friends with someone like me. We met as he was dealing with a difficult relationship and I became his go-to for advice and encouragement. He taught me about loyalty, and the bond men can have together in times of stress and difficulty. He never puts me down, he always encourages my best attributes, and he trusts me.
Between the friendships developed with these men, I discovered my masculinity and understood what being a man meant. The fantasy I grew as a kid involving superheroes made me believe real manhood was out of my reach. What I realized was that once I removed everything I thought limited me, masculinity was all that was left behind. I am a man, and it is my nature. Even if it isn’t as pronounced or dominant as it is in other men. What I was trying to create for much of my life was an adaptation to my environment that was simply impossible. I would never have found the peace in connection to myself and connection with other men had I transitioned into a legal woman.
This is controversial, but we as a society simply have not thought this through. Adults like me, encouraged by a subculture that celebrates the idea of transitioning into a new and better person, have convinced far too many that their early childhood experiences are absolute. I hear the stories of transgender people today, and I know what they felt, and I know what they were experiencing inside. The difference with me is that I now know why I felt it. In an article titled The Inequality of Gender Fluidity, I discussed some of the absurdities of the medical and political world regarding gender identity today. I talked about the conflicting definitions and extremely vague concepts to which individuals define their whole lives. We begin transitioning children based on these ideas.
Had I been born a generation later I would have been dressed as a girl by age 9 and taking hormones or hormone blockers well into my teens. I would never have found the peace I know today because I would not only have continued struggling to create a new identity that functioned in society, I would have had an entire media industry behind me telling me I was a brave victimized minority doing so. The connections and self-awareness I am grateful for today would never have been realized.
Granted I cannot speak for everyone. But I can speak to what I see. Transgender individuals still suffer from anxiety, depression, disorientation and a never-ending battle for self regardless of where they live, how far they have transitioned or how accepting their environment is. I believe it is because they are trying a solution for the wrong problem.
We never give these individuals the chance to live in their bodies and understand themselves in relation to the rest of society. We tell them that in order to celebrate who they are, they must change everything about themselves. I would argue that I am a transgender success story. The mental anguish and confusion I experienced have been resolved without surgery or hormones. My gender aligns with my sex and all anxiety and unresolved emotional needs simply gone. Once I accepted myself as I am, I also found the peace I didn’t know was even an option.
We live in a society that allows incredible freedom to customize one’s life. I support that and would not hesitate in fighting for the continued freedom to do so. But we also live in a society that believes children validate adult problems and we are intolerant of the notion that children simply grow out of things. By default, we take away the choice of an individual when we allow their child-self to determine their adult future.
The answer is not simple. It wasn’t as simple as putting me in sports or sticking me in a room full of boys and walking away. But my father wasn’t prepared for my struggle and had no other resources. My grandmother loved me, but encouraging my sense of gender confusion only made matters worse. From what I know now if I had experienced more time with boys, older boys, and men in situations where girls were not around to protect me I might have developed the necessary skills to survive. Bullying, as we call it, has a very valuable purpose in how boys engage with one another. If my weakness had been broken down, I might have gotten back up stronger. As it was, I had the option to hide and never challenged myself.
Boys need male-only environments, surrounded by men who appreciate the journey and won’t interfere. Boys need to be taught, together, what being a man is like, what work is like, and what brotherhood and loyalty means. Boys need to exercise, play sports, compete, lift weights and understand what controlling and building their body feel like. Boys need to be challenged. Boys need to be separated from girls and taught that weakness is a choice that never benefits a man to own. Boys need to be free from the social experimentation of feminization. And I am sorry, but a girl dressed as a boy with short hair is never going to fit in and only makes things worse.
Much of our memories of being bullied as children are remembered through the irrational emotion of childhood. Yes, children are cruel, but the strongest people I know today fought back and learned what they were capable of as a result. The LGBT world is a neurotic over-sensitive mess today because our entire generation was told we should never have to feel anything but love and acceptance.
Acceptance is earned.
Masculinity is not toxic. It is not dangerous. It is not something that needs controlled or minimized or suppressed in boys. Masculinity is as vital as femininity, and it must be embraced, cultured and celebrated. We cannot assume children know who they are or what they feel. We have to provide them with every tool available to develop a sense of self and then allow them to make their choices when they are adults. Hopefully, in the future, more struggling young boys will come to the same realization I did before they lose everything trying to chase a fantasy. Embrace your masculinity, and you will find peace.