According to professionals far more knowledgeable on the subject than I, around the age of three most children develop a skill that the refer to as gender labeling. It is around this age that most children can correctly identify other children and adults as being a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl.’ This is not a skill based on the genitals of the other children. Nor does it reflect any deep understanding of the social relatonship between males and females in our society. This skill is solely based on their understanding of the world as seen and conceptualized with their own eyes. I will assert it is not substantially different than their ability to tell the difference between a red ball and a blue ball, a cat and a dog, a car and a boat. Is she wearing a dress? Girl. Does he have short hair? Boy. What color are their clothes? Are they holding a doll or a football? If one reads the stories of parents raising transgender children, you will often learn that the child first assert their ‘label’ at this age. A male child might have first told him parents at this age — “I am not a boy. I am a girl.”
Did I ever say to my parents, “I am not a boy. I am a girl.” I have no memory of having ever done so. This is not to say that I saw myself as a boy at that age, but rather that I knew myself to be a boy at that age because I had been told repeatedly, “You are a boy.” Whether or not a child in the process of developing their unique gender identity expresses and share their identity with parents is not a litnus test of whether or not that child may be transgender.
For some of these male children, with supportive parents, they are allowed to explore the life of a girl. For those ‘boys’ who remain silent, they are left to conform to the dictates of socieity as a boy. And then a couple years later, around the age of five or six, children come to fully comprehend that gender is permanent. It is unchangable. A male child who asserts she is a girl will around this age learn that she will always be a girl and the silent male child who did not speak up will learn he will always be a boy.
As children grow older their understanding of the differences between boys and girls will grow. This growing understanding will be consistent with the prevalent binary gender system and solidfy their certainty that there are certain things that cannot ever be change. When I was nine years, old enough that I knew which restroom I had to use at school or other public locations, I had a KA-BOOM moment. A story casually shared by my younger brother — whether true or false — changed my life in an instant. One moment I was a (reasonably content?) boy of nine and the next moment I was awakened to the realization that the life I had been leading was not the life I had to lead.
A male child of three can say ‘I am not a boy. I am a girl.’ It is not so easy for a male child of nine to make the same assertion. He has already learned that gender is unchanageable. He is already leading a social life with other children his age that is consistent with the gender binary. While I cannot ever recall saying to myself during my youth, “I am a girl,’ I can recall thinking to myself “I am not a boy.’ I did not see myself as a girl. Instead it would be more accurate to say I wanted to be a girl. Some boys of my age might have put on a cape and masked to pretend to be Batman. I would put on dresses to pretend to be a girl. It would not be inaccurate to suggest that throughout my adolscence the single most significant force guilding my life was that of finding time to dress up as a girl. I became more or less a model student and a model son so that my parents and other adults would trust me to behave on those occasions they left me alone. And if I was alone most likely I was wearing a dress.
In my senior year of high school, I came across a Time Magazine article on Christine Jorgensen, a GI soldier who had undergone a sex change. Over time the term sex change would come into disfavor and be replaced by gender re-asssignment surgery and later on by gender-affirming surgery. However, at the time I first learned of Christine Jorgensen, a sex change was largely a medical procedure. It was something one who was unhappy as a man could have to live life as a woman. Learning of her life provided me with insights into my own life. I began to envison life as a woman as something beyond simply wearing a woman’s clothing. However, I also had to accept that living my life as a woman would mean I would have to give up all my dreams of marriage and family and a career in teaching.
It is not difficult for me to conclude that my decision to marry was largely my one last recourse to find as for myself life as a man — life as a husband, as a father, as a teacher. In my senior year of college, I gave up my dream of following my Dad into the teaching profession. I came to know I could never teach as a transsexual in the public school system. I had to make a choice and I chose against teaching. Not surprisely, once I gave up on the dream of being a teacher, it was not long before being a husband and a father seemed equally unlikely. Ann and I divorced and I entered a multi-year period of my life where on one level I knew I wanted to be a woman and would never be a woman. I drank, frequented strip clubs and chased women (largely unsuccessful) for the next fifteen years of my life while at the same time always maintaining a large wardrobe of feminine attire in my closet and dresser drawers.
When I was almost forty years old and went out to a gay bar for the first time en femme, I was not asserting a gender identity. Instead I was surrendering to the long-held belief that I was not a boy. I had grown into a man. While I knew a ‘sex chane’ was an option, it was an option that always seemed as far away as the next solar system. Accepting the realization that I was not really a man, and acknowledging that it was unlikely I would ever be a woman, I began living a double life. I would work forty hours a week as Glen and then on the weekends I would step out as Veronica. The term ‘transgender’ was not widely used as a means of defining my identity. It was soon afterwards however that the Spokane Public Library began offering this new service called the internet and I soon discovered hundreds of other individual not unlike myself who were much more comfortable living the life of a woman rather than that assigned to them at birth. In 2000, I attended the Southern Comfort Conference in Atlanta and socialized with hundreds of other crossdressers and transgender women.
In 2002, I recieved a DUI on the road between Silverdale Washington in and Port Hadlock where I was living with my Mom, brother and his wife. I was given the option to seek out treatment and did so. Deep into my treatment, I became aware that drinking was still an option for me. It could be said that I was just toughing out the treatment program until such time as it was over and I could get back to drinking. However, I did not want to drink. What was the soluition? One day sitting at home, it came to me. I jumped in my car, drove fifty miles to the treatment center and asked to speak with my case worker. Sitting down in her office, I said the words, “I am transgender.” It was the first time I had ever spoke the words to someone other than another transgender woman. It was the moment that I finally found sobreity.
I was fifty years old at the time. A sex change operation, gender re-assignment, gender affirming surgery all seemed like an option that has passed me by. I had wasted my entire adult life in denial and secrecy and it was pointless to hold out hope of ever knowing life as a woman. But I still held out hope and became obsessessed with the idea of building an online business that would allow me the freedom and the income to pursue life as a woman. My efforts were futile and I found myself in Dallas once again and totally homeless, living in a shelter for over two years. After I had fought my way out of the shelter, gotten myself a job and my own place, I found myself once again pursuing life as a woman while largely accepting the best I could ever know was life as a crossdresser. Fate brought me back to Washington State and then one day I came across a pdf file online that dealt with Health Benefits in the State of Washington for Transgender Citizens. I had just turned 61 years of age and for the first time in my life I saw a path. My journey has just begun as has the evolution of my gender identity but I am on that path today.