Moment of Discovery and a Gordian Knot

-Blue_Trefoil_KnotI offer this experience because it might help someone else with the same issue scratching their head. It took me forever to get to the bottom of it and I’d like to hopefully spare someone else the time lost in looking for it.

 

I was on the floor playing with one of the neighbor girls. She was a teenager and her family was friends of ours. Equally, both she and her sister were sort of play pals to me, though I was maybe three, three and half at the time. Both of them were fun and I liked them a lot. Anyway, while messing around on the floor one day, I recall somehow getting into a conversation about how I was going to grow up and be a sassy “you can’t touch this” young lady just like the neighbor girl! In fact, in my little mind, I had us more or less tag-teaming the whole world with our grace and style. Oh yeah, my sense of self was flying pretty high. Except that after I had made that rather fanciful declaration, she turned, smiled and while gently waving a finger said, “But you’re not a girl!”

Now if you have ever heard that brief but loud flat hum when someone plugs a microphone into a PA system, then you know the sudden flat uncomprehending hum I just then heard. Before she said that, I was a happy little girl. I felt flowing, curvy, and graceful and, I dare say, even effervescent! But when she plugged that little verbal jack into my sense of self, I suddenly felt all that flowing grace being sent to ground with an internal hum that left a sudden feeling of now being thick, square and angular. Thunky I called it. I briefly felt a sense of panic wash over me, wondering what was going on, but then I sort of did the math and hit on…“Oh no, I’m one of those.” “Those,” of course, being boys.

I felt defeated, deflated, and downright fatalistically doomed. I could only assume that I just wasn’t lucky enough to have been selected for that extra step that would have elevated me to feminine status. I was left a boy. Looking ahead, the rest of my life suddenly seemed pretty glum. As I write this in my late 50’s, that moment still remains bar none, the most hapless and hopeless that I have ever felt. Something must have shown on my face too because I vaguely recall that girl and my mother having something of a “mission accomplished” air about them. I’ve termed this event “The Moment of Discovery” by the way.

But, before we go any further, let’s clear the air. I know that girl and my mother were doing what seemed the obviously right thing to do and that my mother loves me to death and would have tossed herself in front of a freight train if it would save me from harm. She still would! It’s all in the interpretation, as we shall see. After all, I too gave myself the masculine brand albeit in an indirect fashion. At that time though, the only apparent difference was that they were happy about my boyhood, while I was just resigned to it.

Compass_roseA Point of Departure

It’s an interesting point to note. I called myself a boy. To everyone it seemed simple enough. Masculine tool kit = masculine child = boy. Yet if that is true, then why was I displeased? A big hint was actually reflected in the two different attitudes regarding the afore-mentioned masculine toolbox; Mom saying “yay” and me saying “ugh”. But I wasn’t asking questions then. The toolbox was an accomplished fact and so I had my hands full learning my place as a man-child.

Yet, my toddler logic didn’t quite follow the “masculine tool kit = masculine child = boy” per se. I had something running in parallel with it, “people with femininity are girls and those that don’t have it are boys”. Now a casual reading of the two statements might seem like just different words articulating the same idea, but let’s look a little closer.

In the first statement, we have boy expressed by having a definite tangible something. A masculine toolbox. In the second statement, we have boy defined by NOT having feminine tools. See, to my mind, I didn’t have femininity so therefore I was a boy. I wasn’t a boy because I had masculinity. Indeed, even though I had it, I was totally oblivious to the whole notion of masculinity as a tangible anything. Believe it or not, to my mind there really was no such thing. The only commodity that existed was the feminine one. What we know as masculinity, to my toddler mind, was simply the upshot of denied femininity. Nothing more.

A Brief Sidebar to Make the Point

I recall an event somewhere in that same general time frame, but after that moment of discovery. Living right across the street from us were an older couple who were included as a part of our circle. One day while talking with the elderly man, I made a remark about what a shame it was that we just weren’t lucky enough to be girls and had to live like this. I meant it with complete honesty and said it with duty bound resignation. And you know…. somehow I didn’t get the heart-felt agreement I thought for sure was coming. Equally I had no idea that a mouth could open that wide nor eyes could get that bugged out! Gee, and coincidently, it seems like right around then, for some reason, I found myself getting extra time with the men in our group while it became nearly impossible to join with the women. Huh… go figure…..

Back to the Main Point but with an Analogy

Before the side bar, we had left off with one concept (boy) and two seemingly similar definitions for it, i.e. masculinity being a positive component piece of boy verses masculinity as a component piece of boy but interpreted as negative femininity. Confusing? Maybe this will help. Let’s say that you want to spray paint some lawn furniture maybe green. You go to the store, buy a can of green spray paint, take it home, shake it up, pop the top, point, shoot and out comes RED paint. Now, what is the more relevant, and thus correct, fact here? The fact that it is red or the fact that it is not green? Both views arise from the same scene and all of the neighbors are just assuming that you intend to use red paint. That’s how the different views of masculinity worked. If it’s there, (masculine paint) it’s just assumed to be correct. But since you (actually I) assumed green paint (feminine paint) anything but green is irrelevant, other than serving as a vehicle through which green is denied. Would it have mattered if it had come out blue or yellow? It is the expectation of the owner that determines the more relevant and thus correct logic. Not the neighbors view, however imposing their numbers.

Well, my expectation was that I was going to grow up to be an adult woman. It wasn’t my desire, it was simply an assumed destiny. But when that got taken off the table, I found myself with two competing and incompatible realities. On the one hand, now that I couldn’t be a girl, I was left with a desire to be one. At the same time, I felt duty-bound to identify myself as actually being a boy and so I threw myself into that task. And that dear reader was the start of a duality that shadowed me through most of my life. It was reflected in my having two wardrobes and no understanding as to why! I spent decades trying to understand it. Oh I had read that people can have brains and bodies of different sexes and as badly as I wanted to commit to that to explain my incongruous, I just couldn’t find a cause and effect reason that would let me override the given.

Then one day, after retirement, lightning finally struck. Just suppose that my girl parts had been there all along….well? That above mentioned Moment of Discovery would have never happened. I’d have been just another little girl on a floor somewhere having kid fun with a neighbor girl. I would have been a complete and normal female and thus the duality would never have been created. Equally, that whole masculine odyssey that consumed the greater part of my life would have never existed either. Sure wish I had understood all this way back when.

Thanks for bearing with,

Martha C.

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Rose is a Rose is a Rose…Except When it’s Basil

The power of naming is immense in our culture.  Anyone who carries a family name certainly knows this as does anyone named after someone famous or celebrated.

Parents choosing baby names are advised by elders to avoid those which are tied to less respected family members—so the new, innocent baby named after often drunk and obstreperous Aunt Sally doesn’t have to carry that reminder and burden into adulthood.

Some families value carrying on the male lineage by naming the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son (you get the picture) the same name with an increasing number, i.e. William I, William II, William III, etc. 

Of course, names also carry gender expectations.  While every generation has a flurry of names that go either way, most names are gender-specific–either boy or girl.  Think about how you approach a parent with a babe in arms–after a first quick check of clothing color. 

Pink or blue?  You’ve got a pretty good chance of being right when you exclaim how cute she or he is.  Yellow, green, brown, orange?  Hmmm…time to ask a clarifying question like “What’s your baby’s name?”

And it is here that behavioral expectations begin. 

“This is my little girl Cassie!”  To which many people say, “Oh, she’s so sweet!”  Or “This is my boy Anthony!”  To which the typical response is “Wow, what a big guy!”

Those assumptions—that girls are sweet (or delicate or quiet or pretty) and boys are big (or strong or active or handsome) begin very, very early.

Okay, so what does this have to with being transgender?

Choosing a new name during transition is an extremely important part of the process.  I often think we should create a naming ritual for transitioning people that allows for separating from the former name, and all of the expectations that went with it, and ‘putting on’ the new name with the new expectations of living life in the (finally) correct gender.

Some fortunate Trans people have family members who help them choose new names, thus evoking a similar experience to the original one of being named as a baby. Others will choose special names with religious, cultural, or ethnic meaning, and those can carry great power as the person moves forward into their new life.

Whatever you choose as your new name to match your identity, the best name is the one that feels right for you…for the rest of your life!

Now for the details: here are some resources for changing your name:

[Thank you to the late Gertrude Stein for the title of this post, a line from her 1913 poem Sacred Emily.]

It All Begins With a Conversation

The University of Michigan Comprehensive Gender Services Program gets hundreds of calls and messages every year. Each morning when I arrive at my desk there are phone and email messages waiting for me. 


We welcome people at all points along the gender spectrum.  There are no pre-requisites for calling us nor do you need a referral.  We can help you no matter where you are in your transition.


Our process begins with a telephone intake, a 20-minute conversation that can be scheduled at your convenience.


The questions I’ll ask you include your demographic information (name, address, phone number, birth date) as well as some information about your life…like who knows of your gender identity and who is supportive of you.  It helps if I can get a feeling for what your journey has been like so far, and what you may need from us in the future.


I’ll also ask about employment (and it’s okay if you’re not employed!) and insurance (if you have it) as well as what services you’re looking for from the Program.


We’ll talk a bit about therapists and doctors you’ve seen in the past as well as any medical conditions you have.  After collecting your current list of medications, we’re done!


Please call us if you’d like to have an intake with us…it is a great chance for you to ask questions about our Program and what interests you!  We’re here from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, but your intake can be scheduled outside of those hours if it is more convenient for you. You may also leave a voice mail message anytime, as well as sending an email to um-cgsp@umich.edu.


I look forward to talking with you!