I always knew I was different. But it took more than twenty years to find the language to describe who I was.

Swingset

Not One of the Girls?

Swingset
Photo by Aaron Burden

I was five years old on my first day in Mrs. Camp’s first grade class. Everything was fine until we were released for recess.

The boys headed up the hill to play kickball. The girls went under the shade trees to jump rope and play house. I instinctively headed out with the girls until Mrs. Camp stopped me and insisted I go up the hill “with the rest of the boys.”

I was dumbfounded. Rest of the boys? I didn’t say anything, but I thought, But I AM a girl. My closest friends had always been girls. Joellen. RenĂ©e. Angie. I had thought I was one of them.

Boys always seemed like a foreign species. Not bad, just different. And definitely not me.

I kept this conflict a secret except for once when I confessed to my friend Scott. “You know how some girls are into boy things?” I explained.

“Yeah,” he said. “Tomboys.”

“Well, I’m kinda the opposite. I like girl things.”

“You’re a sissy?”

Oh no! Not the S word! “No, not that! Just never mind.” And I never brought it up again.

But I continued to feel like a girl in a boy’s body. I didn’t have a name for what I was or even language to express how I felt. But the conflict was real and it never went away.

Clothes That Felt Right

When puberty hit, the conflict got worse. And that’s when I started cross-dressing. The surprising thing about cross-dressing was that putting on women’s clothes felt right. There was no thrill other than the experience of feeling at home in clothes not meant for my body.

I still didn’t have a language to describe myself. I wasn’t really attracted to guys in a sexual way, so I wasn’t gay. At least I didn’t think so.

Christine JorgensenOccasionally, I would hear about people like Christine Jorgensen. But only as the butt of jokes in a sitcom. So I never connected that to me. Perhaps because I was terrified of becoming a pariah, a freak.

Shortly after college, I began to wonder if maybe I was gay. After all, gay men do drag, right? So I ventured to a gay bar, despite being engaged to a woman. I made out with some guys. It felt strange, not like the experience of cross-dressing, which still felt right somehow.

A couple years into my marriage, my wife caught me cross-dressed and soon divorced me. I was crushed and confused. I spent several months researching, trying to figure out what was wrong with me.

This is Who I Am

And then Caroline Cossey did a nude spread in a men’s magazine. I bought a copy and knew then that this is what I was. Transsexual. Transgender.

Somehow, Cossey appearing there, looking so beautiful made the idea of being transgender seem like something more than a pariah or a freak. We were human beings.

I had no idea how to begin my journey at that point, but at long last I had the language to describe my internal landscape and my experience. I wasn’t alone in the world.

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2 thoughts on “When I Knew I Was Transgender”

  1. I am certain your life has been one of searching for the right answers.
    It is easy to judge those that are different than we are. I believe such judgements gives us a feeling of superiority.
    I find myself glad that I judged people by the content of heart and brain. Now much older I judge myself when I harbor the wrong sense of humanity.

    Dharma Kelleher you are to be honored for the honesty and education you provide.

    It is a tall mountain you climb!

  2. That’s an extremely interesting story.

    When I was a little kid, I knew I didn’t like being a girl. But I didn’t want to be a boy, either. I just wanted to have the freedom to do the things boys did, and not to have to wear the uncomfortable, ugly clothes forced on girls.

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