The Gender Curse
by George Goodwin
Note from Laura: Our guest writer George Goodwin is a freelance writer and reporter. Ironically this fine article was sadly rejected for it's choice of content (transsexualism) by several publishers. We are proud to publish it here.
What is normal? The definition of normal typically comes from that which is statistically normal i.e. 10 fingers, 10 toes, two eyes and a nose. But what if you aren't defined as statistically normal? What if you are born with a birth defect, an extra chromosome or a third eye? If you are born with a sixth toe you can have surgery to have it removed to feel normal, but what if you are born in the wrong body? For a transsexual this is the eternal curse, the constant feeling of something being wrong, whether they are aware of it or not.
A mask is slowly lowered to Connor's face. He can see through the emulsified plastic, but the doctor's face is still a radical blurry smear of flesh intermingled with teeth and eyes.
Connor was born a healthy six-pound baby boy with strawberry blond hair, dimples, 10 fingers, 10 toes. Normal. He was a nascent being contrasting sharply against the sterile white sheets - a blotchy red and white soul naked, scared and cold who was out of place in a new world of clean edges and sharp boundaries. He was quickly cleaned, wrapped and whisked away to the nursery where he would stay for the next eight hours.
"Breathe deeply, this will be over before you know it," exhales an unknown voice beside him.
Because Connor was born before the ascendance of amniocentesis to test for an XXY chromosomal pattern his parents never knew that he would be different. In fact, even the hospital believed that he was a "normal, healthy red-blooded individual" so when he was discharged two days later the world responded to him as a boy. His father wrapped him in blue swaddling clothes, gave him a teddy bear, surrounded him with hanging dinosaurs and read him stories of sports heroes in the hope that someday he would play professional baseball. At night Connor was tucked away in hope that he would learn independence in his isolation. This he did, though he didn't yet have words for the new feelings that he was having.
The ether vapor of sevoflurane gas begins seeping into his lungs, rendering him unconscious and unable to feel pain.
At the age of five April learned that she wasn't a "normal" female. She started wondering if something were wrong with her because in her mind she wasn't like all of the other girls. As boys in the guise of Batman and Robin lay claim to the blocks, girls gathered in the doll area to devise plots to get rid of the boys and gather more fairies and princesses. April watched and wondered. She didn't feel like playing with dolls, instead she wanted to climb the blocks with the boys and play king of the mountain. She wore a pair of steelblue jeans and a forest green t-shirt instead of the pink dress her mother wanted her to wear. Although she didn't have a name for it, April was beginning to go through a process of gender identity disorder, something she wouldn't be able to understand for at least another six or seven years. For now she was simply confused, unaware that she was different, with few words to describe what she felt or why.
For Connor the six-hour long operation will take a mere moment and he will wake up not as Connor, but as Michelle.
By age 14 Connor had begun taping his chest with duct tape in order to enhance the illusion of having breasts, though he didn't dare to try going to school that way. His friends in middle school had abandoned him because they thought transsexualism was degenerate.
"Many thought I would go to hell for being a transsexual person," Connor says while staring at a cobweb on the ceiling. "They still do and to this day do not and will not have anything to do with me. A few think I am living in a lie. At first it was hard to adapt because I always thought they were always going to be my friends no matter what. But when they dropped like flies because of all the stuff they told me it was absurd."
He didn't want a repeat of that experience in high school. He had transferred to a different school than many of his peers, but prejudice against transsexuals still permeated the atmosphere.
Still, his need to be female was ever present and although he suppressed the need, it manifested itself in other ways. Dressing for example.
"You become very insecure because of the clothes that you are forced to wear. I wore mostly black fatigues and black shirts of different types. In fact the majority of my wardrobe was black. I went practically all Goth," Connor says.
Goth is a sign of warning, especially in the United States, and is a sign of rebellion. It's also a way of not being noticed. Black colors and baggy clothes helped him to slim down and avoid interaction with the other students.
Connor never forgot what happened to those who stood out of the crowd and were viewed as degenerate.
In high school April joined ROTC in order to learn how to better serve her country. She was beginning to assume a man's role in her world, although fear of discovery prevented her from embracing her role completely.
Unfortunately, April decided on a warm spring day in May that she would allow herself more freedom to be her true self. She decided that day that shaving her legs was unnecessary and so went to school with a vestige of hair that would be considered acceptable in Europe, but long enough to be unfeminine in the United States. As the squad leader, however, she was considered to be setting an example for the other cadets and was slightly more visible as a person than her squad would have been. Her legs were noticed and she was reported.
ROTC rules do not allow officers to physically touch a cadet and the culture of the trainee recruits is such that the officers are supposed to be dispassionate and imperturbable when handing out a dose of punishment. Nevertheless, the look that April received told a clear message: clearly her drill sergeant would be willing to wipe her sorry ass all over the floor with a little ammonia and water and then flip her out the door, shoulder first, judo style given half a chance.
"Ranks, style and method aside this is the Army and we don't put up with that sort of nonsense here," said the sergeant. "In order to enforce discipline and maintain morale you must be punished. For a period of 24 hours you are hereby assigned the duties, rank and privileges of an acting squad leader. Next time do what you're supposed to do and take care of what needs to be taken care of."
Her rank was halved, from staff sergeant to corporal. She thought it was bogus but could only say, "I'll take care of the problem." The conversation was over. She was dismissed.
April's acting squad leader was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant for the day to conduct the formation, inspect uniforms and bark orders to the ranks. Since she was no longer the squad leader, April had to carry out the orders of a corporal and was given the honor of being able to march at the end of the formation.
She wanted to find out who it was that had narked on her. She never did.
Some people use their religion to justify violence against transsexuals. Others are simply scared of birth defects and don't try to justify their violence at all.
Connor met Kendra in his early 20s Kendra was curious about his lifestyle because he wasn't like the other men she had met. He was in touch with his feminine side and cared for others in a way that many men she had met didn't seem to.
For Connor, Kendra was more of an experiment than an emotional attachment. He was curious as to what a sexual encounter was and together they decided to have a one-night stand.
"I didn't have a lot of dating experience and couldn't understand sex," recalls Connor as he leans against the headrest on the back of the couch. "I didn't know why people thought it was something thing to do, but I was curious as to what a sexual encounter would be like.
"I hooked up with Kendra through a friend. I had heard of sex, but I was trying to figure out what the deal was so we tried a one-night stand. I used a condom but it broke. She was on birth control, but didn't take the pill everyday and that made her more fertile. It only took the once to get her pregnant.
"Kendra used the one-night stand to try and entrap me, but I ended up with full custody of the child. Soon after the baby was born I started drinking excessively to the point where I didn't care what happened. That was a method of escape because I wanted a normal relationship with me being the female. Unfortunately, I had no concept of how to get there because I had a baby to take care of."
His drinking continued for another two years, though it was confined to the weekends.
April met Tracy at the age of 33. Tracy is a five foot 10 inch blond lesbian who had been through a marriage and a divorce and was putting herself through college. Although they were friends, she and April didn't start dating for about a year. It might seem odd, but objectively speaking the relationship didn't bother either of them. April was still strictly speaking physically female, though she viewed herself as being a straight male in a woman's body. Tracy was thus able to live with and cherish both of April's sides - the feminine physical aspect and the masculine mental one. They promised to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.
With Tracy's help, April started going to The Rainbow Place, a local Reno support group. She had always known instinctively that she was a male, but had never been quite able to accept it to herself. She still lived in a world of strict, unbending gender roles and expectations. The question for her had never been, "Am I male?" but rather, "How do I break out of the stereotype that I have been placed in?"
"The support group brought him from 'maybe I'm transgender' to 'yeah I am transgender' to 'how do I tell others that I'm transgender? What do I do about it? Do I go on testosterone? How do I change my name? Etc. etc,'" says Tracy. "Usually about 10 people were in the meeting, mostly women, but cross dressers were there as well."
The meetings helped April take the name of Nathan for herself, and helped her to start referring to herself as a male.
From that point on Nathan knew who he really was, but he still had to take care of tying off some loose ends. He had to tell his parents, he had to change his birth certificate, he needed to get hormonal therapy, he would eventually need a mastectomy (an operation to remove the breasts), a hysterectomy (an operation to remove the uterus), a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (an operation to remove the fallopian tubes and ovaries), phalloplasty (penis construction) and other surgeries. And of course he needed the money for all of these things.
Nathan also needed an approach to tell his parents about his new identity. He wanted to hold his secret longer, but it became a pressing need for him to let them know. He was
beginning a new job with a taxi company and he was afraid that people might respond violently if they found out. So he discussed his situation with Tracy.
"We went to the support groups a lot," recalls Tracy. "It was a big secret but it finally got to the point where he couldn't hold it as a secret any longer. He was getting his name changed, so he needed his mother's permission to use her maiden name instead of his father's."
Nathan finally found the courage to tell his parents; he was 35.
"Mom, I am going to change my name," breathes Nathan as he stares at a spot on the floor. "May I use your maiden name?"
Connor met his wife to be Joanne while he was working at the Renaissance festivals. It took her about three and a half months before she was able to approach him, but when she did he was happy to accept her relationship because she had in effect taken the role of the male. Unfortunately she neither understood nor did she agree with his gender dysphoria - his desire to be a female.
After three years of marriage Joanne had purged most of his belongings, clothes and makeup in an attempt to correct his behavior. She believed his dysphoria was just a phase and she was determined to break him of it.
Unfortunately, reality conspired against the couple. After losing their house and most of their belongings to the post 9/11 economic depression Connor began thinking about suicide and his wife encouraged him to seek out a therapist.
She also encouraged him to go to The Rainbow Place support group and seek out help from other transgendered people like himself.
His new therapy and support group were unfortunately not able to prevent his health from deteriorating and after a severe fight with Joanne, a case of acute pancreatitis and a bout of depression, Connor attempted suicide. He entered a local hospital and survived, only to be kicked out of his house two weeks after his return home by an estranged Joanne who was unable to cope with his personality change and her own failure to make him more masculine. With 90 percent of his belongings and a protection order against him, she had the upper hand.
Connor almost checked himself back into the hospital a second time. Before he did however, he found that Joanne had fled the state of Nevada and he was able to enter and clean the house they had rented together. His parents allowed him to move back in with them and his therapist authorized the use of hormone replacement pills along with anti-depressants.
"It was during the next few months that I was able to change. I asked my therapist about a sex operation referral. I started referring to myself as 'Michelle' instead of 'Connor' and started referring to myself as a female. My estrogen pills allowed me to stop taking the anti-depressants. I sought the support of my friends to help me with my emotional difficulties and I focused on raising my daughter instead of outside relationships as a means of focusing my life," Connor says.
"My child lives with me now. I have full custody of her and she has no transgender issues. She calls me 'Mom' and has no problems with my changes. Children accept it more easily than adults. She's 15 now. I told her a couple of years ago, when she was about 13. I think it was open-mindedness rather than a sense of responsibility that lead her to be so open about my sex change."
Michelle will be going to Thailand for her operation as it is a mere $6,000 rather than the $50,000 tab that she would otherwise have to pay in the United States.
"Why are you changing your name?" his mother replies, a tone of worry trickling through her response.
All lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual statistics are estimated within their community. According to Laura Amato, a transsexual who runs a transgender website certified in suicide prevention, the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) suicide estimated statistic is roughly 30 percent, while transsexual (T) estimates are placed at roughly 20 percent higher than LGB rates. The Rainbow Place, a Reno LGBT support group, states that the suicide rate amongst transsexuals is as high as 75 percent. Consistent, factual data is difficult to find since coroners do not consider the sexual status of the individual that they are examining and due to embarrassment most families omit the LGBT status of their child. One statistic that is consistent, however, is that 50 percent of transsexuals attempt suicide at least once before their 20th birthday. Some attempt suicide as early as age 7.
"I am a transsexual," Nathan answers, his face pale from fear of her response. "I am still your child, but I am not a female. I hope you can still love me."
About George Goodwin
"I am a freelance writer and working on my Master's in Journalism at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada. I am also a longtime on and off resident of Reno where I live, work, play and study. I enjoy the outdoors and am currently working towards getting my degree in environmental journalism".