Part of the autobiography of a transsexual psychology graduate student.
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I once worked in a bookstore: organizing shelves, designing displays, and being a cashier. No employee was formally assigned a section but sometimes that just happened because we each concentrated on our favorite sections: mine was the children's section. We sold more than books sometimes. Once we were featuring this very elaborate collection of colored pencils, crayons, colored chalk, markers, and water colors in a carrying case! It was so cool that I set up a display of them in the front of the store!
Once while I was being the cashier I noticed the display only had one of the three colored cases left. Later I planned to fix it up with our extra kits in the stockroom. A mom, dad, and their little boy of about four years old wandered about the store and this coloring kit caught the little boy's eye. He held one and begged his parents for it. They said yes! I was very happy for him and said, "wow, we have THREE colors you can choose from! I just need to run back and get the rest!" So I brought forward the black and blue carrying cases. I was trying to be nice, let him rather having to settle for the only color we happened to have out. But I kind of did the opposite. He wanted the color that was already on the display, pink. It was obvious in his eyes. So he held up the pink one again. But he wasn't allowed to have the pink one anymore. His parents didn't explicitly say that, they said, "Don't you want this BLUE one? ... This BLUE one is a really nice strong blue." What utter gender sterotyping b*llsh*t!!!!!! Okay, I didn't actually say that aloud.
What was weird is how I knew his parents were making him follow gender-norms even though they never told him that. All he wanted was a pink, not a blue, not a black, just a pink carry-case full of coloring things. He probably had no idea why, but he knew what his answer was 'suppose' to be: blue. And that's what he brought to me at the register. I could barely look at this child and I couldn't sleep that night.
I've thought about this incident many times over the years It's kind of my story with my parents and I don't know when I figured that out. Somehow it always seemed that no matter how many choices it looks like I have, there are really only certain acceptable choices. And it didn't stop as I got older. How do I know?
My parents came for a visit one weekend and they insisted on buying me a futon. I tried to say "no" many times; how could I accept gifts from my parent's while I'm struggling to tell them something that might get me disowned? But they insisted and then choice happened: futon sheets. They come in many different colors and here was a shelf full of choices. Of course, I knew that I really didn't have all of these choices. There are rules. But I was really tired of these rules and if I'm about to tell them I'm a transsexual I should be able to tell them what futon sheets I like. "I like this." I really did: flowy shapes of pastel colors. I broke the rules! But my mom didn't hesitate to follow the script. "Don't you want this deep blue and hunter green one?"
I had just started to pursue a PhD in Developmental Psychology and I'm still that four year old child! The funny thing is my mom knew just what I would have chosen if I had followed the rules: the most girlish one within the range of boyish ones. We played this game so many times before. Maybe that's why when I struggled to get the words out later that night my mom said, "The worst thing you could tell us is you want a sex-change." "That's the worse thing?" It was a long night. My parents had been worried I would do this for a long time. But my parents still love me. And I still have futon sheets in deep blue and hunter green.
If I told you about my life like the scripts about transsexuality say to I would start with, "Ever since I was three I knew I was a girl ..." How does anybody know that when they're three? Sometimes I wonder if some male to female transsexuals say that because they knew they were girlish. Even most adults don't distinguish sex (girl) from gender (girlish). But when I remember my earliest experiences I can't honestly say I knew I was girlish. I knew I didn't act very guy-ish but I didn't know how girlish I am until I came out.
The first time I told someone about me it literally took four hours. It's amazing how much time you can fill with ummm and ahhh! Alex is kind of conservative, but he is very introspective and I didn't want to lose his friendship. It took me four hours to say I don't identify at all with men, feel much closer to woman, and really wish I was a woman. "Ya' know Mitchell, It's not like you told me anything I didn't already know about you." "Really?" "Well, I didn't know all the details." "Did you think I would decide to have a sex change?" He didn't expect that! But fortunately we still remained friends.
I didn't tell the last person about me until after I was full time. For months I avoided writing one of my favorite professors, a developmental psychologist who I admire greatly, because I couldn't face his disapproval. He wrote me back, "It's good to hear from you. And of course, your transexuality isn't a problem. When I heard about it at a meeting, my reaction was, "Of all the people I've met, I'm the least surprised that Mitchell would make this choice." It seemed pretty natural to me, and I wish you the best in your new life." Really? I actually tried to tone down my girlish qualities around him because I knew I was going to ask him for letters of recommendation! Most of the other people I told had similar reactions. It's only after person after person has said things like this to me that I started to realize how feminine I behave.
You might imagine the hardest part of transitioning is a culture shock of going from one gendered culture to another? But for me the biggest shock was to my self-concept; I went from being perceived as this really really *really* weird guy to this incredibly *normal* girl!!!!
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