DECIDING TO BE MYSELF
Oscar Wilde once quipped, “Be yourself, everybody else is already taken.” That’s sound advice, but it’s not always as simple an endeavor to undertake as one might assume.
I was born on August 5th of 1952 and assigned a male gender, having had male genitalia. No one, of course, knew I was born with a female-formed brain and would identify as female my entire life—despite being forced to deny my gender for several decades. A month before I began kindergarten, my mom prohibited me to ever again play with my best friends, Tylene and Sherry, because she wanted me to learn to behave like a boy.
Shortly after I turned six and had started first grade, a thirteen-year-old homophobic bully violently attacked me in a school bathroom. He repeatedly kicked me in the groin for at least ten
minutes, the entire time taunting me with emasculating slurs such as, “sissy fag” and “girly girl.” Although wracked with searing pain, I couldn’t help but wonder how this older boy knew that I was really a girl on the inside. Then he said, “God sent me to punish you because you’re not a real boy.” From that moment on, I believed God despised me because I was a girl and not a real boy like I was “supposed” to be.
My mother never took me to a doctor or counselor. I also have reason to believe that she never told my father or the school about the assault. Never allowed to talk to anyone about being attacked, I was forced to act like it never happened. For the next five years, I felt terrified whenever in school. I also experienced profound shame, which transmogrified into self-loathing.
By age twelve my suppressed gender started to reemerge, despite my pathological fear of being exposed as unacceptably different. That year my eighteen-year-old brother, while shaving, told me that someday I’d be able to shave, too, like him and Dad. I’d always just assumed that I would grow up to have a body like my mom someday, and my realizing that this wasn’t going to happen for me sent me into a tailspin of despair. I soon became obsessed with death as my only possible reprieve from developing a man’s physique. My fear of male puberty nearly drove me to suicide. I was terrified of damning myself, however, trapping me in a self-negating life where I’d still have to pretend to be male or else suffer repercussions for being myself.
I later became obsessed with the crazy idea that making love to another girl would somehow “fix” me and make me want to be a real boy. In spite of being attracted to guys, I made a few failed attempts before I met and eventually married the woman with whom I would share the next four decades in a volatile and toxic, co-dependent relationship. Of course, my making love to another woman and marrying her (in 1971) did not “fix” me. Although she and I fell deeply in love with each other, sexual intercourse was always problematic for me, at best. And keeping up the pretense of my being male in such an intimate relationship quickly became so unbearable that I began to secretly wear my wife’s clothing whenever I was home and she was not. This was the first time I had actually worn female clothes since my mom punished me, back in the late 1950s, when she caught me wearing one of Tylene’s dresses. I knew it was called “cross-dressing” and considered a “shameful” act—a perverse fetish, as most people believed. Much later, I realized that my wearing women’s clothing was gender-appropriate for me, and that I was actually cross-dressing whenever I wore male clothes.
I ended that first attempt to transition about six years later to try to save my marriage and because my mother had disowned me when I sent her my coming out letter, and also because of being told by my therapist (late in 1979) that he’d never authorize hormones or surgery for me. I quit therapy and went back into the closet for thirty more years, from early in 1980 till the spring of 2010. Over the next eight months I told a close friend that I’m transgender, permanently separated from my wife, and (on December Fifth) came out in public as female. I have never looked back. I lost my wife, my house, my 31-year career, several friends, and became homeless for a few months, but what I gained is immeasurably better than anything I lost.
I am not only no longer suicidal, I am psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually thriving like I’d never experienced the first 58 years of my life. I’m reasonably happy and comfortable in my own skin. I no longer struggle to fit in socially and feel like I belong. I have gained a measure of self-acceptance and self-respect that I never dreamt possible. And in two months (as of this writing, on December 1st, only four days short of the tenth anniversary of my coming out of the closet for good) I am scheduled for my Gender Confirmation Surgery, which will reshape my genitals to more closely reflect my female gender. I could not be happier because, today, I
live as the woman I am, without shame, confident in my right to be myself. Besides, like Oscar Wilde pointed out, everybody else is already taken.
Christina E. Shannon
(September 27, 2020)