Not long ago, I was walking my dog in my beautiful hometown of Hermosa Beach, Calif., when perhaps the ugliest thing that’s ever happened to me in my entire life went down. I was standing on the corner waiting for my pup to do his business, when a truck slowed down right next to me. A guy stuck his head out the window, looked me up and down with disgust in his squinted eyes, then spit out venomously, “What ARE you?”
The coward peeled away anonymously into the night, which was unfortunate. Because if he had stuck around for an actual conversation, I might have given him an answer to his cruel, but not entirely unwarranted, question: “Dude, I have no idea what I am either!”
By definition, I’m transgender — emphasis on the “trans” part. See, unlike Miss Universe contestant Jenna Taleckova, Chaz Bono and Matrix director Larry Wachowski (now Lana) — who are now 100 percent living as the opposite gender they were born as — I’m not that cut and dry. I have a vagina but I had my 36DD breasts removed intentionally 18 months ago. I dress almost entirely in men’s clothing and have super-short hair but right now, as I type, my toes are painted baby blue, and my legs and pits are freshly shaven.
I’m not a hermaphrodite because I have/had girl parts. So I guess you could say I have the most in common with, uh, Pat, from Saturday Night Live. It’s devastating that the person I most relate to in the world is a joke and a freak —not to mention a fictional character. But the bottom line is that I feel neither male nor female, and, at the same time, both male and female. And it confuses and upsets a lot of people, including me (and Chaz, which I’ll get to later).
Dare I say that Jenna and Chaz and Lana are lucky? I’m sure they have gone through their own personal hells on the journey to being their true selves. But they have chosen a definitive gender and, very slowly, are gaining acceptance. I, and others like me, remain undefined, a minority within an already ostracized minority. I mean, could it possibly be “easier” to just go all the way and become a man (as much as humanly possible) and try to blend in more? Why is it so important to be defined as either male or female? Is it possible to really be both? Or am I just kidding myself that I’m really both?
Every day, at least several times a day, I’m reminded that my gender is ambiguous and confusing. Women get jumpy when I walk into public bathrooms and I have to reassure them that we’re all in the right place. A normal errand, like picking up a prescription, goes something like this: I stand at the counter and though the pharmacist is only standing about five feet away, she says to me, “I’ll be right with you, sir.” I glance over my shoulder to make sure she’s talking to me. Yep, she is. There’s nobody else there. But as she walks closer and gets a better read on my soft features and child-bearing hips, a wave of embarrassment washes over both of our faces. I can see the light bulb go on in her eyes that I’m actually a woman. I can also see that she’s going to pretend that neither of us heard her call me “sir.” It’s fine, I prefer that to awkward apologies.
In a typical day, I’m called “sir” anywhere from one to six times. Living on the West Coast, I also get “senor” a lot, though once at Whole Foods I was thrilled to hear “young man,” because I’m certainly no spring chicken. Another time, at Denny’s, my waitress referred to me as “Sweetie,” then four seconds later the busboy came by and asked, “Sir, would you like more water?”
I’m not mad, how could I be? It’s my own fault that it’s impossible to tell if I’m a man or woman. After all, I dress like a 14-year-old boy, and walk and sit like I have invisible balls between my legs. You know you’ve seen others like me out there. One thing I’ve noticed: We often travel solo — maybe because if we walked around in a posse, real men would challenge us to a West Side Story-ish rumble and we’d get our asses kicked?
Anyway, it’s my fault but I truly can’t help that I must wear skateboarding attire and walk like I just got off a horse. It’s as inherent as my psycho PMS meltdowns and undying love for Brad Pitt. Apparently, in pre-school, I would only play with boys’ toys and the teacher pulled my mom aside and warned her that my life would be “difficult.” The advice fell on deaf, in-denial, ears: My mother put me in a dress the first day of first grade, so I faked illness and got sent home. During the rest of my childhood, while my mom forced me into girly clothes and activities like ballet and playing the cello, I lived out my male persona with my unsuspecting little pals. I was always “John” when we pulled out the Fischer-Price “Little People” Holiday Inn playset. I pretended my Schwinn was a motorcycle and had the cutest neighborhood girls ride behind me on the banana seat. In 4th grade I played “smear the queer” football with the boys, who respectfully called me by my last name. Then in 1976, my savior, Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill, appeared like a beacon of hope and I had a legitimate reason to chop my hair off into a wedge.
Everything was going splendidly — until I hit puberty. One of the first in my class to get a bra; not long after, at the tender age of 10, the period followed. It was like a scene from Carrie. Thankfully, most of the memory is repressed but I do recall literally screaming bloody murder and refusing to wear a pad or learn how to use a tampon. Since that day, being a girl has been a rough ride. I still immaturely am mortified to buy tampons at the store. And when I force myself to go to the gynecologist (the last time was about five years ago), my shoulders shake from silently sobbing in the waiting room because I know I don’t belong there. But I also know that turning my head and coughing ain’ right either.
If I had to put a number on it, I’d say I lean towards the male side 70/30. I mean, there is so much about me that is a stereotypical guy: For example, to my mother’s dismay, I burp and fart like a truck driver; and I like to watch straight porn (my mom didn’t know that until now. Sorry mom). But in some ways I am absolutely nothing like a man. For example, I hate action movies because they’re too loud; I love gossiping and talking about my feelings; I will ask for directions; and I cry after watching straight porn because I feel guilty that the girls may have had abusive childhoods. Emotionally I relate to women the most but everything else about them — the makeup, the hair, the boy craziness — just does not compute (FYI: because I’ve worn heels like four times total, I have lovely feet if I do say so myself. Hence the blue polish. Foot modeling agents — call me!).
Being both and neither sex is a blessing and a curse. There are definitely advantages to being both — I happen to be very well-rounded and can have spirited conversations about everything from the UFC to Fifty Shades of Grey. But oddly, as much as I feel like I can fit in everywhere, more often I feel invisible, like I fit in nowhere and have nothing in common with anybody. I feel like an observer rather than a participant of life, like I’m pressing my nose up to a window watching the normal people get to do it all. Going places where I will meet new people — like a party— can fill me with anxiety and dread. At best, with enough booze flowing, very curious, troubled people gravitate to me like a circus act. At worst, everyone ignores me because it’s obvious I’m undatable and therefore, the least important person in the room.
Here’s why I’m undatable. Sexually, I relate most to a straight man and do wish I had a penis. So, I’m not attracted to lesbians, who are attracted to other women, correct? I am, however, uncontrollably drawn to straight women, who will not date me because I do not have a penis. I have had “things,” I won’t even call them relationships, with a string of curious, troubled straight women, who were willing to experiment. But ultimately, they all end up dumping me, marrying men and having children. I don’t blame them. Sex with me is a nightmare. Especially before I got my boobs chopped off, I was ashamed of my female body, so getting naked is, was and will always be traumatizing. The sex is one-sided because I don’t want anyone touching my girl body. It’s awkward and unsatisfying for all parties. It is the antonym of hot. Because of all of this, and the umpteenth straight woman to break my heart, I’ve pretty much given up on love. I haven’t touched anyone in three years.
Every day there are subtle, constant reminders that I will never be comfortable in my God-given girl body. Taking a shower and getting dressed every morning has been an ordeal, especially because of the bra and just always feeling like a clown in ill-fitting clothes. I hate looking in the mirror because I truly don't understand what is staring back at me. Shopping is traumatic and shameful— I only go in the men’s section, where I feel judged. The sales clerks will often ask if I want a gift box, and I’ll say yes because it's easier. I once freaked out in the men’s suit section of Macy’s because I had to go to a formal event and nothing fit me right. Until the surgery, I hadn't gone swimming in years because I felt like there was no appropriate swimsuit to wear without feeling totally booby.
Like lots of people who have major self-loathing and feel profound loneliness, I covered it up for a long time by drinking my face off in a local bar, where I felt accepted by the other misfits covering up their own damage. I tried group therapy for Female-to-Male (FTM) transgender people but that just made me feel worse. Everyone in there went by a male pronoun and when I said I didn’t, I felt judged and left out. On the few nights I’d stay in, I’d lay on my couch in a trance trying to figure out exactly how I was going to kill myself. Tragically, this is too common for my people: According to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, anywhere from 31 to 50 percent of the transgender population has attempted suicide (the national rate is 1.6 percent). I totally get that.
Before this all gets too dark and scary, the good news is that I pulled myself out of that horrible place. First, I quit drinking my face off, which tempered the suicidal tendencies. The second major thing that happened was that I was fortunate enough to meet Chaz, interviewing him for a magazine in the summer of 2011. After he first came out as transgender, he was my hero and I re-came out to my friends and family as transgender, too. I had high hopes for the meetup but, sadly, Chaz and I didn’t really connect. In addition to the fact that I was feeling insecure and like a poser because I still had boobs at that point, we didn’t have a lot in common. He had happily turned into a man (except for the penis, which he’s looking into) with testosterone, something that I’m pretty sure I don’t want to do. After I said I didn’t want to take “T,” he told me not to be “nervous” to do it, basically making me feel like a coward. I asked him about the difficulty of maintaining relationships, but Chaz said he never had a problem and all the trans “dudes” he knew had girlfriends. After the interview, crushed and feeling more alone than ever before, I sobbed in my car (geez, I cry a lot — see, like a girl!).
The best thing that came from the Chaz interview was that I was inspired to have my breasts removed by the same amazing doctor that he used. And while I’m definitely much happier and way more confident being boobless, now I get even more perplexed stares. The other thing that stuck with me was Chaz calling me a coward. Is he right? Do I really want to be a man like him but I’m too chicken to admit it and go through with it?
The answer is really no. My mom, who’s now totally accepting of my gender-bending persona, once asked me, "You don’t even like men, why do you want to be one?" And she's right. I like my personality. I have no desire to pee in a men's bathroom or be a Navy SEAL. And if you watch Chaz’s documentary, Becoming Chaz, testosterone totally changed him into another person — an aggressive, sex-obsessed guy. Do I wish I could magically wake up with a penis one day? Yeah, really just so I can have a solid relationship with a woman in the way I picture it in my Walter Mitty-like fantasy world, where being genderless doesn’t matter and people fall in love with people for their personalities, not their bodies.
The bottom line is that I’d like to be a man externally, a woman internally. What I want, though, is not possible. It really stinks that that selfish Oprah went off the air, now I have no one who will force me to love myself unconditionally with a cult-like fervor. So until I can deal with the hand (and vagina) I’ve been dealt, I’ll continue to watch porn with tears streaming down my face — and watch out for trucks with open windows.