Wednesday, 3 May 2006

End of Act One

Exactly one year ago was the end of the major part of my life so far.

It's now been a year, so matters are still fresh enough in my memory to be accurately recalled, yet enough time has gone by for things to be seen with some sort of objectivity. I hope.

I'll try to explain, as best I can, matters which are by their very nature intensely personal, and more than just a bit embarressing. Why? because I think the more people know about Benjamin's Syndrome, and the more my readers, friends and family know about my personal situation, the more understanding there will be. I also think understanding is important, perhaps more important even than acceptance.

I can't reveal all, in every gory detail, as it affects not just myself, but other people, people whose permission I haven't obtained to write about them. But I can give the gist of it, for the main actress in this little drama so far has been me, Zoe. I crave pardon for the egotism, but I can't see any way of writing an autobiographical sketch without it.

Pardon Me.
I need to see someone.
I don't know who decides these things.
But you see, there's been a silly mistake.
I didn't complain before
But I'm now nearly 10.
It's getting really late.
I don't mind being in Loddon House
Though Thames or Kennet are OK too.
If I have to change
To either, I don't mind.
And as for A Class well,
I'm good at maths.
No complaints.
But you see
They put in me in the Boys
And Boy things just aren't me.
The Boy clothes I wear
Mean Girls won't play with me.
I'm so alone,
I spend my playtime
In the Library
I don't fit in
At all.
There's been a mistake, you see.
I know my parents
Wanted a Boy.
Maybe that's why it was done
The assignment incorrect
To Boy and not to Girl.
A Natural mistake
To make
No blame.
But haven't I been good?
Done everything required?
Never been naughty
Over much.
I think I've earned the right
To go in with the Girls
And soon
Before my teens begin.
I need to see
Someone in charge
Who decides these things.
Please help.

"I must confess I was born at a very early age." - Groucho Marx

In 1958, in Earley, a suburb of Reading, Berkshire, in the UK, in fact.

Few pictures of me exist as a child : one of them, taken at about age 3, is of me setting up an early morning tea, teacups, teapot, "pretend" cake and so on, for my cousin Mark. He's still in the RAF I believe, Military Police, happily married with a large family. I wonder if he remembers?

About this time, I started having big problems with zips. You see, my instinctive "body image" never included external genitalia, I plain forgot there was anything there. This caused many painful episodes with zip flies, then just coming into fashion in the UK, around 1961. Eventually my parents gave up, and I wore button flies till age 10.

My first Friend was Virginia - I'm not sure if I ever knew her last name. I do remember how happy we were playing together, me at age 4, and walking home from her house, thinking of the word "friend", and how I now knew it's meaning. I rolled it around my tongue, and was terribly happy.

She moved away shortly after, and I've never seen her again.

It was when I first went to school that I realised there was something odd. Boys were so different from me. I didn't identify as a girl as such, I just wasn't a boy, I didn't think like they did. It took me several years of people-watching, closely observing their actions, before I could successfully fake it.

At age 7, some girls allowed me to play with them. Now this was a really big deal to me, because no-one allowed me to play with them, neither girls nor boys, somehow I didn't "vibe" right. I was pre-literate too, dyslexic, I hadn't found the comfort and solace of books. I had no poetry to protect me.

I was good at hopscotch. Never could skip a rope, my co-ordination was poor to nonexistent. The whole body just felt subtly wrong, a mismatch between the peripherals and the device drivers. But hopscotch, with it's planning of what to do three jumps ahead, that was my style exactly! We made ever more complex variations on the standard theme, with obstacles, requiring going backwards or sideways at a certain point, lots of fun. But always out of sight of the others, for it just wasn't the done thing for a boy to play with girls like that, or girls to allow a boy into their midst. And I was a boy. I had to be, I was dressed like one. I hadn't got a clue at that stage that there was anything more to it than that, I just thought your parents decided how you'd be reared.

And I liked a lot of "Boy Stuff". Playing Cops'n'Robbers (whenever I could find anyone to play with), mechanical things of all kinds fascinated me. Going fishing with my Father, I loved that. I was no spoiled "Mother's Darling", neither did I feel overly lonely. I loved going out exploring, on my own, riding my bike to places I'd never been before. OK, I wasn't a boy, but I surely didn't fit the pattern of girlhood as practiced in England in the mid-60's. I just couldn't understand the Tribal Boy dominance games, the love for football and sublimated combat that was team sport. I figured I could have been either, and as I'd been placed in with the boys, a boy I would have to be.

It got worse though. Less comfortable. I had no desire to wear girly clothes, in fact, I fought against any trace of femininity that might give my secret away. Who could I have told?

The family moved again, and I lost my girlfriends.

The next part of my life, I'll deal with briefly. Just to say that I always felt a strong maternal, protective urge to those smaller than myself, and I was always big, broad-shouldered and strong for my age. My Uncle in the USA had sent me a book, Encyclopedia Brown, and I always identified closely with Sally Kimball.

At my next school, I soon went Bully-Hunting. And was hunted back. They came in packs though, and no matter that I could take any of them on individually, for I fought like a girl, biting, scratching, no-holds-barred, soon my existence was dominated by figuring out new escape routes, new places to hide, new ways of getting home to avoid the packs that were out to get me. I still didn't "vibe right", and a CAT scan I had a few years ago showed just how many bones in my face were broken at that time.

My parents placed me in a boarding school when they found out just how badly I'd been hurt, and that saved my life. My soul too, I was becoming just as brutalised as those I fought against. You see, I'd wait till pack members were alone, and attack. I know I broke one kid's collarbone, and he was only 11. OK, I was 8, but he was still just a kid, he didn't deserve that.

My two years at boarding school were very, very happy. It was a time of healing. I no longer was afraid. I had my own secret little flower garden in the middle of the woods, and was so very happy. At a place where everyone was a boy, I didn't stand out so much, there was nothing to contrast with: I could stay inside and make up and play board games, or use the school's model railway (for I still loved mechanical things).

It was at this time, at age 10, that I picked my name, Zoe, from the Dr Who character of that name. She was a bright, sparky Maths genius, everything I wanted to be.

Then one weekend, my parents paid a surprise visit, an I was told we were going to Australia the next week. We flew out on October 13th, 1968.

Again, a mixed school, and again, I stood out. But this time, it was more because I was a "Bloody Pom", at a time when Racism against the English was fashionable, the way Racism against the US is fashionable today, alas. But no-one tried to kill me, no-one used a brick or crowbar to try to damage me, it was all just boy dominance pecking-order stuff, and I found it very difficult to take the schoolyard violence very seriously. There was almost none, and it was conducted in playing fields after school anyway, the teachers wouldn't allow it on school premises. Very ritualistic.

At home... well, you know how some flowers, when transplanted, fail to thrive? My mother was like that. She's never fully adjusted to living here, and never will. The England she left faded long ago, and she's at home here as much as she ever will be anywhere. Here agoraphobia got worse and worse. Meanwhile, my sister, who missed her 18th birthday as we crossed the International dateline at midnight, well, she seems to be permanently stuck at age 17 all her life. She didn't want to come here, and made that very clear by numerous acts of teenage rebellion that came close to wrecking her life. My Father's job turned sour too, again the anti-Pom Racism fashionable at the time.

The one bright shining hope was... me. I managed to get into Sydney Grammar School, and my scholastic career took off by leaps and bounds. I was the one who cheered up my mother when she was so terribly unhappy. I was the one whose report cards brought proud smiles to my father's face, amidst his woes. Who could I tell? They had quite enough on their plate. As for my sister - well, she made all the mistakes of youth so I didn't have to, and for that I'll always be grateful to her for.

And at age 12, I found out that Boys and Girls were born different. And that came as a shock. Despite all my feelings for so long, I was a Boy after all. The evidence was clear, I could be nothing else.

I struggled against it though. The body was too awful, too broad-shouldered, too alien to ever be successful as anything else, yet I did try both rubber bands and shoelaces to "cure" my condition. But it hurt far too much.

Eventually I decided to accept my fate, because I desperately wanted children, and the only way I could have them was as a father, not a mother as I so desperately wanted to be. I hadn't figured out the implications of that, I never found boys attractive in any way. They were too alien, not like me at all.

I figured that there were two possibilities: either I was a boy, with a harmless "quirk", a mild delusion that he should really have been born a girl: or I really was a girl trapped in a man's body, and unable ever to escape. That latter scared me to death, because if it was so, it was such a hideous, horrible, utterly intolerable situation that that way lay depression, madness, and death. Such a situation could not be allowed to exist, the whole family was depending on me.

So I tried to be the best Man I could be, and I acted the role well, knowing with increasing certainty that a role was all it was. But in denial, for to admit to it would have meant the collapse of my whole existence. In order to be happy, healthy, sane and functional, a man I had to be, full stop, end statement, and worse things happen at sea. The most I could admit to, to a very few close friends, was that I felt I could have been born either, and on the whole, had a mild preference for femininity. Just a preference, mind you. Every day, I woke up, and repeated my mantra : "Thank God I was Born Male", no high-heels, no monthly curse, no silliness with makeup, clothes that made sense... and didn't realise that this was not the normal behaviour of any Man. At least, I assume it isn't. I've never been one, you see. A lot of unspoken assumptions about guys, what they feel, and what they do, based on my own internal observations of how I feel and what I do, are now open to question.

One year ago today, I was in this state. Happy, really, and who wouldn't be? I had a wonderful 3 year old son, a very happy 25 year marriage to a woman who is still despite everything the love of my life.

But the fuse that was lit 40 years ago was nearing its end, and the explosion, when it came, was more powerful for having been so totally denied for so long.

One year ago today, I'd never heard of Gender Dysphoria, or Gender Identity Disorder, or the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association Standards of Care. I had no contact with the Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-whatever groups, I didn't even know Transgender support groups existed. I considered myself a weird but straight male, just not very good at it.

I didn't know it, but the curtain was closing on Act I, and less than 24 hours later, my whole Life was to change in ways I still am trying to comprehend.

And you know what? The story above, with minor variations, is absolutely typical of the transsexual woman. All that time, I thought that at least I was unique, special in some way, even if weird. But no, just very, very ordinary, and very, very typical. You'll find it repeated many times in the book True Selves. But you see, I hadn't read it. I knew nothing.

That was shortly to change, and the story of how it did change appeared in this blog, as it happened. The next post will be an Index to the relevant entries over the last 12 months. I hope that readers, and psychology students, may find it useful.

I'm quite interested in it myself. For all its tragedy, and hilarity, this really is utterly fascinating for a Geek Girl like me!

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