Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

NOVA Online (see text links below)
Sex: Unknown  
Share Your Story
Set 1
Posted October 30, 2001
next set



I was born with a microphallus and small testes. Other members of my family in earlier generations had showed the same characteristics, so my parents were aware of my problem early on. As I grew up, I always felt that I was male, and I was strongly attracted sexually to females. However, I never developed any of the normal male secondary sex characteristics. My voice remained high-pitched, and I had no normal body-hair growth or the normal physical changes of adolescence.

The doctor my parents consulted told them I was "probably" male, and they should be "extra careful" to guard against any "homosexual tendencies" that I might show. If I ever showed any "feminine" traits (including crying, and interest in "unmanly" activities like music) I got the s$%t beat out of me, usually by my mother or grandmother.

When I was 17, the doctor put me through a complete endocrine workup. Part of this workup required me to stand, stark naked, in front of a dozen or so male and female medical and nursing students, while the doctor described how he would determine "the actual gender" of "this individual" (me). I still remember his words: "At this point, we don't know if the genitalia you see is a very small penis or a very large clitoris!" This experience sent me into a major depression and I attempted suicide.

In my 20's I was finally able to escape into the care of another physician, who finally diagnosed my condition as Kallmann's Syndrome. I am a genetic male, with a normal XY chromosome pattern. However, because of a genetic defect, my pituitary gland fails to give the proper hormonal signals to my testes. I received testosterone replacement therapy, which produced all of the normal male secondary sex characteristics (lower voice register, increased musculature, and beard growth). My penis remains smaller than normal, and I have a very low sperm count. While I would like to establish a long-term intimate relationship with a woman, I have yet to find a woman who will accept a man like myself. Through psychological counseling, I have learned to accept my situation for what it is, and live life on my own. But I'll always wonder what having a marriage and family would be like.
Unsigned


I was born in 1955 with AIS-Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. At the time it wasn't noticed as far as I know because I was born very premature and weighed only 4 1/2 lbs. I had many health problems that the doctors had to deal with.

Since it was 1955, they didn't have the modern techniques that they have today such as Neonatal ICU, so they were going to let me just die. I also had to have a complete transfusion of all my blood because I had suffered a stroke either in utero or right after birth because of the Rh factor conflict between my mother's blood and mine.

I stayed in the hospital for three months and slowly through prayer, faith, and the grace of God I recovered and was able to come home and am alive today at 46 years of age. I do remember being taken to numerous doctors as a young child from the age of 5. I was never given a reason why I was being examined. I don't remember questioning it, or if I did I don't remember being given an answer that is memorable.

Later, around the age of 10 (in Aug. of 1966), I was taken by my parents to a urologist, and was examined and told that I would need to have "surgery." I was told that I had been born with an inguinal hernia, and it would have to be corrected. I was also told I would have to take female hormones the rest of my life so I could develop breasts and have all the female curves, etc.

I was told I wouldn't have pubic hair and underarm hair and that I would grow a beard and my voice would be low like a male's and such if I didn't have the surgery and take the hormones. I questioned why but my parents said that is just the way it is. Naturally as a girl at that age I wasn't concerned about this because you have all faith and confidence in your parents and feel that they would never do anything to your detriment. I was put in the hospital at the age of 11 years, and surgery was performed on me. I was given a bilateral gonadectomy.

When I was recovered I was told that I would not be able to have any children and that I was to never speak about this to anyone. I wondered why, but when I pushed the issue my parents would get very upset so I would back off. The only other thing I was told was that my female organs never fully formed because I was born so premature and that the pieces that were found could have caused cancer.

The doctor came down during the surgery to the waiting room and asked my parents if they wanted him to make me a boy or leave me as a female, and they said leave me female because I had been raised thinking I was a female up till then, and we lived in a very small country town where everyone knew me. They also felt that as a little 11 year old girl, it would be too traumatic for me to come back as a little boy, because I was raised as a girl up until then. We would have had to move to another state and started all new lives because of the embarrassment and discomfort my parents and I would have had to face.

I am glad that I had the surgery now and have the life I have but I can't say for sure how I would have felt at the age of 11 if I had known the whole story and understood it like I do now. I don't blame them for having the surgery performed but I do blame them for not telling me the whole truth, especially when I was around the age of 13 or 14 when I could have understood it all better, I believe. Then I wouldn't have gone through all the soul searching I have done since finding out the whole truth. My doctor said when I called him awhile back with more questions that I reminded him of a person who had just found out they were adopted and couldn't find out all information about their birth and birth parents fast enough.

I was a happy teenager and believed in my parent's love for me and I totally believed in my doctor, who was like a father to me. I had no reason to ever question what I had been told. I was a very trusting child.

When I started dating at 15, I was told to not tell my boyfriend anything and to be a "good girl." I knew what this meant, and I had all intents on doing just that. I did know that I couldn't get pregnant, but I had just started dating this guy so I wasn't about to do anything. Later as we knew each other more and dated more we realized that we were going to end up together, and I told him that I was certain because of an operation I had when I was 11 years old that I couldn't have any children and that if he was going to want a family when we married that we would have to adopt. He said "fine" and just asked me as to why I couldn't have children. I told him what little I knew of the situation. I used dilators to lengthen my short, blind-ending vagina, which worked very satisfactorily.

I married at the age of 16 years old. I had never been away from home, and the homesickness was more than I could handle. I developed panic attacks; I didn't know what they were at the time although I know now. I have found out over the years that anxiety/panic diorders and such do occur among people born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome.

I came across some papers that pertained to me and my condition. There in black and white were the words under diagnosis, "Bilateral Gonadectomy." I immediately called my parents and questioned them on this and of course they denied it and tried to convince me I was mistaken and that the papers had been on someone else, but I knew there was no mistake.

I called my doctor the urologist, and he at first also denied any knowledge and tried to give me the answers he had given me all those years ago after my surgery, but finally he realized that I wasn't going to stop digging until I knew the truth, so he told me the whole truth. I was devastated because my physical appearance was female, and I had always been told I was a girl, and I had always thought of myself as a girl.

I had pubic hair, underarm hair, and breasts and looked totally female! It later became clear to me that it was because I had been put on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) after the surgery at the age of 11. (I was put on Diethylstilbestrol at age 11, but I forget the dose, and it was increased as I got older.) I was very upset, but over time learned to accept it and dug around until I finally paid to get my records from my doctor and just consumed everything in the folder like a starving person seeing food for the first time.

As far as my husband is concerned, I am his wife and 100% woman. We have celebrated almost 30 years of marriage and are a very happy, loving couple. We never adopted any children but we are happy just the same.

I know my situation may seem unique, but believe me it hasn't been a bed of roses. I have made it through a lot of difficulties and come out on the other side happy and healthy. The one thing that I have found which is very common among people born with AIS is that the doctors advised our parents to never tell us what really happened to us because of the thinking among the doctors that we would commmit suicide, which was the furtherest thing from my mind I assure you and most everyone I have come in contact with that was born this way.

Finding the AIS People Club in Yahoo has helped me find a whole new family to get support, help, and understanding regarding my AIS. I highly recommend the AIS People Club to anyone of any age who needs someone to talk to for support.
Unsigned


I was born with ambiguous genitalia and raised as a girl till age three. I did not have any genital corrections because my mother wanted me to be changed to male. The doctors refused to do that and wanted to correct me to female, but my mother would not give consent for them to do that.

My mother remarried when I was two, my father having died two weeks before I was born. Her desire to have me changed to a male persisted, and with my stepfather's monetary resources, she was able to find a surgeon to make the genital corrections she desired for me. This resulted in genital surgery to male, with a complete change of gender role being imposed upon me.

I was unable to adjust to the new role at all. This created emotional havoc for me, effectively depriving me of a normal childhood. The dysfunctional nature of my family, which includes alcoholism in both parents, led to divorce preceded by years of spousal and child abuse perpetrated by my stepfather. I had a very difficult time, and was unable to socialize and gain peer acceptance, until several years after leaving home at age 16.

I then lived as an androgenous person of indeterminate sex, and later as a female, as soon as I was able to procure medical treatment for sex transition. My sex transition was long delayed because I was dysfunctional, emotionally confused, unsocialized, and consequently uneducated and unemployable. I barely survived at all, until I joined a Protestant fundamentalist Christian church at age 19. I entered missionary training, and after completing it two years later, became a full time Protestant missionary with the Christian Missionary Alliance. Our church was later absorbed by a cult, The Children of God, and I became disillusioned and left a short time later.

After leaving the church my gender dysphoria continued to intensify, and I was then unable to repress my feelings any longer and sought help. I first learned of my intersex condition at age 29, when I was incorrectly diagnosed as a hermaphrodite by a physician who was not well informed about intersex conditions and misinterpreted the unusual results of lab tests to determine hormone levels, in addition to positive results from a buccal smear indicating an XX sexual genotype. I am, however, neither a hermaphrodite, nor do I have an XX sexual genotype.

One year later I was again misdiagnosed at a university teaching hospital, as having a chimera-like mosaic of XX/XO/XY, as a result of kariotypes that were more likely than not done improperly. My most recent kariotype performed in 1993 shows an XO/XY mosaic of Turner Syndrome, which is far more likely. MRI results also show that I have Mullerian duct remnants, which help confirm this diagnosis.

It has been a long, lonely, and difficult struggle to become who I truly believe I was meant to be all along. I have done more than survive. I have become a happy woman despite the odds. I had successful GRS at long last, in October 2000.
Natasha


As a child, I knew I was a girl, and my parents knew me as a girl, but I didn't identify as a girl like other girls. I played exclusively with boys and dressed like a boy and thought like a boy. I was skilled at boys games and activities and was a leader among the boys. Physically, in the pre-teen years, I was as strong as any boy and proved it by winning at wrestling matches, even challenging any who doubted it. I insisted that my clothes be boys clothes, shirts, knickers, boots, and boys parkas, and that's all I would wear to school until I finished 6th grade. My parents went along with this except for insisting I wear a dress to Sunday School and church, which I agreed to do.

I felt very happy in my life as a tomboy. I did have one girl I was friendly with because she also wore boys clothes to school, but didn't live in my neighborhood so wasn't part of my gang. I didn't learn girls games, like jacks, jumprope, paper dolls, or playing house, and I felt embarrassed when boys made fun of girls who did. Out of doors I was all tomboy, but when I came home I lost my confidence in my identity and often felt weak and confused. I identified with my mother in her love of babies, adored them myself, and even had baby dolls that I played with and pretended to nurse—all in the secrecy of my bedroom. I felt that I understood my father, who was a weak male figure, impatient and nervous, intelligent, but largely dominated by my mother.

At the end of 6th grade the class made a visit to the junior high school we would attend the next year. All the 6th graders from other grade schools came, and all went well until we lined up in the gym, boys on one side, girls on the other. I lined up with the girls, knowing I was actually a girl. From across the room I heard jeering from the boys and realized it was directed at me. I stood out like a sore thumb, dressed in boys clothes in the girls line. They were making fun of me, pretending I was in the wrong line, telling me to come over to theirs. I was horrified and exposed to the world as a fraud. The worst of it was, I had been one of them and now they were turning on me. I was shaken to the core, realizing I had to change my whole idenity to be accepted in this new environment and by the boys, who had now become my tormentors.

From that moment on, I studied girls to imitate them although I felt like a foreigner in a strange land; I had lost my self confidence, my enthusiam, and my spontaneity. I worked hard all through high school and college trying to be like the girls and supressing my natural inclinations in order to do so. I dated, went steady, acted right, but all without genuine feelings. I felt deeply attracted to certain girls and female figures, but hid those feelings and tried to blank them out of my consciousness. I was insecure and mostly unhappy with myself. I found satisfaction in accomplishments and intellectual pursuits trying to compensate for my low self-esteem. The one constant that I hung on to was my love for babies and my desire to have my own.

After breaking one engagement to be married, I finally forced myself to go through with another and married in order to fit my image of how I should be. I felt no happiness in the union, tried to leave, only to return in order to fit again expectations of others and of my own learned expectations. My only genuine happiness came with the birth of my four children, and they became my purpose for living. I fought depression continually and sometimes was suicidal.

After 25 years of marriage, with my children almost grown, I realized I was going to be left without them with a stranger whom I feared, rather than loved, as my only companion. Rather than kill myself or go insane, I chose to divorce. It was a painful decision, knowing that it would wound the children's lives, but I could see no other way to save my sanity.

Being single again was like being reborn. I had no desire to marry again and was not in the least interested in men. I found my inner resources again, felt strong and confident. Self-sufficiency was my agenda. I worked, got a masters degree, and a career in a distant city. Gender identity again became an issue, and it suddenly dawned on me that I was probably lesbian in denial all my life. It fit and clarified all the self-doubt I had and explained why I failed to become who I thought I should be. At the time I was in therapy, and the therapist tried to talk me out of it, but for the first time in my adult life I went with my own feelings instead others and felt good about it. I had a brief lesbian relationship, which confirmed my sexual identity to me without a doubt.

I then began the relationship that was the love of my life for 17 years until her death from breast cancer in 1995. During those years my one constant regret was the pain I had caused my children. First, the divorce and then my choice to geographically separate from them in order to stay in my relationship, which they found hard to accept. After my partners death, I chose to return to the town I came from to be near the children and to rebuild relationships, if possible.

I am now 77 years old, having lived through the extremely homophobic years of my childhood and most adult years in gender confusion. I have a support group of affirming and accepting friends and am fully accepting my lesbian identity although I don't talk about it to one of my children who is a fundamentalist. The other three know my orientation and accept it to varying degrees. I have eight grandchildren and the two oldest in their 20s are delighted to learn that their grandmother is lesbian. For the younger ones, I have decided not to force the issue until they inquire of me.

I am encouraged by the changes in attitudes of so much of society, although there is much more needing change. I see young people now owning their true feelings and identity, being courageous in working through the negative responses of family and society and bringing about more acceptance in the process. Life can be beautiful if only we allow and appreciate diversity.
Louise


My name is Allison, and I am a 40-something pre-op male-to-female transsexual. Simply put, my gender does not align with my genetic sex. This is not an acquired condition; rather, it is an intrinsic part, a lifelong aspect of my being. It is a rare condition, to be sure, but one extensively studied and with a generally accepted medical treatment.

I became aware of my female gender identity at about the age of four. I have spent a good part of my life struggling with this conflict between my body and my mind. I have studied this subject in depth, I have been treated by professionals, but I have also spent a great deal of time and effort hiding, denying, and trying, to no avail, to be "normal," to purge my female gender identity. Finally, I came gradually to accept that my gender dysphoria is part of who I am as a person; it is a part of the reality of my being. I have slowly followed a course of action to find peace and harmony and comfort with my gender.

I don't think of being transsexual as a blessing or a curse. I just think of it as a trait, like being right-handed or tall. Unfortunately, any trait carries with it certain social stereotypical presumptions. The misconceptions transsexuals have to deal with are that it's all about sex, or that we're just gay people who hate being gay. I just find that living and interacting with others as a female feels right.

However, even though I consider transsexualism to be simply a physical and psychological trait, I think of my transition from male life scenario to female to be the greatest adventure of my life, because it's truly a journey of self-realization at the most fundamental level.

I knew something was up from earliest memory. I have several specific memories from around age 4 or 5. I was sometimes thought to be a girl when I was little, which I didn't mind at all. By the time I was 8 or 9, I knew what a transsexual was, well before I even knew the facts of life. I was scared to death to tell my parents how I felt, though. By the time I got to junior high school, I was starting to have a lot of problems with classmates because I was effeminate, so I made every effort to act the way boys were expected to. I mimicked the behavior of the other boys as best I could even though it felt neither natural nor comfortable. This strategy worked, and I decided that I'd be better off putting all my feelings behind me. You might think of this as a complex "male emulator program" with a highly interactive (though not always user friendly) Graphical User Interface.

Eventually, I decided I could manage/suppress my inner feelings without doing anything about them. In other words, I was continually trying to debug and refine my "male emulator program." However, you know what happens when you keep making changes to the same program over and over again: It eventually stops working. There are just too many "special cases" and "boundary conditions." To top it off, I was trying to run my male emulator program under a female operating system!

By a few years ago, I started to realize that I was getting more and more unhappy because I wasn't addressing those feelings. I started therapy and quickly concluded what I had always suspected. I began planning for transition, getting everything taken care of prior to going full-time. This included telling people outside of work, having electrolysis to remove my facial hair (anyone who thinks that transsexuals are "wimps" or "sissies" has never had an electrologist poke an electrified needle into their upper lip for two to three straight hours, week after week!), starting hormone therapy, growing my hair and trying to develop a female voice. I have already legally changed my name and all documents.

Someone once asked me, "I still don't understand why a person just can't continue to live as a woman in a man's body, or vice versa, and learn to be comfortable in that." This is probably the hardest thing about being transsexual to get across to another person. Let me try to explain it.

Imagine that you have an itch in the middle of your back and, not only can you not reach it, but also you don't want to scratch it either. The harder you try to ignore it, the worse the itch gets ... until every inch of your skin is screaming at you.

Consider the overweight person who looks into the mirror and says, "I know there's a thin person inside." And then, he or she tries every diet fad that comes along just trying to let that thin person out.

Then there is the person with obsessive-compulsive disorder who, no matter what, just can't stop washing his or her hands, or stop checking the windows and door locks.

Imagine looking into your bathroom mirror, being so totally and completely disgusted with the person being reflected back that you'd do literally anything not to be that person.

Okay? Getting the picture? Let's bring it closer to home and closer to the actual situation.

Imagine that no matter what you do or where you go, you don't fit in. You're expected to behave one way but that way goes absolutely and completely contrary to your very soul. You're expected to appear one way, but that way makes you physically ill ... I mean, head-in-the-toilet, gut-wrenchingly sick. You avoid looking at yourself in mirrors because you're so repulsed by what you see. You can't even stand to look at yourself when you're in the shower!

But you want to please the ones you love, you desperately don't want to let them down, so you try to conform to their expectations, and those of society. You feel that if you don't measure up to their image, they might not love you anymore. So, you try and try ... every day, minute by minute, second by second.

And inside, you're so sick, sad, guilty, and filled with shame because when you listen to your heart, it seems like the entire world says, "You're sick ... you're weird ... you're bad ... you're perverted." You see a person like you on TV shows and he or she is the butt of jokes ... the comedy relief ... the topic of a talk show.

Years pass, the pressure builds. Eventually you come to realize that the only way you will ever be happy, the only way you'll be able to survive, is to be true to what is inside.

That is only a small sample of the inner turmoil that we experience every second of every day.

I hope that this gives some of you a small insight into what it is like to be a transsexual. I never asked to be this way, and even though I am not ashamed to be a transsexual I would not want to wish this on anyone. In the final analysis, I am not asking for any special privileges or treatment, but simply to be treated as a human being, to be treated as you would any other woman.
Allison


My name is Eddie. I am a cross-dresser. During the past several years, I have become familiar with the term "transgendered"—a person having both a masculine and feminine side. I have also heard this referred to as "gender gifted." My sexual orientation is heterosexual. I have no desire to become a female and accordingly should not be confused with a person who is transsexual.

Cross-dressing has been some part of who I am for most of my life. I do not remember when I discovered this part of me, but I remember the excitement of trying on panties as early as age 12 or 13. I did not choose to be a cross-dresser. I am certain I would have chosen to be what the world sees as a "normal" person. I have traveled through life feeling guilty and ashamed about being "different." Numerous times, I have "purged" and vowed I would never again engage in my "perversion." Each time, I have failed. The desire to dress in female attire has always returned.

As I have aged, this desire that started with silky underwear has expanded to encompass much more. While the sexual excitement of it has waned over time, the emotional gratification in dressing in complete female attire has grown.

More recently, I have discovered that I am but one of many men who cross-dress. I have read that as many as 1 in 20 men may be cross-dressers! The relative anonymity of the Internet has provided a safe place to "come out" and share our experiences with one another. I have been somewhat amazed that many of our experiences are strikingly similar. While I have taken comfort in the knowledge that I am not alone, I still struggle to find a way to accept this facet of my person as "okay."
Eddie


Yes, we are out here.

Forty-eight years old and still trying to accept myself and the fact that I think I should look, act, dress, and be female. It's a unique form of heaven and hell. I don't recommend it to the uninitiated. We are our own species, our own separate form, and many of us believe we are another step in human evolution—half male, half female. I would choose, however, female. I intensely dislike living as a male.
"Sharon"


What is it like to be a transsexual? A common question innocently asked by many who are inquisitive. And one that I have always had a hard time giving a response to. After all, it is like asking a person what cancer is like. You can understand, but unless you have had it, you can't relate. So I am hoping in this writing to help you understand it, as I know you will never be able to relate to it. That is the best the transgender community and I can hope to achieve. And with the exposure of the transgender community in the media within the last year, there are some real myths to expel, and some points that are accurate to expand upon.

To understand just where this happened in my life, there has been a lot of pain with the knowledge that my body was the wrong sex. I am not talking about physical pain per se, but rather mental pain. My mother told me stories, before she died, of how I would do things that were traditionally female. My parents bought me a toy razor, and instead of using it to mimic my father and shave my face, I proceeded to shave my legs.

I remember how kindergarten gave me my first taste of the shame I would be indoctrinated with over my life, of ridicule by adults and my peers. At one point the teacher thought I was lost and had finally found me under my desk, playing house. Back then, in early childhood, I knew something was wrong, it caused me embarrassment and a little shame, but I always felt that it would work out, if I just hoped and prayed hard enough. I couldn't put a finger on it, but something about me was different.

From the earliest age I felt different, because I was not like those I was supposed to be like. I didn't understand them or what they did. I was quiet and gentle, and they were rough and loud. I liked to draw and read, to paint and play with stuffed animals, making little homes for them and myself. I did not fit in with my supposed peers. I felt outcast, and I had a difficult time understanding fully just why. I always befriended girls and enjoyed their play. When I would interact with boys, I didn't enjoy their play. I couldn't understand why someone would like to get into brawls or play baseball or other tough sports. It made no sense to me. Girls would often not include me unless they were stuck with me (their mothers were "sitting" me), which I also did not understand, so the best definition of what it felt like for me to be a transsexual child would be Outcast and Confused.

As I approached puberty, the exclusion from both boys and girls increased, as each had reasons for avoiding the shy strange child I was. To boys I was weird because I liked girlish things, and to girls I was icky because I was supposed to be a boy. When they did include me, they wanted me to play the role of `daddy' or `boyfriend' or other such role, and I would only be willing to play `mommy' or my usual, the neighbor next door (which was often gender neutral) in games of playing house. In every activity my gender dilemma affected me. At one point I insisted on getting a doll as my nephew who was severly retarded got one. To me, it was only fair that if he got to have a doll, and I wanted one in the worst way, why shouldn't I get one too? To my pain, three days after I got it, the doll disappeared.

Throughout my school years I was persecuted, for my notable differences increasingly resulted in physical abuse from the boys. I was threatened and beaten, called a fag and a queer, and constantly humiliated. I don't remember how it happened, but in junior high school I got a letter from my doctor excusing me from gym. The experience was horrible every time I tried to go to gym. It was like a sacrificial lamb being fed to the wolves. The boys that would play with me wanted to create adventures of conflict. The girls that would play with me sometimes let me play with their dolls, but then would ridicule me for it later.

The feelings of being a prepubescent transsexual might best be summarized by Hiding, Substitution, and the pain of Physical Abuse. By puberty, I knew shame very well indeed and feared the names and violence applied to me. Increasingly I tried to deny my true self and felt that my gender identity was something to be disgusted about. Puberty brought a rush of sexual tension, and with it the most awful horror: sexuality.

I remember the night my mother told me the story of the birds and the bees. I had never been so horrified in all my life. No, it wasn't the details that got to me, it was reality hitting a fatal blow. The truth that I would never be changed physically into what I really am hit at that moment. I cried all night long after that little talk. The pain was so intense that I just wanted to die by morning. To heck with the prayer I usually recited about being changed into a girl by daylight.

Then, to complicate things further, the hormones started. The awful incorrectness of my body now seemed to have a will and mind of its own, and I felt devoured and possessed as if by some alien bodysnatching spore. Male hormones were like a poison and a terrible drug to me; they brought madness and sickness. I felt terrible all the time, poisoned by sweating, nervous twisted lust. The hormones made sexual feelings flood my mind; I could think of little else. I masturbated like a monkey in a cage, constantly, loathing the act but tortured by the uncontrollable drive. It made me feel like I was the worst kind of creature that any God could have ever created. I hated my body and what is more, I hated me.

The feeling of being a puberty-stricken transsexual was for me the feeling of being possessed by a demon, the feeling of being out of control, with the only help in withdrawal deep within my own mind. The agony of this drove me to near madness. My mind did its best to survive and split into two separate awarenesses. One awareness became a day-to-day attempt to fit in, to be what the world expected, and this version of me had little conscious acknowledgment of my gender problem. All it knew was that I was miserable, sick enough to die.

The other half of my consciousness became dominant only when it was safe. It waited to become me whenever the opportunity to be alone arose. When I was alone, my true self leapt panting into full consciousness, desperate to seize a moment to be itself. I found peace and completeness when I was dressing up in my mother's things, which became tarnished by that dreadful sex drive that owned my body utterly, and the endless masturbation became entwined with dressing as a woman, at least for a while.

Nearing my 20's I had begun to finally have some slight control over the impulses that rode me and once again became able to separate dressing from the need for sexual release. I could once again simply enjoy, for however brief a time, feeling somewhat close to being my true self, when dressing became a blessed eternal time of utter, peaceful contentment. My mother came to know that there was a box in my closet of my collection of girly things; she honored my privacy and never got into it.

I then tried to get the help I needed to make this craziness end. I went to the county's local mental health facility. And, of course, they assigned me to a male counselor. I didn't understand men. I despised them; they had done nothing but show me contempt and meaness. My father had died when I was 13, and he was a drunk. I couldn't relate to them. And now this male wanted me to tell him my deepest secrets, the things that were the cause of the hurt they caused me for all my life. And they wanted me to tell them in an outright bold statement? No way. I didn't trust men.

So I kept going to the center making things up. They sent me to group therapy, which was a waste of time and space. I wanted to come out and tell these people what my problems really were, but I couldn't bring myself to it. Finally I got to a female counselor. And I unloaded it all to her on the first visit. She couldn't sink into the couch far enough. I was so very hurt. But she and I continued to meet. She was winging it, and didn't know how to handle this. After all in the 70's there were only Christine, Jan Morris, and Rene Richards that were known. And this was at the time Rene Richards was in the news, so I thought my timing was good, but I was wrong.

No sane human wants to be utterly alone, and I still had some shred of sanity left. Of the lovers I had at that time, all were female, and I did my best to fill the role expected of me ... but it was very difficult. And sex for me never ventured beyond petting. My sex drive found release, at first, but what I most deeply wanted was an eternal, committed relationship, something few other 18 year olds of my time seemed to want.

In coping with the sex I was driven to engage in, the only way I could deal with the soul-rending horror of using those accursed organs I possessed was to distance my self increasingly from the act. To this day, because of this agony, sex is all but anathema to me, and I am essentially asexual, very passive. Being sexual at all brings back some of the awfulness of those days, and flashback shrieking horrors in my soul. But happily, I now possess almost no sex drive at all. This is a magnificent benefit to my comfort, but frustrating upon occasion for my spouse. I do not know if I will ever be able to feel good about sex. It hurts so much less—and feels so wonderful—to be an angel. It seems that being innocent and childlike is my safety and my salvation.

I continued my visits to the counselor, and she gave me a challenge to come to the next appointment in a dress. I hadn't ventured out of the house thusly before, and the thought of that had terrified me. Not because I didn't want to, but I was so afraid about having this terrible curse, and then to flaunt it was unbearable. We talked about sex-change surgeries that I didn't know could be done. I went to the next appointment only in women's underwear, bra, and stockings under my male shirt and pants.

The counselor had found a psychiatrist who worked at a university medical center in a half-hearted gender clinic. I went to a prescheduled meeting, and she was a woman that fit the stereotype of a dyke if I ever knew one. She called me into her office and told me that I wasn't ready yet for the surgery, and I needed to give a huge effort to try not to give in to my feelings. I needed to give trying to be a male a real strong effort.

So I did. For 20 years I did everything I could, from joining the Air Force to getting married. I gave up 20 years of my life on the bad advice of a half-hearted, inexperienced psychiatrist. Twenty years that encompassed a 16-year terrible-at-best marriage, drugs, alcohol, and attempted suicide.

At the age of 40, when I finally had my catharsis, and awakened, when the cleft halves of my split mind rejoined, when the pain finally brought me to the point of facing myself or welcoming death by my own hand, I knew Purpose. Fully, consciously aware of my lifelong torture, armed with a definition of my condition, and clear on what I must do to save my own life, I began a Holy Quest to redress the unendurable fault of my birth.

Transition was enormous pain, and required every ounce of will and strength I possessed merely to continue one day to the next. All about me was hostility and the loss of friends and family. My sadness was oceanic. Even so, I have never felt more alive, for I was facing life and death square on, for a Holy Purpose, and driven by that Purpose I felt invincible!

As my flesh, under the gentle but powerful magic of female hormones, began to change, as my sex drive fell away and the driving demon that possessed me was exorcised, I began to feel light as air. Sylphlike, I floated on wings of hope, and knew peace in my body, my mind, and my soul. Oh, the difference! Where male hormones made me feel poisoned and sick to die, driven by sweaty-dark aggression, female hormones made me feel innocent and pure, filled with light and gentle contentment.

I felt cherubic and new-born, and I knew in a matter of weeks that my choice was correct. It felt so wonderful to shapeshift ! Every day held promise, for I enjoyed a second childhood of soft growing wonder. I saw my hands soften and become delicate again, a sight lost to puberty. I itched sweetly inside my growing bosom, and the sea of life within my body altered its flow to fit the contours of my soul. I was no longer in the back of the dark theater of my perception; I was outside that metaphoric theater altogether, living life fully, as I do to this day. I knew constant hope, and the exquisite pleasure of being resculpted by the very Nature who once betrayed me. The Mother was repairing Her mistake.

Only this boundless joy and ecstasy could have permitted me to survive the misery I endured at the hands of the cruel humans around me. The stuff of ridicule, I could not face the grocery store on many days and went hungry, because the taunting and insults of the clerks were too much to bear. The feeling of transition was Absolute Heaven—and Deepest Hell. It was miracle and curse, release and damnation both. But I have never before or since, felt more truly alive. It was real magic, the stuff of dreams made solid.

And it was at this time that I met my spouse, who stood beside me through it all. She had been taunted by being called a lesbian, freak, and whoremonger, but she was there, and we knew that each had found the other soul mate we were put on this Earth to find.

Surgery was almost anticlimactic, at the same time as being utterly terrifying and hideously painful. I knew I could die from it, and for the first time in my life, I had something to live for. But I also knew I could not endure to live with those horrid organs. I loathed them, how they looked, how they worked, what they felt like. It was like having some decaying parasitic worm hanging off of my body.

I finally felt ... right. Correct. Oddest of all, I felt exactly the way that I imagined that I would feel before surgery. Science tells us that there is a map in the circuitry of the brain of the layout of our bodies, and children born without limbs suffer phantom-limb syndrome though they have never known the missing limbs. My explanation is that my `body map' was female and the cause of my desperate need for surgery. Things felt wrong because my wiring told me clearly what I should be shaped like. Now that I am, the conflict is gone, and my suffering for missing organs is absent. I possess the contours and organs that fit my internal `map', and so I feel ... all right.

So the feeling of surgical correction is ... normality. Finally feeling free from internal and external conflict. It just ... finally ... is OK. Now, after surgery, I live my life pretty much without much thought to gender dilemma. I am fixed, I am repaired. But I will never be utterly without this difference. Unlike most women, I suspect, I cannot help but occasionally whisper a heartfelt prayer of thanks for the gift of finally being me. I can never take these things for granted, they are happy birthday presents forever, reminders that I live as a miracle.

And because I have lived such an adventure, I am forever set apart. I cannot simply be an ordinary woman, because I have not lived an ordinary woman's life. And so many life experiences I cannot join in to discuss, like menstruation, or dating, or the myriad trials of growing up as a girl. I have known all of the discriminations and limitations of being a female—and then some, for I was treated as a freak before my attainment of womanhood—but few of the joys. I cannot relate to the childhood of a boy either, for I did not have one, so I have so many things not to say.

This difference does haunt me, and in my years of hiding until I decided to share it with you, I felt the most disturbing muteness, the fear of discovery, that anyone should know my shameful past. This is why I have decided to come out, because even if my body is at last corrected, I have been altered in my soul and mind by the journey to achieve it.

So the feeling of being a post-op transsexual is for me the comfort of happy correctness mixed with the bitterness of forever lost girlhood, and the joy of remembering that I am a miracle, a shapeshifter incarnate, and that I have lived an adventure. I am at once Normalized and Alienated, Wistful and Joyful together.

This is what it feels like to be me.
Unsigned


I am a heterosexual, married male. I work, live, and dress as a man, yet I do like also dressing up in female clothing when I can. At the early age of 4 or 5, I already felt like part of me was also "feminine." I used to wear my boy's briefs backwards in hope they would resemble girl's panties. I loved girl's clothes and would comment on their dresses, even then. My breasts had gotten a little more padding than most guys in my class as a teen, and I was always called "a girl" and "where's my bra?"

My wife knows, and lets me dress in what I like. I have yet to go out dressed as a woman, but sometimes I really believe I have both sexes inside my body. And sometimes the female side wants out and wishes it had more bodily traits to be percieved as one.

That's my troublesome story. I don't mind feeling feminine, but I sometimes wish I really was female in order to satisfy my need.
Unsigned


next set





Printer-Friendly Format   Feedback

My Life as an Intersexual | Share Your Story | Two Sexes Are Not Enough
The Intersex Spectrum | How Is Sex Determined? | Resources
Transcript | Site Map | Sex: Unknown Home

Search | Site Map | Previously Featured | Schedule | Feedback | Teachers | Shop
Join Us/E-Mail | About NOVA | Editor's Picks | Watch NOVAs online | To print
PBS Online | NOVA Online | WGBH

© | Updated November 2001
 

Support provided by

For new content
visit the redesigned
NOVA site

Shop Teachers Feedback Schedule Previously Featured Site Map Search NOVA Home Sex: Unknown Home Sex: Unknown Home Site Map