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 2
Posted November 1, 2001
previous set | next set

Note: A number of the stories below refer to the NOVA program "Sex: Unknown," which premiered on PBS the night of October 30th.



I suppose that my story is like a lot of the others posted here, but in my case there was a twist. My parents are both alcoholics, and the love they gave me was always conditional, so I never quite knew if the loneliness and alienation I felt as a child was due to this or to the fact that I was probably born intersexed.

In my case, the intersexuality was largely hormonal, which probably means Klinefelter Syndrome or Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. And since the doctors obviously lied to my parents in order to get them to have things done to me, and then my parents in turn lied or covered things up, it is now extremely difficult for me to trace the actual course of treatment that was done.

All I know is that I was born with normal-appearing but undersized male genitalia. They were close enough to normal size for them to classify me as male, but not close enough for them to leave me alone. I can still remember, at about age 4, having my genitals X-rayed for what seemed to be no apparent reason. As I matured, my penis remained somewhat small. At age 10, I had an operation to lengthen the urethra so that I could have "normal" erections. I also had the opening at the head of the penis widened because "it was too small."

At puberty I began developing a very feminine body shape: wide hips, breasts, no Adam's apple, etc. And of course I also never developed certain male traits, i.e., male pattern aggression, love of sports, "nerviness," etc. etc. In addition, when my penis did become erect, it stiffened straight up so that it was physically impossible for me to insert it in a vagina. Like (it seems) 99 percent of transsexuals, I was socially awkward, introverted, almost pathologically frightened of any form of shared nakedness or intimacy in any form. I did not date. I stuttered. I felt suicidal.

At age 16 my mother took me to a doctor who ran a full set of blood work on me. But when we came back for the results only my mother was told (behind closed doors). When they came out, they told me that I was hypothyroid and so would have to take thyroid shots for the next two years. I did what they told me, but it was only after these "thyroid shots" that I began to grow facial hair. Two years later, my voice finally broke. I am now convinced that I was receiving testosterone injections.

In a way, I am grateful that my parents did not send me to an institution or submit me to shock treatment, as others did. But they have not leveled with me to this day on what was done, and in fact (like Mission Impossible) they deny any knowledge of their actions.

In 1999 I had another set of blood work done, at which time it was shown that I have only two-thirds the normal amount of testosterone for a male, but the normal estrogenic levels of FSH and LH (lutenizing hormone), which in my body turns to fat cells.

I am grateful and happy that I finally figured out that I am chemically a woman, because my new social role suits me to a T. On the other hand, I am sad that it took 46 years for me to come to this realization. I could have been so much happier so much earlier in life if I had only known! My advice to all those who think themselves intersexed or transsexual is: Have the tests and go with the flow. As Langston Hughes once said, "When you turn the corner and run into yourself, you know that you have turned all the corners that are left."
Sheila


I am 52 and live as a woman. I conceived, carried, and gave birth to one child, a normal daughter. My sexual orientation is "heterosexual." I put that in quotes for a reason.

When I was an infant, probably a newborn, my clitoris was removed. This was done in Walla Walla, Washington, probably right after I was born, July 26, 1949. My birth family is primarily Anglo-Saxon, with some Native American, so there was no cultural reason for removal of my clitoris. My medical records from that time were destroyed. No one is left alive in my family who can tell me what happened. I was never told what happened by anyone in my family. I have had serious problems with depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress, and suicidal feelings for most of my life. I have been aware of some of the causes, but not all.

A few years ago with the support of a counselor I arranged to be seen by two doctors, gynecology-endocrinology specialists, who gave me a testosterone tolerance test. They said that I was "within the range of normal" for a woman and had probably had "idiopathic clitoromegaly" as a newborn, meaning enlarged clitoris, cause unknown. The two doctors were satisfied with the diagnosis. I would like to have been given an intense chromosomal screening, but since the doctors didn't recommend it, my health insurance would not pay for it, and I can't afford it.

Since about age nine I have had gender dysphoria. When I was young it was very difficult to deal with. I have gotten used to it. I still get called "Sir" occasionally, but now it just seems humorous rather than malicious. I do not feel compelled to have SRS, sexual reassignment surgery, but especially when I was young I felt that a mistake had been made—just like the British woman said, the one who appeared briefly in NOVA's "Sex: Unknown" program.

Life as a woman has been very difficult for me. Straight people see me as a lesbian. Lesbians know that I am not. I feel the most comfortable with gay men. In fact, I put "heterosexual" in quotes because what I feel most like is a gay man trapped in a woman's body. I'm attracted to men, but not as a woman.

I am especially sad about the way the culture in the U.S. treats "us," people who do not fit the pink box or the blue box. In many traditional cultures we are held in esteem as healers. Our physical manifestation of both sexes is seen as a microcosm of the blending of the physical world with the spirit world, and indeed many of us are closer to the spirit world than "normal" people are. In this culture, though, we are seen as freaks and forced as much as possible to conceal any deviation from the sexual norms.

It's important for me to tell this story. I want to make sure others like me know that they are not "the only one." I haven't told my story to a lot of people, although I don't keep it a secret and in fact have a Web page with my name and contact information. I briefly considered suing the hospital where I was genitally mutilated, but it's been so many years. I would just like to have more complete knowledge of what happened and why.
Unsigned


The story of David Reimer interested me and truly touched me. I am a heterosexual female in my late 20s, who throughout childhood carried a slight fear and doubt about my genital organ. I was born premature at seven months, weighed only four lbs. My mother, who had not expected my birth so early and was staying at a remote mountain cottage to avoid the city heat, had no choice but to call a retired midwife in a nearby village. I was announced as a girl by the midwife, but I was born with slightly larger-than-usual female genital organs, which seemed to have troubled my mother.

When I was a little girl, my mother often sighed and expressed her concern about my irregular genital organs. Although I was convinced that I was a girl (which I am), her words hurt me a lot. My mother had consulted doctors and was told I was a perfect female, yet she had lots of worries about my organs or gender or both.

What makes me sad now is my mother's inability to accept me as I am, and also her inability to seek and study the truth. My mother has hurt my feelings by her own speculation and worries, which had no scientific grounding. I have no intention to blame her for what she has put me through emotionally, yet I just wish she had taken a different attitude towards my sexuality. And I wish many parents would seek information and professional help, if they have any doubts about their child's sex or genital organs and assure their children with the truth.

I remember how happy I was when my period started at the age of 11. Until then, I was never 100% sure about my sex, because of my mother's crazy speculation about my sex. I could have had a worry-free childhood as a female, if my mother had not bothered me with her thoughts.

I don't know if my experience has much relevance to the topic, but your program about Mr. Reimer gave me an opportunity to think and recapture my childhood experience, and I sincerely thank you and especially thank Mr. Reimer for his courage to share his painful story with others. Lastly, I'd like to thank Mr. Colapinto [author of the book As Nature Made Him] for giving many people a chance to learn more about this issue.
Blanche


As a female-to-male transgendered person, I was glad to see the voice of reason for a change, rather than this ongoing insanity of infant sex reassignment. The sanctioned brutalizing of babies is absolutely obscene. I have spoken with intersexed youth, and I have yet to hear one say it was a good thing.

As a transgendered person, I am also relieved to hear that there may be some form of proof that our "affliction" actually exists. I knew between the ages of 5 and 6 that I was actually a boy inside. It took 29 years to get the courage to change my life before I needed to take my life. I, too, could not imagine "going back," as there is nothing to go back to. Althought I do see it as a disability/impairment, I also see it as a gift. We travel a difficult but wondrous journey; we live special lives.

I believe medical care should be covered under insurance or public health for transsexual as well as intersexed people.

It would be nice to not see any more advertising pointing a cruel finger at differently gendered people. (A current Visa ad is one example.) It seems gender variance is the last safe scapegoat, but to many it's not funny.

We just want what everyone wants, respect.
Unsigned


I have struggled all my life with sexual identity. As a male approaching 50 years, I have worked hard throughout my life to reconcile my feelings with the reality of my body. Initially I felt that the source of my difficulty was due to my mother's expressed desire that I was to be a girl. However, I have struggled for too long for it to be simply that.

In the 70's, and my collage years, I researched the emergence of transexuality. While I felt compelled to look into the procedures, religious conviction and social constraints prevented me from acting on the information. I assumed that, as I grew and matured, I would eventually grow into the body I was born with.

I have been married for over 25 years and had two daughters with my wife. (My wife is aware of my sexual identity issues but has a great deal of difficulty with them.) We also adopted two Korean boys. With the girls, I have felt more at ease, yet have had to bar some of the emotional access that I wish I could have provided.

With the boys, I have always felt totally lost. As a boy, I never fit in and still find myself lacking in the "killer instinct" that seems to be valued in business. I did not know how to fully relate to the boys, or their experiances. That factor may have accentuated some of the psychological problems the boys have experianced through thier lives.

Just over a year ago, our youngest daughter died at the age of 21. This event has really caused difficulties ever since. We have each sought psychological help as well as joint counseling. Even that has not relieved me of the sexual identity issues, or the level of acceptance.

While I feel that it is too late in my life to change sexuality, I still struggle with my identity on almost a daily basis. Nurture, habit, growth, and attempts at psychological reconciliation do not take away the pain and uncertainty of not being comfortable with one's sexual identity. Fear, isolation, and loneliness are constant companions. "Normal" society, especially the male portion, is unaccepting of deviation from the norm. As a result, one must keep that portion hidden from everyone. Fear, sorrow, pain, uncertainty, loneliness, and other disconcerting emotions are the constant companions of such a life.
Unsigned


I had read the book As Nature Made Him, but it didn't hit me as hard as the program last night. Actually hearing medical professionals tell lies with absolute certainty was almost too much to bear. People whose gender and physical body match have no idea what a gift they have been given.

I am male who was born with a female body. Thank God that my parents, despite many other faults, had no issues at all with my behaviors or preferred style of dress. And my sister, as well as most of the other girls in the neighborhood, was a "tomboy." So even my hand-me-downs from my big sister were boys' clothes!

My assertion that I was a boy was well-known in the neighborhood, and through the grace of God, not one person ever argued with me. I will never forget the day, when I was about 7, that my best friend told me she'd heard of an operation that could turn a girl into a boy. It was the happiest moment of my entire childhood. Being 7, I didn't take that any further, but I always felt that there might be a way for me to live as myself completely.

As I began puberty and the dreaded junior high, I did realize that I had to "fit in" in order to survive. Secretly, I had a couple of girlfriends, and I began to think of myself as a lesbian. I have continued to live as a lesbian and have been in an incredibly loving relationship with a woman for over eight years. I came out to her as male fairly early on, and while she didn't understand, she was open to hearing more. For some reason, several months ago, it began to feel like it was time to really claim my gender for the first time.

It has been an amazing journey so far. I have no plans to be out to anyone other than my partner, or to seek any physical changes. While at times I hate my female body as a whole, it has been mine for 37 years, and it's really the way the world treats me that causes the pain more than my body.

I think Dr. John Money [featured in the NOVA program] can be likened to a mad scientist, playing with other people's lives for his own edification. Thank God for other doctors and researchers who challenge those who continue to blindly follow Money's warped vision.
Perry


I watched "Sex: Unknown" with keen interest, as it relates personally to me. At the age of 16 I came across an article in which I first saw the term "transsexual." The story of a female-to-male, it seemed to mirror my life. For the first time I had an understanding that I wasn't alone, and I knew that although my feelings of being "different" were uncommon, they were shared by others.

I'm 43 years old now and still living my life as a man (though I admit surviving is a much more apt description than living). I've seen psychiatrists and psychologists, and I began hormonal therapy twice only to stop each time. My reason for ceasing hormonal therapy? For me, I'd always had a problem with sexual reassignment surgery conflicting with the religious teachings I'd received growing up.

But the program "Sex: Unknown" has given me a renewed hope that indeed my problem is biological in origin, which certainly is more than I'd ever been told before. In fact, when I pressed for answers as to why I was as I am I was given a brief explanation that environment was in all probability the answer.

I can't thank you all enough for airing this program. It has lifted a burden I've carried for years. To know that my gender identity is biological in nature not only gives me renewed hope in finally becoming the woman I know I am. It has also in the space of one hour taken away all of the guilt I've felt for so many years in feeling this problem was in some way my fault. You've no idea how grateful I am to you. Thank you so much.
Jamie


Since I was two years old I have always been attracted to female clothing even though I was always dressed as a boy. My mother left me with an aunt to raise while she went out to live her free life (no regrets on that part of my life believe me!).

Anyway, to make things short, on the farm I was raised with a cousin who was of the same age as I was. Three months difference: She had her birthday in December; mine is in September. As we grew up we played together. We always played girl games, and I never once believed that I was different. It was when she started to grow breasts that I was shocked into the real world. I realized I'd never have breasts like her, and in seeing that she didn't have what I had (a penis), my life became unbearable.

Depression set in. You can imagine the questions a child of eight asks within his mind. Why was I born with this thing instead of what my cousin has? At that age I still didn't know about the mechanics of sex between two people, so the thought of having sex didn't exist in the way we were brought up nor did we even have any idea that people had sex. Those were the good old days of true innocence, when kids were so naïve. No longer. They'll stick a knife in your back to get your wallet now...

Anyway I'm 56 years old now. Too old to get a sex change. But for years from that day that I saw my cousin's budding breasts I searched for a way to become a real female. I never had peace of mind heart or soul, for once I experienced sex as a male on the outside of me it was not to my liking. I felt that I was the same as a lesbian who has sex with another woman, but because of the pressures of society I had to conform to its moral standards to survive.

I was never a homosexual nor took up that lifestyle, because that was never what I felt. A homosexual is happy with that form of sex, but I felt I could never do that form of sex nor was ever tempted into doing that kind of sex. I felt that if I could not have sex as a real woman with a man I would never lie with a man. So how did I survive you may ask? Truthfully I will say by fantasizing that I was a real female when I had sex with a woman. I believe shrinks call that roll reversal, but on a higher level of conscousness which is not impossible to achieve.

I am a self-educated individual in all feilds of science. It all was a result of my sex desorientaion from birth. After two failed marriages I decided to live alone, seeing that marrying was not going to make me a whole man, that I was just a female born within the body of a male. It was just like living inside my brother, and could possibly be living inside my brother's body by some biogenetic error that happened when we were concieved in my mother's uterus. Science still has a long way to go before scientists find all the answers to all of what ails mankind.

I may still become a real female if there is such a thing as a devil and powers of transformation, because honestly I tried that route. But as of yet since 20 years ago when I made the pact, that has not materialized to this day. To be honest I took enough female hormones to make the breasts of a thousand men's breasts grow out, but mine are still as flat as pancakes. I would inject 25 mgs in each breast daily and then take 2.5 mgs three times a day and nothing ever happened.

So now it is all up to the supernatural elements to give me a real sex change, because I believe getting a medical sex change would not make me a female; it would be an illusion of being one. A true female becomes pregnant, gives birth to what she has carried within her body for nine months, and breast feeds her baby after birth, something I would see my aunts do when I was a child and believed I would grow up to do the same as they did.

I had 15 male cousins on the farm while growing up so there were a lot of male models to copy and look up to if—and that is a big if—I had thought as other male kids and had had male tendencies. But I always had female tendencies while I grew up, and I played more with my female cousins instead. To be honest there were a few pervert cousins who tried to get their way with me and to convince me into homosexual type of perversions. But I always refused their actions. If I'd had homosexual tendencies I would have been easily convinced, but I never did feel those type of tendencies at all.

Well, you wanted my comments and I gave mine. Doctors have to realize that just because a child is born a boy or girl does not mean that it is that. The parents will not know for sure till that child grows up and sees for sure to what gender she or he is attracted to.
Alejandro


I am a 19-year-old lesbian and consider myself to be what most would call a gender bender. I don't always gender bend though. I have, compared to some, a very minimal gender identity crisis. Generally I look feminine, but I seem to identify more with men on different things. In my life I have had more male friends and generally "hang out with the boys" so to speak. I have a more masculine thought process. I like computers, technology, and logical things.

I always was a bit of a tomboy growing up. I was the girl who liked bugs and dinosaurs, camp, and who didn't like to play with Barbies. I always felt different from the other kids, and I didn't really realize why until I finally let myself acknowlege my sexual orientation. From there I realized that I am not a girly girl. I don't wear makeup or dresses a majority of the time, but I do look female for the most part.

However, there was a period of time when I preferred to present myself as a male (I still sometimes prefer to do this). I can do so with a certain amount of convincing among strangers. I have been mistaken for a man when I do this on a number of occasions. I do not want to be a man, but part of me likes to pass myself off as one sometimes. Part of me also likes to dress up and put on makeup. I have found that this does coincide with my hormonal cycle.

People don't seem to understand any of this. I've tried to explain but they don't seem to get it. They see a pretty young girl and wonder why in the world I would want to look differently. It's not the shock value, it's not trying to fulfill a lesbian stereotype, or because I want to be a man so I can fit into society better because I happen to be attracted to women. No, it's simply the way I feel sometimes.
Unsigned


I just watched your program entitled "Sex: Unknown." Thank you for directing viewers to your site during the program, as that is how I found this forum.

I am a 49-year-old male-to-female pre-op transsexual. I have been in my Real Life Test since August 1, 2000, living and working full time as my perceived gender: female. I am scheduled for SRS (Sexual Reassignment Surgery) on August 22, 2002. My gender identity disorder, as clinicians like to call it, has influenced my entire life and unfortunately the lives of those closest to me.

I have stories of cross-dressing while growing up that are similar to those of thousands of transgender individuals. I had always thought it was my dirty little secret and never told anyone, not through years of cross-dressing and self-degradation. I had never thought it would eventually take such control of me. But by the time I had turned 40 I was deeply troubled. And by age 45 I was in therapy over my gender issues.

I had been married for 20 years and had three teenage children. I had a career as a successful small office manager with the same company for 20 years. I was well known, liked, and respected within the community. My disclosure about myself to my spouse was so awful for both of us that I never wanted to tell another soul. But it eventually came out in a brutal "outing" by a disgruntled employee who had recently found out about me.

In a matter of one year I went from a respected, loving family man to some oddity who was now the hottest gossip topic in years. I was fired from my company after I disclosed I would need to transition to female after the first of the next year, still six months away. Still needing to provide for my family, I found a new job at less than one third my previous salary.

I took the name Alessa and virtually changed overnight to living full time as female. At least it looked this way to the outside world. In reality me, my spouse and even my children had been in therapy trying to cope with our situation. Changing my body to conform with my gender was my only option for sanity in my view and the view of my therapists. Unfortunately, my family could not adjust to me as female.

By the end of August, less than one month after beginning to live life as Alessa, I left home. My family could not live with me as Alessa any longer, and I could not live as Ed any longer. It is a choice I still have nightmares about. As spouses and parents, we all think we would do anything for our families; even die to protect them.

When my time came to protect them and let them continue to live a life with the husband and father they knew and loved, I made the decision to save myself instead. It is a decision I never thought would come, and one I will forever have to pay for. I lost all three children and a lovely spouse. None of them will speak with me any longer.

Eventually I had a mental breakdown and had to leave the job I had taken nearly a year before. I am recovering nicely, however, and even volunteer two to three days a week to prepare residents for emergencies such as earthquakes, floods, and terrorism. It is fullfilling for me, helpful to my community, and will hopefully prepare me for a new career.

I live alone with my parents now. My parents are divorced and I spend my time with both of them separately. They fully accept me as Alessa as do my dear sister and my brother. I owe them a gratitude I could never repay. Their love, support, and encouragement has kept me alive through some terrible times. And I intend to make them proud of me as their daughter.

I still struggle with life. I have the same problems everybody else has. But now I can face life without the burden of gender identity constantly hanging over me and clouding everything I am and do. I have been freed from that prison and feel so wonderful to finally be me. But frankly, I am not happy about being transsexual.

I have often asked, why me? I have cursed God in the past for making me this way. I am not particularly relieved to learn my brain my be different, hormones were too weak at birth or whatever. I am what I am, however I got this way. I had to live as a male in the past with this problem, and now I live as female knowing I had this condition to overcome.

But we are all blessed, or cursed, with conditions that make us unique. I am fortunate that there is a way for me to live happily with this condition. I now thank God for the privilege of a second chance, and I pray I will not be condemmed to damnation as many people say I will be for taking this course of action. I will try and be a productive woman in today's world. I will contribute whatever talents I have to my fellow human brothers and sisters, and I will not feel sorry for myself, I will not be bitter for my losses, and I will try and keep my sense of humor.

I have a long road ahead of me, God willing. I pray I am worthy of the journey.
Alessa


My name is Kosse, and I am a transgender. I have a perfectly functioning female body and four biologic children, but I have never felt entirely comfortable identifying as female.

From my earliest memories, I was always behaving in a manner much more recognizable in little boys: relentless roughhousing with older brothers, boxing, wrestling, and other very vigorous activities. It sounds like a simple matter of acculturation gone awry in my case, but the feeling runs much more deeply than merely wanting to be a "tomboy."

When puberty arrived, I grew much taller and stronger than other girls and felt very self-conscious about my size (six feet). The teasing from peers made me retreat, even more so when I felt myself drawn to stare at other girls in the locker room at gym class. I solved that dilemma by changing in bathroom stalls, which made me the butt of comments, but those were endurable compared to having my fixation known. I drowned my fears and desires in books and was extremely lonely and depressed. The sports I craved to play, football, wrestling, and boxing, just were not open to girls in the 80's. I would never have dared in any case.

In adulthood I met a very accepting man and began to cast off the shell that contained me. My androgynous nature was never a cause for concern to him. I felt uncomfortable but willing when pregnancy occurred. Breasts and menstrual cycles began to mean something more than colossal irritation to me. I watched my body go through all the changes with each child, but it never felt completely congruent with who I am emotionally. My children say—with a smile—that I am not like any other mother they know.

In the past year, I went to an endocrinologist for thyroid and hormone tests, and was surprised to discover that my blood levels for testosterone were actually low for a woman. Now that I take a daily prescribed dose, things are radically different. I am even more masculine-identified than I was before, and it feels like a homecoming. I wear men's clothing most of the time, even the underwear. I lift weights and aim for size. I work outdoors on our farm. The womanly things I have experienced—nursing babies, being pregnant, giving birth—seem like some distant and happy alter existence.

I have a female lover as well as still being married. The maleness of my husband brings me into a sexual identity that is forceful but still receptive. The femaleness of my lover is like a mirror and a foil. I see my curves in her. I see the drive to grasp and possess that feels very much more masculine. The lines blur. I don't know the mechanism of my different-ness; it isn't genetics in my case, but it is there regardless.
Kosse


I am a transsexual and at present am a bit uncertain as to what to include or not include in this message. However, I'm not timid as to my situation. As a basic recap, I was born 22 Feb 1969, several months premature but considered a perfectly healthy male. My early childhood was the stuff dreams were made of—never in want, always encouraged, and considered exceptionally gifted. I was the one who wrecked the grade curve, often bringing home report cards with grades in excess of 100%.

Until puberty hit.

My father took me to all sorts of doctors, therapists, and psychologists trying to remedy the situation. I was bitter and angry, my grades dropped to borderline failure (despite noted intelligence to the contrary), and I very much withdrew from the world. Couldn't hold a job. I suffered from severe depression, and repeated suicide attempts reigned in my life. I even invested over six years in marriage to a woman in an effort to try to find grounding in my life, though that created just the opposite: Sexual performance as a male only reinforced my feelings that it was not right.

Then, I discovered information on the Web regarding transgenderism and gender identity (http://www.transgender.org/), including the COAGI examination. This led me on a journey of self-discovery that has been as tumultuous as the rest of my life combined.

July 26th, 2000, I knew where my life needed to be and could no longer live the lie of posing as a male and denying my feminine self. I packed up, quit my job in Texas, and left my old life behind forever. A few days later, I arrived in Salem, Oregon as a woman, staying with a very good friend until I could get on my feet. There were frictions with his neighbor regarding my `posing' as a female, but I was not there long enough for it to become too much of a problem.

The die was cast, and I have been living full-time as a woman ever since. There is still a great deal in my life that remains to be sorted out, and I've been in closer contact with my father recently than I had since leaving home. While not having made it home to visit yet, I have sent him photographs.

His reaction was one of subtle amazement, and his first comment was how plain the contentment on my face was—the contentment he never saw in my face since puberty.
Shelia


Growing up I thought, as a young boy, that as an adult I would be a woman. During the late 1960's and 70's I was able to be an androgynous child without much slack from the adults around me. I hung out with the tomboy next door, swapping my trucks for her dolls. The older neighbors assumed that I was in fact a girl and a tomboy myself.

I have a vivid memory of visiting two very ancient aunts when I was about 12. My parents introduced me. One of the ladies took my chin in her hand and lifted my face so our eyes met and said, "You should have been a girl." My father thought this was hilarious, but I felt like my cover had just been blown. To this day I don't know if she was just commenting on the fact that I was a pretty boy or if she was seeing into my soul.

By 14 I was going into puberty and by 16 my body was becoming very masculine. In college, during the 1980's, I continued to dress androgynously, which was the style in the art school I attended. I wore makeup to class and wore loose-fitting clothing. It was during this time that I became athletic and began to enjoy the strength that being male gave to my body. As the years passed I shed the artifice of makeup, mostly due to the time it took.

Now at age 37, I am training to be a tri-athlete. I look a lot like my father, bald on top and otherwise hirsute. It's taken 30 years but I am now comfortable as a male. Being a gay man I find that my masculine body attracts other men, gay and straight, who now see me as the epitome of butch. Kind of ironic.
Unsigned


I was a very secretive little girl. Everything I did seemed to be the wrong thing. So I did as little as possible in front of other people, at least until I was sure what was okay. My parents didn't hear me talk until I could say complete sentences. I was reading for two years before I told them, and I only told them because the stupid phonics books they bought were cutting into my reading time.

I became a chameleon: an unbelievable mimic and an excellent actor. New situations, like summer camp or a new school, were the worst, because I needed to figure out everyone's role before I could pick one for myself and choose who to copy. This was later, though; early on, all I knew was that I kept doing the wrong thing. Which was puzzling, because I was just acting like a girl.

The distinction of penis=boy, no penis=girl escaped me. I still remember clearly knowing, in fourth grade, that although I was called a boy and had to line up with the boys and had to use the boy's room, that I was going to grow up to be a girl. This wasn't wishful thinking, this was just the nature of things. It didn't really seem to be an especially remarkable occurrence, because I knew I was a girl.

By the time I was 12, I knew that things had gone horribly wrong, and I was looking for answers. I read everything medical I could find, and I couldn't find me anywhere, until I read a magazine article about some body part that said, "Well, this is what the `typical' male (knee, or something) is like, and this is what the `typical' female one is like, and, of course, there's a whole range in between." I thought I had found me, in between the lines.

I based the next 32 years of my life on the principle behind that sentence. There were, then, four possibilities, as far as the totally concrete logic that was all my 12-year-old self had to work with:

I was something in-between male and female.

I was both.

I was a nothing.

I was something else entirely.

The first two didn't hold up, though, because, while I didn't understand how I could be a girl (although earlier I had always taken my girl-ness for granted), I knew, every day and all the time, that I wasn't even partly a boy. Still, I knew that my survival depended on my ability to be a boy, or really, to not be a girl. Besides, knowing I was a girl was too painful, so that part of me, just, well, went away, someplace deep and dark. So, I became a nothing. Later, I decided that I was likely not human, which to me wasn't as dreadful a possibility as it sounds; people weren't very nice.

Do you know what denial is? It's the mind's way of preserving itself and keeping the body alive in a situation that can't be coped with. Badly injured young children, lifted out of the ruins of their beloved bicycle by big scary loud strange policemen and rescue people and carried away in a big scary loud ambulance do it best. They close their eyes, and it all goes away. It really does. They can't hear you anymore. When you get older, it gets more complicated. The worst part is that denial can taketh away, but it can't giveth. It could take away my identity, but it couldn't give me a new one.

I did my level best to make one. Just after all this I was swept up in The Great Hormone Storm, which helped immeasurably. Of course, a girl's emotions and a full load of testosterone make for a wildly unpredictable life.

I kept making mistakes, though, and since a lot of stuff went into The Denial Zone, some of them were pretty funny. I'd buy clothes and happily wear them to school, somehow not even aware that I had bought girl's clothes. Only sweaters and tops, and not very often, though. Everybody wore the same skin-tight low-rise bellbottoms anyway ("Nothing is better than Landlubber Jeans"). If you were a teenager in the 70's, you've got to remember those! I also have the distinction of being the only T-person I know of, any variety, that wore her mother's clothes, various girlfriends' clothes, and borrowed clothes from two spouses, and never, ever got caught.

I puzzled my high-school friends. One day, a close friend looked at me and said—teasing, of course—"Oh, you're just so queer you're a lesbian!" And I sat there, eyes wide and mouth open, and knew that this totally impossible "joke" was the full and honest truth to the ongoing lie I lived.

After I got out of high school, I perfected my act. Well, kind of. I finally had sex with another woman. I grew a beard. I rock climbed, did whitewater kayaking, rode motorcycles, was an alpine ski patroller, lots of that kind of stuff. Still, I did them all alongside women that were better and more macho than I was. I even got a degree in Physical Education, me, who would do practically anything to avoid gym class. I walked proudly, head up, chest and chin out, and had a legendary, icy stare that was all bluff. I needed it; people often stared at me and did double takes.

After a while, the act got tiresome; I guess it was like being a daytime TV star, who gets upset when her fans keep mistaking her for the character she plays. I wasn't very nice a lot of the time, though. A former lover tells me that her friends would ask, "Why do you hang around with that asshole?" And she would say, "Well, there's somebody else in there, somebody very loving, that I only get to see sometimes, and only when there's no one else around." When I came out to her, years later, she said, "Oh, that explains it. . . now I understand!"

I first got married at the height of my successful amateur career as a male impersonator. One summer a few years later, I built a lovely little post-and-beam house in the Adirondacks of New York State. I was building myself a prison that would have been very difficult to escape from. All I knew was that the house started to frighten me, and I couldn't sleep anymore. I moved her there and came back here to my now-smaller circle of friends (everyone took sides).

I got married again. This time it was different. This was much more the mutual relationship I always thought should be. I still wasn't easy to live with, though. Deb was patient; she had seen that other person, too, and with her love and help and encouragement I got through nursing school.

A few years later, the "self" that had cracked in the dark hours of the Adirondack night slowly started to unravel. One day in the ski area first aid room where I worked, an injured skier who hadn't gotten a good look called me "lady," and a young ski patroller got really upset over this. I said, "If I was going to be upset at being mistaken for a woman, now, would I have a ponytail, and pierced ears, and be a nurse?" It took him a while to work through that.

Then I took a summer course called "Sexuality, Mental Health, and Stress Management." With Nancy, who, unbeknownst to me, was a gender therapist. I learned a lot that wasn't very comfortable. I had a lot in common with the transsexuals that came to speak, and while I ached to be like them, I knew sadly I wasn't. Well, yes, of course I wanted to be a girl, but I wasn't a girl was I? I was a nothing, and so I had no right. In my journal for the class, I wrote, "Why would I want to tear out the plumbing just because I don't like the fixtures? At least it works!" I wrote a lot of other stuff, too. Nancy was fairly sure she would hear from me one day. I always had her phone number with me, and when I did call, five years later, she knew exactly who it was.

At our first appointment, we sat there for a minute, both obviously trying not to grin at each other. Nancy finally leaned forward and asked, "What took you so long?" "I had to find out who I was," I said.

I had taken up meditation to try and learn to focus, to learn how to do my job better. Nobody ever tells you that meditation has a dark and sometimes terrifying side. You know why it's so frightening? Because you just sit there, and be. Alone. With your self. You don't do, you don't think, you just be. With your self. All that frantic activity, that act you're using to cover up who you really are slowly, slowly clears. And you're left with just you. You, and eventually everything you ever denied, hid, covered up. You eventually come face-to-face with whatever you fear the most in yourself, and it never goes away until you resolve it. This can take years, if things are buried deep. For me, it took eight months; eight months of watching my life and my behaviors change and my driving slow down while things inside my head got more and more confusing until it felt like my whole being was being torn apart and put back together.

Then one morning I woke up and the air was clear and my head was clear and I knew. I knew. I knew that I had last really been sure of who I was when I was nine years old, and I knew I really was that girl who had been hiding in that deep dark place for 32 years. And I knew that I was never, ever, going back there.
Unsigned


I was born a male, but I knew at an early age that I wanted to dress as a woman, not become a woman but cross-dress. This is something I have been doing for the last 30 years.

Most of the time I enjoy dressing up as a pregnant woman if only to have fun. But I dress to have fun as a woman too, overly full bustline and all.

I started at the age of 8, and I am now 38. I find it relaxing to be dressed as I do, and yet I am scared to go out this way because of the way people treat transgendered people. I want to be able to be around others like me and to feel more accepted, but I fear what will happen if I go out this way.

I want people to know that I am not gay because of what I do, but that I am straight and even seek a woman to take me as I am. One day I may find a woman to take me and accept me for me, but for now I will have to keep hopeful that what I do will one day be generally accepted, hopefully before I am gone from this life.
Unsigned


previous set | 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 February 2003

 

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