Now that I’m consistently being read as male, I’m realizing just how stressful my prior life was. As a masculine woman, so many interactions had been framed by a horrible sense of alienation. To wit:
Washing my hands in an empty airport restroom, a woman walking in exclaims, “Esto es un hombre en el baño!” “No!” I correct her, cupping my breasts. “No soy un hombre!”
Dining at a restaurant with family and the friends to whom I have just been introduced, the waiter calls me “Sir;” is it more mortifying to ignore his mistake or to point it out by correcting him?
Visiting my mother in the hospital, I oblige the woman in the other bed by moving a chair across the room. She smiles at my mom and says, “My, what a strapping young son you have!”
Heading into the women’s fitting room at Macy’s with an armload of clothing from the men’s department, the attendant shakes her head at me and points me back the way I came.
Every time this happened, I was wounded to the core. Even my wife couldn’t understand this. If I dressed in men’s clothing, wore short hair and no make-up, then why did it upset me when people thought I was a man? Because there is more than one way to be a woman, I’d explain. Because I still have a woman’s body and a woman’s face. Why can’t they see that?
I am stunned at my own lack of self-awareness. Or capacity for denial.
These strangers saw me for the man that I am. They saw him not just in my clothing and my haircut, but in everything from the way that I walk to the words that I choose. My bearing, my communication style, my naturally deep voice; all of it reads “male” and they saw it. Every social interaction threatened to reveal me to myself.
I identified as male from the moment that I understood the difference between men and women. I was disabused of this notion almost immediately upon arriving at it. Nonetheless, I persisted throughout childhood in my distaste for anything remotely identifiable as feminine. I eventually identified as a lesbian because it was the only way that I could see forward. It allowed me to fulfill my romantic and sexual attraction to women; to be decidedly masculine while housed in a female body; and to pursue a career (at the time) in a field dominated by men.
I was angry, though, because I felt an obligation to confess my birth sex to whoever got it wrong. My sense of honor and honesty compelled me to infer the presence of genitals with which I did not identify and acknowledge a gender role that I had rejected. It drew my attention to the uncomfortable incongruence between my biological sex and my gender identity. It brought a subliminal suffering to the surface.
It took me 49 years to move through this morass to the following conclusion: I don’t have to be unhappy. I’ve learned that the lifelong argument between my body and my mind has a biological foundation and a medical solution. I’ve learned that I’m not crazy. I’m not wrong inside. I’m wrong outside, and I’m fixing it.
Now I use the men’s room and – forgive the pun – it’s an incredible relief.