Tag Archives: coming out

This Is the Last Time


December 2013

I’m headed for my locker after a workout at the gym and a stranger is standing there, using the locker next to mine. I see her face, as I approach, transform into a mask of such disgust that it’s immediately clear to me just how terrible a monster she thinks I am. I smile and say hello anyway to break the tension. “Get away from me,” she sneers, looking down her nose at me. Does she think I’m a man? I’m a butch looking lesbian but I have breasts. I grab them and thrust them out at her. “I’m a woman! I have breasts!”


“What are you talking about? I’m just – ”

“SHUT THE HELL UP! DON’T TALK TO ME! DON’T COME NEAR ME! GET AWAY FROM ME! GET OUT OF HERE! GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME! (as I pull everything that’s in my locker into my arms) “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? GET AWAY FROM ME! GET OUT OF HERE! GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME!” (as I scramble to get as far away from her as possible).

Red-faced, I find another locker a few aisles away. I jam my things inside and hurriedly undress between two other women who are doing their best to ignore the situation. A moment later, I hear her address me from the front of the room: “YOU KNOW YOU REALLY OUGHT TO WATCH WHAT YOU SAY OR SOMEONE WILL THINK YOU’RE A MAN!”

She leaves and no one says anything. I head for the shower. I’ve got thirty-five minutes to get myself to class but I spend ten of them slumped against the tile wall, shaking as the water hits me.

I feel like a freak. A squadron of kamikaze thoughts attack me.

What the hell is wrong with me? Why do I scare other women?

Granted, she’s crazy, but this isn’t an isolated incident.

I can’t do this anymore.

She thought I was a man. She thought I was a rapist.

I don’t deserve this. I’m a kind, moral, decent human being.

I’m always getting read as male. I’m a masculine person. I can’t help it. I feel more male than female.

If I went on testosterone, would my life be easier, or harder?

Would I be changing into something that I’m not? Or becoming more of who I am?

I’m not a man. I wasn’t socialized as a man. I can’t erase the past forty-seven years of living in a female body and being treated like a woman. I might grow a mustache but I’ll never be a man. It’s too late for that.

I hate my body. I’ve always hated my body. I like who I am, though. I only want to change the outside.

I wouldn’t be a man. I’d be a transgender person. Someone who was born, raised, and spent an entire lifetime as a female who now finds it less painful to live in a male body.

Nothing about me will change but my body.

The people who already read me as male will be closer to being right.

I want my life to be easier. I want the pain to go away.

I could lose friends. I could lose my wife.

Women who’ve known me for years will look at me differently.

They’ll tell me to “man up” where before, they expressed sympathy.

They’ll accuse me of mansplaining even though I explain things for a living.

Things I said with safety as a lesbian will suddenly seem sexist. “How lucky am I to be surrounded by all of these beautiful women?” may not be heard in quite the same way.

I won’t change but expectations will. “Would you mind taking out the trash?” they’ll ask me. “Could you carry up that box?”

Something about me has to change, though. I can’t keep doing this.

Holy shit!

Holy shit holy shit holy shit.

I’m never going back to the gym.

Invisible Man

NYC Gay Pride 1994, Stonewall 25

I’m waiting in Starbucks for my drink to come up. Two women in their twenties are standing close enough to each another to be read as a couple. They’re dressed in complete agreement, entirely in black with toothpick jeans and wool sock hats, broadcasting androgyny. My inner taxonomist labels them butch lesbians; versions of my younger self, were I as free to be out then as they are now.

I think to myself: I laid the groundwork for their visibility.

In 1994, the Gay Games were held in New York City. The competition, which drew tens of thousands of people from all over the world, coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Between the two events, there were literally hundreds of thousands of people in attendance at the NYC Gay Pride March that year. Volunteers carried a mile-long rainbow flag down 1st Avenue past the United Nations building. Uncharacteristically hilly for NYC, 1st Avenue crested at one point, offering me an expansive view of the crowd of which I was part. Behind me and in front of me, stretched to the ends of the visible horizon, lay a jam-packed sea of people. I’ve never seen so many people, not before or since.

We weren’t marching for gay marriage back then; we were marching for our lives. My twenties happened during the age of AIDS, back when HIV was a death sentence so harsh that people committed suicide upon being diagnosed. So many men were dying horrible, ugly, drawn-out deaths. The women among us had lost fathers, brothers, uncles, friends, and lovers. Prior to AIDS, there was no bond between the gay and lesbian communities; the HIV/AIDS crisis drew everyone together, all of the sexual outsiders, into one giant LGBTQ movement. We were compelled by necessity to unite in order to bring the strength of numbers to bear on the fight for our civil rights.

When I came out as a lesbian in 1989, I accepted the facts as they were at the time: I would never be married and I would never have children. If I wanted to work for the government or the military or become a teacher, then I would have to stay in the closet. Any employer could decide to fire me or not hire me in the first place, and any landlord could decide not to rent to me. Moreover, when I dared to be identifiable as a lesbian in public, I was subject to verbal and physical abuse. There were times when I feared for my safety. There were states where it was literally illegal for me to make love to my partner. I had no right to visit her, let alone make any decisions on her behalf, if anything tragic happened to her. All of this paled in comparison, of course, to the friends I was losing to AIDS; that fight took precedence.

If AIDS were still a plague in America, then the movement would never have graduated to demanding marriage equality. Marriage by its very nature assumes that a couple has a future together; back then, too many people were dying too young for any of us to be thinking about a future. We marched, we protested, and we took care of each other. We wore rainbows and freedom rings and we outed ourselves at every opportunity just to show the country that everyone knew and loved at least one of us. Famous people came out – Congressman Barney Frank in 1987, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Elton John in 1988, k.d. lang in 1992, Melissa Etheridge in 1993, Ellen DeGeneres in 1997. Ellen’s show was cancelled shortly after she came out but within a year, the insanely popular Will and Grace began its eight year love affair with America and we got used to seeing gay men on a weekly basis. None of this would have happened if we had never come out in the first place. If we didn’t rise up and demand our rights then, we wouldn’t be enjoying them now.

Those two young women in the Starbucks may be blissfully unaware of this history. If that’s my generation’s gift to them, and the gift of the generation of activists who came before me, then so be it. It was enough once in a while to get a nod of acknowledgement, just to be seen.

There was no nod this time. There was no eye contact at all.

These days I’m just another white guy.

There’s a Man in the Bathroom!

restrooms sign

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.


Today I reached the end of a difficult semester. When I returned to campus back in August with a new name and a new preference for male pronouns, I didn’t yet look any different. I’d had my so-called “top surgery” a few weeks earlier, but it wasn’t like anyone had noticed my chest beforehand. I’d been on testosterone for two months and the only visible changes were under my clothing. It was an awkward situation, sharing the men’s room with my male colleagues, still looking like the butch woman they’d known for years. I immediately took it upon myself to change the sign on the single-occupancy women’s faculty restroom to “Gender Neutral.”

Now it’s mid-December and I’m looking in the mirror at a mustache (admittedly thin) and a waistline four sizes smaller. My previously bodacious booty has melted to the point of flatness where the cell phone in my back pocket hangs below my ass, rather than pressing against it. I’m surprised at how different my body feels in my jeans, now that they are hanging loosely around me as opposed to clinging like shrink wrap. I love testosterone.

Don’t get me wrong: This isn’t free and magical weight loss, courtesy of “Vitamin T;” this is a continual state of self-denial. I knew that on testosterone, all of the fat in my lower body would migrate to my gut if I didn’t try to lose it. So at least a month before beginning hormones, I began a rigid regimen of carb and sugar avoidance. The only way to burn fat, I learned, is by avoiding carbs and sugars. I mean all sugars, including fruit and non-fat dairy. As a consequence of hunger and longing, I have returned to a state of carnivory I haven’t known since childhood. This is, of necessity, accompanied by enough greens to keep a small island regular.

Testosterone may be helping me to lose weight faster and more easily than I could without it. In that sense, it seems like an unfair advantage. Or maybe that’s just the guilt from my increasing access to White Male Privilege bleeding over into body shame? In any event, the weight is coming off my ass, my hips, and my thighs – precisely the opposite of what happened the last time I lost weight, back when my metabolism was dominated by estrogen. I’m losing weight like a man this time.

Since my students see me at least twice a week, I have to wonder if they have even registered the change. My friends think they don’t pay that much attention to me but I know better: They compliment me on a new watch or a new pair of jeans because they notice everything. Whether they are conscious of it or not, something has definitely shifted during the course of the semester. Where they were inconsistent at the beginning, now they never get the pronouns wrong. I think it helped them to see it happen, day by day, before their eyes. Maybe it made it seem natural?

As for me, the semester was a nightmare. My voice cracked regularly; frequently it was gone by the end of the day. I was continually exhausted and in need of more sleep, courtesy of the hormones, than I have been since I was a student. Every time I was foolish enough to refer to myself in class in the third person, I screwed it up (“You’re all thinking, ‘What does she want us to write?”) – UGH! I could have curled up into a ball and died of shame right there. The third person and I are not currently on speaking terms.

I’m grateful, then, for this holiday break and a chance to focus a bit more on myself for a little while. When I return to campus next month I’ll be even hairier and narrower than I am right now and it’ll be that much easier for everyone to see me as “he.” Students I haven’t seen since before the summer may not even recognize me.

That ought to be interesting.

Fake it ’til you make it

Katherine Hepburn in a man's suit and tie

I am almost 50 years old. I thought I had settled into myself a long time ago. Yet I find that I am now at least as insecure as I was as a teenager, if not more so. I’m going through another adolescence, zits and all. It’s as painful as the first one was.

It’s taken me a few months to formulate this clearly but I think I have it now: I’m changing my body to make it feel more natural to me. That part is easy and it feels utterly right. The hard part, the part that makes me anxious, is the social transition.The idea that suddenly I have to “be a man.” That part scares the crap out of me.

I can’t have spent 49 years as a woman and then suddenly turn into whatever it is I think that a man is. I don’t have a lifetime of male socialization behind me to support that change. Yes, I see myself in a male body and have presented, for my entire life, on the masculine side of the spectrum, but I have always claimed the privilege of femaleness. Let’s face it: When I get a flat tire, I call the Triple A. I’ve never had to prove myself in a fight, on a ball field, or with a machine. I know these are stereotypes but they capture my feeling that I lack the masculine experiences that turn boys into men. Therefore I am not a man and I never will be; it’s just too late for that. That’s my truth. I can’t speak for anyone else.

A few months ago, when I first decided to change my body, I had some unrealistic expectations about how long it would take. I thought that I could begin the process over summer break and return to teaching in the Fall looking significantly different – different enough to identify and present myself as male. I figured that between the testosterone and the top surgery, the summer break would have created enough space for me to return to campus and have people see me as male. So I went ahead and changed my pronouns and my name and started living openly as a transman.

I returned to work a few months later, still looking decidedly like a butch lesbian. I feel like a fool. If I had it to do again, I would wait to come out until my body had changed significantly enough for people to start really wondering what was going on. But alas, I changed my mind a very long time before my body was ready to follow. So here I am, looking like the masculine woman I’ve been seen as all my life and struggling desperately to present as male.

It’s a public battle. I have an audience of hundreds bearing witness to my awkwardness – my students. They see me getting used to myself, slipping up with my own pronouns, while I bumble about crafting my own modified version of male identity. They’re curious. They want a narrative, an explanation, an interview, an insight. Some of them, students of psychology, want to discuss gender dysphoria as a mental illness. Some of them, student journalists, want to write a feature about me.

I feel like a curiosity. An item of campus gossip. A role model. A hero. You name it.

I have nothing to give them. I have no answers yet, not even for myself. I only have questions. Like:  Will I ever get enough facial hair to pass convincingly as a man? Like: If one day I find myself alone again, will anyone else ever love me? These things keep me awake at night.

In the meantime, my voice drops. My armpits stink. Welcome to being a dude, bro.


My big sister holding me as a baby.

My big sister and me.

Begin at the beginning:

Heartbeat thump. Warm. Enveloped.

Then into bright light, and cold air, and rushing sound.

Hard plastic. Soft cotton.

I’m in my body. I feel it.

My legs and my arms, my torso and my genitals; this is me.

I am naked. I am strong. I am endless.


Then come the expectations:

Pinks and blues. Rules. Confinement.

And I am foreign to myself. My mother’s child.

Hard inside. Soft outside.

I leave my body. I tell it:

You keep me alive; expect me to ignore you now. You’re not me.

I am naked. I am wrong. I am monstrous.


I am not my encasement.

Flesh and bone? Stone. Fossilized.

This is the cage and the condition of my life.

Hard border: Head/Body.

I am ambitious. I play it:

I’m really a guy inside this female body, right? This is me.

I don’t say it, but it’s heard. Somehow it works.


There are no limitations.

Gender roles? No. Not really.

The modern era lets me do just as I wish.

Hard headed, soft hearted.

I move through phases. I try on:

The hard rocking chick who’ll fuck you and ignore you, twice. But it’s not me.

I find women and it clicks; I must be gay.


I give up playing music.

Tits and ass were essential.

I cut my hair and throw away my makeup kit.

Hard choices; soft landing.

I find a partner. I believe:

We’ve fallen in love and it will last until I die. Then she cheats.

Seems I’m not quite butch enough, ironically.


I get an education:

Everyone wants a penis.

Read de Beauvoir and turn into a feminist.

Hardcovers, paperbacks.

I find a partner. I believe:

I want to be loved and she is there to play the part. It won’t last.

Eight years in, we burst apart explosively.


I move to California.

Nothing left to hold onto.

One resume and suddenly I’m teaching class.

Hard binders. Paper stacks.

I meet my wife and I believe:

My luck has kicked in and I have settled into life. At last love.

Fourteen years go by before it gets to me.


The momentary traumas:

Lavatories, fitting rooms.

They double check the posted sign when they see me.

Hard staring. Paper towels.

I hate my body more and more.

Now I’m growing old and I am running out of time. My fate’s sealed.

There’s no reason to go on repeatedly.


I’ve loved my way through living.

Done the best that I could do.

I’ve been the person I could be inside this shell.

(Hard pressing, paper thin.)

I face my body. I tell it:

I’ve had a good life and I am finished with you now. I can’t eat.

I am ugly. I am wrong. I am in pain.


I want it to be over.

Damn this constant social stress.

Just fuck the world and fuck this life because I’m done.

Hard pressure from within.

I feel my body. It tells me:

I’m saving your life. You need to get up off your ass. Keep breathing.

Tell the world it’s time for you to be yourself.


The conversation started.

So my body told my mind:

You know I really am a prison for your soul.

Hard choices make it right.

You have the power. You can change.

No need to give up. There is a medical solution. Move forward.

You’re not dying; you’re becoming who you are.


I’ve always been this person.

Fully male identified.

I’ve worn a coat of femininity, just so.

Hard layers of soft paint.

And now I get to strip it off.

It didn’t work well. Almost nobody ever saw it. Extra weight.

Nearly killed me; makes good sense to let it go.


My body gave permission.

Told me fully, through my gut:

The mutilation that you think is horrible?

Hard scars of your healing.

I have a lifetime left to live.

The power is there. There is a way to fix the problem. Why suffer?

Let’s bring Lucas to the surface for a breath.

Back to my future

the author in 1999 in male drag with facial hair

The author, from a brief attempt at drag in 1998.

My 1999 Master’s thesis in cultural anthropology was called Gender Pretenders: A Drag King Ethnography. Focused on a set of women performing in drag as men in NYC, it explored the idea of gender as a set of signs, rather than a fact of biology. My recent personal website update caused me to go back and look at the work again, 16 years later; the first paragraph rang like a bell in my head:

I have never taken gender for granted. As a very young girl, I was convinced that I’d grow up to be a big, strong man; needless to say I was somewhat disappointed when puberty hit and made it quite clear that was not going to happen. As a short-haired, overweight tomboy, I grew used to adults calling me “son” and, “young man,” and as a masculine woman have come to expect the occasional “sir.” But I am not transgendered; I’ve grown to love being a woman, to appreciate my female body, and to value my identity as a lesbian. I do not feel”like a man” and do not want to be one; still, I am often accused of harboring such a desire. I am told that I dress like a man, I talk like a man, and I look like a man; surely I must want to be a man?

I’ve obviously been thinking about my own gender for a long time. What stands out here is the description of my childhood, accurate now as it was then. It’s the first thing I tell people when explaining my recent decision to transition. What follows, however, is a strong statement of denial. I said four things which now require reconsideration:

“I am not transgendered” – The more honest statement at the time would have been, “I don’t want to be transgendered.” I didn’t know for sure that I wasn’t, but I did harbor a suspicion. Why else was I focusing on gender in my graduate studies?

“I’ve grown to love being a woman” – This was and is still true. I believe that women have a more flexible range of cultural expression (for example, in terms of dress) than men do; women are also encouraged to have and communicate emotions more so than men. This worried me until I realized that it’s okay to be an expressive man. And I admit that I grew, over the years, to believe in a sort of female superiority — in a “if women ruled the world, then there wouldn’t be any wars” kind of way.

“…to appreciate my female body” – This is a flat-out lie. I’ve never appreciated anything about my body below my neck. I’ve never really been in my body to begin with. I wrote the statement because I knew it was the most important thing to say if I were to convincingly deny that I was transgendered.

“…to value my identity as a lesbian” – This was and is still true. It’s one of the things I’ll be giving up in my transition. This troubled me for a while until I realized (a) I’m still queer and (b) I’m still a feminist.

There are straight men who claim they are “really just a lesbian in a man’s body.” I will be.