Blending in

 

 

My Authentic Self

 

 

You might wonder why there’s so much blank space at the beginning of this article. I bet you’re thinking that it’s some sort of formatting error, but you’d be wrong.

There is no blank space at the top of the article; there’s text there. White text against a white background. You just can’t see it.

I was gray. My world was gray. My very essence was lost in the gray mist in which I chose to disappear, the multicolored facets of my existence reduced to a dull, lifeless monotone.

It was fear that forced me to exist in that fog. Fear of discovery. One of my earliest, childhood memories was trying on my sister’s skirt. I couldn’t have been more than four years old at the time; it happened before I even started kindergarten.

The compulsion to wear that skirt was primal, as if donning that inanimate piece of fabric would somehow bring me to life. And equally primal was my fear of discovery as I heard my sister walking towards the bedroom we shared. I quickly slipped it off, placing it back on the chair where I discovered it, and took refuge beneath the cowboy blanket on my bed.

The entire incident probably occurred in a matter of seconds, but those fleeting moments gave birth to both self-awareness and denial.

 Denial

I have wasted more than a half century living a lie. I postured and posed,  pretending I was someone other that myself. The person that others expected me to be.

I hid myself from the world behind a scruffy beard, baggy clothes, and an attitude appropriate to my assigned gender. I did things to appear manly, and avoided the feminine at all cost. I did what they wanted me to do, not the things that would have made me happy. I didn’t want people to notice me; I just wanted to disappear. So I did the best I could to blend in.

But no matter how hard I tried, I never really fooled anyone. Not completely. People instinctively sensed that I was different. The only person I truly fooled was myself.

Rejection and Acceptance

I couldn’t understand why I started developing breasts like a girl, or why my childhood friends rejected me. I didn’t do anything to them, so why did they turn on me like that? It wasn’t my choice to have breasts; I desperately wanted to mature into a man like they were becoming.

I convinced myself that it had to be my fault, perhaps it was Divine punishment for donning my sister and mother’s clothing whenever I had a fleeting moment of privacy.  I couldn’t wait until I started growing facial hair, to prove my manhood, but that would take a few more years to happen. I hated the rejection, and did everything I could to fit in and be accepted once again.

I believed that I could win acceptance by losing my true self. But the truth is that others will never accept you if you don’t accept yourself. I censored every word I spoke, cautiously monitored every gesture I made, avoided contact with people I didn’t know and trust. My insecurity was apparent, and my discomfort made those who met me equally uncomfortable. I lacked confidence, and as a result, no one had confidence in me.

I am the I

Intersex is not a single, all-encompassing condition; it can be chromosomal, or as in my case, hormonal. Sometimes the condition is unnoticeable, and only discovered when fertility problems arise. Other times, it manifests itself through ambiguous genitalia, and in some extreme cases, an intersex person might look completely female although being genetically male.

I appeared to be a normal boy growing up, save my secret desire to dress as a woman. As so often the case, the first physical indications that I was intersex occurred at the onset of puberty. The breasts. The underdeveloped genitalia. The lack of male secondary traits like facial hair. It was like I was part male and part female, but in all honesty, I starting feeling like I was neither.

I thought that the best way to handle my ambiguity was to hide my female side. Due to my size and strength, I could no longer compete in the sports I played as a young boy. So I switched my attention to golf, a gender-neutral activity. And although I was naturally attracted to girls, I avoided even the most platonic relationships. I could not risk the chance of intimacy; I could never expose my freakish body to anyone no matter how much I desired it.

I was twenty-nine years old when I finally had a relationship with a woman. That relationship only lasted six months, but it gave me some confidence to pursue the woman I would eventually marry. Thirty-one years later, we’re still married and have two daughters.

Visibility and Perfection

How did I go from being a teenage boy with breasts, to being a sixty-five-year-old woman with a penis? The truth is that I didn’t, I just released my female self from my self-imposed exile. I’m still intersex, a combination of male and female, but now I embrace the entire me.

I can only be me, myself, and nobody else. Perfect? Not by a long shot, but then again, who is?

But what I can be is the perfect me. And that means being alive and active in the community, free from the bonds of shame and fear, free to claim my rightful place in society.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the Women’s Jazz Festival at the Indian Canyon Country Club with my friend. It was a posh affair, and ninety-five percent of the audience were women, including my friend and I. We were welcomed and warmly accepted by everyone at the Country Club. It was a perfect afternoon.

Finally…

We all crave acceptance; there is no greater aphrodisiac. That’s why all foreplay begins with a compliment. You are so beautiful. You are so sexy. I can’t live without you…

But much more important, acceptance is empowerment. When others accept you, it gives you confidence. That confidence translates into being comfortable with yourself, and that aura of comfort and self-assurance is sensed by the people around you. And that belief in yourself will leave them no other choice but to respect and accept you.

There was this one time in the early seventies, I was maybe twenty-three or twenty-four, that I released my feminine self and ventured out into the darkness of the cold, winter’s night. I did not venture far, I just scurried into my car and drove around my neighborhood for fifteen minutes of glorious freedom. I was petrified, afraid of discovery and possibly even arrest. The antiquated laws against cross-dressing were still were on the books and being enforced, even in the liberal bastion of New York City.

The left turn signal didn’t work on my car, so I planned my drive so that I only made right turns. I didn’t want to be pulled over by a cop, and arrested because I wasn’t wearing three items of gender-appropriate clothing. That was the law. Forget the publicity and humiliation, can you image the terror of being thrown into a men’s holding cell dressed as I was at that time? I risked everything for those fifteen minutes of life.

When I got back to the safe confines of my home, my heart was pounding. I felt more alive than I had ever felt before. But I made the decision to revoke my parole, and return to my internal prison.

But we will never find our place in the world if we put ourselves in a shoe box hidden in the darkened corner of our closet. Our time is now; the world is ours if we want it.

Yesterday, as I explored the Indian Canyon Country Club, I discovered a plush, parlor room adorned with large, black-and-white photographs of a long-past era. It was a glamorous time at the Country Club, women of high standing dressed in their finest attire, men in suit jackets and ties posing with their golf clubs, limousine drivers holding the car door open for the club members.

Sinatra and his wife were in several of the photographs, never alone, but always with an entourage around him. A young and handsome Robert Wagner smiled boyishly in one photo, and Bob Hope mugged for the camera in numerous shots.

Judging by their age, the hair styles, and the clothing, those photographs were probably taken in the late sixties to early seventies. Around the same time, I was slithering around under the cover of darkness. Now here I stood in that room, where the ladies of society once partied, wearing my favorite dress and high-heeled pumps. Exactly where I belong.

NOTE: If you want to see what I hid at the beginning of the article, just highlight the text and scroll all the way up to the very top.