When you are trans no one sees you. People see an exterior that does not match the interior. Imagine yourself waking up inside the wrong body–whether that “wrong” for you is a question of sex, race, or ability. What if everyone around you failed to notice that you were in the wrong body? What if they insisted that this body was, in fact, the right one and that you were the one who was mistaken? Imagine you are stuck in that body indefinitely and that each day the disconnect between the body you’re in and the true self widens, gets worse. Now, imagine that instead of waking up in the wrong body halfway through life, you were born in it. From the very start, everyone mislabels you and treats you as something you’re not. When you try to be yourself like people are always telling you to do, you are told not to act like X because you are Y (or perhaps, for some of you it should be: “Don’t act like Y because you are X”). You are a man with breasts and a soft, rounded face. You are a woman with a penis and five o’clock shadow. How do you get comfortable with that? How do you ever “just be yourself”?
Transman could never be himself when he was growing up; Transman always got yelled at for not being ladylike.
“Don’t sit with your legs spread,” Transman’s mother would yell at him when he slouched in front of the TV.
“Don’t walk like your brother!” Transman’s mother would yell when she saw him walking across the room.
“Girls don’t burp,” she would say. Transman would think yes, actually, they do; they just don’t let everyone hear them. I’ve heard you. I’ve also heard you fart.
After-school activities hardly existed when Transman was growing up as a latch-key kid, but every once in a while his mother would decide Transman needed something to occupy his time. She didn’t like the idea of Transman playing football with the neighborhood boys or wandering around the woods picking up critters.
“Ballet!” was her answer. Little Transman almost had an aneurysm when his mother suggested that at the dinner table one night.
“But, Mom!” Transman wailed. “Can’t I take karate?”
“Certainly not! Karate is for boys,” she said. (This was early enough in the ’70s that women weren’t taking self-defense courses, so Little Transman couldn’t have even pitched it that way.)
I know, Transman thought. That’s why I want to take it.
Transman looked desperately at his father. His father raised his eyebrows in a noncommittal way.
Transman looked from his father back to his mother, who had pushed away her plate and lit a cigarette. With her gauzy gowns and big white sunglasses frames, she was in stark contrast to the denim-and-flannel-clad gents of Transman’s family. She was like a movie star set down amongst hillbillies. Imagine Greta Garbo hooking up with Lefty Frizzell and you’ve got the Transman’s parents. Transman never really figured out how they came to be married.
“I hate dancing,” Transman said.
“You like music,” his parents said in unison, trying for a compromise.
“I like good music,” Transman said sulkily. “I’ll break my ankle; I can’t do that ballet stuff.”
“That’s why you need to take it … your coordination … ,” Transman’s mother struggled for the right words.
Transman’s mother took a puff off her Virginia Slims and cocked a beautifully arched brow at her son. “Look, honey, you know the story of the ‘Ugly Duckling’? The little duck who grows up to be a beautiful swan?”
Transman narrowed his eyes at her. Oh, please, don’t do this to either one of us. You know it’s a lie and I know it’s a lie. I’m 7, but I’m not that gullible. There is no way in hell that I am going to grow up to be a beautiful anything–swan, princess, whatever.
“Well, ballet will help you become a beautiful swan.”
Transman got a little sick when she said that.
“Lynn Swann took ballet,” Transman’s dad threw in. Transman was a Steelers fan. Transman’s dad was playing dirty.
Transman crossed his arms and stared at his father.
“You’ve seen how high he can jump,” his father said. “The way he moves on the field. It’s that ballet.”
Transman’s mother started naming off male ballet stars: “Nureyev, Godunov, Baryshnikov … you should see how strong Baryshnikov’s legs are.” Transman and his father both glared at her–but for different reasons.
Transman’s heart sank. He knew they were going to make him take the class.
Two Saturdays later, Transman found himself outside the dumpy School of Dance at the Brickyard, humiliated by the pink tights and leather slippers on his feet.
“Can you please ask if there are any other colors I can wear?” Transman pleaded with his mother.
“There aren’t,” his mother said and walked over to sit on a bench next to the building.
Transman’s lip started to tremble. He wasn’t going to cry, though. Boys don’t cry and Transman was all boy. God provided a way for Transman to prove that to himself when Paul Wheeler* showed up. Paul’s mother joined Transman’s mother on the bench and the two boys faced off.
Paul was one of Transman’s worst enemies at school. Paul took every opportunity he could find to push, trip, kick, punch, or belittle Transman. And here he was striding up to Transman, with a big grin on his freckly gap-toothed face. He took piano lessons at the dumpy School of Music at the Brickyard, run by the dance teacher’s husband.
“Ha-ha look at you!” Paul said and started laughing. “Oh, I’m gonna pee. You look like such a girl in that getup.”
Transman hauled off and punched Paul as hard as he could. Paul fell on his ass and his nose started to bleed. Paul cried like a little girl.
Paul’s mother and Transman’s mother both gasped and came running over.
“Young lady!” Transman’s mother yelled. “Ladies do not hit.”
“I’m no lady!” Transman bellowed and yanked off the tutu and threw it on the ground, “and I’m not wearing that!”
Transman yanked off the slippers for good measure and threw them at Paul. Then, he stomped off to the car, tearing holes in his pink ballet tights, not caring that he was probably in trouble for the rest of his life.
* Names have been changed to protect the bullies.