Introduction: A rather arbitrary starting point
There is an old family photo in one of my grandmother’s album’s that was taken when I was still a newborn. It shows my baby-self, my father, grandpa and great-grandfather sitting in the four seats of our automobile. Four generations of the family’s men standing together, ready to take separate paths. I doubt my grandma can even imagine that, for the baby boy in that photo, that path has led him to not see himself as a man.
*This is a long article, full of personal, LGBT-related thoughts. Though we respect freedom of speech, no bigotry is going to be accepted.*
Part One: Childhood photographs that were never taken
From my childhood’s blurred memories, I recall myself as a rather troubled kid when it came down to defining who I was. In contrast to other boys, I liked thinking of myself as a princess or a future housewife, not a cruel villain. I really liked watching stories that others considered girlish, like Maho Shoujo Lalabel, Sailor Moon, etc. Even though I was called a boy, things were much more unclear in me. More than gender, something else meant more to me.
Weak and frail; I saw myself in those two virtues; they simply felt right for me. (1) Like I said before, I thought of myself as a girl as often, if not more, as a boy. The more I think about it, the more I come to think this was true to a great extent because most of the role models I could see that had the elements I was made of were women.
One example I recall strongly is Minako from Sailor Moon, for the way she acted in episode 109, when she wished to make herself weaker and vulnerable so that her enemies could attack her. One of the few examples of boys who felt this way was Jun from Daikyouryu no Jidai (The Age of the Great Dinosaurs), a boy who was kind, gentle and hated violence; he was perceived as feminine and that was an extra reason why I liked him and felt closer to him than other heroes. Somehow, I could see the “boy who gets ridiculed for looking like a girl” as someone similar to myself.
From what I can figure out of my childhood memories, I did not initially perceive these feelings as something negative. That was simply who I was and what I liked; I dedicated very little time thinking about it, until the moment that I started realizing life was going to be that simple. In particular, when my father and brother were trying to correct me, insisting -with a rather sarcastic tone- on how “girlish” were the stories I liked. When my mother grabbed me and washed my face, to make sure that no lipstick I had tried on would stay there. When I was afraid to go in my mother’s closet and try her wonderful golden dress. When, in one of our fights, my brother told me that “I am afraid to be beside you, because one of the two us is not a man”.
There are no images of that era, not only because no one was interested in keeping a record, but because I also hoped to get away from there. You do not want to save a map of a place you never hope to explore again.
Part Two: Eruptions, storm and a whole lot of natural phenomena
a. First love
In me I had a little boy as well as a little girl. So long as my memory is correct, I was rather satisfied with the way they were; little, shy and obedient. It just so happens that I love people, no matter the gender, who are strong and decisive, protective and caring. The way I see it, those characteristics are equal in value with bravery, disobedience or aggressiveness and they do not discriminate neither gender nor sexual orientation. But as I was growing up, I did realize the stereotypes known to all of us and that I was supposed to fit in those for the sake of others, especially my parents. That is how the very idea of having a female side in me was out of the question; I could not be something that the people around me made so much fun of.
Becoming an alpha male was a hard thing for me and it turned even harder when I fell in love with a boy, my best and only friend. Our friendship had a character that in some ways resembled that of the typical hetero relationships, with me as the “woman” who was doing what my partner wanted, be it watching him play video games without being able to play myself or purposely losing in our games, so that he could feel better -that being said, I did enjoy being the loser. As time passed and my feelings grew deeper, it was harder to keep on hiding my feelings. Little by little, there were acts of disclosure. First, it was a soft kiss while he was sleeping. Then me asking him to do things to me that made him feel awkward and, finally, embarrassingly coming out to him in a much too personal way.
When this one-sided romance ended, I started thinking more and more. How much and why I liked this boy. That golden dress that I’d never wear again. That what I was trying to be was what my parents wanted me to be, not what I was. I grew an amazing insecurity to prove those feelings wrong and this is how life started going downhill.
b. Walls of broken mirrors
The years of junior-high were horrible. I started swearing a lot, saying very misogynist things about girls and, in general, acting like the sort of idiot I hated. Now I was not watching Sailor Moon but playing soccer, I had fights with other boys and rarely ever cleaned myself. But there was a huge mental gap inside me that I had to fill; I did try to use various things to achieve that, be it religion or nationality, but all attempts failed miserably, because they all ignored that other side of me.
A volcano, even one buried deep in the depths of the ocean, will eventually explode. In my case, the boom happened when I was 16 and, for many personal reasons, I decided that I had to change and be myself. But I did not know who I was or what I liked. I could not define something I could not touch -my soul- when there were no rules and help to be found. So I repeatedly and honestly came out as exactly that -someone with an uncertain gender and sexual identity. Some of the things I recall listening as a response to my coming out, were the following:
“Do you like men? Women? You cannot like both, can you? So you want to be a woman? Why are you so feminine? It’s unnatural. God made you that way. Do you think women are weak and act like this? Oh, you got a jump shot -many niggers must have taken you last night, right? That is not God’s plan for you. You do not look feminine enough. Why do you always stay in the corner? That’s your nature. You are acting this way to find a girlfriend. Are you abused? You think I am pretty, don’t you? Come here to get your nipples pinched. Faggot.”
I am not overstating things. This was pretty much the sort of treatment I met. I do not wish to go into detail, but as far as I am concerned it felt like hell. Eventually, school life ended and real life began. It was like a reset button, a way out of a game I had lost.
Path Three: A dawn of friendly faces
In the new game that started, I tried to calm down and think clearly. I had been obsessed with putting myself under a label, be it a sexual, political or of any kind. And I had also been obsessed with what other people felt and expected of me, and whether I was good enough. And I decided it was time to change, perhaps not in one day, but in time.
It has been some years since that effort started and things have gone relatively well. But it was only recently that I found the courage to remember that girl who was smiling with red cheeks while looking at herself in her mother’s golden dress. And I felt it was time for her to see the light again.
Myself I am too much of a cowardly cat to try things without support, so I asked the help of two amazing and kind friends and a wonderful, unique lover. We went to a little shop, open to people like myself. To put it into a few words, it was one of the happiest days of my life, the day when I was whole again.
Conclusion: Sunshine amidst the snow mountain
What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? I am confident that there is no single answer, thus I can only say that for me, it is simply like describing two co-existing parts of my soul. The weak little guy who likes peacefulness and is looking for someone to caress his head, the shy princess that enjoys reading and feels calm when a firm hand is tenderly holding hers. I am sure there are many different men and women inside each one of us. I just wish it was easier to accept that fact and to celebrate each person’s uniqueness. For me, it is a blessing that I have friends that think this way. Even if it is only a faint hope, I hope we can reach this state of openness. Just one day at a time, until we are free to be ourselves.
1. I use the words virtues because that was the way I felt about them; they were parts of myself, not negatively underlined.