The Education of Little Trans; or, My Boyhood as a Girl

By Christopher Curcio (Staff)

Wrong BodyGrowing up in the seventies, the boys department at Sears was, to me, about the dullest and most depressing place in God’s creation. So I guess it’s only fitting that amidst that foreboding landscape of black, brown, grey and navy blue I learned one of the hardest lessons of my so-called boyhood—being a boy sucks.

My first memory of that dark, dismal back-alley where color goes to die is from my summer before the second grade.

The year was 1971. Dad was called away to do a second tour of Vietnam and for some reason Mom and the rest of us relocated from western Maryland to the sunny eastern coast of Florida.

Totally ignorant of the enormity of my father’s situation (it never once occurred to me that he might not come back), I was excited and thrilled at the prospect of moving to a place where the sun shone year round and the beach was a mere 10 minutes away!

A few weeks before school started, my mother decided to take us on a back-to-school shopping trip. I had never been clothes shopping before and was thrilled about the idea of wearing shorts all year long! Well, that excitement was short lived when I got a glimpse at the limited choices available to me. “Is this it?” I remember thinking. “Is this all there is?”

Shocked and numbed by the plainness of the selection (2 styles of shirts—pullover or button down; 2 styles of pants—short or long) and that almost complete lack of color, I finished my shopping in about 15 minutes. My only treasure was a pair of red, white and blue sandals with stars on them left over from a Fourth of July display.

Looking back, I really can’t say what I was hoping to find. The colors and styles of the clothes on the racks were pretty much the same as the ones I was wearing. But for some reason, I was expecting more—a lot more.

Now, if the boys department could be compared to the sepia-toned bleakness of the Kansas prairie, entering the girls department with my Mom and sisters for the first time was like dropping 10 tabs of the best acid and being blasted into Oz.

A galaxy unto itself, the girls department boasted every color in every shade and hue known to mankind (and a few Mother Nature never intended). Purples, oranges, yellows, pinks, greens and blues brighter than the sky smiled at me from every corner. Dresses, blouses, skirts, shorts, hats, sunglasses, necklaces, bracelets, shoes (and even socks!) in every style and color imaginable hung from every rack. Over the rainbow? Honey, I was inside the rainbow and had absolutely no desire to go back. Fuck Kansas.

And so it was, in the middle of that glossy, sparkling, glitter-and-sequined universe, that the faintest glimmering of an idea started to take form that would eventually blossom into the most important lesson of my American childhood: somehow, I don’t know how, I had ended up in the wrong body.

Of course, as a pint-sized 6 year-old, I didn’t have the words to articulate this. All I knew was that as I grew, something wasn’t quite right. Sure, when I looked at my body I was definitely a boy, but everything my heart wanted and desired screamed “Girlfriend!” Easy Bake Ovens, LiteBrites, tassels on my handlebars, bell-bottom flares, Sun-In and Bonne Bell Lipsmackers—all denied me simply because I wasn’t born with a vagina. So, with my head down and my mouth securely shut, I allowed society to create my sterile, colorless existence as a “boy”.

A little over a decade later, the moment I realized my ever growing attraction to men was not a passing phase, I started to self-identify as gay. And in the eighties, there weren’t that many labels to choose from: if you were a guy who liked guys, you were gay; if you were a girl who liked girls, you were lesbian. If you liked both you were…well, a slut.

However, knowing what we know now about the amorphous nature of gender, I wonder if it would be more accurate to start identifying myself as transgendered.

I mean, even now, rapidly approaching 50, I can honestly say that there has never been a single moment in my life when I have ever identified with the gender assigned to my sex. For example, as a boy, I avoided other boys like the plague. Their rough and tumble nature frightened me so much that I hung out with the girls, people with whom I actually had something in common.

And except for a brief stint in Little League Baseball—an exercise in humiliation I vowed never to repeat—everything I was expected to love as a boy (sports, camping, and anything remotely involving physical prowess) I found intimidating and impossibly dull. And everything that was considered girly (jumping rope, hopscotch and just about anything involving yarn) attracted me like bees to honey.

As a “man,” I look at the aggressive, macho, one-up behavior of my fellow bunkmates and say “WTF?” I just can’t, and probably never will, relate. Except for sharing the same genitalia and clothes, the similarities are pretty much non-existent.

For decades I’ve joked to my friends and referred to myself as a woman trapped in a man’s body. But maybe it’s not a joke after all. Perhaps, for whatever reason, it’s the God’s honest truth. And while I have no plans to surgically alter my body, I do have plans to reincarnate. And I’m hoping next time Mother Nature will get it right.

Image

Macho

Created by Colorado College students Kaimara Herron (Editor), Julian McGinn (Journalist), Sarah "Ingrid" Sundstrom (Journalist), and Nichelle Giraldes (Graphic Designer) during Block 6 2014

Created by Colorado College students Kaimara Herron (Editor), Julian McGinn (Journalist), Sarah “Ingrid” Sundstrom (Journalist), and Nichelle Giraldes (Graphic Designer) during Block 6 2014

Macho does not want to maintain the status quo. It does not reaffirm common notions of masculinity. It does not claim to speak for those who already have their voices validated. It is for the people on the fringes of [hegemonic] masculinity. It speaks to boys who do not fit into the traditional model. And it asks those who do fit that model to read through the pages and reflect on the ways in which they simultaneously benefit from and are restricted by definitions of masculinity.”
—Kaimara Herron, Editor

Click here to read Macho!

Thoughts on Privilege

Udis Kesslerby Amanda Udis Kessler

As an aspect of systematic social inequality, privilege is a difficult topic to discuss. To admit that one has privilege (white privilege, male privilege, class privilege, straight privilege, etc.) is to acknowledge that one benefits from social inequality.

Privilege is the outcome of being socially valued and consists of access to socially valued goods, experiences and opportunities, especially when those are denied to members of socially devalued groups. At least as important, privilege is freedom from unpleasant, negative, or dangerous experiences or situations, which devalued groups face all the time in the way of prejudice, discrimination, violence, and neglect. To be privileged is to be trusted, considered normal, respected, and wished well.  To be  devalued is to be mistrusted, considered problematic, disrespected, and wished ill. As a white person, I don’t face the stigma and danger of being pulled over for “driving while black or brown,” but as a woman, I face a much higher risk of sexual violence than men do. My economic class allows me to buy things I want without (for the most part) worrying too much about how much they cost; my sexuality means that I can’t legally marry my partner of almost 16 years and obtain the more than 1000 federal benefits federal marriage would bring.

As my example suggests, many of us are privileged in some ways and disadvantaged in others, and the genius of multicultural feminism is to insist that we understand different types of social inequality in relation to each   other without prioritizing one form of inequality over the others.

Privilege may be only one element of social inequality, but it is an extremely important one, not least because being privileged means not having to think about the fact that one is privileged. Privilege is taken for granted most of the time, and being willing and able to acknowledge and address one’s privilege is an important starting place for pushing back against the ease of being on the powerful side of inequality.

Since privilege derives from and brings respect, those of us with privileged social identities can use them to work for social justice more broadly. While my whiteness should not give me any more status, clout, or prestige than a person of color when talking about racial issues (in fact it should give me less), the sad fact is that in a racist society whites will generally listen to me more than to people of color. One responsibility of privilege, then, is to put our privilege to work in education and activism for the well-being of everyone in our society, regardless of our particular combination of privilege and disadvantage. Our individual situations will look different but I remain convinced that all of us have gifts to bring to the many struggles against injustice, and our acknowledgement of the privilege most of us do have is an important starting point.

********************

Amanda Udis Kessler, Ph.D. is the Chair of the Institutional Review Board at Colorado College.