I can remember standing in front of my closet when I was 14. My ears rang with internal noise. I hated my soft, flabby body with its emerging feminine traits. I hated my emotional mind with its incessant clamoring. I hated the female that I saw myself to be—and I came to a conclusion.
“God made a mistake when He made me a girl. I’m not supposed to be this way. I came out wrong.” I said it out loud as I stood there and, although no other human ears heard me, those words had a profound impact. They were the words that I had previously spoken only to my soul, and I had finally given them a voice. It is deceptively simple to describe gender confusion. “I’m a girl who feels like a boy” sounds easy enough to understand. But unpack that statement. Examine what it means and all that it implies. Suddenly a web of tangled perceptions and paradoxes, confusion and contradictions appears. The web may form slowly, almost imperceptibly (as it was in my case). But one day the web appears in its sinister complexity, at once tempting and horrifying, and there is no escape for the one whose heart it surrounds.
The heart of gender confusion is doubt. There is nothing that defines a person more completely than her gender, and when that core is rotted out by abuse, insecurity, or neglect, the floor drops. If one cannot be sure of one’s gender, what is certain? Death and taxes become the only secure truths (a terrifying reality, indeed). At puberty I was physically a girl blossoming into the softness of womanhood. But inside, in the center of my heart, I felt like a boy desperately wanting to become a man. My twin brother’s strength surpassed mine (I was physically stronger until thirteen). My body became plump, ungainly, awkward. My hormones were shrieking in the flux of physical change. All that I yearned for was the stoic calmness that men seemed to possess. I was becoming an unattractive mess of a female – why did it have to be this way? Why, why, why couldn’t I just be a boy?
I was never popular among other girls as a child. Nor did I want to be – at least, not that I would admit. In my mind I rejected the cliques and the dresses, the whispering and secret giggles that were synonymous with “femininity”. I had friends who were girls, but not “girlish” – not shallow in the ways that I associated with most other members of my sex. Tomboys, like me. But it hurt, being rejected by other girls. Self-imposed though my exile may have been, cruelty bites harder when you desperately want to belong but won’t admit it to yourself. Each slight was an affirmation that I was somehow different from other girls. So different that I was not worth associating with. Not worth trying to change.
My few attempts at “girly” things never went very well. I did have a birthday sleepover once, but only two people came. I spent two years in a church girls’ group with only one friend – a girl as outcast as myself. Ten to Twelve were lonely years for me. I began to feel that other girls were not only indifferent, but hostile toward me. One night in the girls’ group I told them as much. One of the only two times I’ve shouted out my anger. My outburst tormented me for the rest of the week, and the next week I apologized to one of the clique’s ringleaders. She didn’t even remember what I was talking about. My same-sex attraction formed so slowly. It is hard for me to describe how it came about, the longing to be the strong arms that held a weaker mate. I remember spending the night at a friend’s house when I was 13 or 14. We were sharing a bed, and I looked over at her as she slept. She was so beautiful – far lovelier than I was at that age. But I was stronger and had a firmer disposition. I remember a rising in my chest, a warm, protective feeling. Not sexual, but a longing to hold and to be held.
Sexual feelings toward other women began when I was 14. What a terrifying experience. I had been raised in the church. Homosexuality was synonymous with AIDS and hell. But my mind was so tired, so spun around on itself that at times my desire for men felt more homosexual than my attraction to other women. I admired men – their strength, courage, wit, their power to make people listen. I seemed that men mattered where women didn’t – and I wanted to matter. I emulated them. I cut my hair short. Very short. I bought boys carpenter jeans and wore them. I wore shirts that hid my female physique – not much of one (I was a rather chubby late-bloomer). I played softball for two years. I liked the second year best – the year I cut my hair and played catcher. My initial crisis ended when I was 15 without me ever telling a soul. I grew my hair again, tailored my clothes, associated with other girls more freely than I had in years. This was largely due to my return to community theater, something which I had drifted away from. A performer by nature, I thrived on the identity I found there as a “talented young lady”. Younger girls looked up to me and my peers – my female peers – like and respected me. I still count 15 as one of the happiest years of my life.
I wish that I could tell you that a fairy-tale ending came down from on high, sprinkling me with “straighten-ing” dust and left me whole and happy as a woman. No such luck in this corner, I’m afraid. I began personal counseling with Truth WNC Ministries in November of 2010. It has been a time of pain and healing, as I try to sort through the lies I have believed for so long. Simply having an environment of complete transparency has freed me to honestly evaluate myself in ways I had been afraid to before. Through Truth’s generosity I have had access to resources that explain my struggles in ways I understand. I feel God working slowly in my heart, reforming my mind to see me as He does. I thank Truth for guiding me in a direction that I do not think I could have found on my own.
There are bad days. Days when I can’t look other women in the eye but am terrified to look anywhere else. When I swagger from my shoulders, square my jaw, and grasp for the security I think men must feel. Days when I long to hold a weaker lover in my arms, to provide and protect and cherish with all the strength I have. To possess the softness that my hardened heart feels all too incapable of providing.
Then there are other days. Days when I look at myself and smile. I apply my makeup and admire the pretty lady I see in the mirror. Days I sway from my hips and hold my head high, meeting the eyes of every man and woman I pass. There are days when I think “it’s not so bad, being a woman.” And I believe it