Almost exactly 36 years ago, I was born in Beverly, Massachusetts. I was assigned female at birth, but my parents named me Jesse. My mom likes to tell me how she envisioned “Jesse” as a brave pioneer woman blazing a trail, and she had it mostly right, minus a detail or two (a big detail, to be honest, but let’s give the lady some credit).
I had a relatively gender-neutral upbringing for the 80s (thank you mom and dad, truly), but boys and girls were very segregated and all of my friends were girls.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my friends, my bestie especially. We had a pretty genderless friendship, but anything gendered I had difficulty relating to. I wanted a male friend, but most of the boys that I saw on a regular basis weren’t interested in being friends with girls. I could only look on in envy as they traded baseball cards or played with mini hockey sticks. Were these hockey sticks a thing in anyone else’s elementary school in the 80s? The boys were obsessed with them. I desperately wanted one, but was afraid to ask, because who would let me play with them anyway?
But there was Eddie.
Eddie was definitely a part of the mini hockey stick crowd, but he also thought I was cool. He asked me to be his girlfriend and I said yes. Boys and girls weren’t really just friends at my school, it was bf/gf or nothing. Our relationship consisted of acknowledging each other in the hall way, sitting together at lunch and hanging out at recess when Eddie wasn’t playing mini hockey. We never hung out outside of school.
I didn’t really want a boyfriend, I just wanted a boy who was a friend. I just wanted someone to bro out with and talk about Nintendo and hamsters and build stick forts, and for a brief time that’s what Eddie was.
Our bromance ground to a halt, however, when another girl at school (we can call her Ashley because I can’t actually remember her name, but she was well known for causing trouble and ratting people out) told my mom that Eddie was my boyfriend. My mom came home and confronted me with sharp disapproval. “Ashley at school told me you have a boyfriend! Is that true?” I was humiliated. I couldn’t explain that I wasn’t a girl, I couldn’t explain that I was desperate for a male friend that I could relate to, I didn’t know how to say any of that, so instead I lied and said it wasn’t true. I never really talked to Eddie again after that. Every once in a while I wish I could find him and tell him what he meant to me, but I admit I haven’t tried.
After that, I was determined to fix my gender crisis. I told myself that if I tried hard enough I could become a girl. I screamed at high pitch on fair rides, pretended to be crazy over a boy and had a feud with another girl over him at summer camp, talked about make up and other stuff that I had absolutely zero interest in and generally stuffed all those feelings about not being a girl into a box that I would refuse to look at again until I was 34.
Pretending to be a girl wasn’t all that bad when I was young, but time marches inexorably forward.
Puberty hit me like a tidal wave.
Let me first say that I recognize that puberty isn’t fun for anyone. But things started happening to my body that made no sense to my not-a-girl brain. Breasts (PS I hate that word, it makes my stomach turn in a way that boobs or tits doesn’t. Every time I say it I think about my own and I get a little sick.) started to form, periods started to happen, leg and arm pit hair got darker and needed to be shaved. As a gender-confused pre-teen I was still generally happy and oblivious, even as I was mindlessly trying to stuff myself into the mold of female child, but puberty was devastating. I couldn’t have fathomed how awful and humiliating it would feel. I held off as long as I could on shaving and wearing a bra until social shame brought me to heel like a dog. My anxiety started then.
I could relate so many fucked up little vignettes from this time, but I’ll save them for another time because even just what I’ve written is emotionally exhausting.
The Grunge era was my saving grace back then, everyone was wearing flannel shirts and crappy jeans, so I didn’t have a whole lot of trouble unless it came to dressing up.
I tried to assimilate, I really did. I didn’t know what else to do. I played the part as best I could, which wasn’t particularly well. Being weird helped. Was I a social outcast? Yes, absolutely (though I did eventually find a group of wonderful and accepting friends), but a lot of my non-girly behavior could be passed off as me just being my weird-ass self, so my lame attempts at femininity kinda flew under the radar until I was legitimately ready to address them.
I can’t explain why it took me so long to come out, first as gay and then as transgender. It wasn’t for lack of accepting gay or trans folks. Lack of knowledge maybe? My parents didn’t really talk about gay people when I was growing up and I freely admit that I didn’t even know what transgender meant until I went to college.
Sorry for the abrupt end, but I think I’ve hit my saturation point for today. Thanks for spending time with me!