NYR iOS app Android app More

Transgender Author: Why I Decided To Become A Woman

Transgender Woman

First Posted: 03/ 5/2012 12:52 pm Updated: 03/ 5/2012 12:53 pm

My wife knew something was wrong with me, but she believed—she wanted to believe, and I worked hard to enable her to believe—that the problem wasn’t a threat to our life together, that it was a character flaw or a neurosis, a willful refusal to allow myself to be happy. Happiness was right there, all around me, like a fragrance, if only I would let myself breathe.

But, for me, being a man meant holding my breath. If I couldn’t breathe as myself, I wouldn’t breathe at all.

When my gender dysphoria became a crisis I could no longer keep to myself, my wife was faced with a terrible choice. Most literature on transsexuality implies that there is a moral obligation for others to recognize the supremacy of the transsexual’s needs, as though, like fetuses, the imperatives of our becoming take precedence over everyone else’s needs. All my wife had to do was heed the voices urging her to become a willing, supportive party to the destruction of the life and the man she loved, and she could hold on, probably, to whatever was left of them when I was done becoming.

But she had grown up with voices telling her to sacrifice her life for others’. For women, these voices never seem to fall silent. There is always someone becoming, someone needing, someone hurting, someone grieving, someone whispering and sometimes screaming the tenets of female self-sacrifice.

My wife had survived by shouting down those voices and insisting on her right to her own life. From the first, I had admired in her the courage I had never displayed.

So, rather than swallowing her pain and focusing on my mine, she decided to fight for her life. If I had been faithless, she would be faithful. If I denied the reality of the man she loved, she would mourn and defend him.

What’s so bad about being a man?” my wife asks me again. I’m in the kitchen, washing dishes she dries and puts away. The old teamwork is still there, the seamless dance of those whose lives have been entwined so long they can’t remember living any other way. For some reason, this is always where we are when she asks this question. She’s serious this time, neither joking nor raging, and, though I know it’s too late to salvage our marriage, I have a sudden, desperate intuition that if I could only answer, really answer, she would finally understand that I am not rejecting her, and we could begin to heal, to forgive.

But it’s hard to find words for feelings that she has never experienced. Before this last, now permanent crisis, even I hadn’t understood that gender dysphoria could make life unlivable. I’d read stories of middle-aged men, stockbrokers and auto mechanics, telephone repairmen and Marine corps sergeants, who would appear without appointments or prior transition at gender reassignment clinics demanding to be operated on immediately. I couldn’t imagine transsexuals behaving so badly. Where was their detachment, their dissociation, their discipline? What could be so bad about being a man?

She’s waiting for me to answer. There’s a blue plastic plate in one hand, a dish towel in another. Her makeup is off, her glasses are on; we are both in blue jeans and sneakers. There’s so little difference between us. Surely she can see through my dilapidated male façade to the soul whose suffering is causing hers. Any minute now—I’m suddenly sure of it—she will realize, without having to be told, what is so bad about being a man.

A body is there, but it’s not yours. A voice is coming out of your throat, but you don’t recognize it. The mirror contains another person’s face. When your children wrap their arms around you, they seem to be hugging someone else. Every morning you wake up shocked to find that parts of you have disappeared, that you are smothered in flesh you cannot recognize as yours. That you have lost the body you never had. This isn’t me, you say to yourself. This isn’t me, you say to anyone you trust. Of course it isn’t. There is no “me,” no body that fits the map, no identity that fits your sense of self, no way to orient yourself in a world in which you exist only as an hysterical rejection of what, to everyone around you, is the simple, obvious fact of your gender.

You are a man. And what’s so bad about that?


Filed by Madeleine Crum  |