My Transgender Life: Spanx-ing The Binaries

My Transgender Life: Spanx-ing the Binaries
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I used to have so many of those puzzle workbooks when I was a kid. You may remember them; the ones full of mazes, riddles, simple math and word fill-ins. I really loved these and went through them so quickly.

However these puzzles were nothing compared to the time when I was 8 or 9 nine years old and no one was home and I opened up that drawer…..that drawer where my mom kept her underwear. To this day, I have trouble describing the forces that drew me to stare at the front of that draw, and hold my breath as I was building up the nerve to pull it open. Inch by inch, I slowly opened the draw as I began to see a puzzle I had no experience with – no, none at all!

There was that one item in that drawer that drew me to it. It was the largest and heaviest item there. I was so confused as I reached out to touch it and felt it rubbery surface. I slowly picked it up with both hands and turned it around and around. There were the four straps hanging from what I thought was the bottom, as I held it open and looked through it from the top down. I tried to stretch is as hard as I could and found it so hard to do. That force that I mentioned above was telling me to put it on.

That was the first time…..

Around that time in my life I remember hearing conversations between my mom and her siblings about how after she got married she was prescribed some drug to help her get pregnant. I did not understand any of that back then, and by the time I began to understand so much more, she was already gone so there was no way to ask. Although I did not understand any of this, now it begins to make some sense – or at least provide some sense of comfort to me that I was a DES (Diethylstilbestrol) son. Perhaps that could explain those “forces” that I followed. Perhaps…

Also around that time, I watched how some of the girls in my classes were starting to change. It varied as some were maturing faster than others and the messages in my head were bouncing round and round. Watching them was exciting me, but then I also wanted to be changing just like them. There was often a thought that raced through my mind that I was not like the other girls. As it flew by, I got so angry as it made no sense at all, just no sense! Often there would be days I would go home after school and head straight to my mom’s draw.

For so many years and decades, I tried, oh, how I tried to be the man that I apparently was. How was I supposed to act? What was my role in my relationships? I had no manual or instruction book, and no matter what point in my life I was in, those forces were not far from taking control, and I always had my own, and often secret draw. There was no way to talk about it, share it with anyone. There was a psychological “girdle” surrounding my entire sense of being. The world is a binary world, I knew. You were either male or female. There was no other choice. That binary choice kept me confused and shamed for over half a century.

I have learned so much during the past decade of my life. I have learned that there is nothing wrong with me, as whatever those forces are that perhaps are the source of my being transgender, were not a choice of either my mom or myself.

It was not easy to come to terms with my own sense of self, but part of the journey was recognizing that the binary model of gender – that we all take for a given, is an oversimplified approximation of reality. Cultures find it so much simpler to have just two boxes and if you cannot fit in one of them you are so often an outcast and rejected. You are denied the basic human needs of love, belonging, and acceptance.

I have also learned that for so many people who do not fit the binary model they were originally thought to be in, for many of them the limitation of two boxes – two choices is just not the answer. The binary choice of gender is just another “girdle” of trying to force one into a certain mold, a certain shape, that conforms with some cultural standard and expectation of your being. In today’s terminology, I dare say, we are being “spanxed” into a form to meet and align with an internal picture of how we see ourselves. For me, it reminded me of the days when I wished I was like the other girls and my body would be changing.

Over the past decade, as I came to terms with my own truth and transitioned gender I have enough space and time to look back at my process of molding my body both with external help and ultimately surgeries, to align my body to the picture I of how I saw myself. That dysphoria was perhaps a result of the wash of hormones that ran through my brain while still in my mom’s womb.

I read many articles questioning whether transgender women are women. I also read articles and questioning about what is it like or what does it mean to be a woman? I have learned that there is no single definition of what it is to be a woman. Back fifty years ago, each of the girls in my class were so different and even today, the women I meet are still all unique. I had a professor who asked our class to define femininity. The answers covered clothes, motherhood, marriage and many other concepts. After everyone spoke, the professor smiled as she shared being feminine is anything you want it to be! This occurred before I transitioned, and for the first time let me know there was not a single path to be a woman. I did not have to mold myself into some form that someone else defined. However it has still taken me a while to fully let that sink in, as I found different ways to deal with my own dysphoria.

On my own journey I have chosen many surgeries to help me. My first step was those nine hours of facial surgery to “look” more like a woman. This certainly was a major step in turning the inner voices of dysphoria off. Bit they were not turned off completely, and I chose to have more surgery that over the past decade has been called a variety of names including sex change surgery, sex reassignment surgery (SRS), gender reassignment surgery (GRS), gender confirmation surgery (GCS). Perhaps like the definition of femininity, the alphabet soup of dealing with one’s gender dysphoria can be as wide open as each person wants it.

For me, I can close the circle from that day in the late forties when my mom took some DES to help her get pregnant until the time I needed to correct and deal with my own dysphoria with what I now call my own DES- Dysphoria Ending Surgeries.

And, yes, they have been successful.

Grace Anne Stevens inspires people to find their truth and live their authentic life!

She is the author of No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, and Musings on Living Authentically. Grace is available for speaking to all groups who would like to learn the values of, and how to live authentically. Workshop descriptions can be found at her website.

Grace was selected as an Amtrak Residency Writer for 2016; you can share her experiences on the rails on her website

She was also selected as Person of the Year (2017) by New England Pride TV.

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