Skin and Bones in the Closet


The video I did for What's Underneath is about how my sex change resulted in the right body. Kind of.

In an ideal sense, the right body would have been there to begin with, and everything about it would have been right all along. Instead I inhabit a bodily home that is as close as possible to how it should be.

There is one difference that matters: I cannot become pregnant. The feeling that I may never do enough or be enough in this aspect of womanhood haunts me. It may not be perceptible to others, and it forms no obstacle to skating on the surface of modern society. Yet it forms a chasm in between how I ought to have been made versus how I was.

One of my cousins was born prematurely and spent a number of months in an incubator as an infant. My mom once said that she understood my sex change thusly: I was a "premie" of sorts -- I just needed to undergo a period of incubation to reach viability in the world.

The first few years after my sex change, I found myself in a second adolescence -- as if one hadn't been enough. During my "teenage girlhood," as my mother calls it, I flailed about in relationships with straight men for the first time, groping for familiarity as my sea legs grew.

On the magazine covers at the grocery store, I saw the women I assumed men wanted - why else would they be on the cover?

I let those images make me believe I would find a boyfriend if only I could get down to a size 4, and then lower. I was an adult in years, a child in impressionability. My body image reflected from the outside world in, rather than the other way around. The ideal of beauty was a vacuum sucking out any trace of imperfection, negating the very characteristics that make a person human.

I lost weight until I was shopping for clothing in the juniors' section. In the process, I shed the features that made me feminine at all -- whatever curves I had went away. The quest for desirability extinguished my desirability. I had lost faith that I was even worth the space I took up.

Self-effacement to such an extreme yields the opposite of the intended effect. My body screamed how I felt about myself in the world: I was as starved for food as I was for love.

Everything began to change when I found my first job at a law firm. Suddenly I was not just wasting away. Now I was working with clients, writing briefs, rushing off to jail, and appearing in court. Being of service in my profession made me feel good about myself, and the feeling overflowed into my life beyond work.

I kept silent about my sex change for several years. I knew only one other transgender lawyer, and she was already established. There were no role models to help me believe it was possible to open up without jeopardizing my career. I feared losing the life ring that my job provided for my soul.

But no woman is an island.

Alone, I wondered: if I can't be open, then what the hell am I doing? Whose life is it, anyway?

The yoke of silence fell off as I walked into the courtroom after The New York Times published a profile of me discussing my gender.

The cat would have been out of the bag at that point, except there was no cat. There was nothing to hide anymore because there was nothing to hide to begin with.

The struggle against my fears had ended. I was set free to fight for my clients unshackled by guilt.

I was the same human being in the courtroom from one day to the next. But reality had shifted: now my secrets were confidences protected by the attorney-client privilege, instead of shame buried within.

What's underneath skeletons in the closet is the marrow of life.