My life could have begun like one of those good news/bad news jokes:
The Doctor walks into the waiting room of the Clarksdale, Mississippi, hospital and says, “Well, Mr. Guest, I have good news, and I have bad news. The good news is your wife just gave birth to the little girl you always wanted. The bad news is she’s male.” So it was I lived the childhood of a boy named Hank. It wasn’t a bad childhood; it just wasn’t mine.
For the bulk of my childhood, I lived in a sort of passive acquiescence, haunted by a vague sense that something was not quite right - I was not quite right. I had these unnatural longings as real, persistent and hidden as the need to breathe, longings to wear dresses, have long hair, be a Brownie, get the long, ruffled nightgown on the cover of the J.C. Penny catalog from Santa, then crawl into my father’s lap and cuddle. These longings rarely dominated the landscape of my consciousness; rather they seeped through it like a subterranean spring surfacing only occasionally, usually unseen or else mistaken for something else.
Of course, it didn’t help that I did such a marvelous impersonation of a typical boy and later, a man. Unlike most of the male-to-female transsexuals I know, I always liked the “boy” stuff. I played football with reckless abandon and for the sheer brutal intimacy of it. I fished, camped, played games that involved throwing knives at each other’s feet, swung from wild grapevines like a skinny Tarzan and built rafts out of trees downed with my Uncle Howard’s WWII K-bar knife. I even killed small animals with large weapons; I mean, how much more manly can you get than that?
During puberty, the passive acquiescence of childhood was inadequate to deal with what was no longer a vague sense of longing, but rather, a persistent urge driven by the dawning of sexuality. Periods of guilt-ridden obsession would be followed by periods of hopeful remission to be followed by periods of guilt-ridden obsession to be followed by…well, you get the picture. On the surface, I appeared to be just another teenage boy ambling clumsily through life. Beneath the surface, I was a refugee struggling to survive in a psychic no man’s land. With no one to turn to, living in arguably the most openly homophobic part of the country, utterly unaware that there was anyone else like me in the entire world, I expended an ever-increasing amount of energy hiding, repressing, sublimating and denying.
This struggle to find the Truth that the facts concealed felt a lot like swimming upstream. Due to a fluke of physiology, because I was male, I was thrown unceremoniously into the river leading to manhood. And it was a river, not a road or a path. On roads you have to propel yourself along, plus there are lots of alternate routes. While people choose to follow a different path, few question the direction in which their gender river flows. But I was like an anadromous fish, the kind that fights its way up raging rivers, hurls itself into the breathless air, breasts raging waterfalls, runs a gauntlet of hungry predators all in response to some desperate, frantic, mysterious urge.
From time to time, I would pause in this gargantuan struggle and resolve to stop this insanity, turn around and let myself be carried along by the river’s inexorable flow. But no matter how hard I tried, I knew if I was ever going to find peace and my appointed destiny, I would have to work my way back upstream to some unknown place that lived in the dim recesses of my unconscious like a smell, a taste, the residue of a dream. And never for a minute did I doubt that in so doing something would have to die, and that something would almost surely have to be me.
Finally, confronted with the very real prospect that I was either going to cause myself an early demise or – worse still – be exposed to the world for the perverted freak I felt I was, I sought help. I was living proof of what Eric Berne, the father of transactional analysis used to say: that people don’t get into therapy to become winners; they get into therapy to become braver losers. I was determined to be a normal man – a truly losing proposition - because no matter how hard I tried, I was simply not a man, normal or otherwise.
There is a story in the Bible where Jesus becomes the hit of a wedding party when he changes ordinary water into uncommonly fine wine. Well, no matter what I did, no matter how much I begged, prayed, danced and read, regardless of all the time, energy and money I spent trying to be normal, I was, in the end, utterly unsuccessful at changing his perfectly fine wine back into ordinary water.
Meredith Guest Writing