Updated: Aug 1, 2021
“ I figured out puberty by myself, always anxious, thinking the male changes in my body would never happen to me. "
My mother died holding my hand when I was 28 years old. I cried, for two reasons. One, because she was my mother and I would miss her terribly. Two, because I was free. My mother had her first child, a son, at 30 and did not have her only other, me, until she was 40. She grew up a baby in her Irish family of 6 during the depression, with curls and dolls and lace dresses. She had always wanted a little girl to dress up, to play with and to pass her dolls and lace to. She told me so, many times. She always added that she was happy to have two healthy boys, but we both knew the truth. She did not lie well, and the tone of her voice would change and she would not make eye contact. I was happy but needy, and with the abuse of my brother constantly cutting my self-esteem and instilling debilitating anxiety in me, I would cling to her like a baby. She loved this, as my brother had been a cold, independent brat who did everything wrong he could think of to get my detached father’s attention. The cycle began, where my vulnerability and fear was rewarded by an increasingly close relationship to her, and as she and my father grew apart in my childhood, and as I had nothing in common with him and did not like him much, we came together as the couple in our house. She began to treat me as if I were her little girl, reprimanding me for acting “rough.” I was terrified to do anything wrong, to make a mistake, or act out in any way she would see as aggressive. She would go flush, clutch her head, and act as though I was hurting her. Once I told a joke with the word “boob” in it to a friend and when she found out she cried in shame. I had mostly A’s and very few friends off my street because I was terrified that I would not be liked. That I would say one of these bad or wrong things that made her so upset. That I would want to fart, swear or talk about sex with a friend and she would find out. She and my father had a fight once, and when I went to comfort her against him, our enemy, she stormed past me and told me she wished she had never had children. I burst into tears and ran to my room, where I began to throw things against my closed door to act out. She came pushing in, I thought to hug or hold me, and instead she told me that I was a terrible child for upsetting her that day and then left me alone. After the abuse I suffered at the hands of a neighbor, I gained an enormous amount of weight and became asexual through my teenage years, never kissing a girl, smoking a cigarette or sneaking a beer. I wouldn’t have even thought of it for fear of what it would do to her. I spent time alone in my room, or watched movies with her. We were companions as she and my father spoke less and she began to volunteer at the local YMCA to get out of the house. She knew I was in my room listening to Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross but would drop little hints to me such as “I didn’t raise a hairdresser,” or point out a gay man on television as “disgusting.” I taught myself how to shave. I figured out puberty by myself, always anxious, thinking the male changes in my body would never happen to me. At 19, I was able to come out from under my cover of fat and lose my virginity, thanks to a friendship with a college friend. I bought my first condoms at a drug store thirty miles away because I thought that if anyone I knew saw me buy them they would laugh at me because they were for men. During my twenties I hid my sexuality in dark alleys and began the path of self destruction that would launch my gay life straight off a cliff, allowing men to do whatever they wanted to me just for wanting to touch me at all. For the past twenty years, I have untrained myself from being taught that I was not a man. And I have grown to appreciate what being a man means, at least to me. I’ve stopped myself in a million moments to silently, firmly remind myself that it was okay to be who I am, and what I am and who I want to be. I have shed a million tears just correcting this damage while I try not to trip over my own mistakes and misconceptions. I spent my childhood held down with “girl, fairie, pansy, and queer” shouted into my ears by my brother day after month after year. Then one hundred and twenty five pounds of fat covered the puberty that barely showed through. So I have to smile when someone tells me how masculine I am, or tells me I am a strong man in the physical or emotional sense. To me, a man makes no apologies for who he is and who he is not. He is someone you can trust or rely on to do the right thing, even when it is the hardest choice. He is someone who will say he is sorry when he is wrong, and look you in the eye and tell you when you are. And yeah, I have muscles and tattoos because for me it is an extra reminder on the outside of who I have grown to know on the inside. I understand that my mother was a person who was not perfect, a lovely, funny woman who genuinely loved me. And there is nothing wrong with being a girl, it is just that I was not one. I was a boy. A son. And now, as I enter the final years of my life, I am enjoying the peace that in some ways a transgender person probably feels when they can look in the mirror and see themselves the way they knew they were always meant to be. It is not the same, but it is. Because I will allow no one from my past, my present, or my future to ever define me again. Because I like what I see for the first time ever. Because I am, at last, the man I always wanted to be.