By Paul L. Grace-Neal
As an adolescent and teen, I did not feel like myself. You see, when my mother birthed my sister and I on the evening of March 18, 1967, the doctor informed my parents that they had two identical twin girls. Growing up, my mom thought it was cute, time efficient and economical to dress us alike in frilly outfits. Often, we were dressed in the exact same outfit and at other times the only difference was color. It was frustrating to me when people got us mixed up. I wanted to be me but people saw us as half of a whole. We may have started out that way in my mom’s belly but things were different. We were born and when I looked in the mirror I did not see what others saw. I didn’t see my sister. I saw me. I was different.
I could not quite put my finger on it because certain issues were not discussed in my home. My parents never talked about the L, the G, the B, and especially not the T. Without understanding, I never thought of how someone could be born a girl and want to be a boy or visa versa. That seemed so unnatural. But that was me. My sister liked to dress in girly dresses and wear make up and heels but I felt more comfortable in pants. I really loved my army green kakis and low top black and white Converse sneakers. I guess today I would say I was androgynous or gender-queer or fluid.
One evening, my parents announced that they wanted another child so they could have a boy. Even though I could have a brother, when I heard the news, I was disappointed thinking “What am I? Aren’t I a boy?” I felt like they did not want me because I wasn’t a biological boy.
I suppressed these feelings for many years as I lived as a very conservative straight female wearing lipstick, pantyhose, and dresses. This was my parents’ expectation of me and I wanted them to like me. One day while pastoring a conservative Black church, a member asked me if I was gay. I still did not fully understand what “gay” was but I started exploring my sexuality and began identifying as a lipstick lesbian.
My mom was saddened because she thought I was going to hell. Seeing my mom’s pain, I went back into the closet. My mom was happy and so was I… Or so I thought. As the years went on, I was in and out of relationships and a failed abusive marriage. After my divorce, I stopped dating for ten years. I could not figure out my poor taste in men. Then it dawned upon me. I dated men because of what my parents wanted. Another revelation! Just like the day my parents told me they wanted a boy, I no longer felt like a “girl”.
Coming out the closet as a lesbian was relatively easy because I had done it before. Coming out as a Trans* male was HELL! The only exposure I had to anything Trans* was seeing the street walkers on 14th Street, NW in Washington, DC. I heard that they were murdered while standing at the bus stop or even in a convenience store. I did not want to be killed or maimed and I never saw anyone that looked like I wanted to look. I could not find “me” in “them”.
One day, I thought about having breast surgery but could not decide if I wanted a breast reduction or mastectomy. A friend advised me to have a breast reduction because “some lesbians may not want to date a flat-chested chick”. Why? Because they felt like they were with a man. Hearing this, I felt the floor beneath me drop. I returned to feeling isolated and less than. Every time I literally hit a bump in the road as I was driving, I became infuriated because I did not want my breasts to shake and I hated the way they poked out in a bra. I just HATED!!! them but I did not know what to do with them.
Out of this pain, I quickly woke up and started living for me. I found out all I could find out about being Trans*. I researched online and read books. I attended support groups for and by the Trans* community. And most significantly, I met positive Trans* men and others who took me under their wings and continue to guide me today. In this process, I have learned how to know me, love me, and accept me for me. And now I happily, and completely live in my new authenticity as a proud Trans* man.