by Paul L. Grace-Neal
When I was born, my mom and dad socialized me to be all girl. I was super feminine, dressed in the baby dresses with the frills, socks with lace ruffles, and the headbands with the small flowers sewn on them. As I grew older, I wore dresses with slips and pantyhose in warmer weather and tights in cooler weather—the works! I hated them. Nonetheless, I soon went through the teenage years. During this time I experimented with make-up. After experimenting with different products and brands, I gave up on make up; it felt gross on my face. Clogged pores and oily skin just was not for me but I continued to dress the same.
To reinforce the importance of expressing my femininity, my mom enrolled me in charm school. A local department store offered a class and I went every Saturday morning for about two months. I learned how to walk, set the dinner table, sit, and other skills that a “lady” must possess. At the end, we modeled store outfits in a talent show. We walked the runway strutting our stuff as the ladies we had learned to be. I applied these lessons throughout my younger years but even though I lived as a girl, I mainly felt like a boy. Unfortunately, talking about girls wanting to be boys was never discussed in my home. My parents expected me to be lady-like and marry a man. Anything else was just wrong.
For the longest time, I suppressed my thoughts and desires to be male. I tried my darnest to wear dresses, pantyhose, and pumps and relax my hair. Six years ago, that all changed. Those feelings I suppressed as a youth resurfaced. I became confused. I felt like the trapped feeling that many Trans* men talk about. I remembered how I considered St. Paul in the Bible as my name sake but my name was not Paul. I remembered resenting my parents desire to have another child hoping for a boy. I remembered my high school days of dressing in androgynous styles, wearing button down shirts and cotton boxer shorts. (That was the fad). And I remember feeling free as I expressed the real me.
I was 43 years old, living on my own and paying my own bills. But why was I still trapped under my parents’ reign? At this awakening moment, I declared to stop living for others and start living freely for me. But that was just the beginning. I had made a decision but what should I do about it. I had learned to be a girl in order to become a lady but I’m not a girl or woman any more. I’m not five or six years old so I can’t be a boy either. I was faced with a confusing dilemma. How do I become a man?
I reached out to other Trans* men who had what I wanted and listened to their stories of evolution. They were my role models and now are my brothers. I still call on them when I have questions about transitioning and thinking and acting more like a man.
Just as I was socialized to be a girly girl and a refined lady, boys are taught the same way as me or at least similar. Trans* men however are placed in a box. People expect them to act, think, and do as a stereotypical male. (Whatever that is.) Many think of men as more aggressive or assertive, and more burley in their dress. Men don’t wear pink. Men don’t cross their legs at the knees or ankles. Men don’t move their hips when they walk. I am becoming the man I always wanted to be and now others impose their ideas of my manhood. I did not go through the forced denial, dysphoria, and verbal/emotional abuse from others to be placed in a box that I will NEVER fit. My point of finally transitioning was to become my own man.
Several years after coming out as a Trans* man and beginning to medically transition, I began dating. I had not dated anyone for ten years and I had never dated any one as a man. This was a process of trial and error. My dad raised me to require my boyfriends to be chivalrous. I tried to be this man. Very quickly, my kindness was misinterpreted as weakness and I was taken advantage of. I could not even enjoy myself alone because I was exhausted. Finally, I woke up from my delusion of what it meant to be chivalrous.
I realized that my ideology of manhood was extremely convoluted. I could not even measure up to my own expectations. I do not believe in submission and subservience. I believe in establishing mutual partnerships. This was the beginning of my transformation from being Born Girl to Becoming a Man. I am still evolving. I hope to never stop evolving. I am finally comfortable with me. I am determined not be taken advantage of by others. I am determined to not be confined to others’ standard of my manhood. I am determined to simply be the best man I am destined to be.