Transitioning in my mid-life means that I have still have time to experience womanhood to its fullest, but a piece of me will always be missing: my girlhood.
My mom was the most influential person in my life. She was my hero, my protector, my teacher, and my confidant. As a single mother, I was her world. As an only child, she was mine. We had a very close relationship, and she did her best to raise her quirky, highly intelligent child the best she could. We had deep conversations about everything. She knew (nearly) everything about me (as any good mother should about their child). Had she been alive when I began transitioning, she would have been unfazed, probably said something snarky along the lines of, “Finally!”, and then asked what she could do to help and support me through the trying times of transition.
Assigned male at birth, I was raised as a boy. Unlike some other transgender stories, I did not question that identity. I did not know when I was 3 that I was trans, but early in life, I knew I was not like the other kids. I was bullied early in school mainly for my appearance and my know-it-all attitude. I played with the girls instead of mocking them. I enjoyed making Valentine’s Day cards for the class with my first crush. Yes, I still did traditionally boy things: I played baseball & basketball (both poorly). I watched porn at a friend’s house when that friend found a tape in his parents’ bedroom. I played video games instead of playing with dolls.
It was not until high school when I made some first forays into even thinking about traditionally girl things, but at the time, I misinterpreted those feelings. In retrospect, I did not want to marry Mariah Carey; I was actually jealous of her fairy tale wedding. I was not Latina, but I was jealous of those that celebrated quinceañeras. I wanted to know why society deemed it acceptable for women to wear dresses & skirts but not for men. Why couldn’t I wear one? Why was it that I had to ask girls to dances instead of them asking me?
My mom understood me in a way that others did not, and I think she saw things in me that took me decades to truly realize. She did not pressure me to go to school dances because I was uncomfortable asking girls to go with me. I wanted to be asked. She did not get terribly angry when she learned that I had been sleeping in some of her discarded slips one year. She was sure to celebrate my Sweet 16 by taking me for a memorable day in San Francisco, although she never called it that to my face. She offered to pierce my ears in high school, but I regrettably declined. She did not look at me askew when she learned I started wearing dresses at Halloween. She did not question when I asked her to walk me down the aisle at my wedding. All along, she never said anything, but I am confident she knew the truth about me, even when I did not.
There is one time I can remember when she cracked that silence. She was present when I admitted to my wife that I had cheated on her with her best friend. In the ensuing fight where my wife slung painful verbal punches in my direction, my wife accused me of being more of a girl than her. I expected Mom to defend me against that accusation, but instead Mom asked me something like, “Yeah. What about that?” I was dumbfounded and had no real response. I think I knew it was true, but it was the first time I had really heard it spoken aloud, and it was compounded by my mom’s confirmation. Even then, I suppressed my identity—even to myself. I had accepted myself as a feminine man. I was raised in a way where that was acceptable.
I did not allow myself to explore the idea that maybe I was more than a feminine man for many years. In high school, a friend of mine once called me a lesbian trapped in a man’s body. I laughed it off at the time, but the phrase always stayed with me in the back of my mind. If I had only known then what I know to be true now, my life would be incredibly different.
I am jealous of young trans people who realize and take action at young ages, because they will get to have life experiences I will never get to know. I watch Jazz Jennings on her TLC reality show I Am Jazz. She knew when she was a small child. Her parents were accepting and placed her on puberty blockers. While she leads a public lifestyle, she is also going through her teenage years as a woman. She is experiencing a girlhood, complete with its awkwardness of dating, friends, and learning who she is and her place in the world. These are experiences I will never be able to recreate.
Some trans people describe transition as a second puberty. I am learning that there is truth in that phrase. On the surface, there are physical changes: breast growth, skin softening, hair growth slowing. It is strange to be experiencing drastic changes to my appearance this late in life. The emotional changes are distinct as well. I am more emotional and once again learning my place in the world. The difference here is that I have an established life, and much of it was lived in the wrong gender. I am learning womanhood without ever experiencing girlhood, and that puts me at an emotional disadvantage. And without my mother (who died several years ago), I do not have an active parent to guide me on this journey.
I do not want a second puberty. I want to turn back time and properly redo my first puberty. I want to transition from girlhood to womanhood with a proper Sweet 16 party. I want to re-imagine my wedding and the perfect dress. I want to learn to date, to have lifelong girlfriends I still talk to from childhood, and to play with dolls and tea sets. I want my mother to teach me what it was like when she was growing up as a girl to prepare me for my life. I would gladly give up the male privilege to be a girl from the beginning. Here, take it. I want to experience the awkwardness of a menstrual cycle, the joy (or terror) of learning I am pregnant, and the pain & satisfaction of labor. Sadly, even if I had been assigned female at birth, my biology prevents much of what I want.
Instead, I find my self transitioning in my mid-life, not in my early years. I need to learn how to be the woman I want to be without ever being the girl I was not able to live as. I have to re-learn dating (not that I ever really learned it well). I need to learn to protect myself and be aware of my surroundings. To my great sadness, I have to give up the notion that I will ever be pregnant or bear a child. (I might be able to get to a point where I could breastfeed, but do I really want to do that if it is not for my own child’s benefit?) I have had to learn what is like to take on the role of Mom instead of one of a father—without really planning for it.
I am learning on the fly, and I am primarily learning it solo. My wife has helped along the way, but she is not my mother, and at some point, she will not even be my wife. She is also more manly than I in many respects. She is a cisgender female, and while she had the girlhood experiences I did not, it is one thing to hear the stories and a completely different thing to experience them. I will never get to experience them.
People may ask, “Why would you want to go through puberty? My teenage years as a girl were terrible!” Granted, there are negative experiences: Peer pressure, horny boys, monthly bleeding, society’s inferiority complex. For me, it does not matter. I am a woman. I should have been a girl. I’ll take the bad with the good if it meant I could live a complete female life.
That said, I would miss the few things my male life has provided me: my children. At least I get to be a mother, even if it is in a non-traditional way. But I will always wonder what kind of girl I would have been if I had been given the chance. One thing I do know: Mom would have been supporting me the whole way as her daughter.