When I entered first grade in 1956, I faced a sort of peer treatment I had never previously experienced.
A little over two years earlier I had survived a bout of non-paralytic polio. My playmates then were happy to see me well. It didn’t affect their friendship that I had lost my resilience and coordination.
In first grade, though, among boys I had not previously known, I was suddenly a “sissy.”
This wasn’t about sexuality. Kids in the 1950s—at least white middle-class kids—were still kept in the dark about such things. This was about my not being a “real boy.” I was clumsy on the playing field, couldn’t kick or bat or run well. And I liked reading and learning, “girls’ stuff.”
Jump ahead thirty-some years. I was a clinical social worker in a medium-maximum security men’s prison. A young person came for private counseling who had been in my alcohol recovery group the year before.
By then I was discreetly out as gay to colleagues, though not to inmates. What I saw was a cute, sexy, butch redneck. But what she told me, very hesitantly, was that in private on the street she had lived as a woman.
“Butch redneck” was the mask she wore for safety.
Jump ahead another fifteen years. I first met Rebecca when my husband Jim was organizing an effort that over a decade later resulted in the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the City’s anti-discrimination human rights ordinance.
Rebecca was a retired Navy submarine engine room chief. She had the stereotypic face and build we usually associate with such men. She had an ex-wife and grown children. She was too old for physical transition and had diabetes.
Yet she lived openly as a woman.
Imagine, in your heart and your gut, what such lives feel like.