Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Origin Story

I don't talk much about being genderqueer, because on the whole I don't think it's particularly relevant to this blog:  people come here for my ideas and opinions on guns, gaming, and the like, not for gender politics or social justice or to hear me talk about my plumbing.

But earlier in this month I asked if people wanted to hear my origin story about how I came to realize I was genderqueer, and I was surprised by the number of "yes" answers I received. So, since there's interest, I'll talk about it, and the curious can ask questions and I'll happily answer them.

If this is not your thing, I will understand and not have my feelings hurt if you leave now without reading. 

However, progressing past this point indicates you are willingly crossing a potential TMI threshold, and if you become offended, that's on you and not me. 

As I've said, I was born male. Growing up, I was happy to be a boy:  I did typical boy things like playing with GI Joe and Transformers (dolls were stupid, although I did have a stuffed animal collection I slept with for many years), riding my bicycle everywhere after school, and participating in the Cub Scouts.

I didn't really do sports* because of my size and my health:  I was the short, scrawny kid until about 6th grade, at which point I eventually put on enough weight to stop being scrawny but was still the smallest boy (and sometimes the smallest, period) in my class. I also had terrible allergies to pretty much everything that wasn't food:
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Weeds
  • Grasses
  • Trees
  • Animal Dander
Because of this, I was constantly gasping for breath and suffering severe allergy attacks. I started on allergy shots very early -- I think it was second grade -- and took them every week of my life until I went off to college.

As a result, I ended up being very bookish as it was more fun to stay indoors, with the filtered air, and read. Combine that with an active imagination, a general love for science and fantasy, and not being able to hold my own with the bigger boys, I was well on my way to being a nerd. Need I mention I was picked on a lot?

I got along with girls. I wasn't especially girly at the time, but they were fun to hang out with and they didn't require me to fight them the way that boys do on the playground. Plus, I liked the attention, and it was fun being the token male in their role-play scenarios.

About the only other noteworthy thing about this time in my life is that my parents considered me "sensitive". To my mom, this meant I was soft-hearted and had a lot of empathy, and could end up crying at the drop of a hat. To my dad, this meant I was weak and needed to be toughened up.

He wasn't around a lot, though, because his job was more important to him than to his family, and he never really knew how to be any more than a disapproving, distant provider. I didn't have a proper male role model, and this has pretty much colored my relationship with both him and with God.

The psychologists among you are now sagely nodding your heads, and going "Mmm-hmm." To which I say, "Well, maybe. Or maybe not. It looks obvious to you because I've laid it out this way, but for all I know it could be something else."

Fun fact:  My parents specifically wanted a son and did all the usual pregnancy tricks to get one. You'd think this would make me more secure in my identity, but it didn't. I don't recall exactly when it was that I started being uncomfortable inside my skin, but I do recall reading issues of Uncanny X-Men and realizing just how they spoke to me. I could viscerally grok being a mutant and the concept of body betrayal, and I specifically identified with Nightcrawler -- another smart German boy who was picked on, and who also didn't like his body but dealt with it as best he could.

I've written about this extensively in my coming-out post, so I see no reason to rehash old information.

The only bit of new information is this:  at some point in my early teenage years, I was flicking through TV one afternoon when I caught a snippet of a soap opera where a woman walked out in lingerie -- lace bra, panties, garter belt and stockings -- and went "Ta da!" to a surprised male. In that moment, something shifted inside my brain.

Sure, I had always been attracted to women. I had been having erections and thinking sexual thoughts** for a while. And sure, I enjoyed seeing the pictures of half-naked women in the yearly Sears catalog's underwear section. But in that moment, I felt something I hadn't felt before, two strong feelings fighting for dominance at the same time:
  1. Gosh, she's pretty. I'd really like to "do it" with her. 
  2. Gosh, she's pretty. I'd really like to BE her and be pretty like that and wear sexy things like that. 
I knew feeling #2 was wrong. I knew it wasn't decent, and wasn't Christian, and my parents wouldn't approve of it AT ALL.  So I did my damnedest to suppress those desires by stomping them into a tiny ball and shoving them into the deepest corner of my mind. 

I don't recall if my discomfort with my body turned to disgust at this point, or if it came after, or if it even came before. This was in the mid-80s, and my memory is fuzzy. 

What I do recall is that I wanted a girlfriend very badly, and was having no luck in getting one -- I was too short, too nerdy, I made funny noises when I breathed -- and so naturally this meant I wasn't being manly ENOUGH. I mean, if I was properly masculine I'd have girls falling all over me, right? Wasn't this was society and pop culture taught me?

This began the Very Long Adolescence Of Trying To Be A Man.  I tried very, VERY hard to be a "proper dude":  I joined the weightlifting team, I wanted to join the military after college, and I was heavily into chivalry and gender roles and gentlemanly propriety (I was called "Lawful Good" too many times to keep track of, and in one notable instance, a "Knight of Solamnia") because, you see, if I acted the part of the male then clearly I would become one. 

And all the while, what I truly wanted was for a woman to find me attractive and to pursue me, instead of vice-versa. 

Was more of the same, only worse. I was pretty obviously NOT cut out to be in the military, a fact that my father, himself a military man, has never forgiven me for. 

At some point in my late 20s I basically thought "Fuck it, I'm just a pervert" and gave into my urges. That's when I began covertly cross-dressing, mostly in bras and panties, and only at night when I went to bed. 

You know that feeling when you've needed to pee for hours and hours, and then when you finally make it to the bathroom there's a feeling of blessed relief that overtakes you and suffuses your entire body and makes you feel lighter, free-er, and happier?  That's how I felt when I finally gave in to my desire. 

Then followed a cyclic period of feeling guilty about it, and trying to stop, only to feel miserable about it, start again, and then hating myself for my weakness. Lather, rinse, repeat; my 20s were awful and I wouldn't wish them on anyone.

The Breakup
Just prior to my 30th birthday, things were going pretty well. I had a job, was supporting myself, and was living mostly on my own terms; I had a girlfriend who I was serious about (having bought the engagement ring and secured permission from her father to propose to her); and I was getting sex on a fairly regular basis. 

Since things were serious with us, I felt my almost-fiancee needed to know the truth about my particular kink. After all, I didn't want to start our marriage out by lying to her, or springing it on her. Nervously, I explained it to her as best I could. 

To her credit, she took it well and seemed to be perfectly okay with it. She said it was understandable -- "You can't always be inside a vagina, but you can always be inside a pair of panties, which is kind of similar, right?"

However, I now suspect that she wasn't okay with it, because:
  1. Within the month, she dumped me without warning and without trying to work things out;
  2. I had already caught her in one lie -- the week before the breakup I knew something was wrong, but she told me everything was fine and that I had nothing to worry about -- and so if she lied about that, she could have lied about being okay with it. 
I feel compelled to explicitly state that my lingering resentment towards my ex isn't because she broke up with me, but because I feel that I was lied to and betrayed. 

And so, with my heart shattered, I began a forensic analysis of my past relationships, operating on the premise that "the main common denominator in all of my failed relationships is me".

I thought about who I was, and what I wanted in a relationship. I thought about the things that my exes did which drove me crazy, and how I could understand them but they couldn't seem to understand me. I thought and analyzed and ruminated a lot, and after about a year I came to a simple conclusion:
What if I'm really a woman in a man's body, and all of my relationships have failed because my girlfriends didn't realize they were dating another woman?
Naturally, this theory needed to be tested. Fortunately for me, I had the internet and the game City of Heroes.

Palette is Born
I'd only recently started playing City of Heroes, so I began an experiment:  I would go to an entirely new server, make a female character, and play her exactly as I had been playing my male characters. There would be no deception involved, no going "okay, how would a female act in this situation?"  Instead, I would just be me, albeit with a female name and avatar, and I would see how long it took for someone to call bullshit.

That never happened.

Instead, not only did people treat me as a woman, they treated me NICELY, dammit. They treated me the way I'd always wanted to be treated:  with kindness and courtesy. And my female friends started sharing all sorts of private things with me, like how their periods sucked or how they were trying to get pregnant, and even though I had no firsthand experience with any of this I was able, just by listening and being sympathetic -- "sensitive", you might say -- to be a good girlfriend to them.

It eventually got to the point where I felt guilty for it, because even though I hadn't lied to them it was starting to feel like a deception, and so if I was close to them I would confess the truth and pray they wouldn't hate me.

Nearly all of them said some version of "Bullshit. No guy could act the way you do."  They wouldn't believe me until I sent them a picture.

Because I was unemployed at the time, I started up this blog, mostly as a way to exercise long-dormant writing skills, but also because I liked being a girl online and I wanted to explore it outside the confines of a game.  I adopted Erin Palette as a nom de plume: Palette was the name of my main character in City of Heroes, and most of my initial readership came from friends within the game, and Erin because it's what my parents would have named me had I been born female.

The rest is pretty much history, and recorded on this blog. Since 2004, I have been female online, and that identity is more successful, and more comfortable, than my legal and biological one. In fact, it's gotten to the point that hearing my legal name sounds odd; I am Erin, and not the name on my birth certificate.

Last year, I publicly came out. Prior to that, I hid behind the anonymity provided by the internet, but as time passed I became bolder. I wanted to have friends, I wanted to meet people, and so I started playing online games like D&D and Traveller.  If you haven't met me, you can ask any of the players in my game if they think I sound masculine or feminine. Most of them will say feminine; a few will say androgynous.

I've had some pushback. There was a rather nasty incident after this spring's NRA Annual Meeting that has made me question both the gun community's supposed tolerance and the wisdom in coming out. Fortunately, I have some very supportive friends -- specifically Oleg Volk, who not only met me before I was public, but also has encouraged me in every way possible -- who told me that giving in to my fears was foolish, and that I needed to move forward and conquer/destroy the obstacles in front of me rather than let them beat me.

I'm ever so glad that I did. My supporters far outnumber my detractors, and they're genuinely nice people, too.

The Future
I'm not sure what the future will hold for me. Part of me wants to be fully "out" and be the poster girl for the Pro-2A Transgender/ Crossdressing/ Gender Queer community, and part of me quails at the notion of my horrible face out there for all to see.  I'm trying to focus on the political good I can do, though, and that is a source of strength for me.

In fact, just recently I took a big step:  I dressed up as a Sexy Witch for Halloween and went to a party looking like, as Eddie Izzard puts it, "a bloke in a dress."  Perhaps it was just the holiday that made everyone accept me (I received appreciative laughter -- and I also won Best Costume!), but at least some of it had to be my ease and comfort because, dammit, I felt fucking sexy in that costume.

How sexy?  I let a friend take pictures of me before we left for the party. I posed like it was a glamour shoot.

And you know what?  When I mentioned it on Facebook, 86 people (so far) have wanted to see the pictures. And to a one, they've all been kind and supportive, and none have given me the typical male "AIUGH MY EYES" bullshit.  In fact, one of them -- a burly, manly, heterosexual Marine -- said something so sweet that it's worth repeating:
As interesting as it sounds, compared with the other pictures I’ve seen of you, someone who’s comfortable… You look like… YOU!!!  :D
What’s inside is visible on the outside and it’s awesome.
It’s like something was missing but I never saw it before...
Does that make sense? The hidden has become visible, and what’s there just makes me smile cause it’s my friend as she wants to be.
And that's my story. This is who I want to be, and how I want to be seen. The more I open up and am honest about who I am and what I want to be, the more supportive people are and the happier I am. 

I am me, and that is sufficient. 
Who are you to say otherwise?

* I played some soccer and T-ball at my parents' insistence, but my heart wasn't in it, and I wasn't any good at it.

** Specifically, those vague sexual thoughts you have as a child before you really know how things work.

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