When I was ten or eleven, I somehow1 came across a letter to my mother, written by a psychologist, I think Joseph Nicolosi — anyway if not him, somebody else in the field. She was worried about me and had found his name, and he’d been gracious enough to reply with advice: try to get him to socialize with other boys; guide him gently into activity with them. Then there was something about gender-identity disorder.
I was angry and scared, partly because I felt like she’d gone behind my back somehow, writing about me to a stranger;2 but mostly because of this terrifying phrase, gender-identity disorder. To me the phrase sounded and felt like some grey, filthy snake twisted up inside my guts, poisoning me and making me different. If anyone’s ever read or seen Return to Oz,3 remember the scene where they take Dorothy to that horrible quack doctor, to get rid of the Oz delusion? I felt like I would be taken somewhere like that, wired into an insidious machine with flashing lights that would fix whatever horrible thing was wrong with me.
This was around the time things got bad. I remember freaking out in school, name-dropping the horrible4 phrase because I didn’t know what else to do with it, and a classmate’s question: Does that mean you think you’re a girl? The teacher didn’t know what to do, and neither did I. That’s my only memory from that day, but you can see why it stands out.
Well, did I think I was a girl, or what? I didn’t, but I spent a lot of time around girls, and had a particular giggly, chatterbox way of talking. I started noticing this about myself for the first time, and — although this seems strange, to think of an eleven-year-old doing this — started working to change it. I quieted down, watched my speech patterns and the way I moved. I didn’t like the way my teacher had gone silent, and her face had gone still, when I dropped that phrase, gender-identity disorder; I didn’t like getting called a fairy or a sissy; so I cut it out.
I don’t set off almost anybody’s gaydar now.
I know how it sounds. I know that one of the Deadly Sins of 21st-century America is trying to change Who You Are. Am I glad I did it? Did I “do it” at all, or is my impression of conscious effort just a retrofitted memory? If I did do it, what would I be like if I hadn’t? Would I be less taciturn now, less introverted?
Maybe, but who cares? What if is a meaningless question. The right question is: am I proud of who I am, or ashamed?
I haven’t yet reached the magical point of Not Caring What Anybody Thinks — which is the first cardinal virtue of 21st-century America — and probably won’t hit it until I’m eighty, when I can say whatever I damn well please and have it put down to senility.
What you see when you meet me is me, near as I can figure, for whatever that’s worth. Whether I chose to stop acting effeminately or just grew out of it, it’s gone now, no longer a part of me, if it ever was. Part of life is becoming who you are, that’s true. But part of life is building who you are, a feat that’s mainly accomplished by thoroughly f★cking it all up six times in a row and then trying for a seventh.
Like I keep saying: a work in progress. My stars, it’s bedtime. Where are my fuzzy socks?