Kansas City is an okay town. I still live in the area, but it wasn’t the best place to grow up when nature saw fit to give me a girly brain in a body with boy junk stuck on it.
The curtain rose on my girly-boy memories in the late sixties, at preschool age vamping with my blankie to imitate a girl’s long hair. Soon came the black cat costume my kindergarten teacher gave me for a Halloween show: a stuffed velvet tail, a Lone Ranger mask, plastic ears, and whiskers and a little black nose drawn on with eyeliner. I loved that black cat! Culture taught me that dogs were for boys and cats were for girls, so my interpretation of “black cat” was probably a bit too girly for stodgy middle class life. I wore my fabulous cat costume even after Halloween was over. One day Mom made the costume vanish, no doubt because of the girly vibes I gave off when I wore it. That black cat was both my first fursuit and my first cross-dressing experience!
Around that time I fell in love with Peter Pan in the Disney cartoon. Mom must have thought he was safely butch enough for me to emulate, and she made me a little green cap like Peter wore. I ran all around the neighborhood sporting that cap with its jaunty red feather, and wished I could fly away with Peter.
One of my childhood’s happiest days came when my drunk and abusive father died. Though Mom fretted that I lacked masculine influence, I refused to see it as a problem. I preferred playing with girls, and sometimes a grown-up tossed me out of a gathering of girls to go play with the boys. Faced with the possibility of being beaten up in a wide variety of ways, I usually hid. I liked reading, and play that required my imagination. I was never one for dolls, but I adored stuffed animals (I still do). Mom gave me a stuffed purple poodle after my tonsillectomy, which made me hope she knew me better than I thought.
Mom took me to see her favorite movie musicals, and played “Hello, Dolly!” on our stereo constantly. Clearly she was unaware of the effect this had. Purple poodles and showtunes! No wonder I had hopes for a sparkly, girly future.
I claimed to have crushes on girls when what I really wanted were girly friendships with them. I longed for clothes and accessories like girls wore; not so much frilly and princessy as simply pretty. If I asked, I was told that pretty things weren’t for boys. My reaction to that was, “So?” I was in second grade when I dreamily said to Mom, “Is there some way I can become a girl?” That got me mustered into Cub Scouts pretty fast.
You think I would have loved Cub Scouts – all those cute boys! But alas, in Cub Scouts I discovered how I “didn’t fit in” with other boys. Yet before long I began to notice and admire boys. In Cub Scouts I invented ways to hide that kept me close to boys, a skill for which I did not receive an amethyst merit badge.
“These boy clothes are boring, Mom! Why can’t I wear one of those pretty red plaid skirts to Catholic school like the girls do?” The girly-boy in me was irked by the unfair reply.
At age ten I desperately wanted a charm bracelet. No way; and Mom dropped hints that my girly-boy made her nervous. I began to repress my sissy side, but not completely. Home alone around age eleven, I vamped in front of Mom’s long mirror like an empress with my bedspread as a cape and, undressed, devised ingenious ways to make my boy junk disappear. I wanted to try on my mother’s clothes and make-up, but stopped short for fear that if Mom found out, she would sign me up for activities that required sweat and testicular fortitude. In fifth grade I became friends with another sissy-boy, but my fear of open girlyness kept me from freeing my sissy side. Boys from school starred in my first sex fantasies, though I was far too afraid to explore those desires for real.
One evening when I was twelve, a fight broke out when Mom insisted I sign up for sports because I acted too much like a girl. I grew angry and fired back, “I wish I was a girl!” I stormed out of the room in tears, terrified of boys and sports and being called a sissy. My girly-boy eventually won that fight, and no actual sports activity followed.
Wasn’t it obvious to everyone? I knew I would fit in with the world so much better as a girl!
I realized my girly-boy was in trouble the night Mom lectured me on how boys don’t sit when they pee. I was both mortified that she knew and furious at the pettiness of it all. If being a man came down to piddly issues like how to take a piss, I was ready to unhook the boy junk and hand it in right there.
In fourth grade, my favorite singer was Helen Reddy. By sixth grade, I adored Elton John. In high school, I became a KISS fan. Stop laughing! Where else was a closeted girly-boy going to get his regular dose of sparkly accessories and make-up?
Eighth grade found me in south Florida at my second new school in as many years. In fresh surroundings I quickly glommed onto the cutest boy I could find, and if he wasn’t too threatening I tried to become friends with him. In high school I grew my hair girlishly long, and finally said the words that made me realize who I was. “Gay” didn’t quite cover the whole spectrum of my sexuality and gender, but “gay” would do, and I was happy with that for a time. I developed a couple of mad crushes on boys which made me feel all girly inside, but neither boy reciprocated. I came out to one of them, and my love for this very cute, shaggy-haired blond boy soon destroyed our friendship. Once my secret was out, his mother concluded I was pure evil, and in fear I began denying I was gay. One evening I nearly got the crap beaten out of me by a gang of high school jocks. I left school before the situation grew any worse, and before long I was back in Kansas City.
The childhood denial of my gay girly-boy soon had me hopping in and out of the closet like a terrified jack-in-the-box. I refused to look at guys in case my gaze revealed why. I dated a couple of men, but I always drew away in timorous self-loathing. Uncomfortable as gay and incompetent as straight, I kept to myself and cultivated other loves such as reading, writing, drawing, cooking, and opera. I tried to butch up in ridiculous ways whenever my fears overcame me. I wasn’t fooling too many people – even the tigers I used to work with at a small zoo near KC treated me more as female than male.
Once in a while my girly-boy peeked out of his closet – our closet – and gave me a wink over the fringe of a girlish purple scarf, or flashed at me one of the white go-go boots I always wanted. His vibrant happiness scared me, and I shoved him back in the closet when I should have embraced him. I’m always surprised by the bravery of girly-boys, and when I think of the happiness I lost to fear, I feel sick. My girly-boy is much braver than I am.
Recently I saw the girly-boy I could have been (had I dared) portrayed in a charming movie called “Breakfast with Scot.” I recognized my own inner sissy but also saw myself in one of the gay men in the film, whose own closet door is locked secure. Watching these two too-familiar characters shocked me, and I knew I could no longer continue to live in fear. I kicked down the closet door and freed my fantastic and funny girly-boy. And now I want to tell the world about him.
“Gay” is an adequate word for me, but I also possess a strong transgender female side. I’m not yet sure where I go next in this journey. Despite whatever blame I place on society and my upbringing, in the end I was the jailer that kept my sweet girly-boy locked up for so many years. I’ve let him out, and she’s not going back in, not ever.
Because this time, I promised her so.