A Girl Amongst Boys
by Joshua Cole
I know that I felt different from the girls in my preschool. I liked playing with boys, and they liked me because I was more like them than other girls. I knew I was a girl, though. So, the label of "tomboy" was placed upon me. I was a girl amongst boys. I liked boys; I got along with them and I wanted to look like them. I was lucky to have hand-me-downs from older boy cousins, and I was lucky to have a mom that let me wear them because I liked them. My mother gave up trying to put me in a dress for temple because I cried so much about it. She did not give me boy dress up clothes, as much as I would have liked them. She just left me with a baby sitter, which is, of course, a million times better than being forced into a dress.
I grew up as a tomboy, but I was socialised into mixed environments. I played Little League baseball and soccer, but I also took ballet and acrobatics, and I joined the Girl Scouts. I was an androgynous kid, and I remember getting funny looks when I wore my ballet attire or bathing suits, because people thought I was a boy. It was embarrassing to be mistaken as a boy in front of my parents, but deep down, I liked it. There was something right about it.
It was good to grow up in the 80s because it really was okay to be a tomboy. It was acceptable for a girl to wear boys' clothes and play Little League. It was okay when you were a kid. By middle school in the early 90s, it was awkward, and by high school in the mid-90s, it was weird and basically unacceptable. All of the other girls were becoming women, and I did not really want to. I reluctantly began wearing women's' clothes and growing out my hair because high school is hard enough without being a social outcast.
In high school, I began to notice attractions toward other girls, but I quickly dismissed them because it was, in my head, "gross," "wrong," and "perverted." That idea of wrongness came from my environment of conformity, and there was very little deviation from that prescribed norm in my school. I had several boyfriends, but they all ended up being more like buddies to me. My peer group became mostly male, just like my early childhood. I wanted to be "one of the guys," but again, I was a girl amongst boys, and I knew that. I was jealous of their haircuts and their clothes and their bodies, but I just as quickly dismissed these thoughts as I did my attractions towards girls.
By college, the uncomfortabileness of feminine conformity was heavier than ever. My college was even more homogeneous than my high school, and it was becoming harder to believe I was like the young women around me. I believed that if I could find a boyfriend, everything would be "normal," but in the middle of my freshman year, I had an undeniable crush on a girl. I thought it must mean I was bisexual, because I still had a fascination with boys, a fascination that I mistook for attraction.
I had a girlfriend for a year, and in our relationship, my boy personality started to show itself. There was definitely a boyish aura around me, and my girlfriend (her name was Laura) told me that she was attracted to that. Her partner before me was a feminine man. She was attracted to androgyny. I was disgusted by the idea. I did not want to be androgynous, I did not want to be a boyish girl. I tried hard to be a girlish girl, but it just did not work anymore. Laura encouraged me to find the boy in my head. She knew there was a boy there. I knew it, too, but I absolutely denied it and it made me miserable. I did not want it. I wanted to be the girl I was supposed to be.
After we broke up, I saw the movie we had been meaning to see all year, Boys Don't Cry, the Kimberly Peirce film about Brandon Teena. It struck something deep in me as I watched it, but again my head did not want to know it, so I said outloud, "When Laura sees this movie, she will think of me." I respected Brandon for being able to live as a man. It was something I could not tell myself I wanted to do, but desparately inside, Brandon and I shared something other people could never understand. I thought Brandon and I were alone in the world, and Brandon was murdered ...
Soon after seeing the movie, I started to use a different name for myself. It was partly because I always disliked my excessively girly name, and partly because I wanted a boy-like name. I went from Belinda to Bailey, but I really did not tell very many people. I introduced myself as Bailey to people who did not know me before, but the rest of the world still called me Belinda. I suppose I would have been embarrassed to ask them to call me Bailey and have them ask why. I still did not know why, really.
In August, I made a friend. His name is Jesse, and he worked for a queer youth organisation. We were just chatting, but he ended up introducing me to transgender. I had not heard the word. I did not know what it is. He explained it to me, and introduced me to some transboys my age. I was shocked, but also extremely relieved. I was not alone in the world, and this was who I was, just like these other college-aged females living as boys. I took my time, though; I wanted to be sure. I talked online with some FTMs and asked a lot of questions. I was not sure I wanted to live full-time as a male, and I definitely was not sure about medical transition.
In talking to other FTMs, I came out as trans, but I was identifying as gender neutral, and using the name Bailey. I was not a boy like they were. In November, I met some of the guys in person. It was great. We all belonged with each other, and there was nothing to be embarrassed about. It was here that I met my friend Michael. He was a few months into his medical transition, and it was really an amazing thing to see. I could barely believe it. His voice, only just starting to change, was unmistakably a male voice. People looked at me, and saw "lesbian," but with Michael, you could only see, "boy." I wanted that. I came out as an FTM.
In February, we all met again at the True Spirit Conference, an FTM conference in Washington, DC. The place was full of FTMs. I remember being amazed at all of the guys on testosterone, and how masculine their bodies and voices were. Michael was not alone now. I was jealous of all of them. I wanted to be on testosterone. I changed my name from Bailey to Joshua, a name my mother liked. I wanted to be a boy, and I knew that I needed a more obviously masculine name so I could better get that across. People kept assuming I was a lesbian named Bailey. Well, now people started to assume I was a lesbian named Josh, but I was getting closer.
I did gender therapy all spring, and when I came back to school in fall for my senior year, my name was legalised. In the end of October, I started low-dose testosterone, a decision I had made in therapy. I came out as femme identified during the spring, as well. I realised that I did not want to go full-force into living as a male. I never wanted to be full-time or "stealth." I wanted to hold on to my queer identity, and I wanted to explore my femme identity, but I definitely wanted testosterone. My dose was too low, at first. Nothing happened, so in the next February, I changed my method and dosage, but remained low-dose. The changes started to happen. My voice dropped, and my body started to change.
I graduated from college and moved out on my own. For the first time, I was really passing. Being out of school and in a place where no one knew me was a blessing and a curse. It was a weird thing to get used to, though. I never had so many people assume I was male and then continue to believe it after I started talking.
A few months have gone by, and I have changed some more. My voice is a baritone, and my face has squared off. It is still strange to have people assume I am male, because I do not know what to do about that. I want that, I know, but I also want to be out as trans. It just does not seem to come up in conversation, and so I am unintentionally stealth. The people I work with think I am a young looking guy. People assume I am gay, and I like that. It is because I am a femme guy, and it is perceived as gay. Men hit on me.
It makes me a little sad when lesbians look past me because they think I am a guy. Although I was never really a lesbian it is hard to give up all of my old female identity. I identify as a gayboy because my behaviours fit so well into the stereotype of gay men. Even though I want to identify as a femme boy and still have a fascination with men, even a real attraction toward them, I do not think I could have a successful relationship with a biological male. I am attracted to other FTMs, and my relationships with them tend to be the most successful. I am attracted to their masculinity and their female bodies, and I like being seen together in public as a gay couple. I know that even if I end up with a woman, our relationship will still be queer.
I know that I am read as male now. It can be frustrating to have people make assumptions about my past, about a boy childhood I did not have and about who I am now. I know what it is like to be a woman. I know things that biological men will never know. However, I transitioned for myself. I wanted Testosterone so that my body, my face and my voice would match the person in my head. My friend Michael put it so well when he said, "I can look in the mirror, and finally see myself." So society's assumptions and perceptions do not mean very much because I am so much happier with myself. If I am read as male, even though it is not entirely correct, so be it. That is okay, because I know who I am, and who I was. I remember.
All images and content copyright © Joshua Bastian Cole 2007. All Rights Reserved.