Trigger warning: Child abuse
It all started when I was born to the quintessential odd couple in New York City. The year was 1979; my parents were 30 years apart, my mother, 34, my father 64. The doctors held me up in front of my parents and declared,”It’s a boy,” while my father reportedly rejoiced and reveled in the mere fact that as a Jewish father, his only child was, according to everyone, a boy.
My parents sent me to an elite preschool two blocks from our apartment, and I remember gravitating towards a circle of girls playing with dolls and how wonderful it felt to be accepted as one of them. As time went on, I spent the majority of my time almost segregating myself to the girls group. The preschool teachers tried to occupy my attention with stereotypical boy activities which included toy vehicles and plastic shop tools, but I wasn’t interested and eventually made my way back to the girls. Eventually the preschool teachers gave up and accepted that I was simply going to play with the other girls and take part in their social circles.
I was always a little different than most other kids. I was smart, witty, and seemingly wise well beyond my years. My earliest memories are of riding on wheeled toys in my parents’ duplex apartment in New York City. My father was an avid amateur photographer and took thousands of pictures of me as I grew. I was, for the most part, always dressed in bright red sweaters, blue jeans, and expensive leather shoes. My father would take me to see his friends and always brag that I, his only child, was a boy, as if the most important facet of my existence was that everyone just assumed and accepted that I was born a male.
Following preschool, my parents sent me to a prestigious private school in the East Village of Manhattan. I spent a lot of time in the principal’s office, my only infractions centered on the fact that I spent as much time as I could interacting with the other girls in my grade and stating my dismay whenever one of my teachers forced me to work in the boys group. My gym teacher suggested to the principal that I need to see a doctor because, apparently, from a very young age, I played sports and ran in a very feminine fashion. Eventually, I was taken to see a psychologist, who told my mom that there was a definite possibility that I was born with a female brain. My father reacted with anger one Saturday morning when I came downstairs for breakfast and my mom told him what the therapist said.
A few months passed and this time, I found myself in the office of a different therapist, this time, a male one whom my father had found through his synagogue. After seeing this therapist every week for the greater part of a few months, he told my parents that I had a female brain, this time presenting evidence as to how I played with toys and how I had an acute maturity level and functioning that were generally only seen in adolescent girls.
One afternoon, I was in my room and was playing with makeup with a female friend of mine who lived down the street. My father walked in during a football halftime show and asked me what I was doing. I told my parents that I was a girl. It was at that time that my father became so enraged that the girl and her parents left our apartment in fear and my father hit me over the head for the first time and told me to snap out of it. I was seven years old. The following year my parents moved out of New York City and into a new house in Upstate New York.
I changed schools in third grade and attended public school in Upstate New York for the first time. For the singular reason that I had transferred from New York City, my principal deemed it necessary for me to repeat third grade. I always had trouble with math and history but excelled at English and science. I remember sitting at the dining room table doing my homework and having my mom help me with my math homework. My father was truly exceptional at mathematics, and due to my consistently low math grades, my father decided that he was going to help me with my math homework. I used to cringe and protest doing my math homework with my father, as he would criticize me for thinking of numbers in what he referred to as a girly manner because I would look up from my work and think of the answer. My father would hit me progressively harder and harder as the tutoring sessions continued.
In fourth grade, I was sent to the school psychologist who ran a series of psychological tests as well as IQ tests. Fearing that the psychologist had made a mistake, he would call me back a handful of times to repeat the test, though the computation consistently returned the same answer. I was smart enough to test out and skip ahead to senior year. It was also revealed during the psychological testing that I had a female learning style.
My father forced me into joining the local boy scouts, which I hated and never wanted to participate in. Eventually, after my scout leader told my father that I simply wasn’t participating enough, he decided to step up and effectively replace my boy scout leader. Instead of simply being bored at boy scouting events, my father began to take an active role as my scout leader, physically pushing me into various activities and reinforcing the notion that I was a boy just like everyone else.
I remember one Christmas my father gifted me an erector set that featured a large picture of two boys around my age playing with the set. The set itself was designed to build military tanks and weapons and war scenes. I took the box to my upstairs bedroom, took all the pieces out, and threw out the box and the instructions. My dad came upstairs after finding the construction booklet in the trash and suggested that I start building the set according to the instructions. I took the manual and set it aside. My father insisted that I start building the military tanks and war machines as they were featured on the front of the box. I said that it would have to wait till the following day. A few days later, my father came into my room to ask if the project was complete, and became enraged when he realized that I had taken the kit and made creative models of flowers and peace signs and other things he associated with feminine pursuits. After I came home from school one day, the erector set, along with my creations, were gone. I once again told him that I was supposed to have been born a girl, and his only response was to threaten to kick my mom and I out on the street with nothing more than the clothing on our backs. I was 12 years old at the time.
In seventh grade, my father went directly to the principal and demanded that, in my father’s words, the school needed to straighten me out, and their only solution was to give me after school suspension until the end of the school year, followed by expulsion from the school district.
I began to sequester myself to my room and became a voracious reader. On the bookshelf in my bedroom, there existed two copies of The American Boy’s Handy Book, which I was barely interested in and never read. My father came in one day and told me that I should read it, and when I seemed disinterested, he insisted. Eventually he returned, and when I still wasn’t reading the book, he demanded that I copy the words from the book onto handwritten pages so that he would be certain that I was actually reading the book. I copied the first chapter onto a few sheets of paper, stapled them together, and set the book aside.
Growing up, I was a very curious child and I had an obsession with reading encyclopedias. I remember one day out sheer curiosity looking up the entry “sex change.” It was then that I literally fell down a rabbit hole as the article described in detail how doctors surgically change males into females, and in very infrequent cases, females into males. There was a new word added to my vocabulary: transgender.
I immediately set the encyclopedia down and looked for the T volume to look up this new word, transgender. The article invoked an enormous amount of fear inside me, along with a lot of validation and a word to label my feelings. I read the article several times, which then left me with an inexpiable sense of paranoia that someone had written the article based solely on my life experiences and feelings.
My mom came into my bedroom one afternoon after school and expressed concern over the many posters of women in bathing suits on my bedroom walls. Under my mattress was a lingerie catalog. My mom was concerned because she thought I had an unhealthy fascination with women’s bodies. I asked my mom a hypothetical question: What if someone she knew became a woman. Her response was that she actually knew someone who had transitioned from male to female, but that she had simply lost touch with that person years ago. She told me this information without hesitation and casually in a very apathetic and informal fashion.
I was forced to change schools in eighth grade, and my parents were forced to take turns driving an hour to school in the morning and an hour home in the afternoon. The driving began to take a toll on my parents, but for the first time, I was relatively happy going to the new school. My high school principal didn’t approve of the fact that I was always sitting with my female classmates during lunch and in class always asked if I could work with the girls on class projects. Eventually, the principal sent me to the school psychologist, who proceeded to sit me down for numerous sessions. The school psychologist somehow suspected I needed to be a female and would ask me questions about how I felt about being a boy and if I ever had any desire or feelings that I would have been better off as a girl.
When I finally cracked, I asked the school psychologist if my answers would be kept private, because I didn’t want anyone to know. The school psychologist swore to secrecy, and I confessed that yes, I absolutely wanted and needed to be a girl in every single possible way. The school psychologist gave me a small smile, wrote some quick notes on a piece of paper that had my name written at the top, and came back with the school principal. Apparently, he had been sharing information with the principal the entire time.
The school principal decided that the best course of action was to allow me to eat lunch at the boys table, and if I refused, then he would force me to eat my lunch in the nurse’s office, which became the reality for the duration of the school year. I spent the remainder of the school year eating lunch with the school nurse with tears in my eyes. The nurse was a woman in her 30s who was a fantastic and caring listener.
My principal in eighth grade suggested that I attend a specific boarding school, and that because I was a problem child, I needed to immediately be put on medication for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The following week, I found myself at a doctor’s office getting a prescription for medication that I didn’t need and refused to take. My father threatened to physically force me to take the medication, and as time went by, the medication only made things worse. For erroneous reasons, my principal labeled me a monster and I was prevented from attending the school graduation at the end of the school year.
In grade nine, I was sent off to boarding school in Western New York State. It was an all boys boarding school. My father told me that I was being sent there so that the school could straighten me out once and for all. My father kept repeating the same narrative, telling me that now there are no excuses, and that one day I would graduate from boarding school and I would be a man. My father also told me that high school would be the best time of my life. In reality, it was the absolute worst time of my life.
When I was 16, I became depressed thinking that I would be forced to live my life pretending to be a boy. My father told me that I needed to grow up and be a man. He expected that I would become successful, and ideally I would be a world renowned trauma surgeon, or as a backup, a businessman. I had a problem with slouching, which was due to being abused and forced into a role as a person that I wasn’t. He took me to the doctor about my slouching and the doctor ordered an X-ray of my pelvis and spine to check for scoliosis. A week later, my father and I were called in to discuss the results.
Walking into the doctor’s office, my father and I were directed to a conference room, where we were met by my family doctor and four of his colleagues who wanted to discuss the X-ray with my parents present. They pointed out that my pelvis and spine were perfectly healthy, but I was not prepared for the news that was to follow. According to the lead orthopedic surgeon of the hospital, I had a female bone structure. My father immediately became irate and started screaming at the doctors, telling them that I was his son and that they were lying. He grabbed me by the arm and proceeded to drag me out of the doctor’s office and spent the entire duration of the car ride home telling me that I had to snap out of it because I was his son and that the evidence that the doctors were presenting was flawed and false. That was the very first time that I saw my dad so angry that he began to cry.
A last minute trip to California with my father was arranged and my father forced me to come with him to visit his sister. My father said that for the very first time, my mother was not going to come with us to see my father’s side of the family, and at the time, I found this to be strange because since I was born, we always went to visit my aunt as a family. I did not want to travel to California without my mom, and my father angrily told me that I didn’t have any say in the matter. As soon as I arrived at my aunt’s house, my father sat me down at the kitchen table with my aunt and proceeded to tell her the reason for our almost impromptu visit.
It was then that my father proceeded to tell my aunt that I claimed to be a transsexual and that for a few years, I kept claiming that I might be gay or bisexual. He went on for several minutes about how awful of a son I was, and that I was only telling him about myself because I was craving attention. Whenever I tried to speak up in my own defense, he told me to be quiet and listen. I tried to get up from the table and leave, but my father grabbed me by the arm and simply said sit. I resisted and ran out to the backyard, where I proceeded to cry hysterically, and with my anger and rage, I began to punch at the ground with my fists.
My aunt came out to the backyard to yell at me and tell me that what I was doing to my father was selfish and was killing him, and that a son does not do this to a Jewish father. She went on to say that I needed to figure it out because I needed to be a man for the sake of my father because that’s how life works.
After I graduated high school, my father insisted that I immediately attend college; I absolutely despised the idea that I would be attending college in West Virginia. My father, again, wanted to send me to the heart of the bible belt, again likely in hopes that the university would somehow straighten me out. It was then, at 19, that I started presenting full-time as female, or at the very least, gender neutral. I had a part time position at the campus department of public safety and worked as an Emergency Medical Technician, which meant that I would be in a gender neutral uniform that matched everyone else’s. Whenever I was not working, I wore nail polish, much to the dismay of a handful of my professors.
While in college, I struggled with my transgender feelings, and acting on the advice of my college academic advisor, went to see a therapist. I met with Linda, my college therapist whose office happened to be right next to my dormitory building. I immediately gushed to her about all my feelings that I should have been female, which were nothing new, as my earliest memories were of feeling as if I were actually female. I told her I was depressed, and I was truly unhappy about being sent to college in West Virginia, as there was no way I could possibly get any help with my condition, which I had evidence to support my claims that it was biological, not psychological. My therapist suspected that I might become suicidal if I was forced to stay in college and called my parents. My mom came to the college to meet with my therapist who, with my permission, discussed my needs to leave college and see a therapist back home that deals with gender identity issues.
I took a year off of college and began seeing a therapist in Upstate New York. My therapist and I discussed my transgender issues at length and agreed that I did, in fact, have an issue with being transgender, but that I was only 19, and that in time, it would resolve on its own. The following year, shortly after my 20th birthday, I lost my virginity to a female friend of mine. It was awkward, but nice, and the experience of having sex for the first time made me realize that I didn’t want to be the male in the relationship, and it was at that moment that I realized that I was truly female and wanted to be in a lesbian relationship.
I sat down with both of my parents and told them that I was going to find a doctor and go get a sex change operation, and that this was something I needed since I was very young. My father dismissed it as nonsense and said that I was doing this for attention and that I needed to see a therapist who would tell me to snap out of it because I was his son. He then threatened to take everything away from both my mom and I if I ever spoke of such a ludicrous idea.
The following year, I pursued a handful of relationships with women who were lesbians, who said that there was something about me that they felt strangely attracted to. The relationships all became meaningful and romantic, then sexual, but in the end, because I had male genitals, they didn’t last. My father forced me to go back to college, this time for emergency medicine. When September 11th happened, there was an immediate need for emergency workers to relocate to New York City, and I was offered a job based out of Long Island, New York that served New York City.
My father always thought of me as being mentally incompetent and told me that I was not going to move out of my parents’ house alone. So, as soon as I met my girlfriend who agreed to move with me to Long Island, my father finally allowed me to leave my parents’ house. I worked almost every single day of the week, often for up to 18 hours at a time; I made fantastic amounts of money, but my girlfriend at the time could never find work, so I ended up supporting the both of us through my work alone. I continued to present as female everywhere I went, and people simply assumed that I was in a lesbian relationship, and in my mind, I was.
Over the course of my 18-year relationship with my girlfriend, we moved several times for my career, and over the years, I moved up in rank quickly. I was accepted as being a female at work, and according to my coworkers, I was in a long-term lesbian relationship. Eventually, I was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant EMT/Firefighter. When my secret was finally revealed, it caused a handful of my coworkers to lose their trust in me because, in their eyes, I wasn’t being completely honest about who I was. Therefore, some of them could no longer fully trust me, and trust is critical when one is working in public safety.
My relationship with my girlfriend was a roller coaster of emotions. We shared almost two decades of good times and bad, but in the end, the relationship became truly toxic. I met Amelia on a Twitter writerslift, and we started communicating through social media. Sending messages through social media led to text messages and eventually phone calls. And on my 41st birthday, the abuse at home went to an all-time high, I got in my car and drove away, never to return again.
Staying at my mom’s house for a month became problematic, as my now ex-girlfriend’s family kept sending threatening text messages that eventually escalated to death threats. I made the decision to take a risk and drove to Boston to meet Amelia for the first time. We took a road trip to Maine, where we shared a motel room for a week. Then there was an emergency at the house where my ex-girlfriend and I lived in Upstate New York for the vast majority of our time together, and I had to drive from Maine to Boston, and then to Upstate New York.
I had secretly purchased my dream house in Vermont and simply drifted from place to place for about a month with Amelia while we were waiting for the house deed to clear. After our initial trip to Maine, I knew that Amelia was the person that I truly needed to be with.
I eventually let go of the house in Upstate New York, and I legally gifted it to my ex-girlfriend because she was determined to make it impossible for me to sell it. Walking away from a property that I had purchased, paid off, and put years of physical labor into upgrading and maintaining was bittersweet, but it was necessary in order for me to move on.
Amelia and I moved into our forever home in Vermont with whatever possessions we were able to fit in my car, and for the first year, I had to live in a house that was constantly being upgraded and repaired, and my possessions that were left behind in my old house in Upstate New York had to be slowly replaced.
Amelia and I eventually married on May 24, 2021 in our back yard under our favorite birch tree. It was a simple wedding, and due to Covid restrictions, we decided to post a video of our wedding in lieu of having guests.
On September 9, 2021, my secret finally came to light. I slipped and Amelia found out that I needed to transition to female fully. I called my mom to tell her about my struggle with feeling as if I truly was female all my life and needed to now seek medical help. I was able to locate an old DNA test that showed my genetic sex as female. I told my aunt that I was going to start transitioning medically, and then finally, I posted it on Facebook.
On September 30, 2021, I met with a doctor that Amelia had helped me find. She went through the paperwork and forms that I had completed prior to our meeting, and she told me that I needed to pay attention to what she was about to say, because it was a matter of life and death. The doctor said that she could see that I had a female bone structure, specifically my facial bones were that of a female, and that I needed to be put on female hormones immediately. She was surprised that at my age of 42, that I had not yet developed terminal cancer due to my body having an obvious intersex condition. When I explained that I had always identified as female since my earliest childhood memories, she said that I was one of the lucky ones.
I started taking female hormones in the afternoon of September 30, 2021. A few days after I started hormone replacement therapy, I felt happy for the very first time in my life. I woke up one morning and felt like I was being surrounded by a thousand hugs; an unprecedented and seemingly unexpected sense of peace and comfort surrounded me, as if I had finally found my own personal nirvana. The hormone replacement has given me more time to work on my health, but I know that I only have a couple of years as my body continues to reject and atrophy my male genitals, which will need to be removed for medical reasons. My solution is to undergo gender reassignment surgery in 2022, which will remove the parts that my body has been actively rejecting for decades, and in doing so, surgically create female genitalia that I was supposed to have from the very beginning. I suppose that, according to my doctor, that I really am one of the lucky ones whose gender identity actually matches their genetic sex.