Lee Ann P. Etscovitz Hatboro, PA • • • • • • • On Sex/Gender Fluidity
From time to time I am asked when it t was that I first realized I was transgendered. The answer is “several times.” I had realizations at various levels of awareness at various times in my life. When I was about five years old I knew I was somehow different from the other children in kindergarten but I could not conceptualize and verbalize that difference. When I reached adolescence I knew I was not comfortable with other boys and that I was always comfortable with girls. That was a bit puzzling to me. And about forty years years later I finally identified myself as transgendered.
But there was one unforgettable occasion when I saw myself as not meant to be like one major person in my life: my father. I was eight years old at the time and was waiting excitedly at our home in Maine for my mother’s return from a trip to Boston where she had gone shopping, not just for herself, but also for me. She was to go to a well-known hobby shop specializing in model trains to obtain for me a Lionel train set. My first name being Lionel like the train only added to the excitement and specialness of her arrival home.
My father (who was self-employed) took time out from work that day to come home in the afternoon and sit with me in the living room to wait for my mother to arrive. He didn’t actually sit with me, but we were in the same room together. We sat at two ends of the living room, not saying anything, just sitting. I remember sitting for at least ten minutes in silence when I heard a car pull up in the driveway. It was my mom. I figured my father would get up and go to the door to greet her and help her in with any luggage and packages. Instead, he didn’t budge or say a word. He just sat there motionless like nothing was taking place. I was puzzled.
I must admit I was a very polite child, well-mannered, maybe a bit docile except for fits of anger every once in a while. I stayed seated to let him greet her first, and then I was going to follow his example. As I said, he did nothing, absolutely nothing. My amazement at my father’s silent inaction must have lasted no more than thirty seconds, a long thirty seconds. In those thirty seconds I heard my inner voice shout out to me: “That’s not me. I don’t want to be like him when I grow up!” That was a life-changing, thirty-second epiphany. I vowed one way or another as an eight year old child never to follow his example. While my father continued to sit motionless and in silence, I got up from my chair and ran to greet my mother. She did, in fact, have a Lionel train set for me. My father’s strange behavior and my vow were temporarily lost in the excitement of the moment.
I had some degree of realization in kindergarten, as an adolescent, and as an adult that I was different, but it was that living room experience with my father that was a painful game-changer for me. I say “painful,” because a few days later I began to experience violent pains in my abdomen, usually at night. The pain was so intense that I wanted to run away or jump off a bridge or do something to escape the excruciating physical torment. For some reason I told no one. I just suffered in silence in the privacy of my room and my soul, much like I did with my gender discomfort for most of my life. The pain subsided after about a week and never returned.
It never returned in its physical manifestation, but I am convinced it was with me emotionally for the rest of my life, especially leading up to my gender transformation. I connect that visceral pain to my gender issue, because I was rejecting my father whose attention I craved but rarely received and who in so many ways up to that point I emulated. He was an automobile dealer, and I had learned to recognize most cars on the road by looking at a piece of the car, like part of the chrome trim, especially from the grille, or perhaps the curve of a fender. I used to play with a toy garage, moving the cars and trucks around just like it was done on his car lot. That’s how much I wanted to be like him at one point in my young life. But all that was suddenly smashed, destroyed, erased. My rejection of him tore me apart. It was so painful. Of course, an emotionally bankrupt father, or a father who may be experiencing a marital conflict, is not in itself reason enough to change one’s gender. But in this case his behavior fueled what was already an emerging inner discomfort involving my gender identity.
We never did communicate very much for the rest of his life. He experienced me as the son who was always saying “No!” to him, especially regarding my educational and vocational choices and decisions. Anything I did for him was done as much out of fear as love. My gender transformation was the biggest “No!” I ever expressed in relation to him, though he died before he ever became aware of my change. Of course, I caught a significant glimpse of my gender issue when I silently shouted to myself: “That’s not me! I don’t want to be like him when I grow up!” My father ironically helped me see more clearly my true self.