Monday, July 07, 2008

Girl, Interrupted

One of the things that bothers me from time to time is the fact that I didn't get to experience growing up female.

Sometimes it's triggered when I see a little girl walking hand in hand with her mother. Other times it may be a group of teenage girls walking through the mall laughing, giggling and talking as they wear their tight jeans and discreetly ogle the boys walking by. Sometimes it's seeing as prom season approaches girls with their dates or getting made up for the first time at the department store makeup counter. Sometimes it's a reaction to the depressing news of another transwoman found dead or the madness of ignorant people who haven't picked up science textbooks or read the Constitution in a while.

To paraphrase Houston's legendary crusading consumer affairs reporter, the late Marvin Zindler, 'It's hell to be transgender.'

Well, sometimes it is, depending on what part of the planet you live in.

But from time to time I wonder what my life would have been like if I'd come out of the womb with female genitalia. And yeah, sometimes I honestly do feel cheated that I didn't get to experience life growing up as a young African-American woman inside and outside.

I'll never know what it was like to run for prom or homecoming queen, be a cheerleader, have mom and my grandmother run a hot comb through my hair, do a pajama party/sleepover, pick out a prom dress, have 'The Talk' from the feminine side or all the other assorted myriad experiences that mark a young girl's maturation into womanhood. I can imagine the tug-of war that would have happened between my godmother and my mom both subtly (and not so subtly) lobbying teen Monica to join their respective Divine Nine sororities once I hit college.

But at the same time, I have to consider the fact that spending 20 plus years on the male side of the gender fence has not only been an education into the drama that Black men face on an everyday basis, but for me led to a greater appreciation of my femininity. I had to go through so much time, work, money, prayerful contemplation and drama just to become the Phenomenal Transwoman proudly standing before you.

As my biosisters and sistafriends constantly remind me, they consider me the lucky one because I don't have periods. But ladies, I have a doubled risk for breast cancer now and have to do mammograms.

Had I been born a biowoman, would I be the passionate advocate I am today if I personally hadn't gone through so much just to get to this point? Would I have the deep appreciation of all things feminine and the sensitivity to women's issues and causes if I myself hadn't felt frustrated growing up that I was on the wrong team and on the outside looking in? Would I have the same level of compassion for the drama Black men go through, the transgender community and other oppressed peoples?

In some cases certain things about my personality wouldn't change. I'm a fashionista thanks to mom. I'd still be political, curious about what's going on in the broader world and down with my people's history thanks to my parents and my extended family.

As the child and godchild of historians, there was no way I was going to be allowed to grow up without knowing it, especially in the context of me growing up in the 60's and 70's. I'd still have my crazy sense of humor, my love of R&B and jazz music and the faith that has kept me grounded and centered throughout this long gender journey. Having gay and transgender cousins in my family would have ensured that I not only stayed sensitive to their plight, but the desire I have to see GLBT rights codified into civil rights law wouldn't have lessened one bit.

What has led me to a gradual acceptance of the hand I was dealt since I transitioned is the knowledge that femininity is a constantly evolving, spiritual process. A genetic female doesn't know everything there is to womanhood seconds after she emerges from the birth canal either. I get reminded of that when I'm pulled aside for private chats by various biowomen and I'm asked if I can teach them how to do makeup, walk in heels, decipher the male mind or be more assertive in asking for what they want.

I am also cognizant of the fact that for every biowoman I admire or I'm slightly jealous of for various reasons, she still has her own drama and issues that she's dealing with. Those issues sometimes pale in comparison to my grousing about not being born with the genitalia that matches my gender identity or having to spend $6K and lie down for several hours with my legs spread on a surgical table to get it.

The advantage a biowoman has over a transwoman in terms of travelling the road to womanhood in addition to the body, is that she has a head start and time on her side in learning it. If she doesn't stray too far from the 'traditional' feminine path, she doesn't have religious, societal and familial forces opposing her as she evolves as a woman in our society.

The biowoman also doesn't have the task of negotiating a femininity learning curve that jumps from zero to twentysomething, thirtysomething, fortysomething or fiftysomething woman in a year while going through body morphing and seismic emotional changes in her life.

But in the end, I'm a blend of masculine and feminine qualities as all human beings are. Being transgender gives me expanded insights into male-female situations that a person that's only lived in one gender role since birth can only guess at. As a transwoman I have to fight to have my femininity acknowledged and validated and don't take it for granted. I look at it as the blessing that it is.

But it still doesn't keep me from wondering what it would be like if my body and brain gender ID were congruent at birth.


VĂ©ro B said...

I can so relate to this entry. I do feel that I missed my time as a girl, a teenage girl, and a young woman, and I'm reminded by some of the same things as you wrote about. But like you, I appreciate my life as it is and the perspective I have. I wish I'd been born right, but I'm eternally grateful for the miracle of making it right later.

Monica Roberts said...


Polar said...

You've been taking some shots from the so-called feminists, on Bilerico with this post. I was insulted by them. You are the product of the people in your past whose examples you followed - and remember, I've met a few of them. You learned from your mother and sister, your grandmother and aunts and cousins, your friends and coworkers. Their style, morals, ethics, intellects, and good common sense dictate who you have become. They should feel honored.

Monica Roberts said...

Wouldn't be the first time a transwoman took shots from the feminist crew.