The Pronoun Game, part two
October 19, 2008

When I first met Miccah, it was through a mutual acquaintance. Denise had lived next door to us for a year or so in college and had recently moved into her first all-by-herself apartment near campus. And then one of the banes of college life reared its head: we had a rapist haunting the area - and he'd specifically been targeting the run-down crappily lit apartment complex where Denise now lived. She quickly made friends with Miccah, who did handywork for the complex - and when Miccah became ill and couldn't work, Denise took Miccah in. She did this partly out of a genuine desire to help someone in need - and partly because Miccah looked like Miccah could help protect her from the rapist (even while being sick).

Did you notice I'm playing the pronoun game yet?

I was perhaps 20 or 21, had only been living away from my rather conservative folks and sheltered life for just a couple of years and Miccah's story was beyond anything I'd ever imagined. Denise took Miccah in because Mikey looked like a guy who could take care of himself - and provide some protection for Denise against this campus rapist. But what Mikey had fallen ill with was ... female problems.

Miccah had been born female, but for whatever reason, Miccah's father raised the child as a boy. Registered in school as a boy, used the boy's bathroom, everything. Teachers thought Miccah was a boy. It's not like anyone asked for a physical check. Mikey remembers asking Pop one day why he didn't have a penis like the other boys and Pop replied, "You'll get yours soon. They all grow at different rates, and you'll get yours soon."

Nice, huh?

Well, the long and short of that is Miccah really is more of a male than a female in terms of thought process and behaviour. We can argue until the cows come home over whether this is a nature or nurture kinda deal - my best guess in Miccah's case is that it's probably a little of both.

Who knows how Pop was going to explain away the biological female awakening impending ... as it was Miccah's mom took custody of Mikey at the age of ten.

Imagine this for a minute. Really think about it. Everything you know about who you are during elementary school comes from your parents. And if they've snowballed the teachers into cooperating with that? Think back to when you were ten. All the things you knew about yourself. The stuff you liked to do. The kids you hung out with.

Now imagine your mother coming in to talk to you and telling you as gently as possible ... that you're really not who you think you are. That you are really a member of the opposite sex.

Can you even begin to contemplate your reaction?

Can you imagine your reaction as suits are replaced with dresses or dresses replaced with suits? Can you imagine your favourite doll replaced with a Tonka truck or favourite Tonka replaced with a Madame Alexander doll?

Sure, many of us played with toys that are supposedly "boy" toys or "girl" toys. But can you imagine suddenly feeling like you couldn't play with the stuff you loved best and your mom was forcing you to play with stuff you had no interest in?

By the time I met Mikey, he was in his mid-to-late twenties and I was in my early-to-mid twenties. Maybe five years between us. I'd never met anyone who was a transsexual before. And, with as much as I understood that Mikey would prefer to be a biological male as well as feeling like a male ... I didn't fully understand the way Mikey felt.

My simple reasoning at the time was this: I was cool with Mikey thinking he was a male trapped in a female body. Made sense to me. He didn't seem like a female at all.

But I wasn't going to use the male pronoun in reference to Miccah - because he hadn't had the surgery yet. I fully supported his decision to have the surgery, but until such a time, he was a she to me.

What I really didn't understand was how this attitude made Mikey feel ... and just how difficult and expensive it would be to get that kind of surgery done. I mean, it's not like it's covered under most health plans - and it's not like most people can just walk into a clinic and have it done. It's a long damn process ... and it's damned expensive.

For someone born female to have the surgery involves first finding a therapist who specializes in Gender Identity Disorder. We're talking some long and involved sessions for the therapist to determine that yes, this person does have GID and is a candidate for moving forward. Next, the person has to begin living as the opposite sex. In many cases - like Mikey's - this was a change they'd already made. And for Mikey it was easy. He was built like a guy. Not a football player, but he definitely had that lanky, sinewy look that a lot of 20something men have. If you passed Miccah on the street, you'd have said he, not she.

At any rate, after passing for a year, you have to do things like get your driver's license changed from the birth sex to the intended sex. (Really, this usually happens during the year of "passing.") You also start taking hormones during this time. So for female to male transitioning, you start shooting testosterone. It lowers your voice at least somewhat and often means facial hair growth as well. The body does begin to change and adapt.

Some female to male transsexuals basically live in this state for the rest of their lives. After all, whether or not one has the genitalia that it looks like you probably have is really not anyone's business but that person's and their partner. But for those who do choose the surgery route, there's the mastectomies and then the physical building of a penis.

This ain't for the weak of heart.

Miccah, the last time I talked with him, had never really progressed to the point of the testosterone. He's not had the world's easiest life and every time I hear from him, there's been another round of insane tragedies. The loss of a music career just as it was getting started ... girlfriend troubles (yes, they all know!) ... bar fights ... having to move towns to try to land jobs in music somehow ... having her beloved dog kidnapped (complete with note) ... another dog impaled when he tried to jump a fence to find Mikey. It's never easy.

So there's never been the money and the insurance to really start counseling ... and never the money for the testosterone shots, much less the surgeries needed.

And who am I, really, to pass judgment and call Mikey "she" when it's so obvious that even with the small tidbit of femaleness that isn't even obvious, that Miccah is a "he" and has always been so no matter what the physical biology says.

I've grown a lot in the last not-quite-20 years since I first met Miccah. Today, despite his outward biology, I look deeper. He's comfortable with himself and who he is. Unless you insist on calling him she. Then, he's uncomfortable with you - not with himself. He knows who he is and he enjoys being himself.

Who am I to question that?

Gender is more than our biological sex. It's a sociological set of expectations which change from culture to culture. Some so-called "primitive" cultures knew that some women were born male and some men were born female and they had places for such people - not as outcasts - but places where they belonged.

This insistence on the male provider and the female caregiver is a trope that we've seen throughout history, yes - but the absolute rigid insistence on it is relatively new in history. It's really time and past time that we recognize the diversity of each individual and be glad that we are NOT all the same, that we can learn from the differences in each other and continue to grow.

Were we all alike, we would not have utopia ... we would grow stagnant and boreded and we would falter.

In my last post I spoke about the tv show Bones and in particular the episode called "The He in the She." I laud the writers for having the strength to NOT write an episode where everyone was carefully correct because that's just not how it happens when we are confronted with something outside of our experience - even when we want to be supportive. Instead, we struggle and fumble and get frustrated and call someone "it" in the heat of a moment when we can't decide if we're talking about he or she. It's in our fumblings with what is new and different that we learn and grow.

I know that if I had not met Mikey when I did, I would not have been as supportive and accepting of other people with differences later on.

Even if I did have to fumble with his pronouns for a while. Even if I do still fumble with his pronouns today when I talk about his history. (It's still not easy to say "His mom had to tell him he was a girl.")

Posted by Red Monkey at October 19, 2008 1:23 PM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


PandoraWilde said:

I remember when my best friend from high school told me she was getting married, and her sister M was a bridesmaid...

We went to high school together--I knew she didn't have a sister M. I knew she had a brother M who cross-dressed by stealing my friend's girly clothes.

It turned out that things went much farther than swiping a makeup kit and some nylons--her brother was indeed now her sister, with a new M name and in the process of living for a year as a woman while taking hormones and passing. The only thing I could think was, "Damn, M must be lonely! Go ahead and pass on my phone number--dunno what I can do but I'll sure try."

She called about a week later--to ask why I'd out of the blue support her. My answer? "You were always one of the people who was nicest to me in school, even tho you were one of the hottest-looking people and could easily have slammed me like everyone else. So if you ever need to unload, you know where to find me. Consider it thanks for treating me the way you did back then--maybe your body didn't match your brain but I think no matter what your body looks like, the heart that was kind to me is still the same, right?"

I felt bad--I did make her cry, but in the good way. We didn't spend a lot of time together but every once in awhile I'd get a call til she moved out of state to be closer to a therapist that worked with a surgeon.

I don't know why I reacted that way instead of freaking--maybe it was knowing some of the things that happened to her on the road to becoming "her"? Maybe it was also knowing the person inside was the same? Who knows--but she was good to me back when she was a he so I saw no reason to shit on her trying to find the person she really was. That's probably the best explanation I can find.

I've met a few transgendered people since and I'm pretty much the same way about them--live and let live. If someone's an asshole as well as being trans I react to the asshole, not the gender.

And once again I've hijacked your comments--sorry about that.

October 21, 2008 11:39 PM


Jared said:

I agree with all of your comments on this topic. I wasn't sure I should respond to this post, but find myself typing this comment anyway. Thank you for writing this.

October 22, 2008 11:45 PM
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