By Alonzo Douglass
On my 24th birthday, I sat with family and friends to open gifts. When I got to the gift from my older sister, I ran my fingers across the wrapping paper and could tell it was a five-by-seven picture frame. I ripped the paper off and found a copy of a picture of me when I was two or three years old. My sister thought her gift was cute and it’d make me smile. Instead, I wanted to walk over to her and slap her face. Throughout my life, my sister liked to show that picture and about three others like it to remind me and to tell others who I was. She always laughed. I always felt a humiliation that burned like fire.
In the picture, I’m wearing one of my sister’s play dresses. I know exactly where it came from. On one of the shelves in the utility room, my mom kept a box of play dresses and a handful of her old dresses and high heels for my sister and her friends to play dress-up. Why didn’t my sister keep the box in her room? Because she was a tomboy and she hated dresses. So, her fem brother got to use her play dresses and high heels anytime he liked.
My first memories of what I thought about myself are tied to the four pictures of me wearing dresses and heels. Then my sister seared those thoughts into my brain by teasing and humiliating me. For sure, it’s easier for a butch girl to go after a fem boy. I wanted to be exactly like my mom. Because she took care of the house and tended children, I wanted to take care of the house and tend children. Because she cooked and sewed, I wanted to cook and sew. Because she wore dresses and high heels, I wanted to wear dresses and high heels. I believed I was going to marry a man, have children, and be a stay-at-home mom. From my earliest years of consciousness, I was without a doubt transgender.
The last time I dreamed about being a girl, I was in seventh grade and I had a new best friend. When I got bored, I liked to daydream about my friend and me dressing like girls, going to the mall, walking around for several hours, and talking to people. When we left, we were elated. That’s because no one ever guessed we were boys.
What made me stop the dream? My sister played a role, but she wasn’t the only one. I couldn’t hide who I was. Aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors showed me they knew me. They showed me by whispering to each other, chuckling and smiling. I was a bright child. I knew they were whispering and chuckling and smiling about me.
As a child, I couldn’t pull the real me out of me, but I knew I had to hide her. Sometimes I got caught. When that happened, I made a new resolution to hide her better. At home, I wasn’t strong enough to handle the embarrassment and shame. At school or on the streets, I wasn’t strong enough to handle the laughter and name-calling. Because I was weak, I forced myself to man up. I started that journey when my best friend’s mom told him she didn’t want him to play with me—really to be with me, ever. That killed a piece of me, and it ended the last dream I had of dressing and acting like a girl.
Years later, I saw the real me one more time. The day was November 15, 2008, and I stood in the crowd at Washington Square in Salt Lake to protest the passage of Prop 8 in California. This was the first time I participated in an event with my LGBT brothers and sisters. I loved watching the women who loved women and the men who loved men show their love openly in a public place. I loved watching the other people in their lives—parents, brothers and sisters, children, and friends—stand with them and show their support for them. Then a group of magnificently dressed women walked from one end of the square to the other. When I saw them, I knew them, but I didn’t know them. I knew them because they were the first me. I didn’t know them because I’d excised the first me decades earlier. Seeing my sisters gave me an instant reaction: They scared me.
The fear I felt was centered in my weakness. I couldn’t endure ridicule and humiliation. I had to have the love of my family. I wanted the respect of my neighbors and friends. The fact of the matter is I wasn’t strong enough to be transgender. Only the strongest people can be entirely true to themselves.