My story began a little over forty-seven years ago. I was born into a Catholic family in Albany, New York. My sense of heritage was quickly developed because of an extremely close relationship with my Irish-American maternal grandfather. Unfortunately, he passed away when I was only nine years old. He was critical in my early childhood development because of the volatile relationship that often existed at home between my parents. My grandfather seemed to be the one person that I could always rely on, who loved me without reservation, and would be there when I needed him. I loved him so very much, and wanted to be just like him when I grew up.
He was an almost legendary figure in the family, combining a strong Irish personality with an unparalleled athleticism and an unshakeable faith in God. After he passed away, I frequently felt alone. This became increasingly problematic, since even before he passed away, I had already begun to develop a sense that not everything was right with me.
At about age five I began to develop a sense of my gender, and it was completely at odds with the little boy that I had so far become. I wasn’t initially concerned, however, as I thought it was possible that every other boy felt exactly this same way. While I hadn’t told anyone, by age nine when my grandfather died, I knew differently. My third grade teacher had already told our class about Christine Jorgensen, the first well known transsexual.
At the time of my grandfather’s death I was quite sure of three things: First, my sense of gender did not match the boy that I was increasingly becoming; second, this mismatch was generally considered odd or worse by others, and seemingly was experienced by only a few; and third, I knew what it took to be a man, because a simply wonderful man, my grandfather and role model, had just died. He was considered by everyone to be a man’s man, and in the wake of his death, I never wanted anything more than to be just like him. I missed him so much. I decided that I would honor my grandfather while avoiding the embarrassment of being a transsexual, by being just like him. Unfortunately, my depth of knowledge of my grandfather was very limited because I was still a child at the time of his death, and after his death no one in the family ever spoke much of him in front of the older grandchildren in order to spare us the pain. My understanding of this man was not in any way nuanced or sophisticated, which proved to be very limiting in developing a more complete male persona during adolescence and adulthood.
My difficulty in developing a more mature male persona was unimportant in the end, as my sense of gender dysphoria increased in both intensity and frequency steadily throughout these years. I am very confident that these would have continued to overwhelm me, and prevent me from ever successfully becoming a male. While I eventually became accomplished in several things male, it never did come very easy to me because it all felt so unnatural and uncomfortable. Essentially, everything I did was learned by mimicry. This confidence is additionally reinforced by recent scientific research, which has indicated that the transsexual condition is acquired before birth and can be readily seen in the differences in certain brain structures that are associated with the endocrine system. This segues very well with the conclusion drawn by the vast majority of mental health professionals who work extensively with transsexual clients and strongly believe that it cannot be eliminated through psychotherapy.
In many ways, the part of my grandfather that I most wanted to emulate was his strong faith in God. I desperately wanted to be reunited with him someday in the afterlife and I knew I would have to be a good Catholic to get there. His faith always seemed to give him a sense of peace and unflappability that other people simply didn’t possess. I’ve always found the Catholic Church to be so filled with imagery, whether in it’s painting or sculpture, or it’s scripture. The Catholic religion itself seems to have many more icons than any other monotheistic religion. I suspect it’s probably because of its long rich history, and its large membership. Trying to grow up as a good Catholic with this increasingly developing and expanding transsexual nature along for the ride, soon became impossible because it clashed so much with the imagery. I would always listen intently to scripture at Sunday Mass, and would hear about the many images, both good and bad, i.e., the story of the sheep and the goats.
I soon came to believe that being transsexual was morally wrong because it seemed to conflict with the laws of God and nature. Another problem about being transsexual is that it seemed to be so much more than I, or anyone else for that matter, should or could ever hope to handle; and God wouldn’t do that to anyone, right? Why would God want to make someone transsexual, anyway? As I got a little older I began to equate being transsexual with being homosexual. It was just something that happened to some unfortunate people, but they could stop it, couldn’t they? Wasn’t it just a lifestyle choice? Weren’t they living an evil life? Weren’t they sinning?
The intensity of my transsexual feelings definitely got stronger and more difficult to overcome as I got older largely because of the changes brought about by adolescence and puberty. As my body began to change, it got further and further away from where I wanted it, and more importantly, where I felt it needed to be. To compound matters, the body I wanted and felt like belonged to me, was becoming increasingly visible in the girls my own age. As I got older, the changes that took place in my body were most unwelcome, which seemed to be completely contrary to the experience of the other boys my age who welcomed and even relished these changes as they occurred. I felt more and more distant from the other boys my age, even though I was becoming a man, just like them.
My feelings of being transsexual often overwhelmed me. No matter what I did, I couldn’t stop or get rid of this growing sensation. My thoughts were constantly centered on it, with the implication that everything was just horribly wrong with me. These transsexual thoughts were almost an automatic thought process. Little nor nothing could trigger it. If my mind wasn’t otherwise focused or occupied, it seemed to almost naturally gravitate to these thoughts. I never had any rest from them, and peace in my life was a completely foreign notion. In many ways, this soon became almost as much a part of me as eating, drinking, sleeping, and breathing. It was me and I couldn’t control it, despite my believing that it was morally wrong and against the basic tenets of my Catholic faith, which I wanted to uphold so desperately.
I would hear about the peace of God every Saturday in CCD and Sunday in Mass, but it seemed to be completely elusive and something that I would never find. I never had even one moment’s rest from myself. My feelings about myself quickly progressed from frustration to anger, to self-hatred, to worthlessness, to my possibly being a sinner who was doomed to spend eternity in hell. My life wasn’t worth living, and I couldn’t stand myself any longer. Thoughts of suicide, which I also knew to be morally wrong, began to grow. I honestly wasn’t sure whether it was morally better to live with these feelings, or whether it would just be better to be dead. Despite all this, I still tried to love God as much as possible. I hadn’t lost all hope just yet. However, I didn’t realize how impossible this was to do, loving God and hating myself. Since I knew it was important to love God as much as I loved myself, I thought it might be okay if I simply loved him so much more.
A major event occurred in my Catholic life at about thirteen, when I went to a Saturday afternoon confession. In the confessional, a visiting priest indicated that he was determined to help the children and youth of the parish make better confessions. He would do this by taking the initiative and asking a series of questions from which we were simply to answer yes or no. While I initially thought this was odd, I went along. However, I soon became increasingly uncomfortable. The questioning seemed to get more and more strange. After a few moments, I had already been asked about whether I had ever had sex, or even had ever masturbated. I became very fearful of the direction that the questioning was apparently heading. Before I knew it, he asked me the big question, whether I was homosexual, or had any experience with any other sexually deviant practices. While he didn’t specifically mention being transsexual among those sexually deviant practices, I felt that I could not answer no to him without lying. I did not know what to do. After a minor pause, which was probably unnoticeable, I lied. When I left the confessional I felt horrible. I had lied to a priest. This was significant enough, but even more so, and what truly made it a seminal event for me was that by asking about these unnamed sexually deviant practices, the implication was very clear. I was sinning against God.
This was so very troublesome because I had always left myself a little wiggle room since I never truly knew, nor truly wanted to know, whether being transsexual itself was a sin. I now had incontrovertible proof in the form of this confession that I was sinning against God, and I strongly suspected it was a very big sin, especially because the priest seemed so earnest about the confession. I couldn’t even take comfort in the fact that I didn’t really do anything to pursue my transsexuality. I had only occasionally read some book or magazine articles to get more information to better understand it. Hopefully, I would be able to get it under control, or even better, get rid of it. However, I believed that this was a sin because of my constant thoughts about it, and not because of my actions, per se.
Once I became absolutely convinced of the seriousness of my situation, I started to become ashamed and completely despondent. Over the next few years I lost all hope for anything positive to come of my life, and I started to change for the worse. While I never lost faith in God, it became very hard to love him any longer. In reality, I became very fearful of God. The other major cost during this period was my relationship with my grandfather, which up until this period I was able to keep alive within me. Now it started to die. I knew he could not be proud of or love his grandson any longer. During this period, I really needed to talk with a professional psychologist about being transsexual, and perhaps more importantly, with a priest or other religious, because my faith had been completely shaken, and was on the verge of collapse. I became completely distant in every relationship of my life. The nature of the relationship didn’t matter.
While I really needed considerable professional help, I was trapped because my transsexual secret still seemed to be something I couldn’t share with anyone. At this time, I thought that with all the changes that were occurring to me, it would be obvious to many people around me, but in hindsight, I think I was mistaken. I’m sure that any people who noticed these changes occur simply attributed them to the volatility of passing through puberty. I suppose at this time especially, I was crying out for someone to talk to, someone to help me address these issues. Unfortunately, to be a transsexual means to be quiet, ashamed, alone, and oftentimes, completely desperate. Without a doubt, what I most needed was a priest or other religious to tell me convincingly that God loves me just the way I am.
Many years passed and making contact with anyone about being transsexual still seemed absolutely impossible. In fact, the biggest single step that I have taken on my journey of transition, which I began a few years ago after I thought I was going to kill myself, was to make that first contact. In my case, it was a call to a caring, compassionate, understanding and knowledgeable psychologist. This was only the first step. A later step, certainly of equal importance, was when my psychologist introduced me to a sister who told me convincingly of how much God loves me.
My life now has meaning. I have been reconciled to my grandfather, and know that he is in fact proud of me. Most of all, I am again a good Catholic, completely in love with God. I am most definitely a Catholic where it counts most, in my heart. I believe without a doubt and without hesitation, and completely in the Apostles Creed. While I might diverge with the theological beliefs of some, I have complete confidence that I am abiding by God’s will for me on what has been an extremely difficult and, at times, tortuous journey.
Today, I have much more mundane concerns about my faith that I’m sure are reflective of many other Catholics. Sometimes my sense of God is so alive within me that it seems to burn, and other times it seems to weaken and grow cold. I can feel so good when it is fervent, and so bad when it is weak. I wish it could be strong and steady all the time. I truly love God, and only want to do his will. While I’m not always sure exactly what that is, I still want to do it, and I pray for his guidance. I firmly believe that his will, in part, is for me to resolve my transsexual dilemma and finally find a little peace and rest in my life.