I was born March 30, 1980. As in the case of almost all babies, a cursory glance at the identifying parts determined whether I was a pink-dress-wearing baby or a blue-pants-wearing baby. I was said to be the latter. While I would go on to be called Lauren, I was given a different name at that time. I liked the name I was given, it was the name of a great man and personal hero, my maternal grandfather.
I am told I was a precocious child from a very early age. Language came easily to me. I was curious, expressive, and sensitive. I’ve been asked before what my earliest memory is. While most of my early memories revolve around my maternal grandparents and the wonderful times I spent with them, I believe that my earliest independent recollection is of banging my head on my headboard in anguish over something or another. Take that as you will. I was pretty happy most of the time, but I did continue self-injuring behaviors well into adulthood.
I realize the first time something felt wrong about being a girl in blue pants as soon as I learned there was a difference between boys and girls. A guest speaker came to my preschool to talk about strangers, and what strangers might do to our bodies. I remember there were different words for what boys had and what girls had. Amusingly, I mis-remembered the name of the girls’ part as “Gertrude.” Despite having the wrong name, I hung onto this idea of Gertrude. It seemed, at the time, like something I needed to file in my brain in a brightly-colored folder for use later.
Throughout my young childhood, I was surrounded by girls. My best friend, and two other very close friends were girls that lived on my street. I remember even then, how much I wanted to be included. I wanted to prove that I was more than my blue pants. For the most part, I was accepted as being capable of doing all of the girl things, and my blue pants didn’t seem to hold me back.
I remember, in particular, my deep love for the cartoon “Rainbow Brite.” One of the only conspicuous concessions to my femininity was the purchase of a Rainbow Brite doll. I wonder to what degree my parents either thought that was a phase, or were mortified by that.
School came and brought with it further expectations of gender from my contemporaries. Other people in blue pants wanted to rough-house. I didn’t. I wanted to play with my pink dress friends. I quickly learned that just wouldn’t do!
My first pathetically one-sided run-in with a bully was in kindergarten. I can still remember the boy… Randy was his name. I had two strikes against me: One was, of course, being a girl; the other was being taught to be a strict pacifist under any and all conditions. This was something of a fascination to boys, it seemed. Someone who would not fight back under any circumstances. The temptation was great, indeed! Add to that, the way I dealt with these conflicts was to tell the teacher. That made me additionally popular as a target, as playground bullies tend to prefer their brand of justice over that which was dispensed by the powers-that-be.
My essay entitled, “It Gets Better” addresses the bullying in greater detail.
I engaged in asymmetrical warfare with my brother as a result of the same facts that made me a favorite target among classmates. He was a properly-credentialed boy, and I found myself doing things like playing the overture to “The Phantom of the Opera” at high volume in order to achieve the effect that might otherwise be achieved through a scuffle. He was a much better scuffler than I, despite my four-year advantage.
The age of seven saw me moving several cities over, and leaving my street full of girlfriends behind. There were new girls to play with, but they were outside of my travel boundaries. This was a very lonely time. I made friends with a boy on the adjacent cul-de-sac (the only kid my age within my travel boundaries at the time) this was largely a product of his owning a Nintendo video game system. I had discovered by then that doing as the Romans did helped thwart some of the difficulty I had with my peers, but bullies were bullies.
In the ensuing year or two, I began to really be conscious of how to tell lies well. I was at the optometrist for my weekly ‘quack’ eye exercise nonsense. As these exercises caused me considerable discomfort, I lied to the optometrist about not feeling up to it. She bought it! But then, she walked me out to my waiting mother to whom I tried to lie about having said that to the optometrist. I was busted. I spent the rainy afternoon writing “I will not lie.” over and over, and missing my favorite TV show “Ramona” which was about a girl my age who was misunderstood. Despite being caught on this occasion, I went on to become such a strong liar, I could make myself believe my own fabrications. My identity split in two. There was the version of me that I thought would not get in trouble, and the real me buried somewhere deep inside. I think my ability to act is largely a product of what this period in my life caused me to do.
It was this striated personhood which had me in love with stories like “The Little Mermaid,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Stories about people who were so much more than what their appearance portrayed, about people who needed to be something else if they were to be happy.
Time marched on. I was lonely from being without girls to play with. At the end of third grade, my teacher had a sleepover for the girls in my class. I, of course, was not invited. I was very jealous. By fourth grade, the pressure of being someone else, coupled some pretty severe problems at home gave rise to my checking out of school in a drastic way. I developed anxiety over judgement and acceptance. I would do my schoolwork, but not turn it in, as I did not want it graded. School never improved for me. In fact, it was met with increasing terror and contempt year by year.
Junior high had the other girls’ bodies doing fascinating things. I was doubly fascinated, as I was both interested in girls, and wanting that for myself. I started being left at home alone at some point. I used to literally run to my mom’s closet and try on her clothes in a fury, hoping not to get caught. I spent enormous amounts of time in the bathroom considering what it would be like to have the right parts. I learned everything there was to know about female anatomy. I never found myself contemplating sexuality in what one might call a conventional way. I remember the first time that I was caught staring at breasts, I was doing so out of wonderment and envy rather than attraction.
From the time I was twelve, well into my adulthood when she eventually passed away, my mother had cancer. It was Hodgkin’s disease, which is a lymphatic cancer. This began to make some things obvious to me that had not been as obvious before. One was that I did not want to be anything like my mother. Another was that my father would have probably been more happy pursuing his dream of being a history teacher than have to deal with having a kid at nineteen years old. Oddly enough, however, I have shifted my beliefs in recent years. I think I have turned out a great deal like my mother. Perhaps (as is my hope) just a better version of the woman she tried to be.
My mother was not a well person in another way too, though. She was not mentally sound. I say that as a person who takes daily medication for depression… she was not well. I do not judge that she was ill, only that her denial kept her from getting the treatment we all desperately needed her to have. Her erratic behavior had indirect effects as well. My father was pushed to the breaking point with trying to appease her. He had no energy left for other matters, nor the will to overrule my mother’s insane expectations. I bring all of this up because, this is often the period of time when people start to figure out gender variance. I was too absorbed in other matters to explore that.
Halfway through high school, my life took a major turn for the better, in terms of feeling connected to the world of women again. I had my first real girlfriend at this time. Not only was she an amazing partner, she was willing to answer my questions about her experience of the world as a woman. We had some of our best time doing things more typical of two girls. This was a definite turning point. I never had relationships with other women in the same way after this. Being surrounded by a group of girlfriends became the norm again, but in a new, more grown-up way. They were willing to share with me what it was to be a woman in the same way that my younger years had surrounded me with those willing to show me what it was to be a girl.
Women opened their lives to me, told me incredibly detailed accounts of the innermost workings of their experiences. I was a captivated audience, and this served me well, as it made people all the more willing to share with me. I found myself with deep, intense friendships. I would go so far as to say that I not only loved my friends, but in many cases, I may have been in love with them.
By Nineteen I had found the perfect job working at Disneyland. Finally getting to leave the facade of myself behind for a few hours, I delighted in being a more true version of me, and also in playing characters.
At twenty, I found myself suddenly in need of a place to live as my mother turned me out because I had opted not to take her to the Disneyland employee party that year. Being kicked out was nothing new. I found myself homeless two days before Christmas at age seventeen, when my father found it convenient to allow my mother to assume that an altercation he and I had was because I was a menace, and not because he had succumbed to his violent temper (as was his custom.) I had to think creatively to find a home in the space of a few hours. The most reasonable and immediate solution seemed to be moving in with my then-girlfriend (To be clear, this was not the same one as I’d had in High School.)
The relationship was doomed from the beginning, but neither of us had very good options as we both sought to be free of the drama of our families of origin. We married that summer. She was disappointed in me. She wanted me to act more masculine than I did. She asked if I was gay, she told me to “be a man.” Of course, I was unable.
That relationship came to an end some five years later, after the death of my best friend caused me to finally make some tough decisions about my life. I began talking to an old flame. I was able to talk to her in ways I hadn’t before. I spoke, in plain terms about how much I felt I was a woman, and how jealous I was of the experiences she’d had. She was supportive and understanding. I moved from Southern California to Fort Worth, Texas. I did this to start over with the old flame. I made huge strides in figuring out who I am during that time. It was a good environment for being myself. That relationship did ultimately end, but my momentum did not.
I went into the relationship with my wife knowing a great deal about my gender identity. At that point, I was explaining myself as “emotionally female.” I had not accepted the term “Transgender” because I mistakenly thought that meant I had to be transitioning. We had a daughter together. I did everything I could to be a great partner through pregnancy. It was a hard road, though. It stung so deeply that I was watching this amazing process of creating life unfold before my very eyes, but I was not able to participate in the way I desperately wanted to.
My daughter was only a few months old when I was having a conversation with a friend in which I was explaining my gender issues and she asked a very simple question of me that started a revolution. I was telling her why I could not transition to a life in which I was outwardly female. The question stopped me cold. “Why not?” I came up with justifications as to why not… she countered. Ultimately, I was left to contemplate whether I might actually get to show the world who I am at long last after denying myself for over thirty years.
Over the next several months, I slowly chipped away at my need to cling to my false identity, and began to embrace the idea of allowing myself to be myself.
A new name, new pronouns, new titles, new clothes, an exhausting regimen of hair removal, and heavy makeup. Prosthetics came and went (with the appearance of my own tissue growth.) Coming out to all sorts of people under a variety of circumstances. Being polyamorous meant I would have to do what most trans people do in learning to date as their preferred gender. I am due to have even more hormones started in a few weeks. ( I am on a starter dose of daily estrogen at present.) The hormones alone change all sorts of physical and behavioral changes.
The fact is, though, despite all of the outward changes, you probably have always known me… even if you knew me by another name, or with a different appearance. The person I am now is the same person that came out at my most happy and comfortable moments before. Maybe Lauren was listening to you when you needed someone to talk to. Maybe Lauren cooked for you. Maybe Lauren helped you pick out an outfit. I have always been there. No matter what other truths may have seemed to exist, if you have known the core of me at any point, you have known Lauren.
And, just as importantly, the person who was miserable… the person who didn’t want to live… the person who lied and was controlling and manipulative….That person has nothing to do with me. That person was a product of having to keep up a charade all day, every day for entirely too long. That person was exhausted!
I buried that person.