Part of the autobiography of a transsexual psychology graduate student.

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Gender Identity Disorder (GID) Case Study: an Autobiography of a Transsexual Psychology Graduate Student

Gender Essentialism

It's hard to understand why third grade is when I lost most of my friends and everything fell apart. I switched schools because of small town politics so maybe it's because I could keep friends more easily than I could make new friends? Or maybe it had something to do with what my third grade teacher implicitly taught us. My third grade teacher loved to divide boys and girls up. I guess making games with boys-versus-girls motivates kids to do well for their team? So maybe other children learned to root for their team. But I just hated it. How did I get stuck on the boy's team anyway? Even if I barely had friends, at least the girls were nice. Eventually I asked if I could switch teams. But the other students laughed and my teacher scolding me not to cause trouble and get back on my side. I guess switching teams isn't allowed?

I was learning that boys and girls are suppose to be very different. There were the occasional reminders by grownups that "boys don't do that." And as the years passed, especially by third grade, I was bullied and teased for "acting like a girl." That's suppose to be an insult. I knew that even if I didn't know why. Girls played some hand-clapping games that I wasn't allowed to join. I guess that was because of what boys and girls are 'made' of. That bothered me a lot more than any teasing by boys. Maybe because I really believed it?

Hand-clapping games only partially taught me that boys and girls are essentially different. The other really big event was Chanukah. That's a Jewish holiday around Christmas time where Jewish children (at least in the US) are given gifts too. My parents used to hide our gifts in the garage, which wasn't a very good hiding place because we always knew where they were! One day I peered over the box top, shuffled around, and saw this amazingly elaborate tea set. I wondered who it was for: me or my younger sister? The box had girls printed on it, which didn't strike me as meaningful at the time. But the age started a year older than my sister. Even if I didn't understand gender, I understood age. Grownups think age is very important; it says what you can and can't do. There were things I couldn't do because I wasn't old enough. There were things I could do but my sister couldn't because I was older than her. This had to be for me! It fit my age! I remember the night my sister got the tea set; I can't remember what I got that night. I guess the gift I received that night was learning that isn't the only thing that tells us who we are and what we can do. So does gender.

I now knew boys and girls are different in essential ways. But the worst lesson to learn was that boys are girls. And I wished I was made of the stuff girls are made of. But there was a worse, almost paradoxically different lesson I was learning: being a boy is better than being a girl. Nobody said that explicitly, but actions teach a lot more anyway. In restaurants waiters or waitresses would ask me, "What would you like, Miss?" And, even though I'd just order, profuse apologies followed when of my parents made the correction. This is something that's always there no matter how old you get.

Even in high school I remember being in homeroom and somehow the class was talking about "The Simpsons" (It was an animated satire tv show which, among other characters, included this extremely rebellious boy "Bart" and his shy sister Lisa who knew how trivial grownups were.) My homeroom teacher started to say something about who he thought I was just like. But he paused and apologized in advance. I didn't really need to hear what he would say. I kind of knew I was incredibly arrogant in the way I spoke about school's arbitrary rules so telling me I'm like Bart wasn't necessary. But then he said Lisa! I was so happy because I really did completely identify with her character! But, of course, I was in high school; by then I knew I couldn't possibly like being identified as like Lisa. She's a girl. And, obviously, girls are icky. I just used my usual solution of repressing any emotional response. I simply said, "It doesn't bother me."

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