I was 12 that spring when I planned to put it all together given the opportunity and enough time. It wasn’t long before I got my chance. We were off for Easter vacation when there still was such a thing, and my mother and sister decided to get out of the house on a Gold Circle excursion. A predecessor of the Target and Wal-Mart empires, it was large and varied enough to keep them occupied for the better part of the afternoon. I could not have been more excited.
Moments after I heard the car pull out of the driveway, I was upstairs in a flash. I had time, sure, but I was anxious for it to get started. Underwear, hose, a dress with a brown flowered skirt and white short-sleeve bodice, and tan flats. I combed my mop of hair down and adorned it with plastic barrettes. My sister had just discovered make-up, so lipstick, eye shadow, and a hint of blush went on as well. It all just felt right. It was time for a look.
From a very early age I realized I was different. I wasn’t exactly sure in what way, only that envied my sister’s dance classes and that fact that her clothes seemed to be a lot more ‘me’ than the crap I was usually consigned to. From the time I was five I was fishing old pantyhose out of my mother’s bedroom garbage where they languished beneath heaps of old cigarette butts emptied from the ash tray. This was the early 70’s and no one had put together yet the link between burning items consumed under flammable sheets and house fires, so try and read this in context.
I understood from long before through a number of embarrassing incidents that I was considered to be a boy, and therefore doing anything that smacked of girliness was deemed to be undesirable. It didn’t stop me of course, just made me careful. I took my opportunities where they lay, borrowing items from my mother and sister that I thought they would not notice, rescued items from the Am-Vets bag, and deftly maneuvered games of ‘truth or dare’ in my favor where I would be “forced” to don a dress or one of Laura’s dance recital outfits as my dare. This was all fun, but not enough.
My most frequent daydream was a ‘Home Alone’ scenario where my parents and sister would go out of town for a week or more and feel comfortable leaving me behind. As soon as they were safely out of town, I’d dress up as a girl and live the week like that. Our neighbors of course would never recognize me, such would be the powers of transformation, and assume I was just some girl the family hired to watch the house while everyone was gone. I’d take walks, shop, and no one would ever be the wiser, plus the exercise would get it out of my system. (I retained such delusion for more decades than I care to admit) It all seemed entirely within the realm of possibility except for the fact that my parents detested travel and would not have left a pre-teen home alone under any circumstances.
With mom and sister safely at the store I was finally realizing my dream of dressing up all the way. With a skip in my step, literally, I bounced down the stairs to check myself out in the mirror that hung behind the front closet door. I opened it up and stepped back to get a good look. Holy shit! Staring back at me was a real live no fooling girl. It had been one thing to look down at my legs in a pair of tights and assume the illusion they belonged to the opposite gender, but this was a whole new game. It was me looking back, really me!
Then it hit me, hard and for the first time. “It’s really me”, became, “Uh oh, I think that really is me. Oh shit, I think I’m supposed to be a girl!” My heart started pounding and I started shaking all over. It’s true I had never been super psyched to see the goofy looking kid with the bowl cut staring back at me in the mirror, but this, this I liked. A lot. I continued to shake and just couldn’t rip my eyes away. OK, but what I’m I supposed to do with this anyway? I didn’t have a whole lot of time to think about it because a moment later I heard a car door slam and the very distinctive cacophony of my mother and sister arguing.
That I managed to avoid wetting my panties was a feat unto itself, but that I somehow managed to fly up the stairs, hang the dress back up in the closet, return the hose and shoes, and dive into the bathroom with my clothes before they came through the front door should be recognized as a bona fine miracle by the Catholic church. Shaking like a leaf I scrubbed the makeup off my face using toilet paper so that the evidence could be flushed. I crept back to my room to read a bit and calm down before going down to face anyone. I was so afraid it would be written across my face.
Naturally I vowed to never ever again do anything that might remotely be considered girly. I cleansed my room of any pieces of clothing I had squirreled away and ran with great mighty strides toward anything masculine that was within my capability. This is the real reason I joined the basketball team and school and became heavily involved with the Boy Scouts. Enough testosterone pumping activities I figured and I’d accept my role as a manly He-man. I mean what else was I going to do?
This was the grand start to a twenty-eight year habit of tip toeing right up to the precipice a further realization before doing a complete about face and running full speed in the other direction. So many purges, near discoveries, risks taken, and finding ways of digging myself in ever deeper into an identity I would never really feel comfortable with. When I did remember what I saw in the mirror, a rarity, it seemed like it should be someone else. The truth was too much to bear.