With absolute confidence, I can say this — ‘The day I was born was a good day for my parents.’ The year was 1953 and I was the second child born to the family of this young couple. The delivery went well. Or at least nothing was ever said about any complications during the entry into the world. No doubt the doctor ‘counted my fingers and toes’ and assured my parents I was a healthy child. This was all pre-ultrasound and childbirth came with more risks and uncertainties. So all in all, it had to be a good day for my parents.
I can however say with the same level of confidence that someone on that day made the comment — ‘A girl would have been nice.’ Or asked, “Are you disappointed you did not have a girl?” I am not saying that these exact words were used. I do feel however that the day did not pass without some mention of how much my parents had wanted me to be a girl. And it was most likely my Grandmother — my dad’s mom — who would have done so. If Mom had any of her girlfriends in to see her newborn, similar conversations about having a second son over a daughter could have been initiated.
The confidence I have on this second observation is one consistent with my life as a young toddler. One of my earliest memories are of a conversation I heard between my grandmother, my mother and two guests to our home, friends of my Mom as I recall. They were visiting in the living room. I was in the dining room playing with some toy under the dining room table. The rooms were adjoining so their conversation was easily heard. I was most likely three or four.
Mom was pregnant with Cheri, my sister. Or had recently given birth to Cheri as her fourth child. Whichever ever is the case, the conversation turned to how much Mom and Dad — and Grandma — wanted a girl, a daughter, a granddaughter. The conversation soon turned to me. ‘Well of course Fred and I wanted Glen to be a girl. Fred has always wanted a large family and a daughter. Or two.” It is not unlikely that my Grandma might have added — “Not just Fred.” A reference to her desire to have a granddaughter.
I cannot say why this particular memory has lingered over the years as there was nothing particularly unique about this conversation. I would hear similar conversations in the months and years to follow. And I do not recall having any sense of surprise to hear of this unrealized wish of my parents. I had in other words already come to know that my parents had wanted me to be a girl. There may be one explanation for why this memory lingers while other conversations are forgotten. I recall asking myself the question ‘Why am I a boy?’
As a rule, every child reaches a point in their life when we begin to seek answers. ‘Why?’ becomes a question asked several times a day. My young mind could conceive of only one explanation — someone had mad a mistake. At that young age, I had no understanding of the process of childbirth. I knew because I lived in my Grandma’s house that children were a gift from God to parents. So was God to blame for the mistake? That seem implausible to me. Had my parents made a mistake? That was equally unlikely to me. With two possible answers eliminated as options, there was only one answer left. It had to be my fault. I was to blame.
As I often heard these conversation, and was reminded that my parents had wanted me to be a girl or that I should have been a girl or that I could have been a girl if all had gone as planned, I knew enough about ‘wanting’ that I knew my parents had to be disappointed or unhappy that I was not a girl. At that young age, children do not yet understand — as a rule — that gender is a constant. I did not yet know that as I had been born male, I would always be male. To my mind, I had been born a boy and my parents had wanted me to be a girl. So an easy solution came to mind. I could become a girl for my parents.
There is no way for me to know for certain when it happened. However at some point I became convinced that my parents would be happier if I were a girl and that I would also be happier as a girl. As a quick aside, I want to stress I knew myself to be a boy. I knew I was not a girl. My desire to be a girl was not an expression of gender identity. I just wanted my parents to be happy. And I wanted to be happier.
As a toddler, I never got any clarity as to why I could never be a girl when I pestered my parents and my Grandma with my willingness to be a girl if they wanted me to be a girl. One day my Grandma grew tired of my ceaseless questioning. “If you want to be a girl so much than you must dress as a girl.” She took me by the hand and led me to the house on a corner, where Yvonne lived, a neighbor girl my age. Yvonne answered the door. A conversation ensued between my demanding and overbearing Grandma and Yvonne’s bewildered mother. As was the norm, my Grandma won the day and when we left I was wearing one of Yvonne’s dresses as well as a pair of her panties and pair of her shoes.
As the story would be told in later years, Grandma wanted to ‘teach me a lesson.’ She had assumed as I was a boy I would hate wearing a dress. I was left to play with some neighbor kids — including Yvonne. I should have been shamed by the ridicule but I guess I was having such a good time as a ‘girl’ that I did not take the taunting and teasing as ridicule. Within a few weeks, I had my own small wardrobe of dresses and Grandma was dressing me up as her ‘granddaughter’ most weekends.