The other day, I wept.
I was watching an episode of the television program “60 minutes.” The subject was Schuyler Bailar, a transgender man who was originally accepted by the Harvard women’s swim team, and ended up swimming on the men’s team. How? Because in the interim he had decided to live his reality as the male he experienced himself to be, rather than as the female indicated by his birth. Even though that reality meant that he ended every swim race near the end, rather than winning as he had when his opponents were women, that was his choice. That was how he felt real.
Why did I weep? Not because I disapproved, but because I saw the joy in him, and his certainty that he had made the right choice. And I remembered someone dear to me, someone quite a bit older, who has now passed. That someone, born physically a male, for much of his life, and when in private, had cross-dressed – dressed as a woman. He told me he had started fantasizing about doing that before he was seven. However, hesitant to face societal judgment and rejection, he also maintained his outward life-style as a male. In those days, that is what many people did. People close to him knew his secret, but many, those he thought would judge and be hostile, did not.
He was an amazing mechanic at work and could fix anything at home. Family members, both those who knew and those who did not, turned to him for wise guidance. In his twenties he met a woman, they became lovers and got married. His wife shared her clothes with him, went with him to special events at which he was “dressed” (i.e.as a woman). After she died he stopped going to them, and “dressed” only at home at night.
Time passed. He seemed content – a bit over-sensitive, but content. Then came fourteen words that hit me like a blow to the head. It was a couple of years before his death, but at the time he was in good health. Sitting companionably one day, he commented to me, completely out of the blue,
“If I had known then what I know now, I’d have had the surgery.”
I knew what he meant, but I did not know what to say. I was stunned. He had always insisted that, despite choosing to cross-dress, he was comfortable living his outward life in accordance with his birth gender. He had always insisted that “just dressing” was enough for him to feel fulfilled. His sudden pronouncement was my first intimation that his “male life” was not fully real to him and that he wished he had chosen to live as a female.
He died a relatively short time later.
And when I see the joy, and the feeling of freedom that is clear on the faces of people like Schuyler Bailar, people who have made the transgender choice, regardless of whether or not they have had “the surgery,” I wish that my brother could have had that freedom, that joy, in his lifetime. I wish that he could have lived his life in the way that he felt was real. Alas, he was born too soon, and just a little bit too afraid.
And I weep for him.
Sometimes it is hard to live a life that feels real. Yet over time the pain of being unreal can become a terrible burden. That he was living with that burden explains a lot about my brother, a lot that saddens me… but what about you? There are many ways in which we may choose to not be true to who we truly are inside, and there are many outside pressures that try to convince us to be who “society” expects us to be. Somewhere in a childhood “autograph book” that I have not yet unpacked someone once wrote,
“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Shakespeare wrote many great truths, but this is one of my favorites. My hope for you this week is that you can feel free to be who you really are, that the life you live enables you to be real. There are few thing more important.
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