I’m interviewing David. He has extremely long wavy hair pulled back into a ponytail, suspenders, a wild beard, and a wicked gleam as he tells me with some glee about a recent hospital stay. He has some serious health problems that have resulted in a number of surgeries, but that’s not what makes him happy. His eyes light up and his gestures get more grandiose as he says, “My ego gets bigger every day because here I am in nothing but a gown and there are nurses who don’t know.” He grins and repeats what the nurses said, “Oh my God! I thought you were a guy. I see a guy.” David was born into a female body, but even after years of being a man, the thrill of medical staff not knowing feels good – like he’s arrived at the destination he longed for his whole life.
David was born into a family with 3 much older siblings, an alcoholic and abusive dad, and a fairly supportive mom. At 3 years old, his mom caught him in a pissing contest with a neighbor boy and tried to explain why little girls can’t do that. David got stubborn and shouted, “I’m going to grow up to be a boy! I just don’t have everything yet.” Growing up to be a boy became a certainty, but the road there was bumpy.
At a very young age, David was traumatized by witnessing death and destruction. He still deals with PTSD from the event. At around 4 years old, he had a relationship with a respected man in the community who treated him like the boy he knew he was, but also molested him. At 6, his school called in a psychiatrist because he insisted that he was a boy. They diagnosed him with gender dysphoria. At age 6. He said, “All I want is to be male.” The school psychiatrist told him that he could have a sex change when he was older and he was suddenly armed with that knowledge. He spent as much time as possible living as a boy.
I’m not surprised to find out that David is very gifted. At 13 he was ranked the top IQ for his age in California and 4th in the nation. He was invited to attend a special program at UCLA for gifted students. He started taking some classes at 13, and then went full-time at 15. He had been having problems fitting in at a school in a rural area. He comments, “Obviously, telling everyone I was going to have a sex change was not helping.” The students attending the gifted program at college were no problem though. David says, “Many of them thought I was a boy or knew I was going to become one and being gifted, they just didn’t frickin’ care. They were socially inept – we were all socially inept anyway. What was weird about that?”
In college, David met the woman who would become his wife. He tells me, “I felt that I was gay, that men were my thing, but I really loved her and that was very genuine. I really liked being the husband to the wife. That was very attractive to me.” They were together for 12 years, during which time David wrote for a living and was a foster father, but his wife suffered from mental health disorders and eventually became abusive.
David is very clearly monogamous by nature. He’s been with his current partner, Jim, for 13 years now. They’re very good together, finishing each other’s stories and fondly scolding each other. Jim spends a fair amount of time grooming David. But I’ll tell Jim’s story later. For now, David explains to me that he is gay, not because he doesn’t like women, but because he likes strong women who can kick his ass, and the PTSD makes it hard to have a relationship with such a woman.
Going back to his transition, at 16 he decided that making changes was better than committing suicide. He moved to Washington state as soon as possible and started with a clever plan to change his name and gender. Basically, he slipped through the cracks, something that would not work now. He also started going through the steps to transition. The process was different before 2000 than it is now, but similar. David jokes that the first year on testosterone all you do is eat, sleep, and have sex. T changes your voice, body hair, and things like hips and belly, but not aggression like some people think. For David, it was the first time in his life that he felt like himself. His body is healthier with testosterone.
I ask about body modifications. He says that he would have a mastectomy “in a heartbeat” if he had the ways and means, but FtM genital surgery is, “literally, just not an option for me. I don’t want them messing with my anatomy.” What little research I’ve done on the internet makes me agree with him. It’s difficult to construct a penis. Harder to make sure that urination is possible. Harder yet to make sure that sex is still pleasurable. Metoidioplasty seems like the best of the surgical options from my limited browsing because it leaves the urethra and clitoris in place, but it’s no towering manhood – just 4-10 cm long. Still, it beats what David told me about shoving metal rods into your penis to make it hard. (I’m going to stop making jokes about duct tape and popsicle sticks to bolster a flagging erection.) And as David says, his sex life is healthy with toys and strap-ons, and no one has ever called him out for sitting to pee in a men’s room.
David doesn’t pack (wear a fake cock and balls) any more and no one has seemed to notice. He gets all excited again when he tells me this. Then he goes on to explain to me the traditional way to make your own packer: fill the tips of two condoms with rice, fill a sock with some rice, cut off the sock and roll it, wrap some of the extra sock around, put a nylon over the whole thing for the right feel, safety pin into your underwear. David says that it passes the “feely test.” I’m now fascinated by packing.
Still, I’m horrified by some of the abuse and discrimination David talks about almost casually. Like being hospitalized after a motorcycle accident when he was 23 and having the staff refer to him as “it” because they didn’t know what to do. David now talks with the staff when he is in the ER or going in for surgery. He feels that helping to educate the nurses will make them more compassionate with the next transgender patient they care for. But he also told me about being beaten and raped in a bar for being trans and/or gay and no one doing anything. He seems like he’s come to peace with it, but it makes me angry that no one in the bar did anything to stop it. Even our own government sees transgendered people as a potential threat to security. David tells me that it is not currently possible to get a US passport if you are transgendered.
For all of David’s hardships, he is buoyant. He’s clearly very much in love and enjoys working with animals. He is so happy to be male. Most people don’t find that kind of joy in their gender. David has just always known and has gone after what he needed. He told me at the beginning of the interview that he decided at age three that he would grow up to be a boy. Does he feel totally that he is there? He says, “You know, I do now, and that only really in the past 5 years. Mostly showing my bits to people and having them go, Aaaaaaaugh! They didn’t know I was transgendered. I just got a huge ego hit.”
What would David say to young people who want to transition? “Look around first. Experiment, make sure that’s what you want, not what other people say. That’s bullshit. Don’t listen to that. Try it for one year, really go for it. Seek the right help. Get it done. It’s not going to hurt you. If you find out in a year, ‘Oh, I don’t like this at all,’ you know, what’s the worst that can happen? Maybe you grow some hair or you lose some hair, or you get softer or harder, but even hormone therapy isn’t irreversible. It’s just an alteration like a tattoo or a piercing. Do it.”