A Case of Self-discrimination
Julie Peters has discovered that the person who caused her the most angst over her transgenderism was herself
We lived about five meters from the Rubicon River and unlike Julius Caesar who crossed the Rubicon once; we had to cross the Rubicon whenever we left the house. This seemed to set the pattern of my life so I've adopted the Rubicon as my river totem.
We moved to Port Melbourne when I was very young. I was a deliciously happy child until someone told me I wasn't a girl; I just thought they were being mean. Well at least I knew I'd grow up to be a lady; but then my mum told me I'd grow up to be a man. But WHY? ... because! Why because? ... I dropped out at seven, it felt like my life was over. I didn't believe what the adults around me told me; and I felt powerless compared to them. I knew I wasn't slugs and snails and puppy dog's tails; I was sugar and spice and all things nice.
But the adults couldn't stop me dreaming and I enjoyed these dreams so much that I spent most of my primary school days day-dreaming. The dreams were about women and girls dressing me as a girl and welcoming me. If I liked a dream I drempt it again and again. At that age I wasn't aware there was a biological difference between men and women and I saw gender as a mean and arbitrary imposition.
On the rare occasions when I was allowed to cross dress I said no. When I was in the cubs (1st Broadmeadows) they had decided to do a nativity play and one of us boys had to dress up as a girl; well not just any girl but the `Virgin Mary'; I was desperate to be the Virgin Mary but I knew it was only OK for boys to dress as girls as long as they didn't enjoy it and as long as they sent girls up. But I knew if I did dress as the Virgin I just couldn't hide my joy and that was just so dangerous and so I did everything I could to get out of it and I did.
Overall I enjoyed primary school even though I did very badly with my studies; they seemed easy and unimportant. I was thrown into a thistle bush by some big kids from the Graham St Primary. Kids didn't pick on me because they didn't notice me. I put so much of my energy into not being noticed; I learnt how to blend in; and it worked; I showed none of my personality - it was far too dangerous - and no one bothered me. There was one expection that happened in grade five; there was a new boy at our school; he didn't know that everyone left me alone and he decided to belt me up so he could show how tough he was and become class bully. I didn't like being noticed like this but I had to deal with it; it was fists and wrestling; so I fought him; everyone hated him and very soon we were surrounded by what seemed hundreds of kids all cheering for me; I beat him and destroyed his chances of ever becoming class bully; the class thanked me and let me disappear again.
In year seven, 1963, reality hit me in the face. We had moved back to Port Melbourne and I was sent to the local Christian Brothers' school, Mt Carmel in Middle Park. I was in all male environment. My father wanted me to be a priest and I became an altar boy.
I wanted my mother, father and my brothers and sisters to love me; I felt my mother did; I was the eldest and I was very scared what my brothers would think and I knew what to say to get approving words from my father. I tried to become what my father wanted. I felt guilty about my dreams. But I knew I wouldn't have to conform as a normal male if I became a priest. For a start I could wear all those satins and silks and long dresses and everyone would approve. As an altar boy I felt so good in my long brown dress and cute white lacy top; they called it a surplice and soutane. I could easily see my self as a priest, a high status job where I got to dress up and perform in front of an audience.
At about the same time I realised I was about the same size as my mother; so I started to dress up in her clothes when she was out; I loved it; but then I felt so guilty; I was caught out a couple of times; my father wanted me to `grow up and be a man'; for a week he insisted I watch the `footy on the telly'. As if that would butch me up? I bought my own clothes; but, guilt ridden, thrice I threw away all my girl clothes and swore never to dress as a girl every again. And when I said it for the third time I lasted about 5 years.
This period of denial, from about 15 to 21, was the saddest and most stressed period of my life. I just couldn't reconcile my male body post puberty, my desperate urge to be female, my belief there was no solution, the catholic pressure, my severe guilt, my brothers wanting a `manly' elder brother and the immense social pressure to be masculine. I went through periods of manically working at school, periods of total inaction, watching television in a trance, sitting up in trees, riding my bicycle for hours and hours, walking by the beach, sitting on Hook Pier during wild storms. I started an Engineering degree at 17. I couldn't focus. I tried to fit in; to drink; I was sick; I knew I didn't fit in; I joined every club I could; I studied Engineering so I didn't have to face how I felt; but whenever I stopped for even a split second the wanting-to-be-a-woman thoughts came back. I was not really functioning very well; I was just keeping my head above water; I couldn't shave I just couldn't look in a mirror; I wasn't even brushing my teeth; I started to go to the psychology lectures; I needed some answers; a women I knew from the film society said she thought men who had beards were hiding something yes I said I agree she looked shocked; inside I was screaming but couldn't express even the simplest feeling; Catholicism was twisting my mind; get away; I quit engineering; study psychology; I needed to find out how to fix myself I couldn't tell anyone they'd think I was a weird sicko freak; of course I failed psyc; I totally missed the point; get a job can't cope with the pressure of uni; I worked backstage at uni; that's it work in theatre; television will do.
As soon as I could afford it I left home. I wasn't really doing very well in television. They were only getting about 2 percent of my energy. Not doing well increased my stress. Drinking helped me forget; drive fast you might have an accident and then bliss; it would all be over; no more blinding stress. I was fighting my dreams. I ran off the road ... drunk; I got home; went to bed; the room was spining; I was in a constant nightmare day and night.
But fortunately I still had some of `the exuberant child' left in me and started to dream again; and I loved those dreams so much that I dreamed to make my dreams come true.
I knew the solution.
I needed to be a woman. But I can't. I'm male! I hate my maleness! Why! Half the people of the world are female! why not me?
I decided to stop drinking, and did so for ten years. I decided to give in to the urge to dress as a woman. And to never say that I'll never do it again. I sold my car; I was too dangerous and suicidal a driver. I shaved off my beard and was very disappointed with how I looked. I got a place of my own so I could dress up at home without flatmates bothering me. On my days off I dressed in a way that expressed my spirit.
I found it very difficult when I didn't pass; people pointing and laughing. I wanted to be a woman and not a transsexual. I started taking hormones; I loved the effects they had; but they meant I couldn't pass as male because my breasts were too big and I couldn't pass as female because of my facial hair; I couldn't cope with this stress.
I was slowly crawling my way out of the depths of my despair. I read and started to make friends. I did electrolysis and courses in dress and makeup and dressed-up in all my spare time. I waxed my face and arms and legs and chest; I wanted to be a model woman. I knew it was crap but it was what I wanted. As a male I was androgynous. I needed to know more; I did a Science degree in genetics. I knew a lot about television and was in charge of crews. I was now giving work 20 percent and doing very well. It took me a long time to work through so many issues.
I finished my genetics degree in 1984 and started to study acting. I was terrible. I was petrified to express an emotion least my transgender slip out. I persisted. I reasoned that, for me, acting was about getting my head and heart talking to each other again. Very gradually I started to have emotions again. And then the torrent was released. I had very effectivly hidden from myself how I felt; Now I could clearly see my spirit would be in turmoil until I was a woman.
I knew this made no logical sense; it was a matter of the heart and the heart could not be convinced of by a system as limited as logic. My head could see my heart was bleeding and knew the only way to hold head and heart together was to follow my heart. The time was right; it was 1990 and I was 39.
Publically changing gender is a stressful time and so I wanted some stability and so I decided to stay in the same job, at the ABC. So I came out to 700 people. Of course most of the men there found this extremely stressful and let me know; but in the end I decided that it was worth it. One thing I did find out very quickly was that people now expected me to conform to a different set of stereotypes eg weight and beauty; at least this time I already had strategies for dealing with this sort of crap. I dealt with these people's problems and pressures to conform and was much stronger for it.
As the eldest of nine children, I found the changing relationships within the family to be some of the most difficult to deal with. There were extreme reactions; when I told one of my brothers what I was doing he went very quite for a few seconds and then asked if he could have my male clothes. One brother didn't speak to me for many years. My father went and saw his priest. Mum didn't want me to do it but she has seen how much happier I am and we are good friends. My sisters thought it strange at the time but now they rarely seem to even think of it.
I had THE operation in 1992. My head kept telling me that it was stupid to have the operation. My head kept telling me that it wouldn't really make me a woman. But my heart said `I don't care; it's what I need to do to grow'. And I thought `What have I got to loose?' $-$ `just a piece of skin that boys think is important'. And of course what boys think is important was of little consequence to me. When I saw myself naked post-operatively I had a rush of joy the like of which I couldn't remember. Heart said to head; `I told you it was the right thing to do' Head trying to save face; `Happiness isn't everything'.
About three months after the operation I started to feel depressed; it wasn't about the surgery; I didn't expect all my problems to be solved by the operation; but what then? Eventually I realised; all my life I wanted to be a woman and now that I was culturally a woman I had no direction in life, no goals. I felt directionless. But what to do with the rest of my life?
One thing I did know -- was that I wanted to follow my passions and not just do what I thought -- other people thought I should do.
I came out to thousands of people in the gay press in `94 when a transsexual was forced to leave the `lesbian confest'. And I came out to millions of people in `96 when I stood for the Democrats for the seat of `Batman'.
I became involved in politics because I still dream; I dream of a better world. And my transgender experience has taught me that you can make your dreams come true. So I will.
I left the ABC and bought a paddock with my redundancy money; it's near my river and mountain; I'm going to plant trees. I'm going to write. And I'm going to be political; I've put together a slide show to show people what it's like to be a tomboy transsexual. And I'm never going to grow up.
© Copyright Julie Peters 1999