About Abbie Cohen
I am a recidivist. I should be completing my sentence this fall, but I will have to serve an additional fifteen weeks next spring before the warden signs my official release. Did I get additional time for bad behavior? Nope, I succumbed to the temptation of a new course being offered in Queer Theory, which is appropriate because it was a crisis in gender identity that has kept me bouncing in and out of institutions of higher education over the past thirty-eight years. I am a recidivist because I still cling to the illusion that a liberal arts education can give me the key to understanding my life.
But I should know better by now.
I should have remembered the lesson I learned when I was fifteen years old. After nine years of acting like a model prisoner, nine years of collecting perfect attendance certificates in grade school and making honor roll lists in junior high, I made my first break for freedom by sneaking out of my stepfather’s house in the middle of the night and following the tracks of a spur line across fenced-off sections of farmland until I came to an on-ramp to the Interstate. I had to run away from my hometown in West Texas because I had to find a high school that would let boys grow their hair long. I didn’t understand why back then, but I had to grow my hair long.
I didn’t get far.
I haven’t hung out with trans women much. They used to give me the creeps. I was afraid of seeing in them what I feared cisfolk might see in me. Please don’t attribute mere transphobia to what was a more comprehensive attitude of self-loathing. I felt the same way about attending family reunions. Seeing the same square forehead, hawked nose, buck teeth, and receding chin I had inherited from my grandfather reflected in the faces of my mother, my brother, my sister, our cousins, and their children made me feel like I was walking through a gallery of distortion mirrors in a carnival funhouse.
Please don’t attribute mere transphobia to what was a more comprehensive attitude of self-loathing. I felt the same way about attending family reunions.
But I am not the only trans woman who has avoided close encounters with her own kind. According to the memoirs I have read of trans women such as Jan Morris and Renee Richards, those who were attracted enough to women to have married and fathered children tend to go through their transitions as loners, depending less on the support of their peers and more on that of sympathetic straight women they meet on their journey. It may be different for trans women who initially seek their heart’s desire in gay bars, go through a stage of performing as drag queens, and continue to occupy a niche in male spaces after their transitions. On her reality dating program, Calpernia Addams, whose very name invokes camp, repeatedly stressed her roots in the gay community and rejected one contestant because he was too uptight to dress up as a stripper and dance for her.
I am a transsexual who went the whole nine yards—electrolysis, estrogen, and vaginoplasty—but after sixteen years of living as a woman full-time, I re-transitioned and began living as a man again. What happened? Had I woken up one morning with a sudden realization that I had made a horrible mistake? Or had I always been, to use one of my husband’s favorite expressions, “a nut-job” who didn’t really know what he or she wanted? Not exactly. Let me explain.
I did it for God.
My transition from male to female had been unexceptional. Like most transfolk, I had to figure out why I was so unhappy, break the news to my family, find doctors willing to help me, learn to pass as a woman on the street, change my ID, get a job in my new identity, and save up money for surgery. Although every step had its hurdles, I cleared them all until I tripped over the last one and fell on my face in the dirt. Because my post-op recovery wasn’t coming along as quickly as I had hoped, I became extremely depressed, and to make matters worse, I found out that the last man I had sex with before my surgery had died of AIDS. I asked God, “Even if the test comes back positive, please help me find something that will make the rest of my life meaningful.”
And He did.
“Excuse me, but this is the ladies room.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t see any ladies when I came in.”
It still happens to me occasionally. After thirty years of living as a woman, after all the deportment and elocution lessons, after the hours of electrolysis, after the years of hormone therapy, and even after a radical penectomy, I occasionally get harassed at the bathroom by gatekeepers who seem to have the day off from their jobs as minute men patrolling the borders in Arizona.