My initial session with Julian was comfortably into its second half hour and, to that point in our getting-to-know-you tete-a-tete, the two of us had scarcely scratched the surface of gender identity conflict, an issue very few understand and even fewer experience.
He was the second psychologist, and only the third person, with whom I had shared the secret of my soul.
“What I’m looking at right now,” he said, leaning forward from behind a modest desk, as if to punctuate his comment, “is an attractive, very feminine-looking woman.”
He paused, ever so briefly, staring at me in my pink sweater, black skirt and black tights. I tilted my head every so slightly to the right and delicately swept at a few strands of my long, light-brown hair, whisking them from my face with a wave of my right hand.
“But what,” Julian continued, “are you going to do about your voice?”
My voice? What about my voice? What’s wrong with it? Is it too high? Is it too low? I had not, until that moment, lent thought to my voice, in the sense that it might be a deal-breaker in my male-to-female journey, which had barely just begun.
“I didn’t realize I had to do something about my voice,” I replied, puzzled and somewhat defensive. “My voice is my voice.”
I shrugged. He smiled.
“Good,” he said. “If you’re comfortable with your voice, that’s good. That’s all the really matters.”
We parted shortly thereafter and I gave ponder to our chat.
These sessions, be advised, can be extremely stressful and intimidating. I mean, it is an undressing. You are stripping yourself naked. In front of a stranger. You are peeling back layer after layer after layer of yourself, from the confusion of why you are putting on a dress at eight years of age, to the shame, to the self-doubt, to the guilt, to the self-loathing, to the paranoia, to the insecurities of appearance, to the sometimes crippling fear and beyond.
At the outset, you wonder if you will be taken seriously. Or will you be dismissed as a bit of a nutbar, like Cpl. Klinger on M*A*S*H?
But after that first exchange with Julian, all thoughts led to my voice. No matter his intentions, his remark stuck to my consciousness like the remains of so many bugs on a car windshield. How, I repeatedly asked myself as I made the short drive home and a subsequent stroll to my local eatery/watering hole, can I spend the rest of my life living as a woman if a bloke pops out each time I open my mouth? I was allowing Julian’s issue to be my issue.
When a server arrived to take my order, she was pleasant, as always.
“What can I get you?” she asked with a smile.
I hesitated. It was as if I had just swallowed a mouthful of glue.
“Um,” I stammered, my lips and tongue not prepared to work in agreement, “um…ya, sure, that’d be great.”
As the server walked away, it registered immediately that I had been afraid to speak. I feared my own voice. Oh, the angst…for about five minutes. I quickly realized that she really didn’t give a dang what I sounded like. To my knowledge, nobody did. Why Julian had planted that seed of second-thought in my head remains a mystery to this day, but my voice was an insecurity that had a very, very short life span. I refused to give in to nagging notions about it.
I remember thinking about Lauren Bacall that day so many years ago, how her voice was considered huskily mannish by many yet, at the same time, sultry and oh so sexy. Thanks to the legendary actress, I decided that my voice was, and is, just fine.
It’s no different than the clothing I wear. Or my hair. I like to dress and look nice. I care about my appearance, but not to any degree of obsession. And I don’t dress or wear my hair in a certain style to satisfy the expectations or dictates of others.
Oh, sure, it’s lovely when another woman compliments me on my outfit or tresses. I mean, go ahead. Make my day. But I have a certain style because it’s the style that comes naturally to me, a style that remained hidden in my mind’s closet during all those years of having to wear blue jeans, ball caps and sneakers.
There are those who believe transgender individuals are living in disguise. A masquerade, if you will. That it’s nothing but a con job. Truth is, it’s actually the opposite.
Being transgender isn’t about fooling someone, it’s about being someone.