Around 1 September 1952. 2 min read.
When I returned to town, I was forced to play the gender game. I did not let it influence who I felt I was, only what I would be allowed to express. I never insisted I was a girl, I wouldn't have wanted to be locked into female stereotypes. But I really hated being expected to act like a guy!
My town was a bit unique - most of the residents had been trucked in from the deepest Ozarks. The cement company built a new plant, which opened in 1929 at the beginning of the Great Depression. Their lime plant in Missouri had collapsed with the economy, and they literally went there with open trucks and said, "Who wants a job?" Whole extended families jumped in and were put up in identical rows of company houses. Their kids all knew each other and vastly outnumbered the few management kids, and local Swedish farm refugees like me. "Missourian" was the local "M-word" among the few of us with other origins, but we were very clearly the bullied and excluded minority. I still need to work through the reverse "white privilege" of my formative years.
I remember hearing about Christine Jorgensen having the first "sex change" - via the huge old AM radio in my parents' kitchen - in 1951. It didn't occur to me to connect it to my own feelings, which were not at all about sex, but about social stereotypes. But if anyone had bothered to actually ask me about my "social problem", in second grade or sixth grade or later, I would have explained how disgusted I was by male gender stereotypes, and how I intentionally refused to participate in the rituals that would have gained me social acceptance as a guy.
At the time I couldn't even imagine any scenario where my parents or the school would have allowed me to present female - but given any opportunity I'm sure it would have been a huge improvement. The girls already liked me, and the boys couldn't have been any more hostile than they already were. My girl self was public for Halloween in second grade, and in my junior class play (I was catcalled as "Vivian" for the rest of my time in that backwater town.) But my girl self made all my important life choices, and governed my understanding of the world. My guy self honored and protected her, and tried to avoid the worst male stereotypes. Almost all my close friends have been female, though that became a bit confusing for all of us after puberty.
There was one iconically "queer" guy in town, a year younger than me. He was considered so untouchable the "normal" guys avoided even noticing him. He eventually escaped to San Francisco and was lost in the AIDS crisis. I on the other hand was considered worth teasing - I suppose it was society's way of trying to push me toward traditional male roles. I acquired the nickname "Smiley" by refusing to engage with the harassment - no matter how sad and alone I felt inside.