In my last post, I mentioned that I wanted to be an adult from a young age, probably as far back as four years old. I want to look at the idea in greater depth as it relates to identity.
I cannot say for certain why I felt that way. Nor do I know how common this is. The best I can do is guess, based on other things I know about myself from the perspective of having lived for many years.
My parents only gave me glimpses of the adult world. Like many young children, I was shielded from knowledge of sex, financial concerns, funerals, and the other challenges or responsibilities of being an adult in the lower middle class of society. But by that age, I was able to see that adults had more freedom to do what they wanted. No one was telling them when to go to bed, what to eat, what to wear, what to buy, what television programs to watch and so on. It doesn’t matter that I knew very little about the restrictions on the lives of my parents and the other adults in my life. My opinions, beliefs and desires were being formed by the slice of the world I was coming to know.
Another possible reason is that I saw childhood holding me back. That is very ironic, for if I am honest with myself, I would have to admit to being an underachiever in life. Are the two related? Were fires that were burning hot at a young age unwittingly quenched and never fully reignited? Perhaps, although there were times here and there that I did strike out in new directions in life and career. That was very different than the rest of my immediate family members, who had lifelong jobs and long term marital relationships.
There is yet another difference between me and the rest of my family. While they all believed in God, spiritual matters had a far greater importance for me. I did a lot of searching for spiritual truth throughout my life. The source of my Christian identity is not based on a belief that was instilled in early childhood and rarely questioned for the rest of my life. Rather it came out of a cauldron of exploration, looking for truth in oriental religions and philosophies, Unitarian Universalism, New Age teachings (Shirley MacLaine, et al), and other ideas that came from movements such as Scientology, est, Eckankar and so on.
Some of that exploration continued even while I was serving as an officer (trustee or elder) in a Protestant church. It was only after I was saved at the age of 36 that I soon confined my exploration to the Bible (and began to read it from cover to cover). Since that age, I was active in church and Christian ministry to a far greater extent than anyone in my immediate family. And that has continued even after transition.
Bringing the topic back to my childhood, once I began school, I could tell that I was advanced beyond my classmates. In first grade, when the other children were sounding out word by word, I could read the whole sentence smoothly, all the way through.
Science was not the strong suit for my favorite teacher (the second half of third grade and all of fourth grade). On a few occasions, another student would ask her a question during the science lesson and she didn’t know the answer. She would ask me in front of the rest of the class. Usually I knew and the rest of the time I had an educated guess.
And then there was the influence of sports. In my last post, I shared that playing sports was a big part of my life. Reading the sports section and being a fan was a big part of it also. I would say that it was the number one motivation for me to learn to read. Through sports I learned geography and arithmetic. By the time I reached kindergarten, I could add a column of 10 two-digit numbers (corresponding to the points scored and allowed by a college football team during their season).
Around the time I started school, definitely by the time I was in second grade, I had little interest in anything that I considered “kid stuff”. I disdained Dr. Seuss. What were other popular children’s books at that time? Babar? I don’t even remember, that is how disconnected I am from it. I felt the same way about Mary Poppins, even though I love Julie Andrews and I admired the work of Dick Van Dyke in anything else I have watched him in.
If it was aimed at kids, it had to be aimed at older kids (like comic books or shows like Superman and Sky King). Regarding television cartoons, my interest turned to those that I could tell had two levels of humor, one level aimed at adults. Even if I didn’t get all the adult-oriented references in Looney Tunes (e.g., Daffy Duck starring in The Scarlet Pumpernickel) and Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends (Mr. Peabody here with my pet boy Sherman), I knew they were in there and that’s what counted. (A side benefit was that raw carrots were one of the first vegetables I would actually ask for.)
As far as books, I began to raid my brother’s book shelves and then my parents’. When my brother reached high school and started bringing home books from English class, I would be right behind him, reading novels like A Bell for Adano and The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
Two memories especially stick out, in part because they were noteworthy to the adults who were important to me. My favorite teacher was getting her Master’s Degree at Columbia Teachers College when I was in fourth grade. One Saturday, she took me with her so I would have my first exposure to a college campus. One of her stops was the library. She let me roam the stacks while she gathered the books she needed for her assignments. She found me near the chemistry section talking about science with one of the college students as if we were contemporaries.
The other involves a childless couple who lived across the street from us after we moved to the suburbs. I enjoyed discussing current events and politics with them, especially Mrs. V., and would find my way over there from time to time, starting when I was in junior high. They had a screened-in porch, and I can remember conversations after dinner that lasted through dusk and into darkness until I had to go home to go to bed. We were so interested in our discussion that they wouldn’t bother to turn the light on. One time, Mrs. V. told my mother that because she couldn’t see me, after a while she would forget that she was talking with a child. Then I would say something that would show my ignorance or immaturity and it would jog her memory that I was only 12 years old.
What is the point of all this besides letting you know what a wonderfully precocious child I was? Simply this: I wanted to be an adult. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t, but I wanted to be one ahead of my time. Eventually, time took care of that and I became one.
In contrast, one day when I was seven years old, I had an epiphany where I suddenly considered my gender for the first time and knew I was female. At that age, I might not have had all the language to express it. And if I tell you that at some point I prayed to become a girl (i.e., to wake up the next morning and be a girl), I meant physically and that I would be recognized as a girl by the people in my life.
I didn’t have to want to become a girl mentally. I already knew it was so. From then on, much of my life alternated between exploring how to manifest it or denying it and trying to “fix” it. Nothing, not salvation or marriage or immersion in male-oriented jobs, hobbies and ministries, nothing took that identity away.
One of my closest female friends prior to my transition objected to what I was doing. She had three reasons. She claims that it is contrary to the Bible and that a person cannot really know at such a young age. I am addressing those claims in this blog. Her third reason was that she had some gender conflict as a child and claims to have been delivered from it.
She told me that before her teen years, she wanted to be a boy and thought she should have been born a boy. The important thing to understand (and what she could not see) is that by saying you want to be something and should have been something, you are affirming the very fact that you are not currently that thing. It is very different from knowing with certainty that you indeed are that thing. The bottom line is that in my own heart, I know with certainty that mentally I am female.
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. – Hebrews 5:12-14