My Poor Mother: Dichotomy of a Denomination
My mother grew up as a pretty, pretty princess. She wasn’t the obnoxious, bratty princess, but rather the daughter that every father dreams of having. Even as a toddler, my mother was such a proper little lady: always in an appropriate dress with stockings and carrying a small version of a woman’s purse. Tea parties with her dollies and fancy china set were common, and etiquette was always a priority. She had dreams of marrying her own handsome ‘prince’ and having a daughter who she could dress up in frilly, pink outfits, brush her long hair, and have little tea parties with her. How happy she was when the doctor told her and my father that in May, when all the pretty flowers bloom, they would be having a little girl….Then I came along. (I say that last line with great pride, a giant smile on my face, and deviance in my eyes, as well as a tiny bit of guilt for my poor mother.)
Everything in my room was pink, and whatever dolls weren’t filling up my crib were lined around the walls. My mother would take me to my paternal grandmother’s house every day to dress me in a wide assortment of dresses and take pictures. Everything was perfect for her. Well, it was perfect until my little baby brain began associating colors with gender. I didn’t want to wear light, feminine colors like my mother wore. My father always had dark color clothing like blue, green, and black, which was what I had wanted to wear. So, around the age of eighteen months, I began throwing temper-tantrums if my mother put me in a dress or anything light colored until she changed me into something more masculine or gender neutral. It was at approximately this time that my secretly gay uncle hypothesized to himself that I would be taking a girl to the prom.
Later on, I developed my first crush on the girl next door to my maternal grandparents’ house. Her name was Brandi, which I thought was adorable spelled with an ‘i’. She had beautiful blue eyes and long blonde hair. Her smile just lit up my world. She was four-years-old. I was three. (I continued to always have a thing for older women.) During the winter, she would always bring her little dolls over and we would give them rides on my favorite collection of Hotwheels cars. (Those cars used to be my brother’s until he mysteriously ‘lost’ them.) During the summer, she would sit outside while I performed tricks on my tricycle and rolled my sleeves into a muscle shirt to show off my ‘manly physique’. Oh, those were the fun days.
One of those summer days in particular, my grandmother called me in for the usual peanut butter and jelly lunch. She had made an extra sandwich and asked me, “Isn’t your girlfriend coming over?” Back then, I didn’t realize that women, especially in my grandmother’s generation, referred to their female friends as ‘girlfriends’. I had thought the term was only used to describe a member in a romantic relationship. So, being the typical little boy in denial of his feelings for a girl, my face got beat red as I informed her, “She’s not my girlfriend, grandma!” and ran off to the backroom to hide for the rest of the day. Since that moment, I have wondered if my grandmother knew I liked women. Brandi was in the picture for most of my very early life until she broke my heart when I was seven by telling me that she was moving to another town.
Shortly after, I became close with Melissa, the girl next door to my parents’ house. Melissa, my brother, and I used play our favorite game: Power Rangers. My brother was the Blue Ranger (Billy), and Melissa was the Pink Ranger (Kimberly). Of course, I was the Green Ranger (Tommy) because he was the coolest, the toughest, and the most handsome, and I wanted to be just like him. In the show, Tommy won the affections of Kimberly. I wasn’t attracted to Melissa, but I used her and the situation to develop a prime value: chivalry. My parents weren’t going to teach their little girl how to be man, so I had to teach myself from the cues of Tommy and use them on Melissa. After a while, I began thinking of chivalrous actions on my own. It was perfect because I could always use the excuse that I was just playing the Power Rangers game, and that’s what the characters did in the show. I began learning how to be a gentleman by holding the door and doing sweet little things like picking flowers from the park and giving them to her.
There was one time in specific that I gave her one of my ‘bouquets’ that became very significant. After I handed them to her, she said, “Thank you, Lauren.” Then it struck me. Despite what everyone else thought, I knew that I was a boy. I felt like a boy, I played like a boy, and now I was treating girls like a boy. I needed a boy’s name. Without thinking it through thoroughly, I ran inside to where my mother was doing laundry. Looking her dead in the eye, I said, “Mom, I don’t want to be called Lauren anymore. I want everyone to start calling me Ryan.” After spending a good twenty long seconds of silence while my mother gave me the ‘deer in headlights’ look, I realized that it probably wasn’t the best thing to say to her, so I ran back outside, and it was never spoken of again. I’m quite sure that it was at this moment that my mother realized I wasn’t just a tomboy. I was different, very different.
My mother stopped giving me dolls every Christmas in the hopes that I would want to play with them one day. Those presents were replaced with footballs, Batman toys, and my own set of Hotwheels. I started Martial Arts so I could fight like Tommy, and that was followed by joining a basketball team and a softball league. I really wanted to play hockey and football, but that’s where my mother drew the line. During the summer, I would go to work with my father, who was a plumber. I became engrossed with construction and manual labor. The guys on the jobsites and my father were all idols to me. I hoped that one day I could be one of them. I quickly started becoming the typical sport-loving boy who wanted to be like his dad and a chip off the old block.
My body started changing, too. I started developing muscles and got really excited when my voice slightly deepened as a laryngeal prominence began appearing on my neck. I thought that by the time I was an adult, I would develop into being a physical man. I started working out and trained like a Marine in Martial Arts because I thought it would help my mind and body develop into a man’s mind and body. However, the world came to an abrupt end a couple months before high school when I reached puberty. I was crushed.
Throughout my athletic era, my father became involved in everything I did and even played football with me since my mother wouldn’t let me join a team. I’m not saying that he isn’t intelligent, but it does take a little more time and effort for the mice in his head to get the wheel turning. My mother knew when I was seven. My father became suspicious when I was nineteen. It took a lot of cross-dressing and a constant playing of a music playlist that I titled ‘Gay Songs’. He started getting the hint and did something that I thought was really cute. The song Dear Mr. President by P!nk was on and after the line “What kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay?” played, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Any father that would hate his daughter for being gay is a horrible father.” I became very nervous, so I shook my head in agreement and let it go.
About a week later, he stopped me as I was on my way to school. He was trying so hard to be polite, and he always has a tendency to try to sound a little more sophisticated than necessary. I really feel like he should’ve been sitting in a therapist’s chair, wearing a monocle and a top hat while stroking a long beard when he asked in a deepened voice, “Have you—ever thought about—your—-sexual orientation?” Up until that point, I had never thought it was possible to be stricken with such terror while wanting to burst out laughing hysterically at the same time. I finally let out, “Yes dad, I’m gay.” Unfortunately, he still thinks it’s a phase.
At that time, I used the word gay because I didn’t know there was such a thing as being transgendered. Coming from a Catholic household, I was sheltered from many things including cursing, arguing, drinking, partying, and sexual topics. It was like living on Sesame Street. I had only learned that a gay community existed when I was thirteen because my Catholic school wanted to protest the political topic of gay marriage. Although I was able to mildly associate with gays, I didn’t really fit in that group either. Yes, I was a girl who preferred girls, but I didn’t identify as a girl. It wasn’t until I turned twenty that I discovered the trans-community.
When I turned twenty-one, I moved an hour and a half north from my parents. It was the perfect opportunity to develop my personality. The name Eric would have been my name if I was physically born a boy, and the name Ryan was the name I had chosen for myself. I put the two together, and my new identity became Eric Ryan. I lived in a new home, a new community, and had a new life. I began making plans on the possibility of a mastectomy. I did research on bottom surgery, and I just could not bring myself into undergoing a surgery that hasn’t been performed often. The reviews I read were pretty negative, and they scared me away from the thought of that surgery. Depression started taking over because I thought I would never get to be the man I felt I was. After many long meditations, I decided to try to embrace my female body. At first, I despised it. I had a very hard time with the feminine look. After many attempts, I finally got used to it, and then I started liking it.
Gender fluidity became my new identification. I don’t fall into either polar gender, and I don’t identify as either one unless I dress in a polar fashion. If I’m in a dress, I’m a girl. If I have facial hair, I’m Eric Ryan. Usually, I’m somewhere between, but typically closer to the male pole. Living gender-fluid is amazing because I don’t have to confine myself to societal rules and guidelines. I can be who I want, when I want, and how I want with the sole definition of being ‘me’.
© Lauren Dobo/Eric Ryan for Acceptance Revolution, 2013
Interested in sharing your own experience? Click here for details!