This realization didn't happen as a sudden epiphany. No—as with most instances of self-understanding, there were a lot of smaller events that seemed to hint at this larger, more encompassing truth. But the direction that these hints seemed to point to was so frightening and disconcerting that, true as I knew it was, I did everything in my power to shut it down, to deny it, to talk myself out of it and to block it—with drugs, with ill-fated relationships, with isolation, anything that seemed to push that truth from view.

I can remember going to Washington, D.C., while my father was still alive, for the reintroduction to Congress of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. After his congressional session, my dad took me onto the floor of Congress. I remember thinking at that moment how cool it would be to run for office one day. I began to envision my own career in politics and how proud I'd be to serve my country. But then it occurred to me that I'd have to be called a "congresswoman"—and that one word just stopped me short.

I got a little closer to understanding what was going on with me during my first attempt at sobriety. I recall being at an all-lesbian barbecue with some new friends. At the time, I was involved with a woman who was very social (as well as sober) and I was doing my best to expand my own social life, after being so withdrawn. Newly clearheaded, I still found myself two steps removed from the group, observing their interactions, listening to their stories and not as engaged as I could have been. And it occurred to me that day: I am not like any of these women. I'm not a femme lesbian; I'm not a jock lesbian; I'm not even a stone butch, despite my mannish shoes and clothing. I had tried on all these quintessential lesbian identities, but none of them had ever really fit. "No," I thought to myself. "I'm something other, something entirely different."

Over time, it began to dawn on me that though embodied as a female, I was not a woman at all. That despite my breasts, my curves and my female genitalia, inside, I identified as a man. This meant, of course, that I was transgender, literally a man living in a woman's body. I have always felt more comfortable wearing boys'and men's clothes. Without a doubt, as a child I thought of myself as a boy. But the process of coming to terms with the reality that I am in fact transgender was horrific. It upended my entire life.

Most of us grow up with the expectation that the way we view ourselves and experience ourselves will eventually make sense. As young children and adolescents, we muddle along, helped and sometimes hindered by those who raise and care for us. We reach adulthood with varying degrees of self-understanding, hoping that a road map to a happy life will emerge. This process of figuring out our lives is never without challenges to overcome, wrong turns, successes and failures. But when something as basic as the physical body doesn't match the internal view we have in our minds, then there is a searing division within the self. And when the sex of the brain and the sex of the body clash, then the only treatment is some form of transition to the other gender. Without this treatment, in my opinion, lives are never fully lived. In many cases, they are shortened by suicide or self-destructive lifestyles.
©Chaz Bono 2011, reprinted with permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Group U.S.A.


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