"Charity is commendable, everyone should be charitable. But Justice aims to create a social order in which, if individuals choose not to be charitable, people still don't go hungry, unschooled or sick without care. Charity depends on the vicissitudes of whim and personal wealth, justice depends on commitment instead of circumstance.
Faith-based charity provides crumbs from the table; faith-based justice offers a place at the table"
~Bill Moyers

Thursday, December 4, 2008

When did you know you were really a girl?

One of the most frequent questions people ask me is: 'When did you know you were really a girl?' I consider this one to be a valid one, as opposed to the others like 'when did you decided to become a woman?' with variations such as 'chose', 'wanted', etc.

My answer is that it wasn't like that, when I was playing with my cousins and sisters, I somehow was made to realize that I was different, that I wasn't a girl like them, that I was actually a boy, a first-born son and a first-born grandson.

Then the lessons began, till the last time I saw my mother in the summer of 2000, she denied that I ever owned 'trastecitos' (Mexican version of miniature tea sets made of terra cota), but I distinctly remember playing with them alongside my cousins and sisters in a sort of game we used to call 'las comadritas' (The little co-Godmothers), it was my a bit older cousins who started to say that I was the 'compadrito' (Little co-Godfather), I remember that at some time I wasn't allowed to play with the girls anymore.

All of this happened when I was between 2 and 3 years old, I was a very fast learner, I was enrolled in a sort of pre-K when I was around 4 in a small school run by a wonderful retired teacher, she was very good at developing us, gave us attention and engaged us into thinking and conversations.

By then, I knew that I was supposed to be a boy, but I knew that I was different to the other boys, I remember this older boy who used to scream names at me, at the time I didn't know what it was what he said I was, but I knew that it was 'bad' to be what he said I was, I think it roughly translates to 'faggot' (The actual words were 'puto' and 'joto') - I don't know why he called me that, because I didn't behave in any way, that I can remember, to make him think I was one, albeit I didn't know exactly what the words meant at that time, I had already seen how boys got very angry and sometimes fought for being called that, the ones who didn't fight, were ridiculed and excluded from games, whereas the ones who fought and came on top, got respect.

Check! Lesson eventually learned and put into effect by the time I was 7 when I had my first fight and my first victory of the many that were to follow.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, while I was still enrolled in the pre-K class, in an afternoon after a school day, my mother busted me playing with my cousins and sister while wearing high heel shoes, I think they belonged to my still single aunt, my mother walked in on us and said something like: 'oh, how pretty you look, we should put on a dress on you too', I remember the temblor, shiver and wave of excitement that coursed through my entire body, she then went on to tell me that boys do not do that and started chastising me, I don't really remember all that she said, it was blurred by the shame and guilt that was being bestowed upon me and which became part of my life. (There were additional later incidents of this nature, of course)

But the feeling that I was supposed to be girl never left me and wasn't exteriorized under penalty of shame, abuse and scorn if my many true feelings were allowed to surface, nobody knew until I was 51 years old, which is when I told my family and the world, the discrimination, abuse and scorn materialized almost immediately, in San Francisco of all places.

My father was a bracero and every summer he would travel all the way to California to work on the fields, laboring in ranchos around San Jose, Stockton, Manteca and other areas, every fall on his return from 'El Norte', he would bring us toys, boy stuff for me and dolls for the girls, I remember one year he brought me two silver guns, you know, the ones with caps which detonate when struck by the hammer, they came with a brand new leather gun belt for them decorated with big diamond like plastic things, I remember having it in my hands while looking forlornly at my sisters' dolls, they were the kind that closed their eyes when you lay them down and could say like something like 'mmmmmmaaaaaa', I wanted so much to also get a doll, I only put on the gun belt in the occasions when I was pressured to do it and show them off, they just got old in the crate where mom put them, the last time I remember seeing them, the leather had gotten brownish and there was mold in it, I guess that eventually they were thrown out.

In retrospect I surmise that my father, uncles and grandfather, were advised to instruct me in doing 'boy stuff', regularly catching me when my hands moved in a 'certain way' by telling me that boys didn't move their hands that way, this impulse never left me but I learned to grab my left hand with my right when I caught myself unconsciously doing it, and when classmates were the ones catching me, well, I had learned the lesson on how the 'Law' must be upheld by teaching the offending boy, that it wasn't a good idea to mess with me.

I was attracted to some boys and terrified they could guess that I liked them as a girl likes boys, I knew how queer looking boys were treated, so it is easy to understand my terror of them finding out that I wasn't really a 'puto' or a 'joto', which was very scary in and by itself, but that I actually thought that I was a girl, in seeing how they mistreated boys who were different, it isn't really difficult to imagine the dread I felt were they to find out that I felt I was a girl, this feeling came together with shame, guilt and a tremendous confusion as to why I thought that, I thought that I was really crazy, for, how could it be otherwise?

I didn't know what I was and I always thought that I was the only one with this horrifying crazy feeling, it was not until I was close to 12, while visiting my maternal grandparents in a nearby town, that I came across a magazine, one of the many subscriptions that my uncle, the town's Catholic Priest, oh yeah, in my family there were priests and nuns, a very Catholic family, as I was saying, he had subscriptions to magazines in Spanish of Life, Reader's Digest, Popular Science and Popular Mechanics among others, I read them all, one of my early addictions was reading, it was around 1958 (I was born in 1947), well, this particular day, I think I was reading Life, when I came across the story of this French Woman who had transitioned from a man, oh God, she looked so beautiful, but most important, I was reading how she felt all along that she was really a woman, I was enthralled reading the story, for the very first time in my life, I learned that I was not the only one who felt that way, I think it was in the same article that it mentioned another one who had also transitioned and had surgery to change her sex.

So immersed was I in reading and re-reading about these girls - besides learning that I wasn't the only one, I learned what I was, I was a transsexual, I must be one, I could relate to everything of what they said how they felt all of their lives - that the voice of my grandfather startled me when he asked forcefully 'what are you reading?', I said, 'nothing' and tried to close the magazine and put it away, he took it from my hands and his next words were 'Coccinelli eh?' he then went on to say 'cochinadas' while walking away with the magazine that I never saw again, the word was thrown out at me, or maybe it was at Coccinelli, with a tone of utter disgust.

Yes, I was reading about Coccinelli and Christine Jorgensen, you have to understand why the play of words my grandfather used by saying 'cochinadas', had the impact it had on me, I felt my heart sink to the pit of my stomach and my true essence, what many years later I figured out it was my female soul, was pushed deep down in my consciousness where it stayed for many, many years.
(In some parts of Mexico, we refer to pigs as 'cochinos' (Swine), when somebody is really dirty, really filthy, people would say 'you are a cochino' - It didn't matter if he was referring to me, or to Coccinelli, it didn't make a difference, I was the same 'thing' that she was, una 'cochinada' (A filthy something))

Maybe I had some mannerisms, countless times I was told 'boys don't talk like that', Referring to my hands gestures, to this day, I still use my hands a lot when I talk, but now I don't stop myself by holding my hands back, as I did growing up and as an adult, I was terrified of being 'discovered', also the reminders of 'boys don't walk like that' (I had a little hip sway) and the perennial 'boys don't cry', so I didn't cry for the next 40 or so years while a learned how to be a 'man'.

And learn to be a 'man' I did, I fulfilled my 'manly responsibilities' of first son and first grandson, I did marry and had children, it wasn't until I was 51, with a failed marriage, a divorce and a decision to end it all; I had come to the conclusion that it was better for all involved, specially me, if I were to be dead, so a choice was made. (Subsequently, a pro-life choice was made)

That was in the winter of 1997 and no, I didn't end my life as this words attest to, why not? Well, I don't think that part of my life belongs in this narrative, to tell you the truth, I didn't start with the idea or had the desire to write about myself today, but it just happens that I came across articles about Christina and Coccinelli and read them, something prompted me to reminisce about my past and write about it.
(On Dec. 1st, 1952, Christine's transition became National News, after reading the post about her, published Dec. 1st, 2008, I looked up Coccinelli and read about her again as well)

So there it is, if you didn't know who the two brave pioneering transgender women I talked about were, here is a little bit about them and see what I saw when I was not even 12 years old and when finally I learned what I really was.
(In the Magazine spread, there was a picture of Coccinelli, languidly half laying in a bed with white sheets and I think to remember there were also some pelts)

Aurora Grajeda
SFCA 100408

At another time, I'll tell you of reading somewhere about a British Fighter Pilot who fought in World War II and who also......


Born Jacques Charles Dufresnoy in 1931 (Paris France), he went on to reinvent himself as Coccinelle (means Ladybird in French) as a female impersonator appearing at the famous Travesti club Madam Arthurs.

She later became a regular at Le Carrousel de Paris, a cabaret that would feature other famous transsexuals like April Ashley and Amanda Lear through the years.

Unfulfilled in simply dressing as a woman, Coccinelle under went sex reassignment surgery in 1958 in Casablanca, recieving a vaginoplasty by Dr. Georges Burou. She was later granted legal status as a woman in 1961.

She recorded "Love Me Or Leave Me" in 1959, and appeared in six films, including the 1959 film "Europa di notte", the 1962 film "Los Viciosos" and the 1968 film "Días de Viejo Color".

After her sex reassignment surgery Coccinelle was a media sensation. She was the first French transsexual woman to become a major star, when Bruno Coquatrix put her name in big red letter on the marquis of the Paris Olympia for her 1963 revue "Cherchez la Femme."

It was said that she loved to cook for her and her husband Francis, and host dinner parties for famous friends from the US or the French theater. And later in life she became an advocate for transgender people, founding Devenir Femme, an organization designed to provide emotional and practical support for those seeking sexual reassignment surgery. She also helped establish the Center for Aid, Research, and Information for Transsexuality and Gender Identity.

Even in marrage -- there were three -- she broke new ground: her first marriage was the first transsexual union to be officially acknowledged by the state of France, establishing transgendered persons' legal right in that country to marry.

Her biography Reverse Sex was published in 1962, and her 1987 autobiography Coccinelle was published by Daniel Filipach. Coccinelle died in October 2006, three months after sufferng a stroke. VIEW THE PHOTO GALLERY

Dec. 1, 1952: Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty

By Tony Long

This 1975 triptych shows Christine Jorgensen when she was known as George in 1943, in 1952 immediately after her historic sex change, and in 1975 when she was nearing age 50. The center photo is the one she sent her parents in 1952, in a letter explaining the transformation. Jorgensen died in 1989.
Image: Bettmann/Corbis

1952: It's front-page news when George Jorgensen Jr. is reborn as Christine Jorgensen, gaining international celebrity and notoriety as the first widely known person to undergo a successful sex-change operation.

Jorgensen, who grew up in the Bronx, in her words, a "frail, tow-headed, introverted little boy who ran from fistfights and rough-and-tumble games," was drafted into the Army just after World War II. Military service only reinforced Jorgensen's belief that she was, in fact, A woman trapped in a man's body

After receiving her discharge, Jorgensen returned home and first heard about "sex-reassignment surgery," which was being performed only in Sweden. (It was illegal almost everywhere else, including the United States.)

Encouraged, Jorgensen began taking female hormones on her own, then headed for Sweden. She never made it. Stopping in Denmark to visit relatives in Copenhagen, Jorgensen was introduced to Christian Hamburger, a Danish surgeon who specialized in the kind of surgery she was seeking. He agreed to take the case and put his patient on hormone-replacement therapy as they prepared for surgery.

Several surgeries were required, the first one consisting of castration, which was only carried out after permission was obtained from the Danish minister of justice.

At the time of Jorgensen's transformation, Hamburger did not give her an artificial vagina, so she remained "anatomically incorrect" for several years before undergoing a vaginoplasty in the United States.

The hormone therapy resulted in profound changes to Jorgensen's body. Fat was redistributed, and she began to take on the contours of a woman. Subsequent surgeries completed the process until she was ready to step into the spotlight.

Jorgensen's sex change, which may have been leaked to the press by Jorgensen herself, hit the headlines Dec. 1, creating an international sensation. "Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty" screamed the banner of Jorgensen's hometown New York Daily News.

In fact, Jorgensen was not the first person to undergo sex-reassignment surgery. During the rollicking Weimar period, German doctors performed the surgery on at least two patients. The difference, in Jorgensen's case, was that she underwent hormone-replacement therapy in conjunction with the surgery. The earlier surgeries were strictly cut-and-paste.

Although Jorgensen complained frequently about the jackals of the press, she did become something of a publicity hound and took most of the tasteless remarks with good grace, laughing off jokes such as, "Christine Jorgensen went abroad and came back a broad."

She turned to acting and became a nightclub singer as well, performing, predictably, "I Enjoy Being a Girl."

But Christine Jorgensen's world was not an enlightened one, particularly when it came to transgenderism. She paid the cost for this lack of sophistication. A first announced engagement fell through, and a second one failed as well, when the state of New York refused to issue the couple a marriage license. Her intended husband also lost his job when the marriage plans became known.

She later traveled the lecture circuit, talking about her experiences and advocating for the nascent transgender cause.

Jorgensen died of cancer in 1989, a few weeks short of age 63.

Source: Various

a woman trapped inside a man's body.

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