by Sarah Anne
Scared. Short. Scared. Chubby. Scared. Shy. Scared. Not athletic. Shamed. Did I remember to mention to you that I was scared?
It was the mid-1960s. Girls still wore skirts or dresses to school with knee socks or stockings. Boys wore trousers—never jeans! I was in high school.
I had always been a decent student, academically. I excelled at History and English. I was pretty good at math. Science was my nemesis. I always liked (and did well in) band and orchestra. But gym class terrified me.
The class itself was unpleasant, but the locker room where we had to go before and after was a place of sheer terror. Changing my clothes in front of others made me anxious, and the experience was bad enough; but the feelings I had about the communal shower were in their own league. Even just thinking about taking a shower next to all the other guys filled me with unimaginable fear.
Why was I scared? Sure, I didn’t feel great about being short and chubby, and surrounded by several “stud athlete” types, many of whom often felt compelled to strut around the locker room naked. But the fact that I may have felt less attractive than my taller and more muscular peers wasn’t the problem. I wasn’t just insecure. I was in the wrong locker room.
During study hall, I usually got a pass from the band director to come rehearse in one of the soundproof practice rooms. I did this because I genuinely wanted to. I loved music. But it occurred to me one day that the band director never checked my pass: I had possibly found a way to avoid gym, and more importantly, my locker room terror.
Soon thereafter, I found myself asking the band director for a pass to come practice during study hall—except I was coming from gym instead. Lo and behold, he gave me the pass, and I was free. As a committed rule follower, I felt a great deal of self-judgment about my decision; at the same time, I was ecstatic about my newfound ability to get out of gym. One skipped class turned into another, and I ended up skipping gym for most of a semester. That is, until one day a friend of my brother told me, “The gym teacher is looking for you; he says you’ve been skipping class.”
I was busted. My response to getting caught? I began being “sick” on any and all days when I had gym class. After much wrangling and negotiation with the school, I received a doctor’s note and was excused from gym class. I was forced to meet with the school psychologist, who asked me tons of questions, and I always responded with silence. The reality was that I simply did not know what to say. I didn’t know what my intense aversion was about. I didn’t know the word “transgender.”
I did know that I was a crossdresser—but I didn’t know what that meant about anything deeper. I was aware that I felt tremendous guilt every time I crossdressed. But my feelings of shame about the locker room were a mystery. They were overwhelming and acute, but I couldn’t tether them to a source.
Over the subsequent years, I came to really dislike high school—though I survived and graduated. I went to college and ultimately became a very successful high school history teacher. Throughout my adult years, I have continued crossdressing in the privacy of my home, with occasional forays in the outside world as the woman that I am.
I began counseling in the mid-1990s mostly to deal with grief issues. (My father died when I was 5 years old, just before I began kindergarten.) By my second year I told my counselor that I was a crossdresser. I asked one day if I could come dressed. She told me to bring clothes and change in a bathroom that adjoined her office. I did this for a couple of years, and she believed that I was a male who enjoyed wearing women's clothing. At one time, I asked her about coming already dressed. She was uncomfortable with that. After awhile I felt like I was not making progress and stopped going.
It was the winter of 2014 when I decided I needed to go back to counseling. This time I "knew" I needed a counselor who specialized in gender identity issues. There was no precise moment when I figured this out, but my need to present as female was getting stronger. I found one and we "clicked." I did not realize it when I chose her, but after several sessions she revealed to me that she was a transgender man and would be transitioning in several months. I found that encouraging as that said to me that she "got it."
It was in his office in February 2015 when I took a long pause and said out loud, "Oh my goodness, I'm transgender." All the trauma of the previous 62 years suddenly made sense. The locker room was the first thing I thought of. Next were various interpersonal relationships over the years. Even today I have flashbacks of various events that have greater clarity now that I realize my genitalia says male, but my gender is that of a woman.
Today, I’m still living in both worlds—as a man and as a woman. More and more, I’m increasingly able to live in the world as my female self, and a more involved transition into my authentic female self looms on the horizon. I now go out as a woman confidently in public, and have attended three conferences for people who don’t “fit” into the gender binary demanded by society. That said, I know that I am a woman, and I’m determined to transition. I know that it’s late in my life, but I also know that it will be worth it.
Recently, I stopped going to the fitness club where I’d been going for a few years. My locker room experience there was OK (nothing like the trauma of high school). But I came to realize over time that it still reminded me that I felt like a misfit. At the club, the women’s locker room was right next to the men’s, making it easy to sometimes hear what was being said in the adjoining locker room. One day I was in the men’s locker room alone and I was able to hear several women in the women’s locker room talking about wearing Spanx. I smiled as I listened to their animated conversation, and I yearned to be a part of it. While I was sad that I was where I was, I also felt a sense of hope as I knew in my heart that the day would come when I will be in the appropriate place. Now, I work out regularly at home, where I wear stretch pants and a sports bra. Wearing clothing that is appropriate to the real me now makes exercise fun.
I survived the trauma of that high school locker room. Now, I know who I am—and I’m working to achieve the goal of living as my authentic self every day. The shame I’ve felt for most of my life has diminished, but it is always lurking deep inside me. I get out increasingly as the “real” me—presenting as the female that I am. But I’m still in both worlds. It’s late in life, but I’m so happy now that I am giving myself the permission to be me.
Sarah Anne was born in the spring of 1952 into a working class family. She began dressing in her mom's clothes around the age of 11. Graduating from college in 1974, she embarked on a highly successful public school teaching career. She retired in 2009. She realized in early 2015 that she was not just a crossdresser, but actually a transgender woman. Sarah is married to a supportive wife.