The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the category “gender identification”

The Measure of a Man



I was the youngest of four brothers. My father had been a great athlete in his youth and he expected all of us to travel the same path. From the time we were old enough to walk, we were encouraged to run and swim and climb and throw and fight and do all the things that strong, powerful, masculine men do.  There was no sympathy or indulgence of weakness of any kind.

We were raised to carry on his legend by becoming  the kind of men other men admired. As children,  we were expected to be braver, smarter, and more well liked than other boys. It was impressed upon us from the time we were very young we must never do anything to tarnish our family name or reputation. There must never be even a whiff of controversy or disagreeability about us. We were raised to be kind to those weaker than ourselves. We defended injustice when we saw it.  We were helpful to those in need.  We were generally peaceful but strong and able enough to win a fight should someone else throw the first punch. We were raised to be real men, good men, admirable men.

I never doubted that my father’s values were well-placed. His moral compass was infallible.  I understood his reasoning in everything.  I lived to make him proud of me. And he was proud of me.  I was handsome, popular, smart, a champion athlete. I didn’t have to be coerced to adopt his values.  I did not stay the course merely to please my father.  It was obvious to me that this was the right and proper way to be.  I felt fortunate to have his guidance knowing that others floundered with no beacon to light the way.

When I was about 13 or 14, an uncomfortable stirring began to nag at the back of my mind.  Other boys my age were thinking about girls.  In fact, that’s all they thought about.  I kept waiting for that same fascination to arise in me. I expected to wake up one morning and find myself as lust-driven as my classmates.  I worried that I did not share this irresistible biological urge.  I told myself I was just a late bloomer.  Or maybe my glands were afflicted in some way and not producing enough hormones.  Perhaps I needed to eat more masculine foods. (I began a diet heavy in red meat, certain that would solve the problem.)

Meanwhile, I kept a low profile. It was not in my nature to lie, so instead I was reticent and shy. I didn’t want anyone to examine me too closely, to ask too many questions. My athletic skills were valuable to the various teams I played on, but I rarely socialized with the boys outside of practice.

When I was 17, I started dating a girl in my class.  This was done for the sake of appearances; to stave off the inevitable questions.   I did not want to have to explain why I didn’t have a girlfriend.  The answer was too complex and I didn’t even understand it, myself.   The girl was also shy and from a religious family.   Our relationship was respectful and chaste, which was ideal as neither of us were interested in anything sexual, each for our own reasons.

When my friends started bragging about their conquests, I held my tongue. Even if I had been having sex, I still would not have shared my exploits. Such behavior was unseemly. They grudgingly admired me because I didn’t kiss and tell.

Eventually, I went off to university, far from home, away from the inquisitive eyes of anyone who had any preconceived notions about me, where I could start again with no preconceived notions about myself.

I had long harbored suspicions about myself, and they haunted me.  Such thoughts were terrifying and when my mind alighted upon them, I quickly changed the mental subject.   Eventually, however,  the feelings, the desires, the need,  were too big to deny.  They screamed and barked and howled.  They would not stop, would not be silenced.  They could no longer be ignored.

Here was my dilemma: if I could not face the truth about myself, I was a coward, and that I could not abide.  But if my suspicions were correct, my life was a ruin.

But the truth could no longer be denied, and so it was there that I discovered what I was.

This knowledge ripped my sense of self right out from under me. It went against everything I’d ever believed I was, everything I’d spent my life preparing to be.   I’d become that thing that brings shame on the family; that thing that can never be accepted; that thing that made a mockery of my father’s fine lessons in manhood.

I could not be my true self and remain part of my own family.  They would never accept me as now knew I was.  And now that I knew, I could not pretend to them to be otherwise. By deceit,  I already put myself apart from them,  even if they didn’t know.

And so, I was cast adrift with no moral anchor. What did it matter if I was brave and strong and true? I was still a mockery of a man.

But then, who could I be? I needed a new identity, a new way of being, a new skin.  I tried on many, but nothing felt comfortable. No matter who I tried to be, it all felt like a costume, a pretense, a role that wasn’t at all natural.  I had been taught to be a certain kind of man, and now all those lessons were moot.  What was left?  Who was I?  What was I?  I spent several wasted years adrift, searching but not finding the answers. I did things that, had they known, would have disgraced my family.  I was not always honest nor brave nor true.  Even crying filled me with shame.

I couldn’t be myself anymore and I couldn’t be anyone else, either.  I was nothing.  Nobody.  Nothing about me was true or real. There was no reason for me to exist.

And so, at 24, I hanged myself.  I did not leave a note. I did not reveal my secret. The act of suicide, itself, I knew, would be shameful enough.

The pain was ultimately intolerable but from this side I can appreciate the understanding that has followed from it. This loss of identity, the complete denial of ego, and the accompanying torment provided the most valuable lessons I have ever been shown in any lifetime.

There needs to be a balance between feeling the importance of the self and realizing how unimportant we really are.


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Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 

Bacha Posh


first published Nov 26, 2014

bacha posh



I was born a girl but my parents thought better of it. A boy would be much more useful, so that’s what I became. They dressed me like a boy, called me by a boy ‘s name, and tasked me with boy’s work. I knew I wasn’t a boy but I liked the game. I had so much more freedom than the girls! I could go to school! I could learn to read! I could work and earn money to help my family.  I could play with my friends in the streets without adult supervision. I did not have to wear layers of hot clothing in the summer to hide myself.

I was happy and grateful to my parents that they were wise enough to choose this for me when I could not choose for myself.

I was a happy child living an uncomplicated existence.

And then I had my first blood.

My parents seemed to be expecting this but I had no suspicion that big changes were on the horizon for me. They informed me that it was time to give up my boyish ways and take my place in the world as a woman.

We would move to a new part of the city where we were not known, and I would present myself to all I met as a girl.

In a year or two, they would find me a husband. I would spend the rest of my life covered and subservient to men.

I wanted nothing to do with it!  I screamed and cried and argued but there was no moving them. They knew things which I was too young to understand.

For many days, I would not eat or leave the house. I was willful, something which was never repressed in me like other girls. I would not obey! It was my life!  I could not, would not, live under a veil!

Slowly, however, I began to realize that I could no longer hide my differences.  I could not play bare-chested with my friends any longer. The boys voices were growing deeper. They were sprouting hair on their faces. My changes were in the opposite direction. The very quality of my skin betrayed me, even covered as I often was, in dust and mud.

I didn’t know what to do. My parents were of no use. To them, hiding my gender was simply the practical thing to do at one time,  and now it was time to put those childish things aside.  If they had any idea of my deep emotional turmoil, of my sense of being lost without an identity, of my confusion and pain, they gave no clue. I was becoming an adult and I had to accept my responsibilities along with reality.

But they were still left with a problem that they had not foreseen and which was never going to go away.   I might be forced under the veil,  but I would never succeed at being subservient.

This was not merely a trait that would lead to an unhappy marriage, but a train which might get me killed.   I did not recognize this threat in the beginning. It was not until I watched a young woman, not much older than I was,  being stoned to death for an offense which hardly seemed like an offense to me.  I would have done the same in her position.  And that would have been me on the receiving end of those stones.

I allowed my mother to show me how to be more feminine.   She tried to teach me basic womanly chores, but honestly, I had no interest and I wasn’t very good at them.

Clearly, I was going to make a terrible wife.   What man would have me?

I was caught between one gender and another, and nothing could save me.

For the first time, I envied all the girls my own age.  They knew their place in the world.  They had never tasted freedom and so did not miss it.  Their world was much smaller than mine. They were, like goats in a pen.  They were happy in those confines with all the other goats.  I, however, could not stop longing for what lay beyond.

One day,  when I had long stopped worrying about being forced to marry (my parents hadn’t spoken of it in a long time and I thought they had given up on the notion,  as I had dearly wished),  my mother told me they had found me a young man from a good family.   They thought he would do fine.

I felt betrayed.  Terrified.   Angry.  How could they force me? I would rather live alone all my life!

Of course, that wasn’t possible.  My parents were not rich.  When they died, I would have no one to take care of me.  I could not earn a living as a woman.  I would be alone and destitute, at the mercy of a cruel world.

So,  I met him.  And his family.   With mine,  we all sat down to a meal.

The boy was small and sweet and shy like a girl.  He moved his hands gracefully when he spoke.  He had gone to school, too,  and like me, liked to read. (That meant there would be books in the house – a good thing!) . He was not  aggressive in any way.  He seemed kind. And as confused by his feelings as I was by mine.

I liked him immediately. I recognized in him a kindred spirit — someone who didn’t fit.

Later I told my parents that if I had to marry, then let it be him.  He later told me that he’d told his parents the same.

Once again,  my parents chose best for me when I could not choose for myself.

We were married and remained so until we were both old.  We did not have children, which was satisfactory for both of us.  He enjoyed doing much of the womanly work.  He cooked better than I did.   He had a way of making the house a nice place to live.

Because he was so easy, and because he was soft in his dealings with me, I did not mind doing the things that wives are expected to do.   There was no point in rebelling against him.  We were both on the same side; in the same boat.

There was not much passion in our marriage, but we had an abundance of tenderness.  We had friendship and mutual respect.  We understood each other in a ways that others never had.

We put on our proper faces to the world,  but at home we could both be ourselves. There, we were equals.  The roles the world put upon us had no place there.

For both of us,  it was the best marriage we could have ever hoped for.  He died first, and I missed him terribly.  But, at least he left me with enough money to live comfortably as I grew old.

It’s funny how things work out. For many years, it seemed certain I’d ever wed. But in the end, compared to all the women I knew in my life, I had the happiest marriage.



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