by Barbara Lynn Terry
I was five years old in the winter of 1953-1954. I remember that Christmas and Easter very well. It was just like every other Christmas and Easter, but this year, something was about to happen that I had only prayed about.
Let me take you back to just after Thanksgiving, 1953, and the start of the Christmas shopping season.
Part I - Ronnie is not a happy boy.
We left the house to go to the department store in the city as we called it. It was an hour to get there and an hour to get back. But while we were there, I had a lot of fun being able to be allowed to look around on my own.
I looked at all the dresses and skirts, blouses, panties, slips, pajamas, and nightgowns. All of them were very pretty, and very feminine. I dreamed in my mind about being dressed in one of the dresses, or maybe a skirt and blouse. I even held the dresses and skirts and blouses up to me in front of the mirror, and swooned at how pretty I could actually look.
My grandma and auntie were with me, and when they found me, told me that I was in the wrong section. They took me over to the boys section, and they saw that I was not as interested in boy clothes, as I was girl clothes. I kept looking over at the dresses and with a sad look. Grandma wanted to know what was wrong, and I said that these dumb old boy clothes irritated and scratched my skin. She said that I would get used to it, but I just wouldn't try on any of the boy pants she picked out.
Auntie told me that I needed to try on the pants because I needed a few pair for school. I asked her plainly why couldn't I go to school in a dress like other girls. Grandma looked at me and smiled. Then she told me that I was a boy, and that boys didn't wear dresses, only girls did. I said that when everybody called me a good boy or young man, I would want so much to hide from everybody because of the embarrassment. They looked at each other, and then at me with a puzzled look. Then auntie asked what did I mean when I said I was a girl.
I told her I didn't know exactly, it's just that I never liked the way boys would play violent games like cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, or war games. I told them both that those games were too rough for me, and that I didn't like them. I said that I would rather be playing with dolls, jumping rope, playing jacks and hopscotch. I said that I wanted so much to be able to go to my friends sleepovers, and be able to just girl talk.
Grandma asked me what kind of girl talk, and I said oh we talk about our dolls, and the boys at school that keep picking on us. I said we talk about if we could go to the playground on Saturday to play double dutch.
"Ronnie, you know how to double dutch?"
"Yes, grandma, I do."
We talked about other things too, like the school wouldn't allow me to go to school dressed as a girl, because they saw me as a boy, and I would be required to dress and act like a boy. I said I might have to dress like a boy, but I don't have to act like one. Because see, if they tried to force me to play with the boys, that is exactly what I would be doing...acting.
I knew that even though grandma and auntie were telling me what boys can't do, I knew deep inside that I was a girl. I didn't know why, and I didn't much care why. All I knew is that I was a girl, and a girl I am going to be. So, they picked out a couple of pairs of pants and three shirts for me, for school, and we left to go home.
On the ride back home, I was just sitting there thinking. I thought all about what they had told me, they even went as far as getting boy clothes for me, for school. I will have to talk to Miss Spencer about this. She teaches the fifth grade, but said if I ever needed to talk to someone, I could come to her. I will talk to her on Monday. I have to find out if the school would allow me to come to school dressed as a girl.
Auntie asked me if there was anything wrong, and I just shrugged my shoulders, and looked sadly out of the window. What would they think if I opened the car door and just jumped out?
"Ronnie, does this have to do with what we talked about in the store?"
"You know that boys are boys and girls are girls, and there isn't much we can do about that, because that is how we were born."
"Then what about the lady on tv that was a man? Does she have to dress like a boy?"
"What do you know about that?"
"I was watching the television that night when she was getting off of the plane. She is very pretty, and I thought that someday I want to be just as pretty."
"Honey, listen, this lady went all the way to Denmark to become a woman. That is far away from here, it isn't even in this country, but thousands of miles away. There aren't any doctors here that can do what she had done."
"But that means that I can be a girl, and that is who I am inside," I said, pointing to my heart.
"But Ronnie, you are very very young yet. You don't know what the next few years will bring, let alone how your life will turn out. When you become eighteen, and you still want to be a girl, then nobody can stop you. But until then, there just isn't anything we can do, even if we agreed with you, which we don't. Maybe by the time you are eighteen there will be doctors here that can do what you are talking about."
"I hope that there will be doctors that can do whatever it is I need to do, way before I am eighteen."
"Well, alright, but right now that is enough of this talk, and don't let your grandfather hear you talk like that. He doesn't approve of the lady that was a man, and he will not be on your side if he hears that you want to be a girl."
"Why is everybody telling me who and what I cannot be? Can't anyone just let me be me, so I can be happy? My girl friends are asking me when I can come for a sleepover, and I keep telling them that you won't let me. Was I right?"
"Honey, you're a boy. Boys can't go to a girl's sleepover. Sweetie listen, when girls have sleepovers, they are in all different ways of dressing. Some are in their underwear, some are changing right there in front of the other girls, and then some even sleep together under the same blanket. They play with each other's hair, and your hair right now isn't even long enough to curl. They practice polishing each other's fingernails and toenails. Then if they are older girls, they may talk about boys while they are doing each other's hair and nails. So see sweetie, even if we allowed you to go, the girl's parents wouldn't allow it. It is considered very improper for a boy to see a girl naked unless they are married. You are a boy sweetie, that is how you were born, and you just have to make the best of it."
What they were saying didn't make much sense to me, and I just stared out of the car window. When we got home, I ran to my room, and jumped on to my bed, and buried my face in my arms, and just cried. I couldn't understand why people were being so mean to me, even my own family. I cried myself out, and then went downstairs after washing my face.
"Are you alright, Ronnie?"
"Yes, grandma, thank you. Grandma, may I go by Bobby's house?"
"Yes sweetie, you may, but be back for dinner."
"Yes grandma, thank you."
"You're welcome, dear."