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My Transsexual Experience (1997)

My Transsexual Experience (1997)

©1997, 2013 by Dallas Denny

 Source: Denny, Dallas. (1997). My transsexual experience. Unpublished essay.

This article was prepared for and rejected by Allure magazine; editor Linda Wolf informed me they had already “done” transsexualism.




My Transsexual Experience

By Dallas Denny


Cross-gender identity (what we call transsexualism) is found in many cultures, and is present in historical records from ancient times. Our culture has a fascination with transsexual people, objectifying, stereotyping, and sensationalizing them. But neither I nor other transsexual men and women are stereotypes. We have many histories, many talents, many abilities, yet our stories are rarely looked at in depth. This is the story of my transsexualism.

I was born in a male body, but the true significance of that fact didn’t hit me until I was approaching adolescence. Like many children, I assumed the differences between boys and girls were limited to haircuts and clothing. My first inkling of genital difference happened when I was seven or eight, when my baby sister was brought home from the hospital. The first time I saw her diaper being changed, her privates shocked me. I had paid no particular attention to my own, but it was clear hers and mine weren’t the same. I had this little tube through which I peed, and I don’t think I was even aware I had testicles. Her parts were nothing like mine.

Around this time my mother caught me pushing my penis up inside my body while I was taking a bath; she gave me hell. But I didn’t really think about being male again until I felt the first stirrings of adolescence.

I was in the eighth grade, ostensibly playing outfield during gym class, but in reality sitting on a bench and being bored, looking at anything there was to look at. I noticed a lone pubic hair poking from the leg of my gym shorts. I remember thinking, “Oh, oh. Here it comes. My childhood will soon be over. The machinery of my body will turn me into a man.” I was surprised to discover I didn’t look forward to that at all.

Six months or a year later I discovered a hair on my face. There it was, black and ugly, disrupting the smoothness of my skin. I was tempted to pluck it out, but I knew whether I did or didn’t there would soon be many others. My body was being molded by hormones, and I was powerless (or so I thought) to do anything about it.

In my innocence I thought I would grow into someone very like my father— a lean, hard person who didn’t talk much and who showed little emotion. “When will I stop talking?” I wondered. “And at what point will I begin to enjoy being that way?”

It was during this time that I first found myself drawn to womens’ clothing. On the rare occasions when everyone was away from home, I would sneak into my parents’ bedroom and put on my mother’s undergarments and pull one of her dresses over my head. I felt shame and guilt at this behavior, and I knew it would be disapproved of by my parents and by society. I took great pains to replace everything exactly as I had found it, carefully folding bras and panties in the drawer and then rumpling them every so slightly to give them that not-too-neat look. In those days the worst noise in the world was the sound of a hem giving away.

By the time of my second or third foray into my mother’s drawers (no pun intended), it became clear that whatever was driving me was strong and merciless and unlikely to go away. In a paroxysm, caught between guilt and whatever had condtrol of me, I made what turned out to be a fortunate decision. Rather than fight to suppress the urges I was feeling, I would instead hide them, compartmentalize them, keep them a secret.

This decision, born of hedonism, saved me from a lifetime of internalized hatred, depression, and, quite possibly, alcoholism and drug problems, all of which are common among transsexual people who try to deny their inner nature. But if my hide vs. fight strategy saved me inner turmoil, it put me into conflict with the outside world. And so I became devious about my crossdressing, adept at lying, at hiding things, at fabricating excuses to be alone.

It’s a fallacy that transsexual persons aren’t sexually excited by crossdressing. Some indeed aren’t, but most of us are at one point or another. I certainly was in my early years, although I was slow to realize it. I was annoyed by and ignored my erections as I tried on my mothers’ clothes. They reminded me of the maleness I was coming to hate. It never occurred to me to masturbate. In fact, I didn’t discover masturbation until my early twenties, after my marriage, and then I caught up with a vengeance.

I should say here the sexual excitement wasn’t what drove me. Rather, it was the result of the guilt and physical stimuli of crossdressing. I never crossdressed for sexual excitement; it was merely a sometimes an unwanted result of my crossdressing. When I was thirteen nearly anything and sometimes nothing at all would give me an erection.

By the time I was fifteen I had managed to acquire a small collection of clothing, makeup, and a long fall which matched the color of my own hair, which was cut sixties-short on the back and sides. I kept my stash hidden under a loose board in the attic. One day, the rest of the family out for a drive, I sat in the middle of the living room floor in a purple mini dress and put my face on, and for the first time, got it just right. I put on the fall, back-combed my hair over it, teased down the bangs, swept the hair behind my ear on the left side, and suddenly I was looking at a girl in the hand mirror.

It was at that moment, I think, that I knew just what my feelings of gender dysphoria had been about.

Gender dysphoria is a sense of inappropriateness in one’s own gender. That’s a good description. My crossdressing had abruptly become a matter of accute personal identity. I wasn’t seeing a boy dressed as a girl, but a girl with a beautiful face in place of the rather ordinary-looking boy I had been until then. She looked several years older than I and quite sophisticated. I desperately wanted her to be real. She was who I wanted to be, and, I glumly noted, probably who I should have been. And she was me. But she was an illusion, someone I had created over a period of thirty minutes with Maybelline and Cover Girl cosmetics and big hair. And very soon she was going to have to go back in the box, back in the attic, back under the board, and I was going to have to be a boy until the next time I could contrive to be home alone.

It was that very day that my mother caught me. She came home unexpectedly early and found me fully dressed, standing in fascination before the mirror in her bedroom. “You don’t look like a woman,” she hissed. “Get out of those clothes!” I did, my already overpowering sense of shame heightened by several orders of magnitude.

That was in 1964 or 1965. Nearly thirty years later, in the spring of 1993, I awoke one morning with the realization that what my mother had really been saying was “You look just like a woman, and it frightens me.”

When my father came home, he threatened to make me walk the long five miles to town dressed, with him following in the car. I suppose he thought I would be an object of derision, a clumsily crossdressed boy. But he hadn’t seen me. Surely my mother had been wrong in her proclamation that I didn’t look like a woman. After all, she had said woman, and not girl. I didn’t look like a woman. Had she been, at some level intimidated by the woman she had seen? In my heart I believed so, but it was a hell of a thing to think about one’s own mother. My confidence, both in myself and in the infallibility of my parents, was shaken.

From that day forward I desperately wished to be a girl. I would make it my wish to the evening star, and pray to be a girl before I went to sleep and when I first woke up in the morning. But I didn’t believe it was possible. And then one evening my mother said in a sneering tone she believed Miss Jane on The Beverly Hillbillies (it was then a new show) was played by Christine Jorgensen.

I asked who Christine Jorgensen was.

“She’s that thing that had a sex change,” My mother said.

It’s good human ears aren’t like those of dogs, for mine would have most certainly pricked up and given me away. Sex change? Was it possible, then? I scarcely dared to hope.

Not long after that I read in a magazine that Johns Hopkins University had established a gender identity clinic, the only one in the U.S.. The article said they evaluated two new clients per month. Two! Surely they would be seeing boys who looked like girls anyway, without help from Max Factor, children with ambiguous genitalia, and people whose parents were supportive and had plenty of money. I was out on all counts.

Even though I now understood sex reassignment was possible, it would be more than ten years before I realized it was something I could dare to hope for.

The intervening years were one of a dual life. On one level, I was a young man. I went to high school, worked at a variety of jobs, made awkward attempts at dating, and eventually married and went to college and graduate school. But on a part-time basis, I was, in public, a young woman. I frequently went out crossdressed, always undetected and unsuspected. I stopped only at age 23, after I married. Until then, I went out to eat, to movies and libraries, rode public transportation, and, even when underage, went into bars— straight bars.

I knew I was pretty, and better than that, undetectable. Male entertainers in lounges would pause in their piano playing when I walked in and call me a vision. Men would pursue me, calling to me from passing cars and trying to entice me into getting in. I never did, of course. And yet although I wore my skirts short, which was the fashion in those days, I didn’t dress like a tart or a tramp. I dressed as if for high school. Women were kind to me, calling me honey and telling me I was pretty.

At age nineteen I found myself living in the Ross Fireproof Hotel in downtown Nashville, estranged from my parents, with no close friends, no car, a lousy job, and no reason whatsoever to remain in the male role. I wanted to find work as a woman, but I had no idea how to deal with the problem of identification. I desperately desired to cross the lines of gender permanently, but it didn’t seem possible. Help wasn’t available, and every day the testosterone was hardening my body. I couldn’t find the nerve. Eventually, I moved back home.

I continued to make occasional forays into Nashville. One night I found myself in a lip-lock with a cab driver thirty years older than myself. I had been sitting in the Greyhound station, had a ticket for my changing place, which was a cheap motel on the outskirts of town. The cab driver told me he would take me anywhere I wanted to go, no charge, and for some reason I went out to his cab and got in the front seat on the passenger side, thinking, “Oh, God, what have I gotten myself into?”

At that time I had kissed girls, but never (despite my best attempts at seduction) passionately, never with mouth open, never with tongues intertwining. I had certainly wanted to. I was immensely attracted to women. I had never been attracted to men, so I wasn’t sure why I was in the cab, except that as a woman, I seemed to have an need for romance, or at least for validation. I certainly felt as I believed any young woman would feel as I was forcefully kissed. I battled to keep his hungry hands away from breasts which weren’t real, and most of all from my groin.

It was at the moment of that first kiss that I began to desire surgical change. Until then, I had wanted to be a woman, but hadn’t thought much about having a vagina, even though I knew surgical conversion was possible. Now I wanted to be real, to have a vagina, to be able to take this sexual act to its natural heterosexual conclusion, with me as the woman. But that wasn’t possible, so I interrupted the proceedings and gave the cab driver, who was desperate to see me again, a made-up phone number. I never saw him again.

Unlike many transsexual people, who hope marriage will cure them, I never believed matrimony would rid me of my desire to be a woman, but I felt I owed it to my spouse not to crossdress. To my shame, I didn’t tell her of my crossdressing before we were married, but shortly afterwards. I grew a beard, which made the whole thought of dressing ludicrous. I shaved it only once to dress. When the marriage ended after five years, it was for other reasons, and not because of my gender dysphoria.

After the separation, long-repressed desires sprang to the surface, stronger than ever. The beard disappeared, and I once again began going out crossdressed. My earliest picture of myself— my true self— was taken at a four-for-a-dollar photo machine, just after I had been to the beauty shop to have my hair done. It was my debut after five years of abstinence. I had been nervous at the beauty shop, fearful of detection, but I still had the old magic, and they never figured me out. The photos show a young woman, not unattractive, wearing a bemused expression. Perhaps she is reflecting on her five-year imprisonment.


As the initial shock of my divorce passed, I made the usual appraisal of myself. My major conclusion was I had been hiding a major part— perhaps the major part— of me for many years, that it wasn’t going to go away, that it was time to stop hiding and to integrate my crossdressing into the rest of my life. I hung my clothing out in the open, put my makeup and perfumes on the dressing table, and told my friends, who were fairly tolerant.

Now that I was out about my crossdressing, I asked myself if I were transsexual. I honestly thought I wasn’t— I didn’t seem to fit the pattern I had read about in books. I hadn’t wanted to be a girl from earliest memory, hadn’t been teased and tormented for being a sissy, hadn’t considered suicide. If I wasn’t transsexual, I wasn’t sure what I was, but I did know one thing: I desperately desired to be a woman.

I had a heart-to-heart talk with myself in which I looked at my behavioral and physical characteristics and tried to decide whether I could make it as a woman. On the plus side physically were my baby face, good complexion, and lack of Adam’s apple. There were lots of negatives: I was too tall, at 5’9″, my voice was too deep, my hands and feet were too big, I had too much hair on my body, and I was losing the hair on my head. I wasn’t sure where I stood behaviorally. I had lots of experience in public as a woman, but I’d no close friendships or other intimate relationships, the encounter in the cab notwithstanding. I had erected this masculine facade which had become bearable, if never comfortable. How did I feel about letting go of it? Could I let go of it? Would life be better as a woman? Could I become a woman who wasn’t immediately noticeable as transsexual? I didn’t know.

I made a tentative decision to look into the possibilities of sex reassignment. Fortunately, there was a gender program at Vanderbilt University, right down the street. I went to my first appointment in male clothing, for that was the reality of my body and social life at the time. Partially because of this, partially because of my spotty history of success in the male role (“You’ve always been able to hold a job and you’re employed now.”) and partially because of my sexuality (“Your primary sexual orientation is toward women”), I was denied entrance into the program. I was too heterosexual and too well-adjusted to be transsexual. Well, excuse me! I asked who else could help, and they told me there as a clinic in San Francisco, and another in New Orleans, but in either case, I would have to relocate. Besides, the other centers would probably tell me the same thing. The clinic offered me counseling to help me in my life as a man, and I halfheartedly took them up on it.

In telling me what they wouldn’t give me, the clinic made a missing piece of the puzzle plain to me (“We won’t give you hormones or otherwise help you to feminize yourself.”) Hormones! That was it! I went to a string of physicians, crossdressed, none of whom actually made the sign of the cross at me. although I think several were tempted. Finally, in frustration, I tore off the top third off a prescription pad when a doctor wasn’t looking and put it in my purse.

It’s important to realize that at this point (I was now nearly thirty) I had never met another person like myself. I had been to several female impersonator shows, but I had steered clear of the gay scene when I was younger, and now the only club in town with a drag show wouldn’t let me in crossdressed.

With nowhere else to go and no one to turn to for advice, I made a frightening but empowering decision: I would take control of my own life, regardless of what I had to do, and regardless of the consequences. If hormones were the logical next step, I would obtain hormones, with or without the help of the medical profession. It was a decision which would change my life.

I began spending my spare time in the medical library at Vanderbilt, researching transsexualism. I specifically looked for information about hormonal therapy. When I had enough information, I got out my Physician’s Desk Reference, turned to the section on female hormones, read it, selected the one I thought would have the most powerful feminizing effect— it was diethylstilbestrol, which at that time wasn’t considered a bad drug— and wrote a prescription for myself.

I felt bad about breaking the law, but I was down to the wire. I had been losing weight, and it was clear that underneath the fat my body had become decidedly masculine. My hairline was receding rapidly. With nowhere else to turn, in defiance of the medical profession, which had proclaimed I must remain a man, with a body which was becoming more alien daily, I took pen and hand and became my own physician.

I don’t regret that decision, for if I hadn’t made it, I would be less viable in the female role today, or worse, would still be living as a man. Under the circumstances I would do the same thing again. Fortunately, it wouldn’t be necessary these days, when there’s help in the form of books, magazines, support groups, gender conventions, computer bulletin boards, information services, and individual therapists and physicians who serve as facilitators rather than gatekeepers. But in 1979, faced with the unacceptable alternatives of moving to San Francisco or New Orleans or an unthinkable future as a man, I broke the law and wrote the ‘script. I’m glad I did.

The action of hormones was slow, but cumulative, and eventually profound. After thirteen years of hormones, I look nothing like I did back then— but for years I maintained my masculine facade, even as I became progressively more feminine in appearance and manner. Matters were complicated by my falling in love with a woman. She was dark and brooding, with big dark eyes and sensual lips, a witty, charming, and extremely difficult person. I loved her more than I can say.

We were together throughout the eighties, but the relationship was troubled by my continuing frustration at being in the male role and by her growing conviction that I was really a woman. I would titrate my hormonal dosage so I could function sexually, and several times stopped cold turkey for a month or so, but the rapid return of my male secondary sex characteristics would horrify me and her as well (for as testosterone became predominant I would become physically a stranger to her), and I would eventually step up the dosage.

On hormones, I was much more comfortable in my body. My skin was less oily, my body hair was finer, my facial hair grew less rapidly, and I didn’t find hairs from my head in the sink or in my comb. I was calmer, less irritable. My breasts, which grew large, were a source of personal comfort.

In 1989, after nine years of our troubled relationship, I told my girlfriend that if we would marry I would do the honorable thing and remain in the male role, but if she wouldn’t make at least a small step toward commitment, I was going to look into other life options. Her passivity was her decision, so in the fall of 1988 I joined the Society for the Second Self.

Tri-Ess, as it is called, is a “sorority” for heterosexual crossdressers and their female partners. I knew I wasn’t a crossdresser, but it was the only organization I knew about. Perhaps, through them, I would meet, at long last, other transsexuals. I risked the forty dollars it cost to join. I began a voluminous correspondence, and in December, 1988 I drove the nearly 200 miles to Chattanooga for my first meeting with others who felt at least somewhat as I did.

The Sigma Epsilon chapter of Tri-Ess was wonderfully supportive, but while the members valued their occasional time as women, they also valued their lives and relationships as males. I wanted only to be rid of my maleness. Tri-Ess helped me with this by introducing me into the small community of transgendered persons— crossdressers, transgenderists (those who walk an intermediate path) and transsexuals. I found the help I needed, joined a transsexual support group, went into therapy, located a legitimate endocrinologist (allowing me to retire my illicit hormone prescription), began electrolysis, and had my already long hair cut into a feminine style. When I was spotted cross-dressed in a local bar and the rumor began that I was gay, I began telling my friends and acquaintances what was really going on in my life. They were supportive, and my employer offered to let me transition in place, but I declined. In December, 1989 I loaded everything I owned into a U-Haul truck and left a good job and the woman I still loved for a dubious future as a woman. I changed clothes before leaving, and have never since presented myself for a man for even one instant.

I was fortunate to find work almost immediately in my new role— and not just a job, but a professional position which was better than the one I had left. As if a switch had been thrown, I was suddenly a woman so far as I and society were concerned. I used the same name and had the same strengths and faults, but I had passed through the looking glass.

I’ve lived full-time as a woman for nearly four years now, and it’s been more than two years since I had sex reassignment surgery (you know, the operation). I look, speak, and act much like other women my age (I’m forty-four). My social relationships are much like those of other women my age. I’ve managed to recapture the undetectability I had in my teens. Neither my appearance nor my voice give me away.

My passability would have once given me great pleasure, but surprisingly, I’ve found it unimportant to assimilate, to blend into the woodwork as transsexual people did in the past. I haven’t come out at work, but I’m open in all other parts of my life, and I won’t deny my transsexualism if anyone at work ever asks. I’m proud of who I am, proud of my past in the male role as well as my present in the female role. I embrace my male as well as my female energies, and blend them into a whole I was formerly unable to achieve.

This would be a logical place to end this article if I were only telling about my past, but what I’ve written so far has really been a preparation, a framing for what I really want to say, the point I want to get across to the readers of Allure and the world in general, about who I am now.

Feminists have criticized transsexual women in a variety of ways, as if we were somehow usurpers, as if we were men who have nothing better to do than to infiltrate the ranks of women. They have criticized us for our early socialization as men, our lives as oppressors, and our enjoyment of male prestige. But I am not an usurper. I am only myself. I consider myself no better than other women, and no worse. I am the same in many ways, and different in some.

My life as a man, although seemingly normal, wasn’t. Perhaps I was allowed more autonomy than I might have had had I been born a girl, but my repudiation of the masculine made my view of the world completely different from that of ordinary men. It’s important for the reader to realize my every experience was filtered through a self-identification as a woman. When something would happen, it was as if I were a woman experiencing it. My sense of differentness, of anomie, my disidentification from my maleness would be strengthened. I was shocked and angered the first time I heard women discussed as dehumanized sexual objects. I was embarrassed and horrified the first time I was in a men’s locker room and saw naked mens’ bodies (I was in the eighth grade). I shuddered when I was complimented for male attributes, and secretly glorified when I was teased about my feminine characteristics. I hated male responsibilities and envied females their responsibilities.

I felt a need to keep my feminine feelings and inclinations buried deep inside, for any outward sign of them resulted in actions against me. Boys didn’t take typing in my high school— or at least, I couldn’t safely allow myself to be perceived as the kind of boy who did. I talked my mother into buying a vintage Woodstock manual typewriter, covered the keys with duct tape, and taught myself to type one summer, using her old high school text. And no, I didn’t learn to type because I thought women were secretaries. My vision of women was stronger than that. I taught myself to type so I could express myself in print, and that skill is coming in handy right now, as I write this at the computer.

I can’t begin to explain how I felt about the draft, how I felt standing naked with shaved legs and underarms alongside several hundred young men at the mandatory physical. I can’t begin to express the hurt I would feel when old women would look at me as a male and lock their car doors, or the hurt and shame I felt because nonsexual affection I felt towards women was filtered through the expectation of predatory maleness.

I was constantly propelled into situations which I hated beyond belief, and I don’t just mean I was expected to mow the lawn and dig post holes by my parents or to be the one to carry heavy objects. When I started college in Tennessee, there was a State law which required ROTC for all male students. I had to cut my hair at a time when my greatest desire was to grow it long. ROTC was incredible macho bullshit. I would stand in formation with hair only millimeters long and try to project my consciousness into the bodies of the sponsors, those cheerleader-like girls who stood before the troops like unreachable goddesses. I twice dropped out of college because I couldn’t cope with ROTC. I didn’t withdraw; I simply stopped going, earning a 0.00 GPA which made life difficult when I finally went back for good.

I identified with the women in books, plays, and movies. I identified with women in my college classes. I convinced Lynne, my wife, that being a woman didn’t mean she must be subservient; instead, she must be proud and free. Eventually she was proud and free enough to leave me. I supported and argued for women’s rights, took the woman’s point of view in every situation. I was a woman forced into a male role by virtue of my biology.

When I began living full-time as a woman, I noticed little difference in the way I was treated. Eventually, I realized it was because my former mode of dress and grooming hadn’t gained me entry into the domain of male prestige and power. With my long hair and usually a beard, in jeans and pullover shirt and sneakers, I had to prove myself in social situations, in my college classes, and in my business relationships. This is just what women must do.

Thoughout my life, I avoided everything which accentuated my maleness. I wore my hair long, steered away from men’s groups and activities, took jobs in which female energy predominated, and most of all stayed out of suits. A tie seemed like a phallus to be worn around my neck, and I would choke at the mere thought of putting one on. Except for five weddings, I wore a suit only twice in my adult life. Once was to apply for a job, and the second time was to go to a reception to welcome me into the position which I’m sure I got because I wore the suit. I was so horrified at the undeserved respect given me that I went out to a beauty parlor crossdressed and had my eyebrows almost entirely waxed off. Then I changed into my male uniform of jeans and sneakers, went into my new place of employment with my Marlene Dietrich eyebrows, and resigned.

Feminists often say transsexual women are sad stereotypes of women. I’m no stereotype. I don’t wear much makeup, don’t primp. I hit the ground running every morning, just like other women. Of course I want to look good, of course I glory in pampering myself in little ways. I subscribe to Allure and look with envy at the thin and beautiful women within. But I don’t have time to primp, and I don’t have money enough to buy expensive outfits. I resent the fact that wearing makeup gives me the same sort of power as a woman that wearing a suit would if I were a man. I continually fight, usually losing, the battle of the bulge. I resent a society that expects me to be thin and young. I resent a society that pays me fifty-nine cents and pays men a dollar. My pleasures and my frustrations are those of other women, with the additional frustrations of being transsexual superimposed. Who knows? Who doesn’t? Who suspects? Who should I tell?

Life was once confusing and lonely and painful. Now it makes sense. The outside package now truly reflects my inside. Old women who once scowled at me now call me Dear. Younger women now smile at me when they pass me on the sidewalk. Men, who for some reason always held doors open for me, now look less puzzled when they do it. I can wear the clothing I want without being ridiculed. When I make love, I have the anatomy I’ve always desired and in bed can fill the role I’ve always wanted, even if I cannot have children. When I socialize, I can talk with women without being seen as a sexual predator. People seem more comfortable with me, which is really not surprising, as I’m now comfortable with myself. Most importantly, I’ve become who I really was all along. My inside fits my outside at last.