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I Was a Trans Student (2013)

I Was a Trans Student (2013)

©2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (2013, 26 April). I was a trans student. TG Forum.

The thumbnail photo was taken in 1976, when I was 27 years old. It’s the earliest authentic photo I have.





I Was a Trans Student

By Dallas Denny


Dallas-1977In sixth grade I attended Buncombe County Junior High, just outside Asheville, NC. My teachers were nice country ladies who treated their students kindly, and the students were respectful of one another.

Everyone, of course, was a gender stereotype—pretty much everyone in the U.S. was in those days—but in a nice way. I went to school with nice boys and nice girls, and we were all children together.

I spent seventh grade at Eddy Junior High in Columbus, Georgia. It was an entirely different experience. The girls wore makeup and nylons and the boys wore grease in their hair. Every morning before home room the fast boys and the fast girls played songs by the Four Seasons in the gymnasium—“Sherry Baby” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” usually. And oh, yes, prophetically, “Walk Like a Man.”

The students at Eddy were more like little adults than children. I witnessed vicious hair-tearing, nail-scratching fights between girls. I watched both boys and girls smoke and I heard cursing for the first time. I didn’t know what to make of it all.

I did know I would rather be one of the girls than one of the boys, but I had no idea how to go about it. I knew things were about to get desperate when, one day, sitting on a bench while playing outfield during gym class, I discovered a public hair poking out of my shorts—it was my first.

I would fantasize about walking into the drugstore at the nearby strip mall and ordering female hormones, paying with money made from cashing in the soft drink bottles I picked up on my walks to and from school—but what would I ask for? Surely the pharmacist would sense something amiss and call the police, and then my life would be over.

On my last day at Eddy Junior High my parents picked me up in their new 1964 Dodge Polara and we drove to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. My father, who had just retired from the U.S. Army, had taken a position as head of the maintenance department at Stones River National Battlefield.

Murfreesboro was a sleepy town of 30,000 souls, thirty miles south of Nashville and hot as hell that summer. I remember bicycling downtown to the Linebaugh Library and scouring the card catalog for articles about whatever it was I was feeling. I knew only two words— crossdresser and transsexual —those thanks mainly to the evening news and Life and Post magazines. There were, surprisingly two books, but one never surfaced—I checked on a weekly basis all summer and after that whenever I happened to be at the library—and the other was in the reference section. I wasn’t about to go the librarian to request the reserve book or report the other book missing, for surely she was on the alert for boys like me and would alert the authorities. Years later I realized the missing book must have either been stolen and treasured by someone very much like me or stolen and destroyed by someone who was offended by the very idea of people like me.

That fall I was enrolled as a freshman at Murfreesboro’s Central High. It was a big school for the time, with some 1200 students.

My fellow pupils were a more diverse lot than at any previous school. There were a few bad boys who drove Cushman Eagles and smoked and fought behind the shed that houses the boiler. I’m sure there were some bad girls, too, but I never recognized them. Most of the students were wholesome and pleasant. That included the dozen or so Black students. I know they had a difficult time, as it was only the second year Central had been integrated. When another student complained to me about them, I was astonished, for until grade six I had attended integrated schools at assorted army bases and black students were the norm.

My knees would go weak when I saw the pretty girls. I so wanted so to be one of them, but it was beyond the realm of possibility—or at least it seemed so.

I was one of them, on occasion, sort of. By my junior year I had managed to purchase makeup, shoes, a purse, and some clothes —I kept them hidden under a loose board in the attic, where they would eventually be discovered by my parents—and I would ride my Honda Cub 50 to town, rent a room in a motel, and paint my face and change my clothes.

I was, always, scared beyond belief at the thought of leaving the room. Surely someone who had seen me enter as a boy would figure out it was a disguised me departing—but I would eventually go through the door and out into the world, where I would visit the shops around the town square, stop at the YWCA reading room or the library (and yes, I was still checking the card catalog for that missing book), eat at one of the cafe or cafeteria or restaurant, or see an occasional movie.

It wasn’t much of a girlhood, but to me it felt like an authentic one. The only attention ever paid to me was by way of complements. Ladies would smile when we would encounter one another on the sidewalk or in a hallway. Young girls would admire my makeup. Men would open doors for me. Boys would whistle as they drove or walked by. With no hair on my face and with delicate facial features, I passed naturally. No one ever questioned me.

Oh, if only things hadn’t been so rigid at school! Oh, if only the gender lines hadn’t been so rigidly enforced! Boys were sent home for coming to school with plaid pants or for showing up without socks, or for growing their hair too long. How would the principal respond if I came to class wearing a skirt and blouse? It beggared my imagination.

If I had turned 13 in 2013 instead of 1963, my story might have been a different one. I’m sure I would have had to work through the same shame and guilt and fright, but there would have been sources of support. There would have been ready information. And perhaps, just perhaps, my parents would have tried to understand, had I found the courage to come out to them.

I sometimes long for the girlhood I never had, but then again, I’m grateful beyond belief for the episodic, temporary girlhood I did have. I was out on dozens of occasions, and it did seem like a girlhood, except for the lack of relationships. When one is on-again, off-again, it’s difficult to have friends or even acquaintances.

I’m happy for the thousands of young transsexuals, crossdressers, transgender-identified people, and genderqueers who are able to live authentically every day of their lives. I’m thankful they can attend school as their true selves. So very much has changed!

During my years as a student I was able to live as my authentic self only one or two days per month. Still, I have many pleasant memories of my sporadic sort-of girlhood.