I am a trans girl, openly so. I have been “out” as such for a few years but I was an adult by the time I came out. Being a “not out” trans girl made for a peculiar childhood, when growing up in a conservative culture such as I did.
Everybody who had an opinion about my gender took it for granted that I was a boy. Initially I didn’t question that. I had no basis to question adults’ mastery of the universe at any significant level until I was maybe seven or eight years old. My trust included accepting their opinion as to whether I am a boy or girl.
My first focus on gender issues was the realization that if I was a boy, then I was a very different boy than the other boys I saw. I tended to read, play piano, play guitar, make candles, write, knit, crochet, sew and draw. I tended to be quiet and polite. Much later, I figured out that — even though I’ve not been diagnosed — I’m probably somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum. That explains my more-cerebral emphasis but it doesn’t explain the fundamental interest I had in feminine things. My mother was probably puzzled at my choice of activities, but not concerned to the point where she forbade them.
The boys in my age group were very different. They were boisterous, loud and cruel — especially to animals. This cemented my premise that there must be two types of boys: boys like me and … all the other boys. As the years went by, the thing that made me feel most alien relative to them … was that the boys in my age group seemed to relish hurting animals. For them it was a matter of pride.
When I was maybe eight years or so, I had a fight with our house cat. I don’t remember who had started that altercation (in all fairness to the cat, it was probably I) but basically the cat and I ended up being mad at each other, as in its ears flat and it was hissing at me. That day, I was more mean to the cat than to any other being before or since, as far as I recall. At some point, I whacked the cat’s haunches with a billiard table cue stick. It wasn’t hard enough to cause any noticeable damage or subsequent symptom such as limping, and probably even after a vet had examined the cat, he might well have not noticed anything untoward, but it was hard enough that I still feel guilty about it to this day. That was essentially the worst event, on the scale of me being mean to animals.
By contrast the things I heard at school and that I observed — they were shocking to me even though this was South Africa and cruelty was never in short supply in male culture. I like to avoid gender stereotypes unless they are useful and properly qualified. In this case they certainly were useful, to help me figure out that whatever I was was, I was not a boy like those boys were. I was not the only one aware of the difference, They had noticed it too, and they had started picking on me including by extension, my dog.
He was a Cairn terrier, very energetic and boisterous, so full of energy that if he would sometimes just run and run. He had never had been exposed to traffic, cars and the outside world so letting him out of the fenced yard was dangerous to him. So some boys came over to my place, and made a point of putting him outside the fence, and he ran away. That time he eventually came back alive but at some point he got out again, and didn’t come back. Their focus, however, was mostly on me. Much of the bullying was emotional and but some was physical too.
I was an “A” student, and French was one of my best subjects. I fully expected to get an “A” as my final grade for French, in high school. The night before the final exam, when I was sitting by my bedroom window, studying, one of the boys in my age group threw a half-brick through the plate-glass window right where I was sitting. The curtain protected me from being cut by flying glass but it was hard for me to concentrate afterwards, so I did badly on the final exam, and I missed getting an “A” by a couple of percentage points. Even so, my other grades were all “As” and by grades were so high that my picture ended up at the top center of the front page of a major newspaper in the city where I lived. Still, one more “A” would have been nice.
As the years went by, my distaste for animal cruelty grew, whereas the boys in my age group seemed to get ever more effective at, and focused on, hurting animals.
I’m a free-market girl and I’m an atheist, so much as I’m passionate for justice I’m by now also pretty cynical about how justice is best served. I am wary of passing laws, not least due to who’s likely to end up enforcing them. There’s a saying that people who enjoy sausage and obey the law should best not observe either being made. I’ve spent enough time speaking out at city council meetings, county commissioners’ meetings, planning meeting etc. that I don’t have a lot of confidence in the precision of the legal system.
I think that cultural and social change are the most important force in the world. I’ve seen that help bring the Berlin wall down, and end racism in white South Africa. I’ve seen this force help gay people become generally accepted in the US, and then later this extended to trans girls like myself. I think that cultural change is what best shapes the course of the world.
I’m aware that many intellectual giants are male, as are many of my friends, but as a broad generalization, I’m noticing a typically-female-based grass-roots subculture that celebrates the various facets of “be nice” and “don’t be mean” with those ideas then very slowly permeating into male subculture, perhaps during dinner table arguments between male and female family members, and with reason typically on the latter side. That gives me hope.
As part of that, I think animal cruelty is becoming less and less OK too, in general culture. I like that. To each his own, as to how to spread good ideas, but I prefer leading by example and by reasoning things out, rather than passing laws or using force. So that’s my personal preference, and here is a silly story that perhaps shows where I fit, as to this subject.
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In late 2006, my finances were doing very well. I’m polyamorous and openly so, and at the time I had three girlfriends. In December, I chose to enjoy a vacation with each of my three girlfriends (with each of them being well aware of this, and of each other — two of them had become friends, too). One girl, I visited in London, the other I flew to Oahu (Hawaii) and the third girl I flew to Kauai (Hawaii). As to the latter, we spent the better part of a week there, and that’s where this story happened.
My timing was bad in the sense that Kauai had just been ravaged by an intense storm that had caused power outages and continued to do so while we were there. Massive branches had fallen, and were blocking roadways. Hanalei Bay is where I like to surf, but it the water was muddy — great for hungry tiger sharks but bad for surfing. Red flags dotted the beach, meaning: “Humans not wishing to become shark-bait should stay out of the water.”
We focused on each other, and on the natural beauty that was still there, albeit slightly storm-damaged and with gray skies overhead. Hoping to enjoy some surfing, I had chosen a nice-but-affordable condominium resort close to Hanalei Bay. The perfect place would have been the Princeville Hotel. I’ve stayed there in the past, and I know it well, but it was outside of my budget even in 2006. It’s an amazing building, built into a hillside. The lowest story opens up on the beach and the top story as essentially atop the cliff. So it’s a seven-or-so story building, but you enter the foyer at the top floor and then you take an elevator down to the beach or pool.
The beach by the hotel is nice, too. We enjoyed spending time on the beach plus there are tide pools to explore and even though the rocks are sharp, sandals solve the problem. It’s fun to wander around and peek inside to see the fascinating shoreline tide-pool marine life.
The girlfriend I was with was sweet but it’s safe to say I was the more-sensitive of the two of us, perhaps in part because she’d been a sergeant in the Army and had grown up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — two things that can shape one’s personality. She wanted to collect a great many sea shells to take back with her, as mementos. I explained that, much is I sympathize with her need for memorabilia, there are literally millions of visitors to Kauai every year, and if everybody took away many sea shells, there would be far fewer sea shells for subsequent visitors to see and enjoy. She heard me out but decided that she would nevertheless proceed to collect them. I accepted her decision.
As the days went by, we enjoyed each other’s company and the beauty of Kauai, but every morning I looked at the beach to see if the conditions were by then good for surfing. Every morning the water continued to remain murky from the storm runoff, and bright-red flags on the beach were adamant that surfing would be very dangerous. I was greatly disappointed at that but even so, it was lovely vacation.
For the last day, I had booked a hospitality suite at our resort, for the latter portion of the day that spans from normal check-out time to when we needed to leave, to catch our late-night flights back to the mainland. That way, we could enjoy the beach on the last day too, and still have a nice place to shower, get dressed and relax until that night — then leave, hit the road and drive the very long, single-lane, no-passing road from the North Shore all the way down to the southern part of the island, where the airport is.
I hate being late, so I timed things carefully. Having been in the Military, my girlfriend had a similar appreciation for good timing. At sunset, she collected her last batch of shells from the tide pools by the Princeville Hotel, and right before we left, she had them laid out by the kitchen sink of our hospitality suite, to wash them out. Right then, out of one of the shells, walked a little crab. He looked at me, and I looked at him.
As I stood there, looking at this little crab, I realized there was no way the story was going to end well for him. Even if I turned him loose outside the front door, he wouldn’t survive on the landscaped grounds of the resort. We were far from the beach. He’d never find it. Flying to the mainland would kill him too. I kept looking at this little crab, and I felt sorry for it. It must suck to be minding your own business and suddenly your entire house is lifted up with you inside it, and you are in some strange, new and dangerous place.
I explained my concerns to my girlfriend who was sympathetic enough to move our plans ahead by half an hour. We packed and checked out, and I drove from our resort to the nearby Princeville Hotel. Valet parking is expensive and time-consuming, so I parked in a not-so-close free-parking area fairly close to the hotel, and I ran to the hotel. I hurried inside, and went down to the beach level, still carrying the shell into which the little crab had once more ducked back into. My plan was to put him back into the ocean, near where he’d been.
Unfortunately by then it was dusk and was getting darker quickly. I ran out onto the beach area and towards the rocky tide pools, trying to remember exactly where my girlfriend had picked up the last batch of shells. I don’t know much about marine biology and how close would be “close enough” so I figured the safest thing to do is to put him back close as possible to where he’d been. I waded out into the tide pool area. I was dressed up, ready to get on an airplane to fly back to the mainland. This included wearing elegant jeans and boots. The boots were fairly water-resistant, as in made for walking through rain puddles, so I was okay with walking along the barely-not-submerged rocky outcroppings, farther and farther away from the shore, to get to the area where I was planning to deposit the sea shell with the little crab inside.
By then it was so dark that it was hard to see where the above-water rock formations were, and I misjudged my footing and stepped down into a tide pool. I ended up being utterly soaked with seawater up to my lower thighs. I decided that this had better be good enough, so I deposited the shell with the little crab into an appropriate-seeming tide pool, and I managed to make my way back to the beach with only one additional mishap. As I walked on the beach, the golden sand stuck to my boots and made a big, sticky mess. I sloshed back to the elevator, the least elegant person in this elegant hotel. Then I sloshed through the elegant marble lobby, and ran back to where I’d parked the rental car. We’d planned well; there was still time to get to the airport and make our respective late-night flights on time, without having to rush.
I drove safely but at the maximum legal speed, along this dark, winding road whose road signs and painted markings disallowed passing — not that it’d have been safe to pass anyway. We were the only car around, except that at a side street, a rusty pickup truck was waiting to pull into the road. There was clearly nobody behind us, and the driver could have waited another 10 seconds. letting us go by first but he cut in front of is. I was guessing it was an act of anti-tourist petty malice. The driver made a point of driving far below the speed limit, and we were stuck behind him and ended up arriving very late at the airport. I dropped my girlfriend off at the gate, said goodbye and she ran in and made her flight.
I returned the rental car, skipped the rental car shuttle and ran through the airport to save a few precious minutes. I arrived at the gate to find out that I had missed my flight by five minutes. I begged the gate agent girl to keep an eye on my luggage and I ran back to the rental car place to try to re-rent my car, but it was shutting down for the night.
Kauai is a small airport, and things shut down after the last flight out like a restaurant closing for the night: light get turned off, shutters come down, people leave. There was no deal on re-renting a car from the same place.
I found one off-airport place that claimed it was still open, and I took the shuttle to their location, but there had been some confusion and they were shutting down too. I urged or bribed the shuttle driver to rush me back to the airport, and I ran from one rental car company to another, trying to rent a car for the night. One company’s workers took pity on me, and rented me a car even though they were officially closed. I ran back to the gate, profusely thanked the gate agent and got my luggage. At least, I now had transportation and wasn’t going to spend the night at a dark and deserted airport.
I called the same resort where we had stayed, and I booked one more night. I also arranged to get a flight back to the mainland the subsequent night. So, with the logistics under control, I drove all the way back up that same road, to the same resort.
The next morning, all the storm clouds and gray weather were gone. It was the sort of intensely azure-skies beautiful day that you can only hope to experience when you wake up in Kauai. The water in Hanalei Bay was clear and the red flags were gone. I rented a surfboard and I surfed for much of the day, to my hearts’ content. I’m an atheist but even so it was almost as if some “force for the good the universe” was were smiling down at me saying “here’s your reward for being nice to the little crab.”
I’m clear that correlation isn’t causality but that’s how it felt to me. It was a nice feeling. I had a wonderful day, made it back to the airport to catch my flight with plenty of time to spare, and and I now have this story to tell.
So now you know how I feel about cruelty to animals. I’m fervently against it, but I’m not about to join a formal organization and I have concerns about people who break into research labs that contain animals. I prefer to speak out personally and to be a good example, enacting cultural change as I go along.