Confessions of a Gender Junkie
By Mila Madison
It was somehow always there, wrapped in confusion with a sense of wonder. I never really did fit in. I never really felt a sense of belonging to anything. There was nothing I could identify with. I always knew I didn’t feel right with the boys, believe me I tried. I just always had the feeling of being on the outside looking in. It was not until later in life did I realize this gender thing had actually affected everything I ever did. To this day it still does. They say an alcoholic remembers the first time they ever had a drink. I certainly remember the first time I was told I could not go with the girls. I remember an entire childhood of being told, “That is not what boys do” and the constant reinforcement of my assigned gender role. It is something I would wrestle with my entire life. I must confess, I have always been a gender junkie.
“WHEN I WAS YOUNG THERE WEREN’T MANY EXAMPLES OF TRANSGENDER”
When I was young there weren’t many examples of transgender. I remember I was 9 years old and there was this movie called The World According to Garp. It starred Robin Williams and Glenn Close. It was the story of an illegitimate son (T.S. Garp) and his mother (Jenny Fields), a feminist who wanted a child but not a husband. It was an interesting story, but the thing that stood out to me most was the character Roberta Muldoon, played by John Lithgow. In the film (based on a novel by John Irving), Roberta is a transsexual ex-football player. It was the first transgender character in a story that I could remember. It was only a movie and the character was played by a cisgender male actor, but it was the first time I was ever able to ask myself if gender change, or better yet gender correction, could be possible. Of course the character was the brunt of the joke in the film, so my first moment of possibility was also chased down with society’s notion that transgender people are freaks and that they should be laughed at.
So my curiosity with gender would begin to build throughout my childhood. The only examples I could draw from at the time were from films. It was my 10th birthday party and my mother let me take a bunch of my friends to see the movie Tootsie. It was a film starring Dustin Hoffman and he pretends to be female in order to further his acting career. You would think at this moment, when a 10 year old so called “boy” wants to see Tootsie on his birthday that some flags might be raised for everyone involved, but they weren’t. I just went on through life as confused and ever curious as always about gender.
My teens would be just as confounding. I would become fascinated with music and the gender bending glam rock scene. I was able to grow my hair long in the mold of a rocker and I would often be gendered as female. Admittedly, I liked it. However the truth is I just felt out of place. I would become fascinated with artists like Boy George, David Bowie and anyone else who pushed the boundaries of gender. I would get lost and try to find myself in music.
Next came Caroline Cossey, at the time known as “Tula”. She was a bond girl and model who came out as transgender. She would pose in Playboy magazine. One of my best friends, a gay man mind you, happened to have a subscription to Playboy. He was the only person I knew who actually read the magazine for the articles. I remember looking at her pictorial and reading her story. Transition became a possible reality for me in that very moment. She was absolutely beautiful and her body was perfect. “That could never be me” I remember thinking. Even if it was possible for me I would never have the courage to go through with it. There was Caroline, in all her beauty, being everything I could never have the courage or the means to be. I was fascinated by her, I secretly idolized her. I wanted to be her. She changed my life.
As the years went on my fascination with gender continued to grow. I remember a movie called Switch starring Ellen Barkin. It was about a guy named Steve who is murdered and comes back to life as Amanda, a woman. Now the plot is that he has to find a woman who loves him in order to go to heaven, an interesting twist as a woman, but I wasn’t really interested in all that. I was interested in the gender change part of the story. To this day if that movie comes on TV I just have to watch it.
“THE CLUBS WERE FILLED WITH MUSCLE BOYS, CLUB KIDS, DRAG QUEENS AND A THOUSAND EXPRESSIONS OF GENDER VARIANCE AND SEXUAL PREFERENCES.”
So I embarked on my music career and I was playing with a club band. We were traveling and working just about everywhere we could. We were based out of New York and when we were in town we would go out to the after hour clubs in Manhattan at around 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning. We would party until the afternoon. It was a period of escape for me. It was one of personal abuse, drugs and excessive indulgence. Anything to turn off the noise inside my head and to mask my confusion about who I was. We would become immersed in the underground club scene of New York. The band would go there to expand their minds and to hear the latest music before anyone else would. For me it was to be around the crowd, which was full of all varieties of gender revolution. The clubs were filled with muscle boys, club kids, drag queens and a thousand expressions of gender variance and sexual preferences. It was quite a scene, but most important to me were the transgender girls I would meet.
I would often make it a point to get away from my friends and get lost in the clubs. I would hang out and talk with the transgender women there. I would learn about hormones and transition. They would speak about the struggles they faced. I was envious of these women as I would never had the courage to do what they did. I was once again on the outside looking in, but with fascination and appreciation. I knew I had something in common with these girls, but I would never admit it. I saw how people talked about them. I was too scared to face it.
“MY GENDER ISSUES WOULD EVENTUALLY RUIN ALL OF IT FOR ME.”
I would become further immersed in the club scene by producing the music behind it. I was starting to have success in my music career and I was making the very records these eclectic crowds were dancing to. It should have been something I was able to enjoy, but I could never do so fully. I still always felt like an observer. My gender issues would eventually ruin all of it for me. I just didn’t fit and I was never right in my own head nor my own skin. I was lost. I would often party through the morning until the afternoon when the clubs closed the gates behind me. I wanted to escape my own mind so I took everything that was put in front of my face as far as drugs go. I had no fear of death and it often seemed like the only solution for me.
I would eventually leave it all behind. Lucky to have survived I would try to do something that was always beyond me, to be “normal”. At this point I was so good at repressing my gender issues that I actually convinced myself they were just twisted thoughts. I would settle down and get a real job. I was married and raising my stepdaughters, trying to be a model father and husband. I became lost in my family, which was probably the only good thing I ever did. A decade later my gender issues would catch back up to me, but this time there was no turning back. I realized the only way to turn the noise off in my head was to live a true life and if I didn’t face my gender problem, I wasn’t going to be around much longer.
“WITH THE REALIZATION OF BEING TRANSGENDER I NOW SET OUT TO UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING I POSSIBLY COULD ABOUT THE SUBJECT.”
With the realization of being transgender I now set out to understand everything I possibly could about the subject. I would scour the Internet, a resource that was not available to me when I was younger. I would read countless medical journals and studies. I would read about people’s experiences and watch a thousand transition videos. I would study the effects of hormones and the best described treatments. I would learn about science, genetics and biology. I would research the available surgeries. I would learn about the history of those who came before me and those who were making a difference today. Armed with the understanding and acceptance of my true self I became a full-fledged gender junkie.
I may still go through every day thinking about gender, but it is somehow different now. I am no longer on the outside looking in. I am finally part of something, the transgender community. My life has meaning and I have embraced the fact that I will never be what people consider “normal”. I finally have faced the fears that always kept me from happiness. It took me a lifetime to get here. I am a transgender woman and I am now ready to start living.
Stay safe and keep fighting for all of us!
Love and peace,