The flight to Bangkok's Don Muang Airport
felt far longer than I'd imagined. It was Christmas break during my freshman year at the University of Hawaii, and I was 18, anxious, and alone. After high school graduation, many of my classmates were throwing big graduation parties and buying new cars. Those kids went looking for good times and great memories, but I was desperately searching for one thing only: a chance to be in the right body for the first time in my entire life. I had traveled more than 6,000 miles to have gender reassignment surgery - a sex change.
At the arrival gate, I was greeted by two smiling nurses who assured me that everything was going to be OK. But I already knew that. I was the one who had lived with the sheer torment of inhabiting a body that never matched who I was inside, the one devastated by the quirk of fate that had consigned me to a life of masked misery. By the time I set foot in Thailand, I knew there could be nothing worse than living another day with a penis dangling between my legs.
Counting backward as the anesthesia took hold, I surrendered to what I believed with certainty would be a better future. And then, just like that, I was awake again. The sound of Muslim prayers rang through the air, echoing in my brightly lit hospital room. Even though I'd spent the last three hours on the operating table - I could already feel the first tinges of pain in my lower body - I felt completely reborn. Though I had been born a boy to my native Hawaiian mother and African-American father, I would never be a man. It was the birth of my choosing this time. And now it was official: Charles had died so that Janet could live.
Once, when I was 5-years-old, a little girl who lived next door to my grandmother dared me to put on a muumuu and run across a nearby parking lot. So I did. I threw it on, hiked it up in one hand, and ran like hell. It felt amazing to be in a dress. But suddenly my grandmother appeared, a look of horror on her face. I knew immediately that I had crossed some kind of line. After yelling at me, she banished me to our patio, where I played quietly with my sumo action figures for a while. I loved them because they had long hair, and they were the only "dolls" OK for me, a boy, to play with.
It didn't take very long before the social cues got louder and clearer. My parents started scolding me over the way I walked and held my hands. I learned to hide aspects of my personality. Playing with girls was fine, for example, but playing with their Barbies was something I could do only behind closed doors. After my parents split, my mom said my younger brother and I needed a strong male role model and sent us to live with our dad in Oakland, California
. Stern and critical, my father couldn't accept how feminine and dainty I was in comparison to my rough-and-tumble brother.
"Get outside and play!" he would bark. One time, I pretended to be a girl named Keisha - I wasn't dressed like a girl, but in my baggy jeans and colorful top and with my longish hair, I easily passed for one. A boy who didn't know me told my cousin Mechelle that he thought I was pretty. "Isn't she?" Mechelle said, playing along. She
. It spoke to my soul.
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