U.S NAVY VETERAN, 22 MONTHS OF SERVICE
DAWN, ON CROSSDRESSING IN THE NAVY:
Fresh out of high school I served 20 months active duty on the U.S.S. McDonnell. At the time, it was the height of the Vietnam War and the draft was on, so my options were to either enlist or go and dig foxholes in Vietnam. It was during the draft. And I did get drafted, but fortunately I was already enlisted. I was straight back then, I was physically male. I was married, so the only difference now is that I’m a female. But I’m still attracted to females. What’s between your legs- changing your gender or your sex- doesn’t change who you are attracted to…
You’re you, that’s the problem. And heaven forbid you’re a football player, a big wedge of a guy when you look in the mirror, but you’re you- A young woman. That’s the problem I had. My body didn’t match my soul.
I didn’t know what the term was, I didn’t know what it meant, it had nothing to do with genitalia or sexual attraction, at five years old, you don’t care. All I knew was I wanted to be a girl. I didn’t know what that meant, there was no information out there…this was in the early 50s. I remember seeing the article in the paper about Christine Jorgensen that appeared front page, 1954 I believe, I was just a kid but I said ooh! At that point, at least I knew it existed. It would take decades to find out information. There was no internet, libraries had nothing under any topic I could think of- I searched the whole state of Connecticut. I found a few things in the ‘50s and ‘60s, enough to know that it existed, but not enough until the 1980s.
You learn how to hide. Very young, you learn how to hide.
I used to live in an Old Colonial, very squeaky floors. I could walk around in the middle of the night and no one could hear me. You learn how to hide, very well. You get caught a few times, so you learn how to hide. And I’ve been caught a few times through the years…cross-dressing. It’s just something that overwhelms you, eats you up. It actually physically eats you up. It’s hard for someone who has never been through it to understand it, but it eats you up.
When I went home, when I was on leave, when the ship was in port, I took every opportunity that presented itself to cross-dress. I hate to call it a compulsion but it is…it sounds ick and it is…but you crossdress. Do I have big time guilt trips over it? Yes. Is it pretty? No, it’s pretty damn ugly. It just eats you up, I don’t know how else to describe it. It eats you up and I did it every chance that I could. When you’re on a ship and you’re out to sea weeks, maybe months at a time- it was very hard, very, very hard, because the thought was always there, it’s always in your head. You can’t hide from it, it doesn’t go away. On the ship, there’s nothing you can do about it. Whether anyone picked up on me, that I was different, I don’t know…I’d say that probably if there was someone paying attention to me, they’d say there’s something different about this person, without being able to put a finger on it. But not getting a whole lot of leeway with your hair and your clothes, and how you act, what you do, where you go and everything else…When you follow orders, stay out of trouble, you just muddle your way through it. Was I the best person in the Navy? Of course not. Did I do my job to the best of my ability? Yes, I did everything. I was serving my country and I realize that.
Looking back at my service, it was nice. I was in the Navy, so I did see some things. Not too many Americans can say the first place they set foot in Florida was Key West. I learned a lot. It didn’t help me much in the civilian world, but I learned a lot. I’m from a little town in the country with chicken farmers…what do I know? I was able to be a person of the world.
But I walked off that ship and never saw or talked to anyone again. I would never, never, never talk. Never, never, never. Never developed any real friendships. I account it to me, the hiding. I would hang out with the guys, but I was never really one of the guys.
I know some trans in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. Marines really freak me out because that’s extreme machoism. And some of them do it because they are trying to hide from themselves. But it doesn’t work. Some drink a lot, others do really stupid things, some people heavily into guns, racecars, you name it- anything macho because they are hiding from themselves. When I see a macho guy, I get suspicious now, because I know too many. There are former football players…
It’s not race oriented, it’s not size, not anything to do with that. It’s just something in you, I can’t explain it. I don’t know why, but if it’s in you, it’s in you. You don’t become this. If I touch someone they are not going to become like me. If I talk to you, I’m not going to convert you to be like me. You either are, or you’re not. It’s either in you or it’s not. You’re either transgender or you’re not. It’s always there. Some hide it better that others, some overcome it and lead totally miserable lives, and back before modern science, that’s what they did- they led totally miserable lives, or committed suicide. But that doesn’t come out. I know people who cut their wrist, cut their legs, cut everything. You name it, I know someone who’s done it. Some have succeeded, most haven’t – they live to tell the stories. But it’s scary, it’s scary. What would you feel like if over 50% of women tried to commit suicide in their lifetime? What would you feel like?
About the time I was in the Navy, I received some information form the Erikson Educational Foundation, based out of Baton Rouge Louisiana- very antiquated information by today’s standards and I also had a book written by Harry Benjamin. It was pretty scary, highly detailed, clinical readings back then. Not written for the layperson. And the surgeries and treatments available to people back then were not exactly what’s out there now. The surgery that I had is light years compared to what they had back then. Back then it was three surgeries over a period of two to three years before you were correct. Now, not in this country so much, but overseas there are doctors that do it all at one time. And I can go to a gynecologist anywhere in the world and the only question they are going to ask me is when I got my hysterectomy. They can’t tell. I’ll pass any physical.
My family didn’t know anything. Where I grew up, not far from the state hospital in Connecticut, which was called the funny farm and various other derogatory terms, it was about the size of a major university. It was not a small place. It looked beautiful. But they put you in there, and they gave you shock treatments and that’s where you stayed. Trans was on the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), so I was considered officially, legally a nut job. So, back then, if I had admitted anything, anybody could legally incarcerate me and throw away the key. The definition of insane is non-functioning, but I can function just fine. There was never a problem with me, just with everyone else. That’s where it gets dangerous. Still to this day, there is a large degree of crime against transgendered people, bigotry. I know people who have been attacked, so I am always a little on the cautious side. I don’t broadcast, I have been in this house for many years and my neighbors don’t have a clue. Wherever I go, they don’t know. They don’t need to know. I’m just another person, like you. I just happened to have a little problem that needed to get fixed. It’s no different than any other problem. A heart problem, a cleft palette, it’s just a birth defect that needed to be fixed. And it’s just something that’s not readily acceptable by society.
I finally discovered something called fantasia fair back in 1986 and I went for 10 years straight. I arrived as a female and left as a female. I got home, looked in the mirror, I would freak out, really freak out. Mentally it was…whew. But I learned a lot. People, the movers and shakers, this was what they used to call the cream o’ the crop. The people who had the time and money to come here- it didn’t cost me a lot because I could just take the bus up. That was learning time. I didn’t go full time living as a female until 1994, almost 20 years ago. When I started living as a female- just living as a female, all my conflict went away. It just goes away. But at that time I didn’t have the money. You have to be able to take three to six months off of work, pay for bills, and pay for the surgery because insurance isn’t going to pay for it. Pulling that stunt off was another matter all together. But I was in no real hurry, because I had eliminated my conflicts, so nobody knew the difference.
Then I had the surgery. Is it the end all, be all? No. It just makes me comfortable with me. The world is still there; all the problems are still there, all the grief is still there. All the bills are still there. It doesn’t change anything except you. That’s all, it just makes me whole. I just do it for myself. And if anybody does it for somebody else…you do it for you and only you. That’s the only reason. You never do it for anybody else, that would be a big mistake.
My parents both passed away many years ago. My mother knew I cross-dressed, they knew, but they didn’t know what it meant. They weren’t highly educated people, so…. My mother, she caught me, found clothes. You know, when you’re very young, my mother was a 32b, I could put on her underwear. But as I got bigger, that didn’t work, I had to get my own. And that was another magic act, which I perfected over the years. I had a bureau and I built a drawer under it, to hide the clothes. I still have the bureau with the brackets underneath. I’ve still got it to this day, 60 years later. And that was so my mother wouldn’t find things. She could vacuum under the bureau, go through all the drawers and she’d never find anything-you’d have to get clever. Because when I got caught it was not a pleasant experience. Back in the ‘50s, the early ‘60s, it was not a pleasant experience. My mother would call it junk, get very angry- this is not accepted, and no one understood it anywhere. I lost my first wife, I lost a girlfriend I had dated. Again, the secrecy, not knowing… It hurts, it hurts a lot, and I don’t like to hurt people. I’m not like that. It hurts them, it hurts me. Even though the last woman I broke up with was over 20 years ago, it still hurts.
I’ve got someone now, we are starting, hopefully it works out, but she knows everything up front I didn’t understand this, how could I expect them to understand it? I still don’t understand it. All I know is that it is. Anyone who can tell you they understand it, I think they’re cookoo. It happens and there are reactions, but we don’t understand it. And it affects everyone differently. We are all different, we are all human. No, not one of those. You cut us, we all bleed. I lead a normal life. It’s not easy. I’ve had to work twice as hard to get half as much. My mother always called me a thick-headed French person and that’s exactly what I am. I made it through to retirement, now hopefully I can do a lot of things form me. Enjoy life, hopefully. Hopefully I have a lot of years left for me. But I don’t regret going in the Navy. Would I advise a transgendered person to do it…no. Being transgendered back then made it absolutely miserable for me. It’s hard, very hard. It eats you up inside.
Back when I was married for seven years, we did go to a shrink, in Hartford I believe. He talked to me for five minutes and he had me all pegged out, he said I was a transsexual and he was going to fix everything. I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but I knew he couldn’t have figured me out in five minutes and know how to fix me. I don’t care who you are. And that freaked me out and my then wife too, because this guy was not gentle at all, I mean he was just a bull in a china shop. That was a very bad experience trying to come out. That probably did not help save my marriage. This doesn’t destroy every marriage. I know people, they’ve gone through all this, and they stayed married. I know people who are extremely happy with their spouses even though their spouse is now a different gender, same as theirs. So…bad therapy. I went through bad therapy in the ‘70s, several years of it, very expensive, and it didn’t “cure” me. Freudian therapists are “going to cure you.” If you have a Freudian therapist…run. It took many years before I finally found a therapist who actually knew what the heck they were talking about.
I got married just before I went active duty. I came back and we made it another five years. It was hard. I’m not going to tell you it was easy on her. If you’re a straight woman, you fall in love with a guy, he tells you he’s a woman and you don’t like girls, then you’re probably going to have a problem. I don’t think that it’s their fault. No, the fault lies here, there’s no question about that. And same with another girl I dated for 15 years. She couldn’t take it. She tried for quite a few years to understand, she even came with me to Fantasia Fair once but she couldn’t. She gave it her best. Was it enough? No. Is it her fault? No. I don’t blame her. I can’t blame her. She did nothing wrong. I can’t blame them, it’s not fair. The buck stops here, whether I like it or not, the buck stops here. It hurts me a lot. That’s why I went 20 years without even dating anybody. I wouldn’t even look at anybody. But then somebody cracked me, and somebody felt attracted to me. I didn’t understand it, I don’t know why. Hopefully it works out. The knowledge wasn’t available then, and your own personality has a lot to do with it, too. You know, not everybody can take this, not everybody can accept this. Even the best of them. Sometimes love can’t overcome everything. And it hurts me. Because I hurt people, and it hurts me. Another thing that happens after surgery is that you become way more emotional. I can break down and cry. Before, that would never happen. Now I fall apart in a heartbeat, I’m a weak basket case!
So, there’s a lot, a lot of conflict in your life. A lot of trauma inside you. It affects other people, which always concerned me. I would always do the right thing, although, it’s not really. You’re transgendered and you’re dating somebody and they don’t know about it- that’s lying and it leads to a disaster. It hurts you, it hurts them. It’s very hard, it’s the very sad part. I get upset over that- I don’t like hurting people. Simple.
Finally, in 1993, the opportunity arose to come to Florida, I didn’t even know I was coming here, where I am now, I just came and forgot to go back. I just said, whatever is going to happen is going to happen here, this is where I am staying. And I just walked away from everything. I needed a huge change in my life. It was very hard, but it was something I knew inside I needed to do, for me. And it’s not been an easy road; it’s been a hard road. I have no regrets. And now I have someone special in my life. She knows all about me. There is no hiding now, which is a big difference, a big, big difference.
My dreams usually consist of mayhem and destruction. They tend to be weird dreams, I wake up shaking, they’re vivid. I lose most dreams, and am left with a feeling of disconnect or disorientation.