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May 18, 2011

I Was Born a Boy

janet mock

Photo Credit: Perry Hagopian

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While on these hormones, I lost my virginity at age 17 to a guy I met while I was working at a boutique. He knew my background but said he didn't care. Even though I trusted him, I couldn't relax and insisted on keeping the lights off. I was a woman with the wrong parts, and tried to cover myself up. After that awkward encounter, I knew that I could never share myself that way again. If I was ever going to finally feel at ease with my body, I had to have a total sex change.

I knew a woman, a friend of a friend, who had gone to Bangkok for gender reassignment surgery. She told me that it cost only $7,000, much cheaper than getting it done in the U.S. Though that was still an extraordinary sum of money for me at the time, I'd have paid any amount — nothing was going to keep me from my destiny. By year's end, I'd saved up enough to purchase my ticket to Thailand.

I spent 10 days in the hospital recovery room, doped up on pain relievers. During the operation, my surgeon had masterfully refashioned the tissue and nerves from my male organs to construct a vagina. Finally, every part of me made perfect sense. I didn't have to "tuck" anymore. Were I to change right next to you in a locker room, you wouldn't think twice about my body, wouldn't doubt for a second that you were in the company of a woman. A doctor signed off on my gender reassignment papers, enabling me to legally change the sex on my American birth certificate to female. With my male organ gone, I continued a reduced hormone therapy regimen, which was ultimately phased out six months later. If there was a secret now, it was mine to keep.

Two weeks after the surgery, I was in class at the University of Hawaii, finally focusing on something other than my gender. Four years later, I left Hawaii, a beautiful, confident woman armed with a journalism degree and bound for graduate school and a career in New York City.

I was 25 minutes late and racked with nervous energy for my first date with Aaron. We'd met at a Lower East Side bar — he didn't know anything about me when he approached me — and our connection was so intense that it scared me. He was good-looking but also, as I learned dating him over the next few weeks, an open and thoughtful person. I decided that if the relationship was to go further, if we were going to be intimate, I had to tell him my truth. One night at his apartment, I took a deep breath. "There's something about my past I need to share with you," I calmly said. "I was born a boy." I felt as though the words were made of concrete, and I waited to hear them crash loudly to the floor. Aaron looked at me with obvious concern, took my hand, and asked, "Are you OK?"

We spent the rest of the night talking. Slowly, I unpacked all the secrets and shame I'd been dragging with me all these years. He was braver than I could've dreamed. We didn't make love that night, but eventually we did, and I felt safe with him. Revealing my story to Aaron was about finally embracing my authentic self. Despite all the shit — the childhood spent fearing my father's judgments, the high school bullying, all those years mourning what I thought I could never have — here I was, in a blossoming relationship with a gorgeous, astute, caring man. After 10 months of dating, we moved in together, and I've never been more fulfilled.

Aaron is among just a handful of people who know about my unbelievable adventure. I have a thriving career as a Web editor for a very popular magazine. My coworkers don't know about my past, mostly because I never wanted to be the poster child for transsexuals — pre-op, post-op, or no op. But the recent stories about kids who have killed themselves because of the secrets they were forced to keep has shifted something in me.

That's why I decided to come out in the pages of Marie Claire, why I'm writing a memoir about my journey. It used to pain me to hear my birth name, a heartbreaking insult classroom bullies would shout to get a rise out of me. But talking and writing about my experiences have helped me finally accept the past and celebrate the fact that I was once a big dreamer who happened to be born a boy named Charles. I hope my story resonates with other big dreamers, lets them know that no matter how huge, how insane, how unreasonable or unreachable your goals may seem, nothing — not even your own body — can hold you back if you are certain and fearless and, yes, even a little ballsy in your quest.

Get in touch with Janet at her site, janetmock.com.

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