Pinocchio Joe

Pinocchio with three birds perched on his nose

So…time for a little background info…

I don’t often talk about any “oppression” or “bullying” that’s happened in my life. I’m fairly adaptable, my skin has grown thick over the years, and, quite frankly, I recognize the privilege I have in comparison to a lot of other people who are like me. I try to reserve my energy for pushing forward instead of flailing backwards.

However, let’s dish a bit.

At this point in time, October 16th, 2020, I’m 50. This means I went to grade school in the 1970’s, and middle school and high school in the 1980’s.

Things were quite a bit different back then.

Let’s do one of those little timeline montages here for a second just to kind of get an idea…

1974

I was four, we were living in a trailer, following Pop’s work. We were either in Eastern Washington or Idaho…regardless, we were in a really desolate area, it was 20 miles to a laundromat and we only had one car that Pops needed for work.

My 24 year old Mom was stuck out in the middle of nowhere, in early winter, with very active little kids: a four year old, a three year old, and the baby who was just a year and a half. There was no back up, no family or friends nearby who could pitch in. She was on her own.

All the clothes I liked, my pants and t-shirts, were dirty. Mom was trying to get me to wear a dress. I didn’t want to. I hated dresses. She tried being nice mom. She tried being stern mom. She ended up near tears, frustrated, when she stood, put her hands on her hips and told me that she was just going to take off and leave me responsible for taking care of my sisters and Pops.

I told her fine. I would just call her Mrs. G then.

This was not the first battle between my mother and I regarding my appearance. (And, for the record, don’t even mess with my mom…she was doing the best she knew how to, from the world she came from. I don’t hold it against her. It was a different time and a different place. I know she loved me…but it was still difficult.)

1975

I was the oldest of my generation in my family. I was the first grandkid on either side, the first nibling…aka, the Grand Experiment.

The cousins I played with were my boy cousins. Always. I was never treated “like a girl” by them, not even the slightly older cousins on different branches of our family tree.

I wrestled with them. I boxed with them. We played with Tonka trucks and tore things apart together. I joined the ranks of dirt clod chucking war teams with them.

The only thing that really left me stumped was peeing.

So I tried it. In our tiny little bathroom.

I failed miserably, leaving a wet puddle on the floor and saturated pants around my ankles.

I was surprised by a sudden knock on the door as Mom called my name, asking me what I was doing in there. I slipped in my own urine, fell backwards, and smashed the back of my head against the corner of the sink.

Mom managed to pick the bathroom door lock, found me semi-conscious on the bathroom floor with blood gushing out of the back of my head.

She asked me what I was doing. I mumbled something about peeing like Billy.

This is not what she told our doctor.

1977

I remember 2nd grade, at Timber-Linn park near the lake, feeding the ducks. A little girl around my age, who I didn’t know, joined me. I gave her bread to feed the ducks with me. She looked at me and said “Are you a boy or a girl?”. I told her I was a boy.

It wasn’t a lie. It felt right.

1978

And who could forget 3rd grade? It was there, in Mr. Hogan’s class, when a scrawny little shit named Kent taunted me because I liked to play football. He was mad at me when he was the queer and I smeared him. (Why yes, I used the name of that game purposely – think on it a little. I’ll give ya a minute…)

I don’t hold it against him, now. I’m pretty sure he was gay, confused about his own weird feelings, and embarrassed that a “girl” who was two inches taller and outweighed him by at least 30 pounds pummeled him into the mud after he ran his smartass mouth one too many times.

1979

Then there was the challenge of 4th grade and moving into a new neighborhood, mid-school year. I was just playing with my friend Kacey and his little brother over on their street and then ended up in a scuffle with an older boy who bullied me regarding my “boyness”.

He shoved me. I told him to get out the gloves. His eyes gleamed as he turned around and ran back to his house to do just that.

Kacey nervously looked at me and informed me that he was a golden glove boxer in three states. I didn’t know what a golden glove boxer was, and didn’t really care. He pissed me off.

When it was all over, he had chipped one of my front teeth. I broke his nose.

The next day, his younger sister admonished me for my actions, informing me that “poor Archie” suffered so terribly at my hand. His dad shaved his head and grounded him for a month for fighting with “a girl”.

More like getting his ass kicked by one, I’m sure.

Needless to say, I didn’t feel bad for “poor Archie”. He got what he had coming to him and it was served up in the most humbling, karma kissed way.

I’ve seen him around Albany as an adult. He’s a tiny little guy now. Really. He’s short and very thin. I’ve heard he’s had a few romantic encounters with other men in town. I don’t hold his childhood actions against him, anymore. He had his own demons he was fighting, I’m sure. They kicked his ass much more thoroughly than I ever could.

1980

I remember repeated fist fights between fifth grade me and sixth grade Chris – again playing football – after he accused me of wanting to be a boy. I remember being hauled into the Principal’s office alongside him and being chastised, in front of him, for “not acting like a young lady”.

Middle and High School

I remember when I was in seventh grade, before our school switched from being a “junior high” to a “middle school”…Kyle, a ninth grade flaming gay boy, was assaulted in the locker room by two football players.

Tough guys they were. They beat him into a pulp, rubbed Nair on his head, then locked him in the towel cage, pissed on him and spat chew on him.

I remember all through middle school, high school, and college…being absolutely freaked out and feeling alien and guilty in locker rooms.

I was terrified of letting people down. I worked extra hard at being a good student. I worked extra hard at being a good student athlete. I made extra hard attempts to be popular and friends with everyone across FOUR different states. Everywhere I went, people always had comments about my shoulders, being built like a tank, being a “cow wrestler”. I remember feeling good about this…then feeling weird when I realized “how” they were saying it.

I remember my mom banning me from wearing tank tops starting in 9th grade because I was “too masculine”. She also wouldn’t let me leave the house unless I had some amount of make up on.

Most difficult, all throughout puberty and my young adulthood, was the fact that I would fall in love with those rare girls who were my “best friends”. I can’t tell you how confusing, frustrating, and weird it felt to repeatedly hear the words “I wish I could find a boyfriend just like you.”

I heard that phrase at least five or six times, from different females, at different points in my life.

Adulthood

I remember marrying someone I should not have. I loved him dearly, as my best friend. He was one of the best people I knew. I tried for six years. A cancer scare made me really reevaluate my own dishonesty. I ended our marriage and hurt him really badly. I gave birth to two kids and dragged them through my confusion.

I entered a civil union with a woman years later. A civil union. We weren’t allowed to get real married. Guess what tho? We still had to file for a real divorce even though the government said we weren’t real married. lol

I had to wait until I was FORTY-EIGHT years old to finally be fully honest with the entire world and come out a SECOND time as a transman. My kids were raised. My mom had recently passed away and the pressing thought of my own mortality and not being able to live my life fully as myself became too much.

2020

And what about today?

I get regularly harassed online because I’m open about what I am. You should see a lot of the things that are said to me – usually in a retort where they have been stripped of any valid argument and have to resort to name calling. I laugh about it and poke them harder because I also know that if they saw me in person they would most likely never know. They would probably actually even like me. And, in the off chance that they did not, they would know that I’m a strapping young lad who can take care of himself quite well in a brawl.

My childhood taught me that. My young adulthood taught me that. My whole life has taught me that.

And now this administration wants to take away the rights that I, and others, had to fight so hard to get? They want to delegitimize me as a human being? They want to make it so that DOCTORS can refuse to treat us and insurance companies can refuse to cover our medication and pharmacies can refuse to fill those meds? They want to kick people like me out of the military and make it so I, and others like me, can’t marry and receive the exact same benefits as cis-gendered, heterosexual people get in this society? Not SPECIAL rights. The SAME rights. EQUAL ONES.

And Trump supporters who claim to love me are okay with that? You’re really good with that? If so, please don’t tell me you love me because it’s a lie.

This is not “I don’t like the color red” or “rocky road ice cream is delicious”. These are opinions. Grinding people down, oppressing them, humiliating them, stripping them of their dignity and their ability to move freely in society is NOT a matter of opinion.

I’ve kept a few of you on because you are family and one or two are friends who I do happen to respect. However, please understand, I question your ethics and I absolutely question any level of love or affection you may claim you have towards me, because a vote for Trump is a vote to hurt me.

You don’t hurt the ones you love. Period.

*originally posted on Facebook October 16th, 2020

Published by Jonah Sheridan Fenn

Nerd herder, word wrangler, working on the next chapter...

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