Paula Sophia Schonauer, LCSW, continues a serial memoir. If you haven’t read the earlier parts of this series, follow the links at the bottom of this page.
I stood in front of Ginger’s vanity mirror naked from the waist up, staring at the reflection of my chest. It did look like I was growing breasts, nipples round and swollen instead of flat, and they were a little sore, not muscle sore, more like tender to the touch, a burning ache. When I bowed my arms and thrust my shoulders back, imitating the pose of a bodybuilder, my breast tissue spread across my chest and flattened, but the nipples remained prominent like oversized blemishes. When I slouched forward, the tissue looked flabby like actual breasts.
Years later, I would learn about a condition called gynecomastia, breast development in boys and men due to a hormonal imbalance: an excess of estrogen, a lack of testosterone, or both. At the time, though, it seemed like God’s judgment, a blessing and curse all at once, perhaps an object lesson, a warning about wanting something I should not have. Be careful what you pray for; you might get it.
My ambivalence wavered for a while, a tug-of-war in my mind: curse or blessing? And my church schooling won out. I experienced a sense of rationalization born of despair, a hubris invading my ordinarily cautious state of mind. Of course, it was a curse, a first glimpse at damnation, and since I was damned, I might as well indulge.
I glanced around the room, spotting a bra on the floor. Ginger was not voluptuous, but she did have notable breasts, high and firm. I wondered if my own breast development compared to hers. Upon grabbing the bra, I ran my fingers over the lacy cups and satin straps, fastening the back strap. I slipped my arms through the shoulder straps like I was putting on a t-shirt, and I shimmied the bottom down my torso until the shoulder straps became taut.
The cups were too small for the circumference of my breasts, and I pushed the excess flab into them, feeling the tightness of the bottom strap beneath my arms. If I kept my shoulders forward in a slouch, my breasts filled the cups, but when I relaxed, the excess flab popped out of the cups. My chest was too wide. I slouched forward again, gathered the excess flab into the cups, and stared at the bulges gently nestled within the pretty fabric. It was intoxicating. And exciting.
My breath came fast, and I became aroused in a way I had never experienced, a response that would later bring great shame and confusion, but here in the moment, I was alive in a way I had never known, totally embodied and present. It felt… right.
Remembering that my t-shirt was still soaking in Ginger’s tiny kitchen sink, I looked around the room for a top that might fit, something loose that my wide shoulders would not stretch or tear. She mostly had tank tops and halter tops hung on her little clothesline, things I did not think would fit me. Then I saw a flimsy white blouse, long-sleeves billowing at the wrists, something a hippie chic would wear. It looked loose enough to fit me though delicate and nearly transparent. When I slipped it over my head, the fabric shimmered down my torso, caressing my skin. It felt so good. It was even long enough to drape over my beltline, flouncing outward.
When I looked in the mirror, I did not see protruding bumps on my chest, but I did see the bra through the translucent blouse. I twirled in place, feeling air filtering through the fabric, and I thought, this must be what it feels like to be an angel floating through the clouds, unburdened of the weight of mortality and free from the entombment of flesh. It was like a rapture.
I was ecstatic, enthralled by the release of a long-suppressed femininity, and I did not hear footfalls on the stairs outside Ginger’s apartment, unaware of the pane of glass rattling in the door frame. I did not hear the door open and close, and I did not notice the presence of another person in the room, silent and staring, until I saw her reflection in the mirror, an unwelcome apparition, mouth agape, scarier than any ghost I had ever imagined. I almost fainted, knees weak, head alight, and I crumbled to the ground, wanting to die right there.
“What are you doing?”
Ginger’s voice shook, but I could not discern whether she was outraged or stifling laughter. Either way, her words pierced my consciousness, making me want to tear the blouse off my body, to rip the bra off my chest, but I was afraid of provoking more anger.
She walked across the room, her presence booming over me, heavy with accusation. The nightmare I’d had years before came to mind, and there I was in front of the whole host of humanity, Ginger the accusing angel pointing her staff at me.
And this one wants to be a girl, my mind heard her say in churlish bluster.
I was going to hell.
I expected a beating, to hear berating words, to see a sneer of disgust, but her silence was almost worse. I cowered with expectation, waiting for the punishment to begin, wanting it to begin, to be done with it already.
“What’s is going on?” came the question, a ring of concern, no rebuke.
I turned to look at her, but instead of a sneer, I saw a smile, feeble with confusion but draped with compassion.
“You’re wearing my blouse,” she said. “And my bra…” Then she laughed. “Oh my God! You just about jumped out of your skin. I’ve never seen someone so scared.”
I felt my cheeks get hot, my forehead burning with embarrassment, but it was better than being afraid. Yet, I still could not trust her cheerfulness nor interpret her laughter. I had never known compassion from anyone when it came to my queerness.
“Hey there, so you want to be a girl. What’s the big deal?”
Ginger’s words were too good to be true. “What?”
This time she laughed aloud. “Is that all you can say?”
I almost said it again, my mind still trying to comprehend her apparent kindness, but absolutely nothing else came to mind. I sat on the floor, frozen with ambiguity, not knowing whether to cry, laugh, fight, or flee, but what I did was freeze, immobile from shock and confusion.
- Manhood, from the inside out — Memoir and Mythology
- Part 2 — Cubby Hole
- Part 3 — Magic Carpet Cocoons
- Part 4 — Snips and Snails and Puppy-Dogs’ Tails
- Part 5 — Mirror
- Part 6 – Deep Water
- Part 7 – Limbo
- Part 8 – Dissociation
- Part 9 – Shame
- Part 10 – Judgement Day
- Part 11 – Inferno
- Part 12 – Haunted
- Part 13 – Did I say that?
- Part 14 – The end times
- Part 15 – Alone again (naturally)
- Part 16 – Welcome to Grey Town
- Part 17 — Stigma
- Part 18 — Turning the other cheek
- Part 19 — Malingering
- Part 20 — Rorschach
- Part 21 – Soft hands
- Part 22 — How real men talk
- Part 23 — Crash landing
- Part 24 — To make a fist
- Part 25 — To hurt another
- Part 26 — Showdown
- Part 27 — Savage aggression
- Part 28 – Heroic
- Part 29 — Fear of death
- Part 30 — To be an android
- Part 31 — Too old for toys
- Part 32 — Her eyes
- Part 33 — A bedtime story
- Part 34 –- Sacrifices
- Part 35 — don we now our gay apparel
- Part 36 — Aspirations
- Part 37 — Doing the math
- Part 38 — Baseball rebels
- Part 39 — Climbing Mount Maslow
- Part 40 — Dear mom
- Part 41 – O Holy Night
- Part 42 — Chrysalis
- Part 43 — The Pain of Loneliness
- Part 44 — A Picture and 900 Words
- Part 45 — A night visitor
- Part 46 — Unnatural
- Part 47 — Oblivion
- Part 48 — An unexpected affirmation
- Part 49.1 – The day I grew up
- Part 49.2 — The day I grew up
- Part 50 — An invitation from a stranger
- Part 51 — An awakening
- Part 52 — Bodies
Last Updated April 22, 2022, 9:31 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor