Writing Historical Memory and Responsibility

Writing and reading a memoir can offer opportunities for the author to find greater self-awareness and self-understanding. One hopes that the mundane and seemingly unique in my experience will find kindred souls among readers.

I have resisted writing a memoir for years. As a transsexual man, I felt that my story belonged as much to others as to myself. The others include psychiatrists, physicians, religious people, members of larger gay and lesbians communities, academics, even other transsexuals. My story felt, and still feels, both more and less complicated than what I believe I have been expected to write.

The very simple – but it isn’t my story – version goes like this: I was born female. But I always felt male. So I was born in the wrong body and changed my gender in my mid-thirties.

Like I said, that story belongs to others.

The simple version of my story – one that I can support – might read like this: I was born in the year of the Dragon in the Mile High City two days before J. Edgar Hoover would describe the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King as a “most notorious liar.”

A more complicated story: I was born in the year of the Dragon to white parents who graduated from college and to two sets of white grandparents who graduated from college. My parents drove from Leadville, Colorado – 10,152 feet above sea level – to Denver, Colorado, where I was born at Presbyterian St Luke’s Hospital (in 1964 it was St. Luke’s).

In either of these stories, I hesitate to describe my strong sense of body dysphoria. I still hesitate. If I say my body is what it is, then I deny that I found grave discomfort with the physical state of my body. If I say my body created the dysphoria, then I affirm that my body is wrong.

I prefer now to create stories that affirm my personal histories, my historical and global histories and describe my body as a positive things, regardless of my perceptions about it.

Affirming my personal histories and memories seems simple enough. I did some of that above. Affirming my body as a positive thing means loving the body I have, always. Unconditionally and with gratitude. I have asked a lot from body and have treated it with disrespect and thoughtlessness. But my heart has kept going. I bow in gratitude to the muscles and tendons and ligaments and arteries and blood and marrow and bone. Together they have created the scaffolding upon which I have constructed my life.

My body has become my understory, the architecture of my life. (To be continued.)