How Gender Works

By Gina Easley

By Alex Myers

Exhibit A

It is 2003, and my wife and I have moved to Florida. I’ve been taking testosterone for a few months. I’d been living as a man for over seven years at that point, but it had been getting harder to pass—I was twenty-four but still looked like a fifteen-year-old boy.

We moved to the Gulf Coast of the state, the conservative side, and I remember sitting in the very-empty living room of our brand-new rental home, calling endocrinologists, trying to find someone who would treat me. I’d dial a number and say to the receptionist: I’m a transgender person looking to continue my hormone therapy under a doctor’s care. Is that something Dr. So-and-so can assist me with?

That afternoon, I got every answer from the professionals but clear: That’s not his area of expertise. To the curt: No. To the shocked: Is this a joke? You’re sick. And others that were ruder. At last, a sympathetic receptionist told me: Try calling someone over in Miami. I ended up with a doctor in the Fort Lauderdale area.

I remember sitting there, on the beige carpet, leaning against the gleaming white wall, thinking that I would never come out in this place.

Our second year in Florida, we moved to an older neighborhood, a little more run-down, but in a good way. Our neighbor was a lesbian who flew a rainbow flag off her back deck, a short woman with spiky blond hair and the fierce energy of a former collegiate lacrosse player. After we’d known her for a few months, we had her over to dinner and, with the slight awkwardness that always accompanies coming out, told her that I was transgender and that my wife, Ilona, was bisexual.

I knew it! she crowed.

How did you know?

She pointed at Ilona. Gaydar. I just knew you weren’t straight. Then she pointed at me. And you—I knew because when that dog was attacking your wife, you chased it with a broom.

She was alluding to an incident that occurred not long after we moved in. Another neighbor had a pit bull that was both mean and always getting loose. One weekend afternoon, I was sweeping the house, and Ilona was outside gardening. I heard her scream and looked out the window to see the pit bull in our yard, growling at her. I ran out the door, brandishing the broom. At that moment, our lesbian neighbor happened to drive by and stopped her car. Taking in the scene, she first called animal control and then picked up a handful of rocks from the roadside and began to throw them at the dog. The pit bull, which had largely ignored my broom waving, responded to the rocks and ran off.

What man fights a dog with a broom? our neighbor insisted.

Exhibit B

It is 1998; I am an undergraduate in college, and I need a physical on short notice for a summer job with the Audubon Society. The doctor I normally saw at Harvard’s clinic didn’t have any open appointments, so I was put with a provider I didn’t know, an older man.

In the little examination room, I handed him the paperwork. I was nineteen, in good health. I expected this to be a mere formality, a matter of checking the boxes off. And at first, it was. Reflexes, blood pressure, peering into my ears. Then the stethoscope, snaked up under my shirt to listen to my heart and lungs: Deep breath. Again. I thought that he might figure it out then, that he might feel my breasts as he placed the cold metal disc against my flesh, but, no, he didn’t. Check, check, check. Immunizations, up to date. In between the components of the exam, he asked small questions about my studies, about the job. Where was the bird sanctuary that I’d be working in? He flipped the page on the form. Okay. Now I’ll need to examine your testicles.

I’m sorry, I told him. I don’t have any. I’m transgender. I was born female, but now I live as a man.

It may have been the most awkward coming out that I’d managed yet.

The doctor just blinked at me. What’s that?

I’m transgender. I’m female. Biologically and genetically female. I was raised as a girl. Now I live as a man.

Oh. So no testicles?

I shook my head.

He looked at the sheets of paper, flipped one over, made a mark. I tried to imagine what he was writing—or what he was looking for. He proceeded with the rest of the exam and then flipped through the pages again before peering at me.

No testicles.

It was half-question, half-statement.

No testicles. I affirmed. I waited, wondering if there was some other test he needed to do in lieu of the testicular exam, wondering if he would need to ask what I had instead of testicles. But he said nothing, just looking at me and then looking at the pages in front of him.

And you’re what, again?

Transgender. I’m biologically and genetically female. I live as a man.

His eyes brightened as he gave a small sigh and smile. Ah! I understand. You’re a woman with short hair.

Exhibit C

It is 1995. I have been out for less than a week. It is an evening in July, and I am at a mixer for GLBT youth. The music is thumping, and I am avoiding the dance floor. There seems to be no good place for me—the lesbians are not interested now that I’m living as a guy; the gay boys are bound to be disappointed once they find out. So I am leaning against the wall, watching the scene.

She comes over to me—round glasses, dangling earrings, and she says: I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m just trying to figure out if you’re a boy or girl.

Me, too, I tell her.

That night, we laugh and talk and even, I think, try to dance for a song or two, unaware that in seven years we will be married, that in all our years together we will never find a better understanding of gender, of who we are, than at that moment.


ALEX MYERS was born and raised in Paris, Maine. For most of his adult life, he has taught English to high school students. In January 2014, Simon & Schuster published his debut novel, Revolutionary. In addition to teaching, he works as an educator and advocate around transgender identity. He lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and two cats.

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