Joe Bloom – Identity and Awareness

“I wanted a cowboy suit.”

I was born on April 14, 1956, at the old St. Luke’s Hospital. It was on “A” and Dean Street. [I was born] on a Saturday.

[When blowing out birthday candles, I’d wish to be a boy.] I’ve got a picture of myself on my fourth birthday: back in those days, the cowboy suits were the big thing. Roy Rogers, and all those guys. For my birthday I said [that] I wanted a cowboy suit. And my mom said, “Well, you want a cowgirl suit.” My older sister had one, and she loved it. I said, “No, I want a cowboy suit!” And I got it. I was so proud. I have a picture of me standing over my birthday cake, and I’m just beaming. I think, as a little kid, you have magical thinking. I thought that made it so [I was a boy], you know. I remember running down to my grandma’s house. I was so proud. I still have the shirt from it.

As far as I could remember, wearing a dress was a sentence. My mother was kind of tomboyish anyway, so she was cool with that. And growing up on a farm, a pair of blue jeans was about the way you went. Then, my other sister–the one that’s closest to me in age—was very fem. So we didn’t trample on each other. She did her little girlie pretty frilly thing. That was fine. No competition there.

Almost every kid my age out in my neighborhood was a boy. I had one friend—he was a little bit younger than me—but he was in Cub Scouts. There was no way that I wanted to a Girl Scout. You had to wear that dress, do those stupid things. I wanted to be a Bear, a Lion, a Webelo, or do campfire stuff. I didn’t want to do cookies. I liked eating them! I was in 4-H. That was okay, because 4-H is a little bit more gender neutral.

I remember one time . . . You know, all the kids had sleepovers. I asked my mom, “Mom, can Randy stay the night at my house?” “No,” she says, “you can’t do that.” I says, “Why not?” She didn’t have a good answer for me, but I just couldn’t understand it. “Well, it isn’t done.” One of the neighbor boys and I used to wrestle. Oh my gosh! We would spend a lot of time outside. We had our own crick, I mean, [you] couldn’t walk to the store, but you could play in your own crick. It was just big enough you could dam it. You could get a lot of mud, rocks, and sticks, and put a dam across it. Then it holds for about 10 minutes. [It] gets really deep—or, you know, maybe six inches instead of an inch. [Laughs.] And then, of course, it would break through, and then you’d try to dam it up [again]. We’d spend hours down there.

I can remember when my mom explained about periods. I says, “You’re kidding?  I’m not doing that.” “Oh yeah, you are.” “You do that?” She says, “Yeah.” “My older sister?” “Yeah, she does it too.” [Pause:] “Well, what about Grandma?” “Well, she doesn’t do it anymore.” And I’m like, “I want to be there.” At the age of like, ten, I’m saying, “I want to be in menopause. This isn’t going to happen to me! [Laughs.] I am going to wish hard and not have it happen, because that’s disgusting.”

In fact, do you remember the old Kotex movie that they show you in sixth grade? All the girls got to take home the permission slip, and I decided I didn’t want to see any more of that.  I knew what was going to happen. [I thought,] “Don’t rub it in.” So, I didn’t bring home the permission slip. My mom was a little upset when she heard about it. I said, “I don’t need to know about that. I know about that. I don’t want to hear about it anymore.” When the day came [for the movie in school], all the girls went off to this one room; myself and all the boys were in this other room. All the boys are like, “What’s going on?” I wasn’t going to tell them. [Laughs.]

I did have an argument with my dad when I was about 15—maybe even younger than that. We raised hay. Of course, putting up hay was a whole family affair. When I was just a little bitty kid, I brought the water out to the hay crew and it felt like I was really doing something important—and it was. It was really good for self-esteem. But as you grow up, you do different things, because everybody has to work together to get that hay in before it gets bad. Well, when I got big enough and old enough, I told my dad I wanted to buck hay, because that’s what you do when you get big and strong enough. And he told me, “You can’t do that. He says, “You’ll hurt yourself and not be able to have babies.” Oh! I was so pissed at him! [Laughs.] You know what?  I got to buck bales. I think my mother probably [took] him aside and said, “If she wants to do it, let her do it.” Still didn’t work though. I was still a girl when I got up in the morning.

Junior high was tough. I started acting out then. I think puberty had a lot to do with that. That is like the worse thing to go through when you’re [transgender]. When you’re a [little] kid, you can just pretend that someday you’ll wake up and you’ll be what you want to be. And then, when puberty hits, it’s like, “What’s happening?” I was miserable. My behavior changed right about that time. I started acting out in school. Not at home, because I knew my parents could whip my butt, but in school they couldn’t touch me. I remember getting into a chalkboard eraser fight with a boy one time. They hauled us down to the office and I got the lecture—not the boy. I got told, “That wasn’t ladylike.” Of course, I’m smirking, because I knew I wasn’t a lady. They didn’t even say anything to him.

I felt resentful growing up, you know? “Don’t tell me that I have to do this because I’m a girl. I don’t want to do that.” There used to be a song. My mom had it on record: “I Enjoy Being a Girl.” And that went, “I sit on the telephone for hours with a pound and a half of cold cream on my face; I’m simply a free male female; and my future I hope will be in the home of a brave and free male too. Blah, blah, blah. I enjoy being a girl.” When I was mad at myself, I used to sing it. [Laughs.] Just sarcastically. Another song was “I Want to be Bobby’s Girl.” “What a grateful, thankful girl I’d be.” [Gags for effect.]

I’m pretty sure this isn’t a false memory. I think it’s something I stashed away until just recently, but I think one of my parents sat me down and told me, “Jo, you’re never going to be a boy, so just get over it.” You know, in a loving way, but it was really painful. It’s something you kind of squash because, if you can’t do anything about it, why flog a dead horse? You just figure you’re going to be unhappy.

It’s interesting to talk to other transgender people. The commonality of our experience—especially older trans-people—[is] growing up and not knowing anybody like yourself. And yet, the childhood experiences are a lot alike. It’s just that desperate, “Oh my gosh. They made a mistake here!”

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Source: Interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 24 July 2013.