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Manhood — from the inside out — Where the darkness lives

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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.


Truth can have a profound impact when the words are spoken by somebody else. Ginger’s simple proclamation, “so you want to be a girl,” shocked me. No malice. No ridicule. No contempt. No big deal. I had no experience with that. Her ostensible acceptance was unexpected, but instead of blooming with relief or gratitude, I recoiled.  

Sometimes, something desired in secret cannot endure the light of truth because secrets thrive in darkness, like mushrooms growing without light, nurtured by the substrate of unspeakable things. 

My reaction might have been a response to an overwhelming barrage of trauma: the apparent dissolution of my family, the potential death of my mother, my father’s self-destruction, but there was also the fear of vulnerability, the expectation of punishment, both immediate and eternal. Unable to acknowledge nor deny my desires, I froze. To admit the truth would damn me to hell. To deny it would be a betrayal of my true self. I did not have the courage to do either. 

Ginger took my hand. “You must be terrified.”

Paula Sophia (provided)

I could not even nod, my body becoming numb, my mind wanting to escape, but instead of dissociating like I had with the boy in the locker room, I stayed present if not engaged. In this state of being, I did not have to decide, just go with the whims of another person, cede control, and with it, perhaps, responsibility.

Over the years, I have not been able to discern whether Ginger’s reaction was from amusement or empathy. At the time, it was nice not to feel threatened, to have someone’s affirming attention. It occurs to me, she might have been trying to see how far she could push me for her own entertainment, but I did not have much experience with people who were nice as a form of manipulation, a tactic I have been vulnerable to my entire life.

Ginger took my hand and led me to her little, make-shift vanity. I sat in front of the mirror all too aware of the bra beneath the flimsy white blouse. She fumbled through a stash of cosmetics, accumulated in a haphazard manner. I recognized the lipstick but nothing else, gazing upon the different shades of pencil, tubes and platters, brushes and wands, a bottle of beige liquid, and a box of powder. 

“Have you ever worn makeup?” Ginger asked. 

I could not speak but only stared at the mirror. 

She shook her head and wrinkled her mouth in a half smile. “Of course not.”

Ginger grabbed the bottle of beige liquid, shook it up and down, and looked at me with a discerning stare. “Hmm… hey sweetie, could you take off that blouse? It’s very delicate, and I don’t want to stain it.”

I unbuttoned the blouse and took it off one arm at a time, extra careful to make sure I did not tear it or brush it against any dirt, then I started to remove the bra. 

“No, keep that on.” 

My face felt hot, and I saw my cheeks get red in the mirror. Ginger noticed and laughed, perhaps amused, perhaps sympathetic. She went to a laundry basket near the kitchenette, sorted through some garments, and picked a blue tank top with lace-trim shoulder straps, a curved and plunging neckline, and a rainbow peace sign at breast level. She placed the garment over my head, pulled my arms through the shoulder straps, and pulled it down my torso, leaving the top part of the bra peeking over the neckline. I pulled it back to conceal the bra, but she yanked it down, again. 

“No, sweetheart. It’s okay to show a little,” she said. “Guys like that.”

I had never imagined being appraised by a guy while dressed as a girl, and a shiver of revulsion vibrated through my body. I inhaled a quaking breath like the quiver of a small child recovering from a bout of crying. 

“Did that scare you?”

I nodded.

“Yeah, boys are scary,” she said like I was no longer a boy, a little sister, perhaps.        

Ginger tousled my hair, trying to fluff it up. “You know, you would look a little like Tatum O’Neal if your hair was longer.” 

Now, this was music to my ears, but it embarrassed me just the same, my cheeks hotter and redder than ever. 

“If you keep blushing, I won’t know how much makeup you need.”

Ginger grabbed a black pencil and told me to close my eyes. She colored the edges of my eyes, first the bottoms, then the tops. It hurt a little, and I winced. She scolded me, telling me to keep my eyes from wrinkling. I inhaled a slow breath and let it out even slower, enduring the discomfort. At that point, my head felt light, and I struggled to stay present, colors flooding my mind, shadows wavering and expanding until the darkness clouded my vision. 

   I felt so hot and confined, recalling that time I had been trapped in the attic cubby hole when I was very young, pounding on the door to get out, feeling the world congeal around me, air to liquid, liquid to gel, everything muffled. I needed to get out. I needed to breathe. After a while, I felt a hand on my shoulder, nudging me, pulling me, and I felt myself whooshing through the darkness, then a sudden cooling of the air. 

“Open your eyes,” Ginger’s voice echoed from a far-off place. “Hey there.”

When I opened my eyes, I felt dizzy, and my stomach turned cartwheels, my heart fluttering like I had been dead, now brought back to life. When my vision cleared, I saw a girl sitting in front of me, and it took me a moment to realize it was my reflection in the mirror. Ginger had placed some padding in the bra, a modest amount, but enough to make it obvious I had breasts.

This vision before me was beyond my dreams. It was like I had died and gone to heaven, my prayers to God finally coming true. But then, I heard a voice, mine at first but lower and growing sinister with the pronunciation of each syllable, “What are you going to do, now?” 

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Last Updated May 7, 2022, 8:22 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor

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