Peeing Standing Up
WE’RE USED TO MEETING MEN WHO WANT TO BE WOMEN, BUT NOT SO MUCH THE OTHER WAY AROUND. THIS IS NOT THE LIFE STORY OF A LESBIAN. IT’S THE STORY OF RITA DAKIN, WHO WANTS TO BE A STRAIGHT MAN; WHO WANTS TO BE SEEN AS A MAN, BE TREATED AS A MAN AND LOOK LIKE A MAN BECAUSE RITA FEELS LIKE A MAN. ALISON BEZZINA BRINGS OUT THE BOY TRAPPED IN THE FEMALE BODY, SHOWING WHAT IT’S LIKE TO LIVE BETWEEN THE SEXES AND TURN INTO A RECLUSE.
44 years ago Rita Dakin’s mother was congratulated for giving birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl. Rita seemed healthy and happy, and for a while nothing seemed amiss. Then one day, when Rita was about six, her mother walked into the bathroom to find her daughter trying to urinate standing up.
“Mum I want to pee standing up,” Rita said innocently, as she struggled to balance on her tip toes and reach the edge of the toilet.
Though somewhat stunned, at this point, Rita’s mother didn’t think much of it. She explained to her daughter, that only boys pee standing up and made her daughter sit down on the toilet seat.
“But mum, I want to pee standing up,” Rita argued, with tears welling up in her eyes.
“You’re a girl, and girls pee sitting down,” her mother repeated, unknowingly shattering her 6 year old daughter’s world.
Until that point, Rita had no idea that there was any difference between her and a boy, or as she puts it, “I had no idea I was any different from my male cousins. Though people must have referred to me as a girl all the time, the toilet incident is the first memory I have of me getting upset about it,” she explains.
“It was mind blowing. I felt disoriented and was angry at my body for having let me down. How could I not have realised that I was different I asked myself.”
Unlike her elder sister, Rita was always very attracted to boys stuff. From boys’ toys, to boys’ clothes, boys’ games and boys’ as friends too. “I hated dresses and skirts. Whenever I had to wear one , like during my Holy Communion and Confirmation, I could not wait to get back home to change back into my jeans and tank top. I loved it when people thought I was a boy, and I let them think that for as long as I could get away with it. For a while this was easy to do because I was lean and tomboyish; I kept my hair short and had no obvious female features. Of course as expected, once I started to grow up things got more complicated.
At the age of 12, I developed a big crush on a female teacher. I must have driven the poor women crazy with my attention, flowers, poems and gifts. I had no idea why I was feeling the way I did, but clearly she realised what might have been going on and at one point she told me to back off. I was devastated and confused and had no idea what was wrong with me. Eventually I went to the library to try to find some information about what I was feeling, but being the late 70s and the only thing I found was that if someone feels attracted to people of their same sex, they should wait until their 18 years of age, and if the feeling is still there, then they can conclude that they are homosexual.”
Rita went through her teens carrying the possibility of being gay at the back of her mind. “At the age of 17 I started going out with friends. I started to experiment with my identity, and my image, but unlike most girls at that age, I stuck to the boyish look and hid the female characteristics that other girls tried to accentuate. I felt most comfortable when people thought that I was a boy and never but it this was becoming more and more difficult to achieve with every day that passed.
At one point I got into an argument with my elder sister, and in her rage she told me that I looked like a gay man. Of course she meant to insult me, especially by using the derogatory ‘P’ word for it, but she couldn’t have made me happier. She had just proven to me, that even to her, my own sister, I looked male. To me, it did not matter that I looked like a gay man; all I cared about was that she could see the man inside me.
Soon after this incident I started working in a factory, and became very close to a girl who worked with me. During break time we used to get a bit unruly; we would tease each other and laugh out loud; I would take her on piggy back rides and things got rather boisterous. One day we did not hear the end- of- break bell ringing, and we were a few minutes late getting back to our stations. As a result I was called into the big boss’ office, but instead of telling me off for being late, he flew off the handle and asked “what are you? Tell me what are you? Are you a boy, a girl, a woman, a man…what are you?” Though I can understand his confusion, at the time I was stunned and hurt, and wanted to hide for the rest of my life.
For some time I tried to conform to what was expected of me. I even tried to fake interest in guys and dated one, but there was no way I would let him get close to me physically. Because I was so uninterested and aloof, I somehow got the reputation of being a man eater, but in reality I never had anything to do with a man in that way. I kept thinking that I was gay, so I did what the book from the 70s had said – I waited until I was 18 and then came out to my friends as a lesbian. But very soon after, I started to feel uncomfortable with the title and the role. At first I thought that it was a result of all the hiding because I had not come out with everyone and I kept my personal life personal. People at work didn’t know about my sexuality, until a girl from work followed me during the weekend and found out that I hang around gay people. She told everyone at work, and they picked on me like crazy. I negated it and negated it and went through a long phase where I felt that I could only be myself at weekends.
All this soon left its side effects. I started feeling very depressed and repressed. I started seeing a psychiatrist, but I refused to be administered with any pills. I knew what was wrong with me; I had not just woken up one day feeling depressed; there was a reason for all this. Initially I told the psychiatrist that I was in love with a girl who was not gay and therefore did not feel the same way towards me. He suggested that I approach her but when I did she got very offended and broke off the friendship. That was when I first attempted to commit suicide. I went out drinking, took off on my motorbike and hoped I’d crash and die. Luckily my dad found me roaming the streets and took me home.
At this point my mother confronted me. She wanted to know what was troubling me and assured me that whatever it was she’d be there for me. Funnily enough, even though I looked the way I did, the first thing she asked was if I was pregnant. At that point I laughed it off and told her that I thought that I was gay. She was very supportive as she had promised, but of course, I had not given her the full story.
When I turned 22, I met a woman who worked as a shopkeeper close to my mother’s house. I used to go shopping there so often that we eventually became friends. During many of our conversations she’d tell me that she didn’t like gay people, and didn’t understand them at all. She said that even when she saw a gay scene in a movie, she felt revolted. Eventually however we became more than friends, and we both felt that a special bond had been created between us. I finally found the courage to ask her out on a date, and she accepted. I couldn’t wait for the day to arrive. I had fallen head over heels for this girl, and truly cared for her. Just before the big day however, I found out that she was engaged to a man. I was flabbergasted and almost called the whole thing off. I couldn’t even confront her about it so I wrote her a letter. I told her that I had found out about her relationship, and that she had to decide what she wanted to do. She offered to leave her boyfriend but I felt it was unfair to make her do that so soon. So we went on our date and a relationship kicked off. Because of her previous feelings about gay people, at first she felt rather disturbed about the whole situation, but we kept seeing each other for a couple of years, until one day she started getting cold feet because she wanted children. Eventually her boyfriend, whom she had never left, found out about us and wanted to kill me. As hard as it was, I had to call the whole thing off; it was way too complicated, and though she claimed to love me, love was not enough to see us through.
Once again I started hanging around the gay scene but I did not feel comfortable with people who were supposedly like me. I felt like I was in an aquarium cut off from my real world. I made a whole load of excuses as to why I was feeling that way. I kidded myself thinking that I didn’t like the music they played, the clothes they wore and the conversations they had, until finally I realised what was really going on.
I wasn’t comfortable with girls who liked girls, because I didn’t feel like a girl myself. I was so confused at this point that I gave it another shot with a guy in a testing the waters kind of way, but even though I was pretty drunk at the time, I could not go through with it and balked out at the last minute.
The truth is that I feel like a straight man who is attracted to straight women; I want to be seen as a man; I want women to want to be with me because they want to be with a man; I want to be treated and touched like a man, and I want to be appreciated for the male characteristics that I feel I have. To me, this is crystal clear, but for everyone else, it is, to say the least, crazy!
To this day, with a few suicide attempts under my belt, I still don’t like it that people look at me as a gay woman, and I don’t like having relationships with lesbians. I don’t mind if a woman has gone out with men before, but I don’t like it if they’ve dated women. I don’t want a woman to want to be with me because she wants to be with a woman, because that is not how I feel, neither the way that I will behave. Having said that, I do realise that I’m asking a hell of a lot out of people, and now that I’ve put on 30kg over the past 10 years, I can’t hide my female physical features anymore.
In my last relationship I tried to play the role of a lesbian, but it did not work. Although my partner did not mind that I looked manly and acted manly, intimately she wanted to be with a woman. To please her I suppressed my feelings but not only was it not satisfying, it felt downright disturbing, and will never do that to myself again. Sexually I need to be treated the way one would treat a guy. Nothing else satisfies me.
It is very difficult for most people to understand my situation, especially since not much education goes on about the matter. My cousin for instance, is convinced that I want to look like a man in order to attract straight women. I’ve explained time and time again, that it’s not the case. I would like to look like a man because I feel like one. For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt trapped in the wrong body, and I very much doubt that at the age of 6 I felt that way because I wanted to attract women.
So much more awareness is needed for people to understand the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. Gender identity defines what you identify as, male, female or neutral, whilst sexual orientation dictates whom you’re attracted to. The two are independent of each other, in fact, there are people with my condition, who are still attracted to men. Of course it’s complicated for people to grasp, because we are such a minority, and most of us remain in the closet all their lives. If there’s one thing I would like people to understand is that people do not feel this way for kicks and it is definitely not a choice.
Over time, things have become worse and worse from me. I’ve had one failed relationship after another, as nobody seems strong enough to take me as I am. Most people don’t know anyone else like me, and find me difficult to understand, let alone have a relationship with. I’ve been in therapy for a very long time, not to ‘cure’ myself but to help myself deal with the situation.”
People in Rita’s situation can either live with their ambiguity or consider gender reassignment treatment – a very expensive and gruelling procedure. “I’ve considered gender reassignment but apart from not being able to afford it I don’t think that I’m strong enough to physically and mentally go through with it, at least not at the time being. Treatment consists of taking male hormones (testosterone pills and injections), to induce male puberty. This causes the voice to deepen, irreversible facial hair growth, and hair loss on the head. Sometimes it also has the dangerous side effect of causing short temperedness and aggressive behaviour. One can stop at that but most follow it up by gender reassignment surgery which consists of several major surgeries to correct the overall outer appearance from female to male.
Knowing that a solution is pretty much out of reach, over the years I’ve grown chronically depressed. As a result I’ve added on the weight, became addicted to sweets, and probably developed diabetes. I’ve now come to a point where I hardly ever leave my house, and since I also suffer from insomnia it is impossible for me to work. My life now consists of online relations where I feel safe and physically unexposed. I only leave the house, for visits to my psychiatrist and the odd errand. I lower a basket down from my balcony to the grocer downstairs, so I don’t even have to leave the house for food. Of course the lack of exercise continues to aggravate my weight problem which puts me in a vicious circle of physical inadequacy.
Online relations are easier to have. I introduce myself as male using my long standing nickname of Snoopy, and I don’t usually explain my situation until a few chats later. I risk losing online friendships by telling them, but I find that people online are a bit more open about the whole thing.
I’ve also joined a few online support groups which I feel have helped me a lot, but I have no illusions for a better life in the future. I refuse to think too far ahead because with the situation being what it is I have to live day by day. A few months ago I told my mother that I was considering going for the first phase of gender reassignment treatment. I told her that I was considering a mammoplasty (removal of the breasts) and though she must have been shocked and worried she acted very supportive and even offered to raise the money for the procedure. I’m not sure my body can take the trauma of major surgery and I’m scared to go for it. I understand that it is likely to help me feel better but I know what major surgery feels like, because a few years ago I had to have a hysterectomy, and the pain was unbearable.
At the moment neither hormone treatment nor surgery seem to be an option, but if a realistic opportunity knocked at my door, I’d have to decide there and then whether to go for it or not. I can’t hope too much, because I’m lacking the courage to do anything about it.
Recently a friend of mine described me as manly with a special kind of gentleness. For the time being I’m content with this and my reclusive life, but only God knows what the future holds.
First published in PINK magazine. For original feature click here