This one is not easy for me to write. I'm afraid I might lose friends.
When I was a kid growing up in Larchmont, New York—I'm guessing I was around 13—there was a newspaper stand that was located off on a side street. This would be 1967. The guy who ran the place was blind and wore dark glasses. He sold newspapers and comic books and candy. And I knew from the other kids in the neighborhood that, behind the counter, he sold skin magazines with titles such as "Dude," "Topper," "Gent" and "Nugget." These were kind of low-rent Playboys. Full nudity hadn't yet hit the stands in America, even in Playboy. But these publications featured topless women in bikini bottoms and maybe a glance of pubic hair. For my 13-year-old self, it was the holy grail.
Many times, I would walk around the block past the store, steeling myself to enter through its doors. For a long time, I couldn't work up the nerve. But one day I did. Though my voice hadn't fully changed, I thought if I stomped into the shop with a heavy tread, lowered my voice as low as it would go, slapped a five-dollar bill onto the counter and demanded, "A Dude and a Topper," I might get away with it. Hell, the guy was blind.
I did try. And I was not successful. The shopkeeper had probably experienced a long parade of 13-year-old boys attempting the same ruse. But he wasn't mean to me. He didn't chase me out. Instead, the blind shopkeeper reached under the counter and said, "I can sell you this."
"This" was a tabloid newspaper with the name of Midnight. I had no idea what it contained, but I paid my 50 cents and ran. Later in the afternoon, bathroom door locked, I took my first gander. No boobs, no bare buttocks, no bikini pubes. Just these weird, kind of titillating stories about Hollywood celebrities of the time. Actor George Raft in a nursing home, refusing to eat, kept alive by, well, nursing. Sorry.
I flipped through Midnight's pages. Kind of stunned. Then I saw it: "World War II Army Vet Lives as a Woman!" Huh?
The story was about Christine Jorgensen, or that was her second name. Her birth name, I no longer remember. She'd been born a he, and had served as a GI in World War II. Now he was a she. Something about a procedure in Denmark. I was dumbfounded. WHAT!!!? This frightened me. It disturbed me. I didn't understand. And Christine Jorgensen was pretty. I quickly threw the tabloid away and banished Christine Jorgensen from my mind. As best I could.
I grew up surrounded by women. I have three sisters. My mom, at 92, is still a powerhouse. I love women. My dad was not often around. Men, as a species, are not high on my list.
When I was really little, maybe six or so, I attended a neighborhood birthday party. At the party's end, us kids were offered a choice of party favors to take home. The choice? A plastic bow and arrow with a suction cup tip or a set of paper dolls. Man, I took the paper dolls in a New York minute. They looked to me like a lot more fun to play with.
To this day, I think they probably were. But within a half hour of me walking home with my cutout dolls, word had spread through the neighborhood: "Champie Clark likes to play with dolls!!!" This word soon made its way to my dad. The next day, Dad made me cross the street by myself to the party host's home and exchange the paper dolls for the plastic bow and arrow. The bow and arrow lasted about 20 minutes before it broke, the piece of shit. I might still have been playing with those paper dolls!
Anyway, I was a guy and I was made to know it. But, the problem was, I was never a "guy's guy." I was always kind of sensitive. I still can't bring myself to say "bro" or "dude." But, I did—and do—love a lot of stereotypical guy things. I love sports and have always followed them avidly. My voice is really deep. I've been married twice and am the father of a daughter I believe I have been a good father to and who is my true meaning in life. And, like I said, I love women. Always.
But I have never been happy. I've always disliked myself. I've never been comfortable in my own skin. Why? I am 63 now and spend a lot of time lately thinking about this.
Recently, I had an epiphany. I have never been my true self in life. I believe, if I'd been a woman, I would have been able to be myself. Because, inside, I am a woman. And, as a woman, I might have been happy. Like Christine Jorgensen. But back when I might have actualized this, transitioning was virtually unknown. Certainly, it was to me. Except for Christine.
It would be too late for me to transition now. I'm old and gnarled. I wouldn't be pretty. I'm vain and I'd want to be pretty. It's just … too … late. The reality is, after 63 years, I'm stuck with being a man.
But thanks, anyway, Christine Jorgensen. Thank you for leading the way for others.