When puberty betrays you

Chris Edwards headshot

Author Chris Edwards gave an emotional and engaging keynote during Boston Children’s 2019 Experience Week. Below is an excerpt from his memorable talk.

When people find out I transitioned, the first question they often ask me is, “When did you know?” I knew it all along — just like most of you instinctively knew your gender all along. For me, there was never this realization of Oh my god I’m a boy. It was Oh my god people think I’m a girl. That’s when the alarm bells went off. And I remember that day vividly.

I was five years old and I came out to my grandmother; I just didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. Neither did she. Surprise! We were at her summer cottage on Cape Cod. My older sister Wendy and I were in the family room coloring while Gram repeatedly passed by us on her route from the kitchen to the dining room with platters of food. On her last pass she yelled, “Come on girls, dinner’s ready!” Wendy immediately sprang up and followed her to the table. I didn’t flinch. I honestly didn’t think she was talking to me. Two minutes later, Gram came back over to me and very sternly said,

“Didn’t you hear me calling you?”

“No.”

“I said, ‘Come on girls.’”

“I’m not a girl.”

“Yes…you are.”

“No, I’m not. I’m a boy.”

“No, you’re not sweetheart.”

“Well then I’m gonna be.”

“You can’t darling.”

Gram smiled sympathetically at me and walked back into the kitchen. And I’m like, Whatever Gram. I’m gonna make this happen with or without you. I couldn’t understand how she could possibly make this mistake? And are other people making this mistake? I put my 5-year-old brain to work and figured it out: The only difference between boys and girls was that boys had short hair and girls had long hair. So, I told my mom I wanted my hair cut like Daddy’s. Problem solved. Or so I thought.

It wasn’t until the following summer that I realized I was lacking certain equipment. I was back at Gram’s house — seemed like that’s where it all happened — this time with Wendy and my cousin Adam. We were out on the back deck eating popsicles and Adam nudges me and says, “Watch this.” Then he turns his back to us and pees in a perfect arc right over the deck rail. I was like, “How did you do that? Do you have a squirt gun in there?” Wendy’s like, “Duh, he has a peeenis,” and I’m thinking, “What is a penis and how come I don’t have one?” I already felt stupid, so I wasn’t about to ask. I just figured I’d probably grow one; that mine just hadn’t grown yet.

Well, that didn’t happen and I began to realize something was terribly, terribly wrong.

And every night I prayed that somehow, some way my body would turn into a boy’s body and everyone would finally realize they were all wrong for thinking I was a girl.

Well, my body changed all right. Just not in the way I’d hoped. Puberty hit and my body betrayed me in the worst possible ways I could imagine. I became deeply depressed. My whole personality changed. I was no longer the fun-loving kid I used to be. I was angry all the time. Because I knew then that I was stuck. Stuck with this body I hated and stuck being a girl for the rest of my life.

As it turned out, I wasn’t stuck. And in my mid-twenties, with the help of a great therapist and some amazing doctors, I began my transition. It took 28 surgeries for me to become the man I always knew myself to be. But the most painful part of my journey wasn’t all the surgery. It was the 25 years leading up to it when I had to pretend to be somebody I wasn’t.

I had one long-term goal when I began my journey. And that was not to let my transition define me. I just wanted to get through it and be the man I knew I was inside. It took time, but in the end, I achieved that goal.

Chris Edwards speaking at Boston Children's

We value the varied experiences of our patients, families, staff and friends. As a community that supports all of its members, we share and celebrate their stories. Read more about Chris Edwards’ story of living life authentically in his memoir, BALLS: It takes some to get some.

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