Made to Model
How My Mom Turned Her Boy Into One of the Girls
The lights burning in my eyes were not as annoying as the cardboard stuffed down my blouse and pinned to my skirt, so to avoid showing any wrinkles in my Sears outfit to the camera. A fussy man named Eric and a tiny woman named Sonja pinched, primped and positioned me so I was standing just as the photographer ordered, a man called Rick who was never really happy with whatever I did on my own. So like a mannequin in their hands, Eric and Sonja twisted and contorted my body into Rick’s vision of what a young girl should look like. I did as I was told, smiled, but not too much; demurely. “Prim,” he said. “Prim.”
I did as I was told. “Good girl, that’s my girl,” Rick said.
Except I was not a girl. I was a boy. Or at least, I was when I wasn’t in the city.
Long before my successful, 25-year career in broadcast news, I stood before an even bigger spotlight as a child model and actor. From the 1960’s through the 1980’s, I worked steadily, starting at age 5 and “retiring” at age 17, all the while helping support my family: a New York City cop who couldn’t afford to move us from Queens on his salary alone, a bored housewife turned stage mother, and a younger sister who also worked “in the city,” as we called it.
Life was grand: we moved to a better neighborhood in the suburbs, my sister and I attended private school (when we weren’t working) and we frequently vacationed and regularly visited Disney World. Our family was the first on the block with a console color TV, the first to own a VCR, the first to own a boat. Those were the good years.
Unfortunately, the jobs started to dwindle, as they usually do for boys, as I grew from the “average American boy” into a pre-teen. At age eleven, parts were few and far between, and the money was no longer streaming in. It seemed there was always work for girls, but few casting directors were looking for pre-pubescent boys in those days. So my mother hit upon an idea, to boost our income.
She submitted me for parts calling for girls.
At first, all I did was radio work, voiceovers. I was a first tenor, so my voice was high for a boy, and my stage name could be either a boy’s or a girl’s; the casting directors were happy so long as I sounded right. But it didn’t stop there.
I did photo shoots, fashion shows, walked the runways. I met and worked with stars before they were stars, including Brooke Shields,Tom Cruise and others. And at the height of my career in 1976, I was earning $100 a day as a girl model, when I finally walked away.
And what makes this story of mine particularly disturbing, to myself, to my family, is how my mom made me into a better earner. Dressing me up apparently wasn’t enough to transform me into a girl. “Vitamins,” my mother called them.
But unlike Flintstones or other vitamins that came in a jar, these were special. They were kept away from all the rest, in a drawer, in her nightstand. In a cream-colored clamshell case, with just enough pills for a month: at her direction, I took one a day, for 21 days, then took seven pills of a different color, until starting a new pack.
My mother put me on estrogen. Birth Control Pills, the high-test version before the dosages were lowered. They were hers; the only doctor I saw in those years was an optometrist.
It worked, all too well. It was our secret. I stopped visiting my neighborhood barber and we would instead go to the beauty parlor. My mother obsessed about my skin, my nails, and my hair. I was the only boy in school with a Dorothy Hamill hairstyle. The pills helped in all those areas, keeping my skin clear and giving me a more feminine appearance. I’m not going to lie: even though I didn’t know or understand why my body was changing, I liked it. I enjoyed being a girl, from how I looked to how I felt, as well as the attention, the affection and the new bond I formed with my mother. She had tapped into a secret desire I don’t recall ever expressing. I wasn’t unhappy as a boy, but I was most definitely happier as a girl and around girls.
And the pills stopped what my mother described as “the change” in my personality, an assertive streak she wanted stopped, and did… for five years, until finally, thankfully, my father learned the truth — seeing his son for the first time modelling a bra — and demanded it stop. And for the first time, at age 16, I finally started experiencing what it was like to be a teenage boy. A boy with a cruel nickname in his all boys’ high school: “Tits.” Being a boy became my everyday challenge. With time, my body started to right itself, and adolescence kicked in my first year of college.
That’s where I met my wife, and ten years later we wed. We’ve been married 15 years, and we have three beautiful children. Proof that despite the conditioning, my body reasserted its maleness.
Twenty-five years after I finally got off the pill, something changed: my testosterone levels dropped, leaving me estrogen dominant. Doctors have not been able to explain this drastic hormonal imbalance that changed my body back to that of a female. I started a second adolescence: my breasts started to regrow, my male body parts receded, my voice which was never so deep seemed even less so, and my body hair grew soft and light, just as my skin softened, hips widened, and I shrank from almost 5’10 to 5’7. Could this be a result of the years of medical intervention by my mother? Doctors are at a loss for what else causes an involuntary sex change.
And as time has worn on, this condition has brought discord to my marriage. More than one doctor counseled me that the road ahead to becoming more fully female is likely less difficult than putting my male self back together like Humpty Dumpty. And so this is the story of my struggle, my secret, and my journey. How it ends is unclear.
For years, I have contemplated telling my story, but resisted for fear that it would cause trouble for my family. Strangely enough, my mother herself pressed me to go public, and often told me how sorry she was. What I never understood, until recently, is what she was sorry for.
It was the repressed memory of that clamshell that came to me one day this summer, followed by sessions with a hypnotherapist, that has helped me unblock the repressed memories of that time that have plagued me all my adult life. I had remembered bits and pieces, burying the years of work I did as a girl. But until therapy I downplayed those years as inconsequential. In hindsight, I see now why I locked those memories away. Unlocking them is a painful but important process in my healing.
I currently work as a writer/producer at a major television network in New York. I’ve worked there on and off for four years, and have multiple awards to my credit for my work as a writer. I live here in NYC but also have a home with my wife and kids outside the city. Our children know some of my secret, in that I’m different from other dads, that I have a medical condition that requires me to wear a bra, and it’s probably because of all this that they all too often call me “Mom.” That’s a sore point with their real Mom. My wife has no desire to live as a lesbian, and all I want in this life is to be authentic, and to be with her and our family, and so we press on with my life after Dawn.
4 thoughts on “Made to Model”
Hi, Dawn. Nice to meet you, too. So my question is, where are you in all this now? Are you still “in retreat” as one of your older blogs suggests? Or are you able to live as your true self? And are you doing all right…emotionally, physically, financially? There is so much someone like you or I can lose when we transition.
I was listening to an interview with Alan Arkan the other day, and he commented that he had given up on therapy when the therapist he had been seeing for something like 11 years told him (because he wasn’t getting any happier,) “I never promised you a rose garde.”
“Well,” said Arkan, “I want the rose garden. Why not? I know other people who have found it. You can see it in their eyes. Why not me? I want it, too.” Have you found your rose garden yet? Are you getting closer?
Funny how I totally forgot to “reintroduce” myself when I reactivated my blog! LOL, thank you Karen! Best wishes and hope you’re having a good day!
Thank you, Dawn. Yes, I’m going to have a very food day!
As to the rose garden, I do hope you get there soon. I totally understnd about the job insecurity…and especially the family situation. I delayed my own transition about five years for those same reasons. I’m retired now, and on a pension. It’s enough, but there’s not much left over at the end of the month for extras (like electrolysis, for instance.) That said, having made the final decision and moved forward into my RLE, my life is so much better in so many ways that I can scarcely believe it. I’d lived almost full time for the previous 4 years, and I’d been on hormones for around 6 months, so I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. The family situation remains…(what word fits?)…let’s say “brittle.” Both of us are trying to get along, but there is an awful lot of history to get past, not just the issue of my being trans. I moved back home this past September, and there are many days when I really do wonder if that was the right decision.
However, the rest of my life is wonderful beyond imagining. My job today is to assemble all of my documents and put together the package that will go to the Ministry of Health. Next step: the official interview with the psychiatrists. I was about to say that the rose garden is almost within reach, but that’s not true. I’m already there. The next few steps will simply be the final negotiations and the signing of the deed.
Cheers from here, and may blessings fall upon you on your journey. They certainly have on me.
PS: I’ve bookmarked your blog, so I won’t have to pester you about where to find it next time! 😉