The Wrong Butterfly
by Nancy Jane Moore
In a gilt frame, on the table next to my mother’s bed, stands a picture of a little girl cutting the cake at her sixth birthday party. She has blonde curls pulled back into a pony tail – a few hairs have escaped the rubber band – and is giving orders about who gets which piece of cake.
My mother uses her left arm to shift her position on the bed so she can see the picture. Her right side has been useless since her stroke. “You were such a beautiful little girl.”
She doesn’t say it as clearly as that – it sounds more like “Yar sech booful lil gir” — but I’m used to listening to her.
I’ve still got the messy curls, though they’re more grey-brown than blonde these days. But it’s been a long time since I was little or that kind of beautiful. Or a girl.
I rub my chin, suddenly worried that I didn’t shave. But it’s smooth. Since I had to put my mother in this nursing home — she needs round-the-clock care — I’ve stayed clean-shaven.
When I was younger and she was healthy, I always made a point of growing a full beard before coming to visit. We fought about it constantly, the beard standing in for the real issue, the choice I made in my twenties.
I look at the picture. I’ve always liked it, always felt like it captured my real self: a happy child who basked in attention. But I was never a girl.
I didn’t know until I hit puberty and didn’t get my period. At first my friends, suffering from cramps and PMS, told me how lucky I was. But then they were all developing breasts and becoming crazy about boys, neither of which was happening to me.
My mother took me to a doctor who assumed I was anorexic and told me to eat more. That satisfied Mother. By my senior year in high school I started carrying pads in my purse and talking about boys like everyone else.
I passed for another seven years.
Finally, I went to a doctor who did more than make assumptions. After a thorough exam, she sat me down and explained: No ovaries, but a Y chromosome. A defective Y chromosome, one that never gave my body the signal to produce the androgen that would make me male.
So the X took over. It couldn’t make a me a fertile woman, but it could make me look like one. Female is the default setting.
“Do you want to be a man?” the doctor asked me. The right mix of hormone treatments could reset the body, do what nature had intended, even at this late point. “In a few cases, the men have even become fertile.”
I had never thought of being male. “Can you make me a woman?”
“No. Estrogen will make you look more female, give you breasts, but it won’t give you functioning ovaries. You were meant to be male, and all we can do — right now — is make you what you were meant to be.”
“Sex change operations,” I started to say.
“You’ve already got all the female equipment a sex change would give you.”
I hated being neuter. I’d spent ten years not changing when everyone else was developing into their adult form, never even made a cocoon while all the others were making lives as butterflies.
I was used to being female, liked being a woman. But the only chance at completion came with a sex change.
So I became a man. It took two years. My mother didn’t speak to me for ten years after that. Though eventually we made peace due to a granddaughter who looks remarkably like the little girl in the picture.
Still, my mother, who loves her granddaughter and knows that I would never have had a child had I stayed in my quasi-female state, objects to my maleness.
“You were such a beautiful little girl,” she says.
And I pat her hand and nod.
Copyright © 2009 Nancy Jane Moore
by Nancy Jane Moore
$2.99 (Novel) ISBN 978-1-61138-099-6