The Problem with Transitioning

22 10 2012

To start this oddly – I could of course, be wrong… but it has worked for me. You best stop reading right now and go to the end of my wordpress to start at the start. This article addresses what makes it easier for others and by extension easier for yourself. It does not change what happens or the time it takes to happen; just how it is done. Fair warning – this article is a bit more ‘scattered’ than others, it meanders a bit to get to the true course.

The real challenge in life is when we feel things have be wrong for a long time and we now have the ability, power, money, confidence, support to make positive change for ourselves that we think everybody else will just ‘go along with it’.

If you are in transition, how many hours do you spend in therapy talking about being the new you vs the struggles of getting others to see that person? Over the years I have become better and stronger, but it cost me nearly everything I had known (and that too is a familiar story). I wrote this article in 2009 about the Losses – Coming Out Transgender. I said in that article that 25% of your past friends, family and the like remain. Even with the title of my wordpress, Amy is long gone.

The truth is now, that there were no survivors that crossed the barrier with me. My very best friend, best man; he could not walk the last bit with me when he saw how happy I am and how everything had turned out for me. He was there for me every step while I was struggling. He was there for me over a decade ago when I came out to him and told him about my childhood and hormones for the past 15 years. He was the last of my long past to fall away, lost when all has been going great these past years. He knew how to be with me as a struggling transgender friend, we separated when it looked like I had worked it all out and was content with where I was and about myself.

Also, the truth is, if you have been true to yourself and in your actions, then only when others lie to themselves while with you would that leave them unaware. Sometimes, the people you out yourself to cannot imagine what is happening.

I am going to swing out on a limb here and say that transitioning, the way it is set up through modern society and modern medicine is wrong. There, I did it, I used that word; when I think very few things can be labelled ‘wrong’.

I have watched countless people struggle in this are, so here is some advice. Please read through and tell me where the flaw might be. We live in a society where we now think that making some kind of grand social announcement then proceeding on course is the way to go with transitioning. Pretend with me if you will…

Pretend that you are a machinist, working down at the local shipyard, living in the town you were born in. You decide, based on figuring out who you are, that you are moving to Prague to study classic piano.  Now imagine the reaction (and noted lack of encouragement) that you are likely to receive at work, with your family, your close friends if you just come out and say “I am now a composer, and will be living in Prague”. Sure some of them would be supportive, but behind your back they would laugh and say ‘nice dream’. Now try it a different way.

Instead of making this grand announcement after you have figured out who you really are… you start taking piano lessons. In fact, at lunch you practice on a small electric keyboard, every day out in your car. You spend a couple years learning, that way, when you are in Prague you can concentrate on what you know you really want to do, composition. While you are doing these lessons, you play at every opportunity.  You have now practiced enough Czech that you great coworkers with “Dobrý den!”, every day. When asked about the the language, you comment that you are learning a new language. Finally, you start selling off all the things that you will not be taking with you on the move.

It is about then that others will ask you what is going on. When you explain that you do not see yourself as a machinist living in this town forever, they go ok… now it is making sense. When they think about it, they have noticed that you are proficient at the piano and have been speaking that other language. There is little question in their minds that you are serious about this, that what is coming has been well planned and that this is something you really want.

Now try it the other way…the way it sounds to most people when you come out as transgender or transitioning.

Come out to your family, friends and coworkers and announce that you now want to be called Bronco Billy the Cowboy and you are going to be a Rodeo Star. “Can you ride a horse” they ask – “No, not yet, but I am going to learn”. “Have you even practiced roping?”. “Well, I am going to buy a real rope soon”. So, they ask, “You want us to call you by just Bronco or Bronco Billy”. You respond “My name is now Bronco and I am a Rodeo Star – please make sure you get all that correct and never refer to me as my past” And, just like anyone you know that would make this announcement to you, it sounds a bit crazy. There is no doubt that some would think you lost your mind!

I have chosen the ‘change before announcement’ course every time, in every instance; the one of doing it myself first, then others get to see the plan. I was the person who said “No, I can’t do that this weekend, I have to do 30 hours more work on my boat”. I said “I am going out sailing for practice” when asked about going out in winter weather. When I talked about the watermaker installed or the solar panels, people nodded. All this was while living on the boat. When it was finally announced that we were going off cruising, people said “It looked like that” – not “Are you crazy, you are going to die”. Now I tell you I have sailed 16,000 nautical miles and lived in many different life conditions. I tell you I have backpacked, bussed and hitchhiked in several countries. Now, when I tell you that I am going to Columbia this winter and Vietnam next summer to trek around – you say “sure, that sounds about right”. Those things are all true. When I tell you I am building a vehicle for long distance road travel… you might say you would not BUT that looks exactly like what you would expect from me. In fact, if you have read this blog, the outdoors part and vehicles does not surprise you.

The journey of Transition is no different than following your heart, desire and beliefs for anything else. The pathway chosen is often made harder because what you are asking is for other people to accept that you are something that, up until then, never occurred to them about you. No one is surprised about a change when they can see the work towards it. In fact, once they notice the work, they often go along and support it very easily.

So, my advice is two fold. What not to do:

Change your name first and announce that you are now to be a woman to all your friends, family and coworkers (usually in that order as you build confidence). Making such a strong tack seems like a right of passage with transitioning BUT, like Bronco Billy and the rodeo, it is asking a lot of your support and social structure to make the leap with you.

What to do:

Start soft, like learning to play the piano (which I also do).  Start by changing your clothes slightly, grow your hair, fem up. All this takes time and you would have to do it anyways after making the “grand announcement”. Get fem, go on HRT then when you make the name change and ‘come out’, most people will already have figured it out OR at least be able to see that the course you are on is happening already.

Now before you beat me up, I am not saying do not become who you really are, just that you consider others as well as yourself when you transition. It should make it easier to take the same journey as others. Although I have, through sailing, bussed and backpacked through my earth journeys; the road, as always, less travelled.

Make it easy on yourself by thinking what makes it easier for others to understand. Otherwise, coming out as the new “Bronco Billy” the (now decided) rodeo star is an easier stretch than coming out as Sarah the woman. I am out.

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The Journey Continues…

21 05 2011

My path – Arriving with backpacks in Belize from Guatemala on our Honeymoon 2011

As I said from the start, I walk my own path – even as a TG.

I have always walked my own path.

We all make choices. As I said with my very first introduction of, I am not one easily labeled. I honestly hope that writing about this continuing journey is useful to those who also find that walking the path less tread has offered me a unique view into myself and society.

Here is how I started the Who Am I

Who am I?

I was born a male and still retain my penis (does that alone make a male?) – gees, there is that question again… so if a male gets his penis cut off, is he a what? If am F-M never gets a penis are they what? Boy, those never get answered easily.

I have no delusion about having an SRS; I can neither afford one and, in turn, have found a great way to live with my life as it now is. I am born in a different country that will not allow a change in my birth certificate without 2 doctors, in my home province, probing me to make sure I am not a male AFTER a SRS. This in turn effects other ID downstream.

I live as I am myself, I look like a female; and the rest of the world treats me as such.

I still answer to my male birth name. With the conflict of an international birth certificate, international passport, ‘green’ card and local ID, I could not have it all changed and cannot travel with 1/2 a change.

I have had to figure out that between the pink and the blue box there is a space for others. Gender Queers, Gender Benders or as my son said so long ago, “Gender Transformer; more than meets the eye” (he said it in a sing-song voice). I am now what I had been ultimately seeking – something of a balance of gender. I had said all along that I never though of being a female – heck, I know what real women are and there is such a blend of brain, body and soul that makes up the single term gender that we misuse the label ‘woman’ or ‘female’ all the time.

So what are the labels that I apply to myself to help others (and those others include black or white TG’s) understand?

  • Married and Father – married to a great, accepting person who accepts both my gender (ambiguity?) and my sexual orientation. Father to an outstanding (not just by my standards) son.
  • Gender – I think of myself more as a balance of gender, but others see it differently. When forced into a label, I am either a girl with a penis (which only matters when in change rooms or skinny dipping) or a ‘boy’ who looks like a girl. Mostly as a female who has boy brain knowledge and a penis (which so often seems the focus of TG’s). Most would call me a Preop M2F (not a label I like because it is a ‘bus stop’ on the way to the F). The most recent development is that many in the LGBT community see me as a woman and think I might be considering a gender change to male by using the name ‘David’. Everyone loves to box and label people, even in the community. Honestly, for the most part, I just let people figure it out and they label me female unless I tell them anything else. ‘Passing’ is not a problem, being ‘butch’ enough for travel past the TSA with my ID is more of an issue.
  • Sexual Orientation – Gynophiliac (attracted only to women) is what I prefer. If I were a lesbian, then it would stand to reason that I would be with them – but I am not. Lesbians are also Gynophiliac (preferring sexual intimacy with women). I am attracted to women and really needed to be with a female who has a more middle of the road approach to her attraction (bisexual if I had to label). So I either needed a lesbian with NO penis issues or a woman who had no other issues – a tall order! I luckily, have that woman in my life.

.

More to follow – 5/21/2011





Robot or Alien; and the CAVE

16 01 2010

 Robot or Alien.

It is a simple question, which are you? You know already, stop right now and answer before reading further.

The second, harder question is where are you? This pertains to the cave.

I usually write about the transgender subject area and leave most of myself out of the comments. Times are a changing. I am out more and offering others the chance to express and examine themselves.

THE CAVE

Have you read Plato’s Allegory of the Cave? The lesson of the cave is considered a fundamental question about us and how we see the world  and what is real (have you ever seen the Matrix?). Take time to read the summary – or for those with less time, watch the video after the story!

Inside The Cave
Socrates begins by describing a scenario in which what people take to be real would in fact be an illusion. He asks Glaucon to imagine a cave inhabited by prisoners who have been chained and held immobile since childhood: not only are their arms and legs held in place, but their heads are also fixed, compelled to gaze at a wall in front of them. Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which people walk carrying things on their heads “including figures of men and animals made of wood, stone and other materials”. The prisoners can only watch the shadows cast by the men, not knowing they are shadows. There are also echoes off the wall from the noise produced from the walkway.

Socrates asks if it is not reasonable that the prisoners would take the shadows to be real things and the echoes to be real sounds, not just reflections of reality, since they are all they had ever seen or heard. Wouldn’t they praise as clever whoever could best guess which shadow would come next, as someone who understood the nature of the world? And wouldn’t the whole of their society depend on the shadows on the wall?

Release From The Cave
Socrates next introduces something new to this scenario. Suppose that a prisoner is freed and permitted to stand up. If someone were to show him the things that had cast the shadows, he would not recognize them for what they were and could not name them; he would believe the shadows on the wall to be more real than what he sees.

“Suppose further,” Socrates says, “that the man was compelled to look at the fire: wouldn’t he be struck blind and try to turn his gaze back toward the shadows, as toward what he can see clearly and hold to be real? What if someone forcibly dragged such a man upward, out of the cave: wouldn’t the man be angry at the one doing this to him? And if dragged all the way out into the sunlight, wouldn’t he be distressed and unable to see “even one of the things now said to be true,” viz. the shadows on the wall?

After some time on the surface, however, Socrates suggests that the freed prisoner would acclimate. He would see more and more things around him, until he could look upon the Sun. He would understand that the Sun is the “source of the seasons and the years, and is the steward of all things in the visible place, and is in a certain way the cause of all those things he and his companions had been seeing”.

Return To The Cave
Socrates next asks Glaucon to consider the condition of this man. “Wouldn’t he remember his first home, what passed for wisdom there, and his fellow prisoners, and consider himself happy and them pitiable? And wouldn’t he disdain whatever honors, praises, and prizes were awarded there to the ones who guessed best which shadows followed which? Moreover, were he to return there, wouldn’t he be rather bad at their game, no longer being accustomed to the darkness? “Wouldn’t it be said of him that he went up and came back with his eyes corrupted, and that it’s not even worth trying to go up? And if they were somehow able to get their hands on and kill the man who attempts to release and lead up, wouldn’t they kill him?”

I have lived in the cave, at different times, about different things. I may still continue to live there, about certain things that I think are real and sound real, but are just the shadows and echoes. I have thought to be in love; many times in my life. Those times were shadows and echoes. One time I met a person who broke my chains and showed me the shadows and noises for what they were – then lead me into the sunshine, I was blinded. My eyes were corrupted – I was never be able to return to the shadows of the cave and be happy with their movements. The murmurs and echoes of the object bearers offered no comfort any more. This is the awakening that changes all. It can happen about nearly anything and nearly any time. There are times I want for the shadows, but there is no return for me.

Me, I escaped the cave years before, freed in so many ways. This is not to be taken as pleasant though. I often explain it like the loss of innocence rather than the gain of enlightenment. I have also pulled others from the cave, sometimes just breaking their chains was enough to free them, sometimes I led them to the surface. In one case, a person returned to the chains and shadows – wearing a mask to hide their return (having been exposed to the outside). A person can never fully return and be comtent with shadows and echoes.

For the full, correct version, check out this video. I really like this version. It is longer, but worth it.

So why bother with the Allegory? What do we have to learn here? It deals with two subjects at the heart of human substance:

  • What is real?
  • How do we fit into the reality?

That brings us to the simple question, the one I enjoy asking friends. Are you a Robot or an Alien?

I leave you with the challenge to look at yourself. It is up to the interpreter to figure out if they are a robot or an alien and what they even mean. Me? I am an Alien and always have been. Is one better than the other – better for what purpose? There are lots of Robots and Robots who wish they were Aliens. There are also Aliens disguised as Robots. It works both ways… Robot or Alien?

“Even with the prospect of Death…” (better watch that full version of the video).





Transgender – Positive News

29 12 2008

I have written much about Gender; about society, the community and the person transitioning. Additionally, with the some 20,000 words here on this blog, I have increased the number of videos. If a picture is worth a 1000 words….

Here is some positive, social information. There are a number of agencies, companies and service agencies that are making some efforts to inform ‘norms’ to understand and even welcome transgender people.

From the Chicago Police Department, an informational video for the staff and the public.

20/20 – Gender, a 5 part episode. This series by Barbara Walters is societies attempt (with some success) at understanding Gender, what it means to families, their children and the media. This series concentrates on transgendered children.

From the moment we’re born, our gender identity is no secret. We’re either a boy or a girl. Gender organizes our world into pink or blue. As we grow up, most of us naturally fit into our gender roles. Girls wear dresses and play with dolls. For boys, it’s pants and trucks.

But for some children, what’s between their legs doesn’t match what’s between their ears — they insist they were born into the wrong body. They are transgender children, diagnosed with gender identity disorder, and their parents insist this is not a phase.
“A phase is called a phase because it is just that. It ends. And this is not ending. This is just getting stronger,” Renee Jennings told ABC News’ Barbara Walters. The Jennings asked that “20/20” not disclose their real name in order to protect the identity of their 6-year old transgender daughter, Jazz.

Most transgender children still live in the shadows, hiding from a world that sees them as freaks of nature. Rejected by their families, many grow up hating their bodies, and fall victim to high rates of depression, drug abuse, violence and suicide.
Today, hundreds of families with transgender children — who have found each other over the Internet — are taking a dramatically different course. They’re allowing their children to live in the gender they identify with in order to save them from a future of heartache and pain.
“I think we’re a very normal family,” said Renee’s husband, Scott. “I think we have a very healthy marriage. We love to watch our children in all of their activities, whether it’s at school, or on the field playing sports.”

On the surface, the Jennings and their four children are a typical American family. But their youngest child, Jazz, is only in kindergarten, and already she is one of the youngest known cases of an early transition from male to female.
“We’ll say things like, ‘You’re special. God made you special.’ Because there aren’t very many little girls out there that have a penis,” said Renee. “Renee and I are in 100 percent agreement as to how we should raise Jazz,” said Scott. “We don’t encourage, we support. And we just keep listening to what she tells us.”
From the moment he could speak, Jazz made it clear he wanted to wear a dress. At only 15 months, he would unsnap his onesies to make it look like a dress. When his parents praised Jazz as a “good boy,” he would correct them, saying he was a good girl.
The Jennings wanted to believe it would pass. Scott said he “was in a bit of denial” about what Jazz was trying to tell them. After all, even their rowdy twin boys, who are two years older than Jazz, had painted their nails growing up. But Jazz kept gravitating to girl things, insisting that his penis was a mistake.

There is a ground swell, a change from the 80’s ‘sex image’ of a TG Girl presenting her penis in a porn video. There is movement to “allow” transgender people to keep their jobs and to transition. Almost 125+ Fortune 500 companies have nondiscrimination policies in place that accommodate transgender peoples through their transition – while maintaining their jobs.





Gender: Pink/Blue Boxes & Sexual Orientation

25 08 2008

Gender, Sexual Orientation and what it is to be transgendered.

Shortly after birth we are placed by the people who love us – our parents (or less loving medical staff; when there is some question), into either a BLUE or PINK box. Repeat after me, we are placed into onlyone of two boxes, early on – and that choice is made simply by the visual inspection of genitalia. If you have an inny, you get the pink box; and outy gets you the blue one; if you are in some question, they try to assign one of the boxes, only.

That is social gender assignment, based on whether you have a penis or a vagina only. It is as simple as that and has been done that way for a long, long time and is done throughout the world like that. As a infant child, it is relatively easy to be in one box or another – it really makes little real difference in the early stages. You will be treated different, based on the culture and time you are raised in. There was a time when boys wore pink… but that is another story.

Some gender stuff happens around 6-10 years of age, mostly you form the concept of what adult relationships look like and you will likely follow those patterns as an adult. At this time, you might wander a little away from your box colour – but not too far! Girls playing only with Lego and cars are still not really that far from the pink box – most often they took toys (tools) from the blue box but still play with them in decidedly “pink” ways. Same goes for boys – they may play with toys from the pink box, but they play with them in a “blue” fashion.

Now for the big explosion – and where the waters get muddy for most mainstream people. This individual growth takes place around 10 to 16 years of age as we are figuring out sex, the changing body that you have and where you fit into the world with your forming identity. There, I said the word, sex, because that word (and all that goes with it) causes all the confusion when gender is brought up. The muddiness comes in here because we tie sex to everything. So it is at this time, from when you are 10-16 years old, that the individual often deals with experimentation and self discovery while we look at the new options (or they “present” themselves to us).

So here are your variables, the options of what to think after you start figuring it out – the options that you have placed by society before you as a teenager.

Gender – We will be coming back to this one:
You are in either a Blue or Pink box, based on social assignment at birth based upon genitalia. Boys are in Blue boxes, Girls are in Pink boxes. This one is simple and we use it to figure out the next thing.

Sexual Orientation - and Gender

Sexual Orientation - and Gender

Attracted to which box?

This is Sexual Orientation:

Heterosexual:
If you are in a Blue box, you need to be sexually attracted to people only in the Pink box. If you are in a Pink box, you need to be sexually attracted to the people only in the BlueBox. – this is the social “norm”, it is what the bulk of the population does. You can play with toys from either box BUT not too much or too far, because of this other bit of sexual orientation, called (dun,dun,daaaaa);

Homosexual:
If you are in the Blue box and you are attracted to people only in the Blue Box, you are Gay. If you are in the Pink box and are only attracted to people in the Pink Box, you are Lesbian.

Bisexual:
Okay, if you are in one box and are attracted to people in either box, you are said to be Bi. Mostly it is the person being attracted to both boxes that says they are Bi – the other orientations often label you as indecisive. Others label this as a sexual person because they are attracted to both sexes.

That pretty much covers the normal combinations.

Ok, that is the part they the audience “gets”, nodding all the way. They know all this because it is taught to us young, as we are in our teens. I will not really get into the social prejudices. That covers the easy to understand sexual orientation part – but what about Gender?

The confusion comes in with understanding Gender (the box you are in) and what you are doing with the other box, the box that you were not assigned to after birth. This is not about sex, it is not about having sex, it is not about who you have sex with – refer to back sexual orientation to understand that.

Transgender
Gender transformer (more than meets the eye);

Gender has to do with the box you are assigned to and with the which one you feel you belong in – and the conflict or agreement of those two. The thing that adds more confusion here is that Gender is a sliding scale, with a break point being, with most people, at the first question they ask; “Do you still have your blue box parts or did you remove you pink box parts.” With gender movement, leaving your box and heading towards the other is not always a destination of being in the other box. The open field that is between those boxes is huge and populated with all sorts of people – people you know and meet every day. I am one of those people – but those who get close always ask me about whether or not I have my boy part…

Gender and the Sliding Scale:
If you are in a Pink box person, and are a welder, dress masculine, drive a pickup – you are often thought of as a “dyke” (note, that label is about sexual orientation, not gender). Being in a Pink box, but incorporating too many things from the Blue box is confusing for many – they make it simple by referring back to sexual orientation. If you are in the Blue box, artistic, soft spoken – well you see where this is going. If you dress in the clothes of the other box, you cause the same confusion for the social group at large – and they often then assigned you a sexual orientation label. If you play with too many things from the box of the other color, people refer to sexual orientation, first.

And for the record and some humor – a kilt is never a skirt.

Moving out of your Blue box, leaving the box you were assigned, while playing with the toys in the Pink box is hard for most people to grasp. You are not supposed to “over play” with the toys from the other box AND you are certainly not supposed to leave your box to play with toys from the other box! Once again, I keep it to extremes to help people understand – but the truth is, TG’s are often somewhere in the open are between the two boxes and that is where we find the bulk of Transgender people. True Transexuals; ones who complete the departure from one box and are solidly in the other box – they often disappear into their new box, never wanting to be outed.

So, that brings us to Gender. When you start to leave behind your box later in life, the box you were assigned to so shortly after birth, you are breaking socially established norms, centuries old. Now, keep this in mind Gender is not Sex or Sexual Orientation. If a person chooses to leave their Blue or Pink box, move into the other box and adopt all that is necessary to be in that box – they are in the new gender.

So now what is a persons Gender if you were raised in a Blue box and move to the Pink box? – well, it comes down to the first question I usually get asked. It is what we think makes the person a Blue or Pink, a penis or vagina.

So next time you see someone who you are thinking assigning a sexual orientation label to, you might just be looking at a gender slider, transgender, TG, TV, CD, androgyne, gender transformer (my son coined that one), intergender, genderqueer. This sliding scale is what makes it such a varied social dynamic and what makes it hard to cleanly label and for the people in their own strict boxes to understand.





Young, Gay and Murdered (Newsweek Title) – About Gender

22 07 2008
 

Please read through this. It is a tale of Murder… and Gender being mislabeled as being Gay (the easier to understand label or “box”). This is a hate crime

Hating people for anything is wrong. This is the story of a young, misunderstood teen with many other social challenges and difficulties going on since early youth. Larry also had strong support of an openly Lesbian Vice Principal who fostered confusion of this being only a Gay subject. Gender differences often fall into the common labels that society offers about sexual orientation, rather than gender identity. Ultimately, forcing anyone into any box or label is wrong, though Larry had little choice but to accept the only label offered him by a caring (and uncaring) teachers and misguided ‘parents’ – despite so many obvious gender crossing behaviors.

Larry and Brandon both suffered. Sexual Orientation is about who you want to have sex with – Gender is who you are. Live – Love – Be.

 

By Ramin Setoodeh | NEWSWEEK

Published Jul 19, 2008

Kids are coming out younger, but are schools ready to handle the complex issues of identity and sexuality? For Larry King, the question had tragic implications.

At 15, Lawrence King was small—5 feet 1 inch—but very hard to miss. In January, he started to show up for class at Oxnard, Calif.’s E. O. Green Junior High School decked out in women’s accessories. On some days, he would slick up his curly hair in a Prince-like bouffant. Sometimes he’d paint his fingernails hot pink and dab glitter or white foundation on his cheeks. “He wore makeup better than I did,” says Marissa Moreno, 13, one of his classmates. He bought a pair of stilettos at Target, and he couldn’t have been prouder if he had on a varsity football jersey. He thought nothing of chasing the boys around the school in them, teetering as he ran.

But on the morning of Feb. 12, Larry left his glitter and his heels at home. He came to school dressed like any other boy: tennis shoes, baggy pants, a loose sweater over a collared shirt. He seemed unhappy about something. He hadn’t slept much the night before, and he told one school employee that he threw up his breakfast that morning, which he sometimes did because he obsessed over his weight. But this was different. One student noticed that as Larry walked across the quad, he kept looking back nervously over his shoulder before he slipped into his first-period English class. The teacher, Dawn Boldrin, told the students to collect their belongings, and then marched them to a nearby computer lab, so they could type out their papers on World War II. Larry found a seat in the middle of the room. Behind him, Brandon McInerney pulled up a chair.

Brandon, 14, wasn’t working on his paper, because he told Mrs. Boldrin he’d finished it. Instead, he opened a history book and started to read. Or at least he pretended to. “He kept looking over at Larry,” says a student who was in the class that morning. “He’d look at the book and look at Larry, and look at the book and look at Larry.” At 8:30 a.m., a half hour into class, Brandon quietly stood up. Then, without anyone’s noticing, he removed a handgun that he had somehow sneaked to school, aimed it at Larry’s head, and fired a single shot. Boldrin, who was across the room looking at another student’s work, spun around. “Brandon, what the hell are you doing!” she screamed. Brandon fired at Larry a second time, tossed the gun on the ground and calmly walked through the classroom door. Police arrested him within seven minutes, a few blocks from school. Larry was rushed to the hospital, where he died two days later of brain injuries.

The Larry King shooting became the most prominent gay-bias crime since the murder of Matthew Shepard 10 years ago. But despite all the attention and outrage, the reason Larry died isn’t as clear-cut as many people think. California’s Supreme Court has just legalized gay marriage. There are gay characters on popular TV shows such as “Gossip Girl” and “Ugly Betty,” and no one seems to notice. Kids like Larry are so comfortable with the concept of being openly gay that they are coming out younger and younger. One study found that the average age when kids self-identify as gay has tumbled to 13.4; their parents usually find out a year later.

What you might call “the shrinking closet” is arguably a major factor in Larry’s death. Even as homosexuality has become more accepted, the prospect of being openly gay in middle school raises a troubling set of issues. Kids may want to express who they are, but they are playing grown-up without fully knowing what that means. At the same time, teachers and parents are often uncomfortable dealing with sexual issues in children so young. Schools are caught in between. How do you protect legitimate, personal expression while preventing inappropriate, sometimes harmful, behavior? Larry King was, admittedly, a problematical test case: he was a troubled child who flaunted his sexuality and wielded it like a weapon—it was often his first line of defense. But his story sheds light on the difficulty of defining the limits of tolerance. As E. O. Green found, finding that balance presents an enormous challenge.

Larry’s life was hard from the beginning. His biological mother was a drug user; his father wasn’t in the picture. When Greg and Dawn King took him in at age 2, the family was told he wasn’t being fed regularly. Early on, a speech impediment made Larry difficult to understand, and he repeated first grade because he had trouble reading. He was a gentle child who loved nature and crocheting, but he also acted out from an early age. “We couldn’t take him to the grocery store without him shoplifting,” Greg says. “We couldn’t get him to clean up his room. We sent him upstairs—he’d get a screwdriver and poke holes in the walls.” He was prescribed ADHD medication, and Greg says Larry was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, a rare condition in which children never fully bond with their caregivers or parents.

Kids started whispering about Larry when he was in third grade at Hathaway Elementary School. “In a school of 700 students, you’d know Larry,” says Sarah Ranjbar, one of Larry’s principals. “He was slightly effeminate but very sure of his personality.” Finally, his best friend, Averi Laskey, pulled him aside one day at the end of class. “I said, ‘Larry, are you gay?’ He said, ‘Yeah, why?’ ” He was 10. Averi remembers telling Larry she didn’t care either way, but Larry started telling other students, and they did. They called him slurs and avoided him at recess. One Halloween, someone threw a smoke bomb into his house, almost killing the family’s Jack Russell terrier. In the sixth grade, a girl started a “Burn Book”—an allusion to a book in the movie “Mean Girls,” where bullies scribble nasty rumors about the people they hate—about Larry. The Larry book talked about how he was gay and falsely asserted that he dressed in Goth and drag. And it ended with a threat: “I hate Larry King. I wish he was dead,” according to one parent’s memory of the book. “The principal called my wife on the phone and she was crying,” Greg says. “She found the book, and said we needed to do something to help protect Larry.” His parents transferred him to another elementary school, hoping he could get a fresh start before he started junior high.

E. O. Green is a white slab of concrete in a neighborhood of pink and yellow homes. In the afternoons, SUVs roll down the street like gumballs, the sound of hip-hop music thumping. Once the students leave the campus, two blue gates seal it shut, and teachers are told not to return to school after dark, because of gang violence. Outside, there’s a worn blue sign that greets visitors: this was a California distinguished school in 1994. The school is under a different administration now.

E. O. Green was a comfortable place for Larry when he arrived as a seventh grader. He hung out with a group of girls who, unlike in elementary school, didn’t judge him. But that didn’t mean he was entirely accepted. In gym class, some of his friends say that the boys would shove him around in the locker room. After he started dressing up, he was ridiculed even more. He lost a high heel once and the boys tossed it around at lunch like a football. “Random people would come up to him and start laughing,” Moreno says. “I thought that was very rude.” One day, in science class, he was singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to himself. Kids nearby taunted him for being gay. “He said to me, ‘It’s OK’,” says Vanessa Castillo, a classmate. ” ‘One day, they’ll regret it. One day, I’ll be famous’.”

Larry’s home life wasn’t getting any better. At 12, he was put on probation for vandalizing a tractor with a razor blade, and he entered a counseling program, according to his father. One therapist said Larry might be autistic. At 14, Larry told Greg he thought he was bisexual. “It wouldn’t matter either way to me,” Greg says. “I thought maybe some of the problems would go away if we supported him.” But the therapist told Greg he thought that Larry was just trying to get attention and might not understand what it meant to be gay. Larry began telling his teachers that his father was hitting him. Greg says he never harmed Larry; still, the authorities removed Larry from his home in November 2007. He moved to Casa Pacifica, a group home and treatment center in Camarillo, five miles away from Oxnard.

Larry seemed to like Casa Pacifica—”peaceful home” in Spanish. The 23-acre facility—more like a giant campground, with wooden cottages, a basketball court and a swimming pool—has 45 beds for crisis kids who need temporary shelter. Every day a driver would take Larry to school, and some weeks he went to nearby Ventura, where he attended gay youth-group meetings. “I heard this was the happiest time of his life,” says Vicki Murphy, the center’s director of operations. For Christmas, the home gave Larry a $75 gift card for Target. He spent it on a pair of brown stiletto shoes.

In January, after a few months at Casa Pacifica, Larry decided to dress like a girl. He went to school accessorized to the max, and his already colorful personality got louder. He accused a girl to her face of having breast implants. Another girl told him she didn’t like his shoes. “I don’t like your necklace,” Larry snapped back. Larry called his mom from Casa Pacifica to tell her that he wanted to get a sex-change operation. And he told a teacher that he wanted to be called Leticia, since no one at school knew he was half African-American. The teacher said firmly, “Larry, I’m not calling you Leticia.” He dropped the idea without an argument.

The staff at E. O. Green was clearly struggling with the Larry situation—how to balance his right to self-expression while preventing it from disrupting others. Legally, they couldn’t stop him from wearing girls’ clothes, according to the California Attorney General’s Office, because of a state hate-crime law that prevents gender discrimination. Larry, being Larry, pushed his rights as far as he could. During lunch, he’d sidle up to the popular boys’ table and say in a high-pitched voice, “Mind if I sit here?” In the locker room, where he was often ridiculed, he got even by telling the boys, “You look hot,” while they were changing, according to the mother of a student.

Larry was eventually moved out of the P.E. class, though the school didn’t seem to know the extent to which he was clashing with other boys. One teacher describes the gym transfer as more of a “preventative measure,” since Larry complained that one student wouldn’t stop looking at him. In other classes, teachers were baffled that Larry was allowed to draw so much attention to himself. “All the teachers were complaining, because it was disruptive,” says one of them. “Dress code is a huge issue at our school. We fight [over] it every day.” Some teachers thought Larry was clearly in violation of the code, which prevents students from wearing articles of clothing considered distracting. When Larry wore lipstick and eyeliner to school for the first time, a teacher told him to wash it off, and he did. But the next day, he was back wearing even more. Larry told the teacher he could wear makeup if he wanted to. He said that Ms. Epstein told him that was his right.

Joy Epstein was one of the school’s three assistant principals, and as Larry became less inhibited, Epstein became more a source of some teachers’ confusion and anger. Epstein, a calm, brown-haired woman with bifocals, was openly gay to her colleagues, and although she was generally not out to her students, she kept a picture of her partner on her desk that some students saw. While her job was to oversee the seventh graders, she formed a special bond with Larry, who was in the eighth grade. He dropped by her office regularly, either for counseling or just to talk—she won’t say exactly. “There was no reason why I specifically started working with Larry,” Epstein says. “He came to me.” Some teachers believe that she was encouraging Larry’s flamboyance, to help further an “agenda,” as some put it. One teacher complains that by being openly gay and discussing her girlfriend (presumably, no one would have complained if she had talked about a husband), Epstein brought the subject of sex into school. Epstein won’t elaborate on what exactly she said to Larry because she expects to be called to testify at Brandon’s trial, but it’s certain to become one of the key issues. William Quest, Brandon’s public defender, hasn’t disclosed his defense strategy, but he has accused the school of failing to intercede as the tension rose between Larry and Brandon. Quest calls Epstein “a lesbian vice principal with a political agenda.” Larry’s father also blames Epstein. He’s hired an attorney and says he is seriously contemplating a wrongful-death lawsuit. “She started to confuse her role as a junior-high principal,” Greg King says. “I think that she was asserting her beliefs for gay rights.” In a tragedy such as this, the natural impulse is to try to understand why it happened and to look for someone to blame. Epstein won’t discuss the case in detail and, until she testifies in court, it’s impossible to know what role—if any—she played in the events leading to Larry’s death.

Whatever Epstein said to Larry, it’s clear that his coming out proved to be a fraught process, as it can often be. For tweens, talking about being gay isn’t really about sex. They may be aware of their own sexual attraction by the time they’re 10, according to Caitlin Ryan, a researcher at San Francisco State University, but those feelings are too vague and unfamiliar to be their primary motivation. (In fact, Larry told a teacher that he’d never kissed anyone, male or female.) These kids are actually concerned with exploring their identity. “When you’re a baby, you cry when you’re hungry because you don’t know the word for it,” says Allan Acevedo, 19, of San Diego, who came out when he was in eighth grade. “Part of the reason why people are coming out earlier is they have the word ‘gay,’ and they know it explains the feeling.” Like older teenagers, tweens tend to tell their friends first, because they think they’ll be more accepting. But kids that age often aren’t equipped to deal with highly personal information, and middle-school staffs are almost never trained in handling kids who question their sexuality. More than 3,600 high schools sponsor gay-straight alliances designed to foster acceptance of gay students, but only 110 middle schools have them. Often the entire school finds out before either the student or the faculty is prepared for the attention and the backlash. “My name became a punch line very fast,” says Grady Keefe, 19, of Branford, Conn., who came out in the eighth grade. “The guidance counselors told me I should not have come out because I was being hurt.”

The staff at E. O. Green tried to help as Larry experimented with his identity, but he liked to talk in a roar. One teacher asked him why he taunted the boys in the halls, and Larry replied, “It’s fun to watch them squirm.” But Brandon McInerney was different. Larry really liked Brandon. One student remembered that Larry would often walk up close to Brandon and stare at him. Larry had studied Brandon so well, he once knew when he had a scratch on his arm—Larry even claimed that he had given it to Brandon by mistake, when the two were together. Larry told one of his close friends that he and Brandon had dated but had broken up. He also said that he’d threatened to tell the entire school about them, if Brandon wasn’t nicer to him. Quest, Brandon’s defense attorney, says there was no relationship between Larry and Brandon, and one of Larry’s teachers says that Larry was probably lying to get attention.

Like Larry, Brandon had his share of troubles. His parents, Kendra and Bill McInerney, had a difficult, tempestuous relationship. In 1993, Kendra alleged that Bill pointed a .45 handgun at her during a drunken evening and shot her in the arm, according to court records. She and Bill split in 2000, when Brandon was 6. One September morning, a fight broke out after Kendra accused her husband of stealing the ADHD medication prescribed to one of her older sons from her first marriage. Bill “grabbed Kendra by the hair,” and “began choking her until she was almost unconscious,” according to Kendra’s version of the events filed in court documents. He pleaded no contest to corporal injury to a spouse and was sentenced to 10 days in jail. In a December 2001 court filing for a restraining order against Kendra, he claimed that she had turned her home into a “drug house.” “I was very functional,” Kendra later explained to a local newspaper, in a story about meth addiction. By 2004, she had entered a rehab program, and Brandon went to live with his father. But he spent years caught in the middle of a war.

While his life did seem to become more routine living with his dad, Brandon’s troubles resurfaced in the eighth grade. His father was working in a town more than 60 miles away, and he was alone a lot. He began hanging out with a group of misfits on the beach. Although he was smart, he didn’t seem to have much interest in school. Except for Hitler—Brandon knew all about the Nuremberg trials and all the names of Hitler’s deputies. (When other kids asked him how he knew so much, he replied casually, “Don’t you watch the History Channel?” Brandon’s father says his son was interested in World War II, but not inappropriately.) By the end of the first semester, as his overall GPA tumbled from a 3.3 to a 1.9, he was kicked out of his English honors class for not doing his work and causing disruptions. He was transferred to Boldrin’s English class, where he joined Larry.

Larry’s grades were also dropping—he went from having a 1.71 GPA in November to a 1.0 in February, his father says. But he was too busy reveling in the spotlight to care. “He was like Britney Spears,” says one teacher who knew Larry. “Everyone wanted to know what’s the next thing he’s going to do.” Girls would take photos of him on their camera phones and discuss him with their friends. “My class was in a frenzy every day with Larry stories,” says a humanities teacher who didn’t have Larry as one of her students. He wore a Playboy-bunny necklace, which one of his teachers told him to remove because it was offensive to women. But those brown Target stilettos wobbled on.

The commotion over Larry’s appearance finally forced the school office to take formal action. On Jan. 29, every teacher received an e-mail with the subject line STUDENT RIGHTS. It was written by Sue Parsons, the eighth-grade assistant principal. “We have a student on campus who has chosen to express his sexuality by wearing make-up,” the e-mail said without mentioning Larry by name. “It is his right to do so. Some kids are finding it amusing, others are bothered by it. As long as it does not cause classroom disruptions he is within his rights. We are asking that you talk to your students about being civil and non-judgmental. They don’t have to like it but they need to give him his space. We are also asking you to watch for possible problems. If you wish to talk further about it please see me or Ms. Epstein.”

Jerry Dannenberg, the superintendent, says the front office received no complaints about Larry, but according to several faculty members, at least two teachers tried to formally protest what was going on. The first was the same teacher who told Larry to scrub the makeup off his face. She was approached by several boys in her class who said that Larry had started taunting them in the halls—”I know you want me,” he’d say—and their friends were calling them gay. The teacher told some of her colleagues that when she went to the office to file a complaint, Epstein said she would take it. “It’s about Larry,” the teacher said. “There’s nothing we can do about that,” Epstein replied. (Epstein denies she was ever approached.) A few days later another teacher claims to have gone to the school principal, Joel Lovstedt. The teacher says she told him that she was concerned about Larry and she thought he was a danger to himself—she worried that he might fall in his three-inch stilettos and injure himself. Lovstedt told the teacher that he had directions, though he wouldn’t say from where, that they couldn’t intervene with Larry’s sexual expression. (Lovstedt denied NEWSWEEK’s request for an interview.) There was an unusual student complaint, too. Larry’s younger brother, Rocky, 12, also attended E. O. Green, and the kids started picking on him the day in January when Larry showed up in hot pink knee-length boots. Rocky says he went to several school officials for help, including Epstein. “I went up to her at lunchtime,” he says. “I said, ‘Ms. Epstein, can you stop Larry from dressing like a girl? The kids are saying since Larry is gay, I must be gay, too, because I’m his brother’.”

As you talk to the teachers, many of them say they tried to support Larry, but they didn’t always know how. In blue-collar, immigrant Oxnard, there is no gay community to speak of and generally very little public discussion of gay issues, at least until Larry’s murder happened. One teacher was very protective of Larry, his English teacher, Mrs. Boldrin. To help Larry feel better about moving to Casa Pacifica, she brought Larry a present: a green evening dress that once belonged to her own daughter. Before school started, Larry ran to the bathroom to try it on. Then he showed it to some of his friends, telling them that he was going to wear it at graduation.

And then there was Valentine’s Day. A day or two before the shooting, the school was buzzing with the story about a game Larry was playing with a group of his girlfriends in the outdoor quad. The idea was, you had to go up to your crush and ask them to be your Valentine. Several girls named boys they liked, then marched off to complete the mission. When it was Larry’s turn, he named Brandon, who happened to be playing basketball nearby. Larry walked right on to the court in the middle of the game and asked Brandon to be his Valentine. Brandon’s friends were there and started joking that he and Larry were going to make “gay babies” together. At the end of lunch, Brandon passed by one of Larry’s friends in the hall. She says he told her to say goodbye to Larry, because she would never see him again.

The friend didn’t tell Larry about the threat—she thought Brandon was just kidding. There are many rumors of another confrontation between Larry and Brandon, on Feb. 11, the day before the shooting. Several students and teachers said they had heard about a fight between the two but they hadn’t actually witnessed it themselves. The next morning a counselor at Casa Pacifica asked Larry what was wrong, and he said, vaguely, “I’ve had enough.” When he got to school, his friends quizzed him about his noticeably unfabulous appearance. He said that he ran out of makeup and hair gel (which wasn’t true) and that he had a blister on his ankle (this was true—he’d just bought a new pair of boots). Larry walked alongside Boldrin to the computer class and sat in front of a computer. A few minutes later, a counselor summoned him to her office. She told him that his grades were so low, he was at risk of not graduating from the eighth grade. He went back to his computer. He had written his name on his paper as Leticia King. Most of the campus heard the gunshots. Some described it like a door slammed shut very hard.

On March 7, the school held a memorial service for Larry. Epstein stood at the podium with students who read from notecards about what they liked best about Larry: he was nice, he was unique, he was brave. The band played “Amazing Grace,” and two dozen doves were released into the sky. Averi read a poem about how her friend was like a garden seed that grew, and died; Larry’s mom wept in the front row. Deep in the audience, an eighth grader turned to one of Brandon’s friends and whispered, “That’s so gay.”

The obvious question now is whether Larry’s death could have been prevented. “Absolutely,” says Dannenberg. “Why do we have youngsters that have access to guns? Why don’t we have adequate funding to pay for social workers at the school to make sure students have resources? We have societal issues.” Many teachers and parents aren’t content with that answer. For them, the issue isn’t whether Larry was gay or straight—his father still isn’t convinced his son was gay—but whether he was allowed to push the boundaries so far that he put himself and others in danger. They’re not blaming Larry for his own death—as if anything could justify his murder—but their attitude toward his assailant is not unsympathetic. “We failed Brandon,” a teacher says. “We didn’t know the bullying was coming from the other side—Larry was pushing as hard as he could, because he liked the attention.”

Greg King doesn’t feel sympathy for Brandon, but he does believe his son sexually harassed him. He’s resentful that the gay community has appropriated his son’s murder as part of a larger cause. “I think the gay-rights people want it to be a gay-rights issue, because it makes a poster child out of my son,” King says. “That bothered me. I’m not anti-gay. I have a lot of co-workers and friends who are gay.” That anger was made worse when he heard this summer that Epstein would be promoted to principal of an elementary school. “This is a slap in the face of my family,” Greg says. Many teachers wonder if the district moved her because she had become a lightning rod for criticism after Larry’s death. Dannenberg, the superintendent, says that she was the most qualified person for the new principal job.

The school has conducted its own investigation, though its lawyer won’t make it public. But it will likely be brought up when Brandon goes to trial. He is charged with first-degree murder and a hate crime, and is scheduled to be arraigned this week. Hundreds of his classmates have signed a petition asking that he be tried in juvenile court. The district attorney wants him tried as an adult, which could result in a prison sentence of 51 years to life. “Brandon was being terrorized,” says Bill, who has set up a public defense fund in his son’s name. “He was being stalked almost, to the degree of the school should have never let this happen.” What happened to Larry and Brandon was certainly extreme, but it has implications for schools across the country. “If we’re going to be absolutely sure this isn’t going to happen again,” says Elaine Garber, 81, who has served on the school’s board for 48 years, “this has got to be discussed some more.”

As if anyone has stopped talking—and arguing—about Larry King. He had an entire page devoted to him in the E. O. Green yearbook. On the Internet, he’s become a gay martyr, and this year’s National Day of Silence, an annual event created to raise awareness of homophobia, was dedicated to Larry. And in Averi Laskey’s bedroom, she still keeps a handmade purple get-well card she made for Larry on the day after he was shot. At the time, there was still hope he would pull through. He had survived the night, which the doctors said was a good sign. Averi rounded up dozens of teachers and friends between classes to sign messages of encouragement. “Larry, I miss you. Get better,” Boldrin wrote in blue ink. “Keep up your spirit. A lot of people are rooting for you to get better,” the principal wrote. Some of Larry’s classmates apologized for how he had been treated. A few even left their phone numbers, so he could call them if he ever needed to talk to someone. But when Averi got home that day, she learned that Larry had suffered a fatal stroke. Larry was pronounced brain-dead that afternoon, and the family decided to donate his organs. The following day, Feb. 14, doctors harvested his pancreas, liver, lungs and the most important organ of all, which now beats inside the chest of a 10-year-old girl. On Valentine’s Day, Larry King gave away his heart, but not in the way he thought he would.

In the five months NEWSWEEK spent examining Larry King’s death, we spoke with several dozen people, including faculty, students and parents. All students named were interviewed with their parents’ permission. Some of our sources would speak only anonymously; the school’s staff was instructed not to speak to the media because of the criminal proceedings and the possibility of civil litigation. While they agreed to be interviewed on the record, Jerry Dannenberg, the district superintendent, and Joy Epstein, E. O. Green’s former assistant principal, were limited in what they could say for the same reasons.

With Andrew Murr and Jennifer Ordoñez