Saturday, April 30, 2005

Strange Honesty: Otis Wainwright

Otis was born in 1950 to Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Wainwright.

He was their first and only child, conceived in the early years of the Wainwright marriage and it was perhaps foreshadowing of things to come that during the pregnancy, the Wainwrights were in disagreement as to whether they wanted a boy or a girl. That is, up until the very instant Otis entered the world screaming and red-faced and most definitely with a penis. From then on, they were happy with they got, a healthy baby, and they were model parents for little Otis.

A true cliché of the 1950s, Mr. Wainwright worked a white collar job bringing in an income which was adequate to put food on the table and Mrs. Wainwright was a housewife, inwardly frustrated at her considerable intelligence squandered on cleaning and cooking. But she put on a good show none-the-less, in her neat house dresses and nightly casserole dishes. Mr. Wainwright even had the requisite affair with his secretary at work. Theirs was a partnership, sex was rote and virtually non-existent as the marriage wore on, they worked together to be Good Citizens and to raise little Otis to be one as well.

Born some years before the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s, Otis was an intensely sexual little boy. At the age of seven, his mother had caught sight of his careless wandering hand as he toweled off after a shower and after that particular incident, Otis was keenly aware of the importance of not getting caught. At the age of twelve Otis’ mother joined a book club, looking to commiserate with other housewives who felt their intellectual prowess had been stifled by the structural violence of housewifery and feeling that Otis was old enough to come home to an empty house after school. Every Wednesday at 2:30 in the afternoon she could be found at the house of the woman was to play hostess that particular week, drinking red wine and discussing whichever suburbohemian work of literature was on the agenda for that particular week. It was around this period that Otis discovered his mother’s lingerie drawer. There was the long-unused piece of silk that had served its function during the Wainwright’s honeymoon and was perhaps, in part, responsible for Otis’s conception. There was the dowdy cotton nightgown that Otis was more familiar with, as it peeked out from under his mother’s housecoat every morning. There was structurally sound brassieres and there was sensible underpants.

From that time on until his graduation from high school, any chance there was for Otis to be home alone with his mother’s underthings he took. An otherwise honest young man, he began to shoplift women’s underwear, one carefully hoarded piece at a time. It was incredibly difficult to shoplift from the woman’s lingerie section and so Otis had to rely primarily on his mother’s things. The possibility that he had a bit of an oedipal complex occasionally bothered Otis. But he took heart in the fact that the shoplifted items gave him just as much pleasure. At least he wasn’t obsessed with his mother, he just liked to wear woman’s underwear. It was his terrible secret and he took great pains to keep it as such.

By the time Otis entered college, a state university reeking of mediocrity as only a state school can, he had begun to branch out. He discovered that the world of womanliness extended far beyond mere satin and cotton and lace underthings. There was powders, perfumes, and outerwear as well. He indulged himself in all these things, when his roommate was away and he had the privacy so rarely afforded in the early collegiate years. And he became braver as the world around him changed, Liberated they said, he began to liberate himself in small ways. As women burned their bras in protest, he triumphed over his fear of discovery and began to wear bras almost daily underneath his shirt.

The Stonewall bar was raided in 1969 during Otis’s second year away at college and suddenly Otis was reading about gay men on the front page of every newspaper. It might seem that Otis would be relieved to see the appearance of a gay rights movement but honestly, he disliked fags. Otis firmly believed that the penis was made by God to enter only one orifice and that orifice was a woman’s vagina. It might also seem that this would be irreconcilable with Otis’s growing realization that he had no interested in putting his penis in a woman’s vagina. But for Otis it meant only one thing: logically, he was meant to have a vagina.

Like his father, Otis moved into a white collar job after he finished college. Unlike his father, Otis never seemed to find the right girl to settle down with. Though he had begun his life as an erotic little boy, he had grown up into a nearly asexual man. He could not even bring himself to fake a relationship consisting of the same type of partnership his parents had had. Otis’s life became a skipping record, each day a repeat of the last, unable to go on to the next line of music because of a needle slipping in the same worn groove over and over. That is, until the day he read about gender reassignment surgery.

It was one of those moments that Otis would remember with preternatural clarity, until the day of his death. Except instead of the national tragedies that usually make up flashbulb memories there was indelibly imprinted on Otis’s mind, in addition to the Kennedy Assassination and the Challenger exploding, the day he found out that he could become a woman. At last here was the answer that Otis had been looking for. He had found the only way that he could ever regain his sexual identity and, hope beyond hope, a small piece of that sexual little child he had been.

So he went through with it: the barrage of psychological testing, the living for a year as a woman, the hormones, the name change. There had been a time, before, when wearing women’s clothing had left him feeling guilty and unclean but now it was a necessity required by the laws of Doctor John Money.

He had been Otis Wainwright and he became Janice Wainwright. And he had a brand new vagina, and new breasts. He had his trachea shaved so his voice lost its male quality.
And now he was Janice Wainwright. And he wore pantsuits and elaborate gold and pearl earrings and lipstick. And he told himself he loved his new life, he felt so liberated now that he was finally in a woman’s body. Only 10% of people who undergo gender reassignment surgery are dissatisfied. Thank God he was in the other 90%, it was truly providence. And he wondered what it might feel like to be in that 10%.

And only in his darkest hours, his face pressed into his pillow and unable to move or think or even get out of bed, did he ever admit what he knew, what he’d always known. That he knew exactly how that 10% felt. And his whisper muffled by the pillow, with no one to hear the confession, he finally told his secret.

I liked myself better as a boy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh my; poor rabbit has penis envy. But i miss her terribly anyway: why do you never call?