I Never Know How a Man Is Going to React to My Past – and My Genitalia

Once I was living as a woman, but before I had surgery, my dreams were bounded by what I came to identify as The Cinderella Syndrome. I could go out and experience magic on the dancefloor with men. But I always dreaded what I sought most: a moment of intimacy. At that point my coach would turn back into a pumpkin and my gown would disappear in an instant.

When I was studying abroad in Leiden, Holland, during law school, I met a handsome Italian whom I’ll call Adriano. At a get-together with other students, he stared across the room at me the whole evening. I tried to ignore what was happening, to no avail. I could not sustain conversation with whomever I was talking to. After a few minutes I got up to leave; but he intercepted me. The next thing I knew, I was in a conversation with him, trying to catch the breath he was taking away.

Adriano was tall and broad-shouldered, with curly dark brown hair and clear golden brown eyes. He spoke fluent English with a slight Italian accent. He had recently decided on law as an undergraduate major. He had the opportunity to come check out the Netherlands and thought he’d take the adventure north to broaden his mind. Basically, he was perfect.

And, it turns out, he had been waiting to talk to me for weeks. He lived in the same student housing and had seen me coming and going through the courtyard.

“I was going to leave you a note,” he said, “but I wasn’t sure which mailbox was yours.”

Terrified that this exchange might lead somewhere, I said goodbye and vanished.

The following afternoon, I was walking across the courtyard with my laundry, when there he was, having materialized sitting behind a window downstairs.

“Come here,” he said, curling his finger back and forth.

We chatted a bit – he said he was just hanging out and “munching” on peanuts, which prompted me to wonder how many Americans would know the word for munching in any language other than English – and then it came: “What are you doing tonight?”

“I’m going to Amsterdam,” I said

“Hmm. Can I come?”

That night we rode my bike to the train station. He insisted on pedaling, and I sat on the metal storage rack over the back wheel. It was September in Northern Europe, and so the day had grown dark and even a little chilly by the time we departed. Leiden was quiet and the canals twinkled with reflections of lights from the streets and houses nearby. I lay my cheek on his shoulder blade, closed my eyes, felt the muscles of his back move as he stood up to pedal over a bridge, and tried to savor a moment from fiction, it seemed.

In Amsterdam we went to a bar that I’d discovered, which had a wide cushioned bench hidden in the back. It wasn’t long before we were lying next to one another and making out.

Overhead, an exposed light bulb shone and threatened to douse the mood, so I stood on the bench, leaned over the doorway, and unscrewed it.

“Hard movements,” Adriano said. “Sometimes the way you move is … a little hard.”

They notice the details, these guys, they’re always watching every little thing, I thought. I remembered the other Italian I kissed in Amsterdam two months before, a scraggly young man who, as he snuggled next to me inside my tent in the pot-smoked campground where we met, raised his eyebrows when I yawned wide and taught me to cover my teeth with my lips like a girl.

During the train ride back to Leiden, I kept turning away from Adriano to stare through the window at the nighttime outside. He was trying to hold my hand, and sometimes I let him, then I would withdraw.

The bike ride back to our student housing was not the same as before for me. I often say that I never know how a man is going to react to a discussion about my past – and my genitalia – and it’s always true at the beginning, I never do. Yet at some point I will have an intuition. I sense it, and just know.

Adriano was all over me the moment we stepped in the door. My heart came apart a little as I placed my palms on his chest and drew away.

“I have something to tell you,” I said. “Can we just sit down for a minute?”

We sat on the edge of my bed, a miserable excuse of springs and plastic that only a college dorm room can get away with. He took my hands in his and looked at me with such earnestness that I struggled to speak.

“What’s wrong? Are you on your period? It doesn’t bother me, really.”

I laughed.


I lifted my hand to his cheek and smiled.

“No,” I said, “it’s very different from that.”

After I told him, he bolted up and looked down at me in rage.

“You’re a man?” he shouted.

“No, I’m trying to explain –”

He tightened his fists. I thought he was going to hit me.

But he didn’t. He just turned around and left.

I cried myself to sleep that night. My dreams had come true: I got to be Cinderella for an evening with a dashing young Italian man who was the cutest one in a room of so many others. The experience was beyond anything I had dared to imagine.

But greediness had spelled the end. I had stayed past midnight to dance a little longer with Adriano, which I should never have done. I had lost track of the ground while soaring through the sky. It was glorious, until everything fell apart. My gown had turned to rags, and I was covered in soot.


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