Breasts and Transhistories

Written by Jonathan Ames on . Posted in Books, Posts.

In the late
80s and early 90s I was obsessed with women’s breasts to an appalling degree.
Every woman I saw I wanted to nurse on. This obsessive state of mind, which
I’ve since outgrown (now I want to go down on all women–much healthier,
I think), was very painful. The world was filled with boobs I couldn’t
have! I was like that desolate baby chick from the children’s book, who,
accidentally ejected from his nest, staggers about in a Beckettian landscape
looking for his mommy.

I was living
in Princeton during this difficult period and had a lovely girlfriend, but her
breasts–for the idiot I was at that time–were too small. The poor
girl, a wonderful artist, sensed intuitively my condition–I had the decency
never to say anything about it, but women are emotional tuning forks; they pick
up everything–and she painted this large canvas of a stupendously endowed
woman rising out of the sea. She hung it over my bed, perhaps for me to look
at while I mounted her, which now that I think of it is like the remedy that
Dr. Hammond, a colleague of the famous 19th-century German psychiatrist Dr.
Richard Von Krafft-Ebing, recommended for a shoe fetishist: his wife’s
high heel was to be nailed to the wall over their conjugal bed so that he could
peer at it and be aroused sufficiently to perform his marital duties.

I didn’t
like my condition, and I thought of contacting the Kinsey Institute and asking
to be allowed to nurse on 100 women lined up in a gymnasium. I thought that
might heal me once and for all; the idea being to demystify the breast, to get
my fill. Later, I did attempt such a cure on my own when I moved to New York
in 1992 and frequented the suckling booths of a peepshow on 43rd St., though
I was often concerned about getting TB from the nipples of those women. They
didn’t seem to wash their boobs between clients, but I never developed
a bad cough, and I think the cure worked on my breast problem–by 1993,
after just a few months of steady nursing, I was interested in all parts of
the female anatomy–including the penis. Turns out that right next to the
peepshow on 43rd St. was a legendary trannie bar, Sally’s. So I cured myself
of my bosom condition, and then right next door I developed another problem,
which took me years to get over. But this is one of the strengths of my character:
when it comes to sexual fetishes, I can’t be pigeonholed! I’m always
changing, always growing!

Anyway, I’ve
digressed; let me go back in time to late October of 1990, when I was still
that wandering chick look for the perfect nipple. I was flying back from Los
Angeles and a friend picked me up at the airport in Philadelphia. It was around
10 p.m. and I was tired, but on our way back to Princeton my friend, an older
man, wanted to stop at a gay bar in New Hope, PA–the Provincetown of the
Keystone State. So into this gay bar called the Cartwheel we ventured. Being
straightish, I didn’t feel entirely at ease as we penetrated the establishment,
which is often my reaction to gay bars. It’s like how I, as a Conservative
Jew, feel in Orthodox synagogues–I almost belong, but not quite. So I was
very pleased when immediately on approaching the large, circular, cartwheelish
bar, a gorgeous, older blonde woman said to me, "Where have you been my
whole life, baby? Look at those blond eyelashes!"

She was sitting
on a barstool, and right away gathered me into her arms–she was a big woman,
about 6 feet tall, in a low-cut blouse and stylish skirt–and she began
to make love to me, in the old-fashioned sense that is. She looked to be in
her late 40s, had a beautiful smile, bedroom eyes that ate you up, glamorous
long legs, and, very important to the 26-year-old Jonathan–an ample, delicious
bosom. Her breasts were as big as the ones my girlfriend had put in that painting!

It was just
about the quickest pick-up of my life. She held me against her lovely, comforting
chest, and we chatted happily and spontaneously. We were kindred spirits: she
wanted to mother and I wanted to be mothered.

Well, our bar-side
lovemaking went on for about an hour and then my friend, who brought me there,
wanted to get back to Princeton. I kissed my new ladyfriend goodbye and she
gave me her number, written on a Cartwheel napkin, and we promised each other
that we would get together–a promise tinged with erotic possibility.

During the
car ride home, my friend expressed his wonderment at my ability to pick up–or
rather to be picked up by–the only woman in the bar. I was also impressed
with myself, but guilty, too–my girlfriend the artist was waiting for me
at home! I was a cad. But how could I have resisted?

Over the next
two weeks, this older woman and I had two or three quasi-erotic phone conversations.
She lived a few towns away from Princeton and was acting in a local theater
company–she had gone to the bar with some gay members of her troupe. We
talked about getting together, but I kept postponing this: I was scared about
cheating on my girlfriend.

I felt unfaithful,
though, just by possessing that Cartwheel napkin–it seemed to burn inside
my desk drawer where I had it hidden beneath unpaid bills. I would often look
at that napkin, with its hastily scribbled name and phone number, and become
guiltily excited–should I call or not call? Should I arrange an encounter?
But then, in what felt like an heroic moment after a therapy session, I threw
the number away! For all my faults, I loved my artist girl, and I never again
saw or spoke again to the woman from the bar.

Now let’s
fast-forward. The girl and I broke up two years later and I moved to New York,
as I said, in 1992. I took my cure at the peep show and picked up my new fetish
condition at Sally’s. Over the next several years, I wrote a novel, which
was very much inspired by my tenure as a Sally’s barfly. The book, The
Extra Man
, came out in 1998, and since that time, I’ve often been solicited
to provide blurbs for books with sexual content. For example, a few months ago
I was contacted, via e-mail, by a publicist for Temple University Press, who
was hoping that I might read and blurb one of Temple’s forthcoming books–the
memoir of a transsexual. I happily assented, and the book, in galley form, was
sent to me–The Woman I Was Not Born to Be: A Transsexual Journey,
by Aleshia Brevard (272 pages, $24.05 paper).

I loved the
book and found it absolutely fascinating; it inspired me to read several other
transsexual memoirs. These personal histories, like Brevard’s, are very
similar in structure to that classic literary model–the bildungsroman,
the coming-of-age novel. In fact, there is such a wealth now of transsexual
memoirs that they are deserving of their own category, maybe "transhistory"
or "transromance" or "genitomemoir." Well, I’ll leave
it to the PhDs, but I think I will go with my first suggestion.

The basic outline
of the "transhistory" is as follows: a boy or girl very early on in
life feels terribly uncomfortable in their gender role and there is a sense
that some terrible mistake has occurred, that they were meant to be the other
sex. Attempts are made–by parents or society–to reform them, and they
learn to repress, as much as possible, their instincts. Eventually–like
the protagonist of the bildungsroman–they leave the home, their small world,
and venture out, usually to a big city. There they begin to privately or publicly
masquerade as the other sex, until eventually the masquerade goes beyond costume
and posture and becomes permanent–especially in the latter part of the
20th century with the advent of synthetic hormones and plastic and sex-change

The third act
is the aftermath of the sex-change. In most of the books I’ve read, whether
it be female-to-male or male-to-female, the writer will not proclaim that great
happiness has been found or that all their problems are solved, but they all
do seem to express this feeling that they’ve done all they can (penises
removed, breasts implanted; penises constructed, breasts removed; myriad other
surgeries; great physical and psychological suffering) and they have come, finally,
to a place of self-acceptance and peace. These are the success stories, though,
and it takes a lot of courage to write them. But what of the transsexuals for
whom gender reassignment doesn’t work?

Aleshia Brevard’s
memoir follows this basic transhistory model, and I’m happy to say that
her tale is one of the success stories. It is one of the most amazing memoirs–transsexual
or otherwise–I’ve ever read. Here’s the Hollywood plot summary:
Born in the late 30s on a farm in the south as Alfred Brevard Crenshaw, but
called Buddy; quits the farm and runs away to the West Coast, landing eventually
in San Francisco, where he becomes a drag queen at the famous Finocchio’s;
performing as Lee Shaw in the late 50s, Buddy is perhaps the first Marilyn Monroe
impersonator and achieves such a level of fame that MM herself comes to his
show; during this time he meets the love of his life, a man named Hank, and
so that they may be married, Buddy undergoes, in 1962, at age 23, a sex-change
operation; as Aleshia the relationship with Hank sadly falls apart, but she
goes to college, studies drama and is twice voted "Actress of the Year";
after college there’s a brief marriage, then a move to Los Angeles and
a career as a B-movie and soap-opera actress and Playboy bunny–becoming
the first transsexual Hollywood starlet, but all the while never revealing to
Tinseltown her previous life as Buddy Crenshaw; there’s also a second marriage
and the role of mother to three stepsons.

This life story,
which I’ve summarized with the barest-bone details, is told with incredible
wit and grace and feeling. Especially moving is her portrait of her mother,
Mozelle, this Southern woman who never stopped loving and supporting her child.
Here’s an incredible example of her mother’s devotion (the day after
the surgery):

"I was
curious about the appearance of my vagina. I’d never seen one–and
now I had my own. In fact, I had a brand-new one! I’d bought the darn thing
sight unseen. I wanted to see exactly what it looked like.

"The day
after surgery, I asked for a hand mirror and tenderly positioned myself for
my first peek at a vagina.

!’ I shrieked, ‘What have they done to me? This looks like
something you’d hang in your smokehouse…after a hog killing.’

never seen anything so gross. It was swollen, red and wrinkled… This
thing needed to be ironed… I started to cry, which only made matters worse.

rang for the nurse.

perfectly normal,’ they both reassured me. ‘That’s how you’re
supposed to look.’

"Who did
they think they were fooling? I was having none of it.

this?’ I keened… This thing had folds! I was suddenly reminded
of that unattractive rear view as I herded home the cows.

"I was
truly upset.

show you,’ my mother volunteered.

"My mother
and the Westlake Clinic’s charge nurse both lifted their skirts, presenting
me a view of not one but two naturally born vaginas. By golly, they did have
folds. There were four outer labial folds on each vagina. Satisfied that I was
normal, I drifted off to sleep."

Well, I absolutely
adored this book, and all the while as I read it I kept wondering why the name
Aleshia Brevard was so familiar to me. I had this vague feeling that maybe I
had spoken to Aleshia on a phone-sex line or something; it was kind of haunting.
And I kept looking at her sexy pictures in the middle of the book and I found
her, as Hollywood casting agents had, very beautiful–that’s the other
aspect of transhistories: incredible before-and-after photos. Then I got to
the end of the memoir and there was a brief mention of having been in a small
theater company in Princeton.

She was the
woman–though I couldn’t quite recall the name, was it Aleshia Brevard?–whom
I had met at the Cartwheel! I promptly e-mailed the publicist at Temple University
Press: "I love the book and will happily give it a blurb. But there’s
something curious going on–I think I’ve met Aleshia. Can you ask her
if she remembers meeting me at a bar in New Hope, PA, 10 years ago?"

A few hours
later the publicist forwarded an e-mail to me from Aleshia Brevard. It was one
line long: "Where have you been, baby?"