Both Sides Now is a vivid and compelling account of how one man’s search for wholeness led him through multiple, complex, and life-threatening surgeries that transformed him not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Born with the body of a female, Dhillon Khosla knew very early on that his true identity was male, yet he spent nearly two decades repressing that knowledge and trying to embrace his female form. Shortly after turning twenty-eight, he came across an article about men born with female bodies who had undergone surgeries to reclaim their male identity. When he read their stories, Khosla felt flashes of recognition stirring within and—for the first time—hope.
In this riveting memoir, Khosla discusses openly and honestly what it was like to live as a woman, and how that life shaped the man he is today. Through anecdotes, he shares unique and profound insights into the sexes. Ultimately, however, Both Sides Now is a story about what it means to truly love oneself, and the willingness to turn away from the dissenting voices that tell us who we ought to be…and toward that one, lone voice that has known all along.
IT WAS THE MIDDLE OF July 1997—I was driving to Los Angeles from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area to participate in a one-week program sponsored by a music school. I was twenty-eight years old, and one of many women who had recently graduated from law school and passed the bar exam. By day I worked as a staff attorney for federal judges, analyzing criminal appeals and researching law behind the scenes. But in order to restore some balance into my legal life, I had begun working on music in my spare time. So, by night I took voice lessons, studied songwriting, performed at open-mike nights, and composed songs on my guitar and keyboard. And in between my music and the law, I dated women—some of them within the lesbian community, and some of them not.
I had been working on putting together a demo in a local studio for about a year, and as much as I was looking forward to finally having a full week to work on music without the interruption of law, my mind was occupied with something entirely different.
A few months earlier, an ex-girlfriend brought over a copy of an article that had appeared in The New Yorker in 1994. She had been given the article in a psychology class, after a female-to-male transsexual had appeared as a guest lecturer. In the article, the author interviewed several men who had gone through surgeries and hormone treatments to transition from female to male. And as I read the things these men had said, I immediately saw why my ex had asked me to read the piece. Flashes of recognition went off in my mind, arranging themselves like the pieces of a puzzle.
I read as one man described his fierce resistance to being treated as a girl and I thought of my own childhood when I had insisted that I was a boy, adamantly refusing dolls and dresses and hanging out only with other boys during recess.
I read as another man—who had made the transition from female—said that he never fit in the lesbian community because he was too male in some way—not “butch”—just male, and I remembered how lost I always felt at lesbian gatherings because there was no one with whom I felt that “sameness.” I then thought about the girlfriends in my life who had always identified themselves as straight and wondered why I was the one exception—the only “woman “ to whom they were attracted.
And then, in the final interview, I read as a man talked about all the wasted time he had spent in places where he didn’t fit. He ended by saying he didn’t know why this condition chose him, but he was finally the person he had always dreamed he would be.
The word “dream” hit me the hardest of all. I had spent so much of my childhood dreaming of developing a firm, male chest. I remember running around shirtless at my birthday parties and fantasizing that I was a pop/rock star like Billy Joel or Rod Stewart—always men. And in the past few years, when those fantasies and dreams had resurfaced, I couldn’t think of anything to do except pray that God would make me a man in my next life.
Between the interviews, my ex-girlfriend had highlighted statements from doctors where they opined as to the cause of transsexualism. One doctor pointed out that in experiments with animals—from rats to apes—they injected testosterone during a critical time of brain development in a female fetus. In every case, while the animal still came out with a female body, it behaved exactly the same as would have any male animal of its species. In other words, contrary to its physical body, it believed it was entirely male.
But it wasn’t until I gave the article to my current girlfriend, Selena, that I really felt its full impact. I remember her putting it down after she had finished reading it and saying, “Baby, this is you.”
To hear it out loud, to have someone finally hold up a mirror that reflected back the truth of who I am, touched some deep place within me. I remember feeling this tremendous sense of release—like “Now you see; you finally see.”
The relief, however, was short-lived. Next came the tough question: Now that I knew the truth, what was I going to do about it?