“Don’t be such a girl.” I hear the boys taunt each other at the playground near my house. “Don’t be such a girl.” Nothing could be worse. Most men agree. Sitting on the couch with the remote in one hand and a bag of chips in the other, my husband stares at some effeminate reporter. “Give me a break,” my husband sneers. “He’s such a girl.”
Ask any man you know if he’d like to be a woman, you get an automatic “No.” Too messy. Too emotional. Too hard. Most men can’t imagine going through their lives as anything but male. One San Diego man, born Lebanese, recoiled when asked to consider what his life would have been like had he been born a woman. “You might as well ask me to imagine how my life would have been different had I been born a Martian,” he said.
Some men didn’t find the concept so alien. Six of them agreed to talk to me. They told me about their lives, then imagined how those lives would have changed if they’d been wrapped at birth in a pink blanket instead of blue. Some had long stories to tell: childhood, high school, college, career, marriage, children, grandchildren, 20-plus years of retirement. Others had just begun their adult lives. Their stories and re-imaginings follow.
Men Have the Better of It
David Robitzek didn’t seem 90. Sitting in a small, sunny office in a North County retirement community, Robitzek radiated the kind of energy you find in people who have somewhere to be every day at 8:00 a.m. His white hair combed straight back, Robitzek seemed dressed for an afternoon of golf: light blue flannel slacks, white polo shirt, gray cardigan. He spoke deliberately. When he stopped to remember a particular detail, Robitzek closed his eyes, then blinked quickly for a few moments. Leaning back in an office chair, he clasped his hands and began his story.
“I was born in 1910, March 14, in a place called City Island in the Bronx, New York. The total population was about 1500 people. I was born there. I was baptized there. I was married there. But I’m not going to be buried there. I had four sisters, all older than I. They say I was spoiled. That remains to be seen.” Robitzek laughed.
“After graduating from grammar school, I went to Fordham Prep, which is a prep school for Fordham University,” Robitzek continued. Back in City Island, he met and married his wife Elaina. “After school, I got a job down on Wall Street with the Stock Exchange. I was there during the crash in 1929. As a matter of fact, the morning after the crash, the New York Times took a picture of people standing in front of the Stock Exchange, and I happen to be in the picture.”
Robitzek worked at the Stock Exchange for about nine years, then got a job as a bookkeeper. “When the war came along, I had two children. The draft board said that if you got into what they called an ‘essential industry,’ you would not be drafted. So I got a job at a shipyard along the Hudson River. I worked there until 1945, when the war was over. Finally, we were living in a place called Parkchester. Parkchester is a housing project of 40,000 inhabitants owned by the Metropolitan Life. It has 12,000 apartments. I got a job there as an office manager. After a few years, I was transferred downtown where the Metropolitan had some other housing projects. I was made office manager there. During my last few years with Metropolitan, I went to work in their electronic division. I retired in 1973.”
Robitzek remembered being very involved in his children’s lives. “We have three children. I remember driving them here and there, helping them with their homework,” Robitzek said. “Our children never gave us a bit of trouble. Thank God. They seemed to be born of that generation where drugs were not being passed around frequently. My association with the children is fondly remembered. We’re on great terms. Same with the grandchildren. My oldest daughter has five children. My second daughter has three. And my son has one. Consequently, we have nine grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.”
After Robitzek’s retirement, he and his wife moved a number of times. New York to Connecticut to California to Arizona to Florida and back to California. They had lived in their North County apartment for two and a half years when Robitzek spoke to me early in the year 2000.
“How would my life have been different had I been born a woman?” Robitzek paused. He had clearly given the topic some thought. He ran through the different aspects of his life as if he were an accountant summing up columns. “I have four sisters who are older than me,” he said. “I guess I would have fit in there. They had their arguments, which I would have had if, for example, they had worn some of my clothes. As a child, I don’t think things would have been much different. I got interested in girls when I was maybe 15. And if I’d been a girl, I might have gotten interested in boys around the same age.
“As for my schooling, I would have gone to a girls’ high school rather than Fordham, which was a boys’ school. I’m a Catholic. When it came time for college, I would have looked around for a good Catholic school. I would have gone to New Rochelle college, where my wife graduated. That’s a Catholic college.
“And then when I started looking for a mate, I would look for somebody who was smart, and who was respectful, who had proper manners, and proper deportment. Someone who would like to have a family.
“Whether I would have gone to work or not,” Robitzek said, “probably not. Women tended to stay home with the children and raise them. But then when the children were out of the way, I would probably like to get a job. In an office, preferably. I like good things. I love to go on cruises and things like that.