In high school, see, she would do anything to be taken for a boy, so much so that she says, "If someone had tortured me back then and asked me if I had these feelings about gender, I think I could have successfully resisted giving up the secret." Does this mean that Paul's confusion about gender dates to his earliest memory? According to Kim, that's exactly what it means, that when he looked in the mirror, he worried that he saw a girl, and when he made movies with his brothers—"The Mad Doctor" and "Rocky," for example—he made sure that he never played the ingenue parts (these roles, almost invariably called "Lady," were assigned to the youngest brother, Todd). Beneath the surface of Paul's seemingly placid Rocky Mountain life was the feeling that, though he was attracted to girls, he wasn't anything like a boy and had never been. In the rural West, this can't have been a frequently encountered complaint, this discomfort with one's sex, and Kim refers to Renee Richards, the 1970s transgender tennis pro (born Richard Raskind), as one of the few public examples of sexual reassignment that she knew anything about. Faced with so much uncertainty, so much discomfort, Paul did assume the one kind of drag, the one kind of masquerade that would loft him above scrutiny in the matter of gender. Paul joined the high-school football team.
True, it was not a very good team, and he wasn't even varsity until senior year. They had a losing record with Paul as quarterback, and yet he still represented much of what young men imagine they want to be, blond and considerably handsome, with a charming smile and a graceful determination, even as opposing linemen were bearing down on him. He was a good leader, on the field and off. "Quarterback is about marshaling all these burly guys and trying to get them to do your bidding," Reed says. "I think I was good at it. I think I was a good leader in high school." And yet Reed's recollection of the big games is of "anxiety" and not much else—the anxiety of tossing the perfect spiral, the anxiety of confronting the crosstown rivals and their threats of violence, and the anxiety of losing yet again. Still, the one thing the high-school football team did indisputably bestow on Reed was the elusive masculine street cred. A credibility that, in this case, might have allowed Paul to lead something like a normal childhood, to the best of his ability, one with best friends, movies, records, driving downtown on a Saturday night prowling for girls, and so on. No one, not a soul, knew what was happening under the surface. When asked what sustained Kim while Paul was her daily performance, Reed is quiet for a while and then alludes to noncontroversial influences like Monty Python and Penelope Spheeris' Decline of Western Civilization. Not exactly girly, and probably more distracting than sustaining, but still decidedly out of step with the prevailing Mellencamp and country-and-western culture of Montana. Paul also found time "to read every book on transitioning in the Helena public library."