I took a walk this evening, alone along the dimly lit streets of west suburban Boston. The blustery wind and drizzle laden overcast skies fit my mood as I scuffled along the slick sidewalks. We had come down here to take care of business and for me to confront my parents over what had been slowly escalating over the past weeks, months, and years. Joanne was at her mothers this evening, having parted ways after a dinner out together and picking up our Amtrak Tickets at the Train Station for our upcoming trip to the SCC Transgender Convention.
I was alone and I had time to think – think and relive the conversation that I had the day prior with my parents and mainly with my dad. The stiff wind and drizzle stung my face as I walked – just as the conversation I had with them stung my inner soul. It had escalated when my father's short temper, was provoked in his derogatory abrupt retorts to Joanne one evening last Friday during a phone call with my dad. Joanne had simply called to find out how he and my mom were doing – a wonderful and empathetic gesture of the love which she holds for others – when my dad simply began barking at her “We're eating now – what do you want?”.
Although I could not hear what my dad had said, the expression on Joanne's face displayed a combined look of anger and of being stunned. She explained that she was concerned about my mother to which my dad changed the subject and bluntly retorted “Why is my son handing out one thousand dollars every month to your mother?”.
That was loud enough that, even standing next to Joanne, I could hear his staccato intonation plainly as if I were on the phone myself. The fact of the matter was that Joanne's mother and sister had hit hard times. They live together in the same condo unit trying to make ends meet. Joanne's mother's social security check and pension were usually enough to just about pay the condo fee, the assessments and the mortgage and the taxes while Joanne's sister's income from working temp jobs at the hospital were generally enough to pay for living expenses, bills and food. Occasionally other expenses would arise or the sister would find a break between temporary jobs which would leave them struggling to pay a month's bills or mortgage. This last month was just such a time and said I had enough to help out this one time.
I contributed a thousand dollars to help them make ends meet that month. It helped and it got them past this hurdle for the time being and back on track. Joanne gave the phone over to me and I spoke with my dad who asked me what I was doing. He barked out warningly that I shouldn't be a “sap” to be bled dry handing out money. I was infuriated at the heartless way at which he scolded me and in the same sentence, ignored the plight of my in-laws who had always been generous and kind to me.
It made me even more upset to realize that my parents had an apartment unit that had sit empty for years which could have been offered to my in-laws to help them out. Joanne's mother was already coming to the realization that they might have to one day soon sell the condo or let the bank take it over failing that. She had asked me to check with my dad to see if they might be able to provide them with an apartment should they be homeless. Joanne's sister was hoping to go back to school full time, taking out a loan to get through a one year nursing program in Boston and finally get out of the temporary job rut once and for all. This would leave Joanne's mom as being the only source of income. She would likely go and live with Joanne's other sister, husband and son in Connecticut and could utilize some of her monthly income to pay for her living expenses and for the sister.
I had explained this to my dad and he offered to rent the apartment for 300 dollars per month. The way Joanne and I heard it was that this would cover the utility expenses for her living there. But after already telling Joanne's sister, who was finally looking cheerful at the prospect of some good news in an otherwise sea of unending bad – the story changed. My dad said that we were mistaken and that it would be 300 dollars rent plus utilities. My heart sank when I heard this. Joanne and I were sure of what he had said prior and I knew what this would mean when we broke the news to them. I asked my father why he had changed the agreement and he yelled back that he never said such a thing and that he needed to make ends meet if he rented the place out. “Make ends meet?!”, I quipped back, “How is it that you need to make ends meet when the place is already going empty to begin with?”.
His reply was simply that the insurance and the water bills would all go up as a result of their moving in. Utter nonsense that this amount could even conceivably come to 3,600 dollars per year for the 300 dollars a month they would be paying for rent! I knew that this was his way of making it difficult for them to ever step foot in the apartment and to keep it out of their reach. I was so disappointed that it was all I could do to hold back tears.
That was last Friday. Now, here in our small attic apartment of my father's stronghold, there was the confrontation in person I had been dreading since that phone call of Friday last. I went downstairs to their second floor apartment to check on my mom. Mom had fallen down to 88 pounds in weight as her appetite languished and her health teetered on the edge of late. Multiple strokes and a recent fall and subsequent head injury have left her something of a timid shell of a woman I had known her to be. She requires constant care but my father will accept no outside help. His patience often runs thin and his anger and temper flair constantly. Mom's forgetfulness seems to be taking over and shrouding what life she has left within a cloak of confused fog.
The last time we were down to visit she looked terribly emaciated and her shortness of breath and strained difficulty in breathing were all signs that she needed to be checked out at the hospital. We had taken her in to the emergency room and they admitted her immediately. She was severely dehydrated, so much so that the doctors had a difficult time even locating a vein in her arm to insert the intravenous drip to attempt rehydration. When the doctors had asked her to change into a hospital gurney, I assisted, along with Joanne, to undress my mom and get her changed. When I saw the emaciated skeletal form of my mom, I totally lost it and had to turn away quickly as I wept tears silently so that my mom would not see.
Shortly after, a hospital social worker came in and, seeing the state of my mother, immediately remarked that what she saw looked like negligent abuse and that she would set forth to have Social Services take this up – and that it would not be safe for my mom to go back home again. I was actually relieved to hear this as I felt this was all too much for my short tempered father to take care of her, yet he would never take help and would argue that he could and would do this alone. My dad was always in control and always had to be in control of the family and this time would prove no different in his mind.
I left my mom that night in the care of the hospital and returned back to the apartment that night with Joanne. The next day I received a call from one of the doctors on-staff, a psychologist, who called the house and asked if he could speak to me for a moment. He told me that my father was in the hospital and was yelling at the doctors that he had every right to take my mother home and that no one could stop him Doctors and nurses and staff formed a line at the doorway to my mother's room to prevent him from taking her out and he was told that the police would be called if he did not calm down.
My dad must have calmed down for the police were never called and in fact, to my surprise, my mother returned home with my dad the next day! I never told my dad about being called by the psychologist that day when he told me my dad was acting psychotic and irrational. My dad simply told me that he called his primary care physician who then made amends to pave over the issue and clear the situation. I don't know if the hospital had checked also to find that my father had given thousands of dollars in donations to that hospital but if they looked up his name in the records, they would have put it together. That may have been a factor and I may never know how they changed as from night to day in their decisions to let her go home with my father.
My mother, on the one hand, told me she was afraid to go home and that my father could be angry “at times” but on the other hand, when I told her that I could get help so that she would not have to go home, she cried that she could not be without him. The stress of this dichotomy, to this day, still gnaws at me as there is nothing I can do that will result in anything other than both of them hating me.
And so there I am again, last night, downstairs in their apartment with my mom sitting in her usual chair in the kitchen that she has sat in for the past 40 plus years that I can remember as a child. My dad marches into the room and asks me what this bullshit was with Joanne yelling at him. I proclaimed back that Joanne was upset at the way in which she was treated by him on the phone to which he replied that he never treated anyone with disrespect.
I was astounded, and, in that moment, fully realized that for all of his life my dad had never apologized for anything he had ever done. The words “sorry” never once had come out of his mouth. The realization that he was always right and always in control or had to be in control were vividly obvious. I tried to restate exactly what had been said in that phone call that night but my father would hear none of it. “I never spoke those words” was all he could say to me. I was a liar obviously and he was right once again. My mother sat quietly in her chair as if she were a mouse being preyed upon by a cat and she said nothing.
Now I was getting upset even more. I blurted out, “There are things I saw when I was growing up that have affected me greatly”
“What things?”, my father replied abruptly, “You had a wonderful childhood growing up – we gave you everything”.
My father could not see, he never did. He never listened. He drew his own conclusions without input from those his own ignorance influenced. He then added, “I never touched or hit either of you when you were growing up”.
I had never brought the physical abuse up to him – it was almost as if he knew he was guilty of it and had to blurt that out before I ever did. I knew then that he knew and would not admit to it Hi convicted himself without knowing.
Images of my mother being yelled at and scolded came flooding back to me. Seeing her slammed into the cabinets and flailing to the ground in a silent sob of tears while I hid with my blanket under the kitchen sink and peered out past a door barely cracked open wide enough for one eye to watch this unfolding. I was about five or six years old at the time but I can see it like it was yesterday. It happened again and again and for a variety of reasons. Perhaps one night it might be that dinner was not on the table when my father arrived home from work or perhaps it was because my mother failed to dust a piece of furniture to my father's watchful satisfaction.
And from such a young age, certainly by age five, I was already more than sentient that I was not feeling right as a boy and that I was gravitating toward the world of girls. I dared not, as I began to cope and grasp this variance, to ever tell anyone least of all my dad. I held this all inside of me for so many years – partly in fear and partly to not disappoint my parents by being an utter failure as a son to them.
Those visions in mind, I almost...almost came out to them right there and then about me. How blind were my parents to not see the years of depression I had dealt with, the anxiety and panic attacks of feeling both trapped within a family I wished to please. A family who would blame themselves should I come out to the about my desires to be a woman. Desires that I felt strongly and wished desperately to take action on as I entered puberty around age 12. Watching my body change in ways that sent me into deeper depression as I longed to be of the opposite gender – praying each night as I lay in bed and stared up at the ceiling asking God to either allow me to awake in the morning as who I was inside or to simply take my life so that I did not have to endure this any longer. I never became the woman and my body betrayed me and took me further away.
I almost told them that night – almost told them how I had been cross dressing secretly since about the age of 12 and of the feelings I had since I was about 5 years old and old enough to remember. But I didn't. I only said that night that there were things about me that my parents never took the time to see in me as I grew up. Things that were of great importance and meant much of what made up my life today as I am now. But I told them that I really could not tell them about it – that they would not understand.
My father's only reply to me was...... “If you won't tell then it's not important”
The story of my life. Cover everything up and sweep it under the rug. It's not important.
And the realization of how blind they really were to me was made even more apparent as I stood there in their kitchen that evening. My facial hair, which was so prominent in years past was nearly gone, with only odd, quilt like patches remaining. My normally hairy arms and chest were shaved clean. Fingernails that I had always bitten to the point of bleeding through my years of youth and adulthood were now manicured and quite long. My now longer hair was draping down towards my neck and the sparkle of a thin woman's silver bracelet adorned my wrist. They saw none of it. It was like it and I were invisible – as if my whole life was one in which I tried remain invisible for the sake of self preservation and in retaining the respect of my parents.
I felt at that moment that I had lost my parents forever – that really I never had what I thought was the perfect family growing up – that I had lived my life to please them and to protect myself at the same time. I had blocked out images I had seen and had become numb to the violent realm I existed within. I found solace in my studies and in the art of writing and poetry as means of escape and as means of expression. And I found quiet times when my parents were away to dress and feel as the woman I knew that lived within.
A chapter of life that took half a lifetime to read has now been read. I could not fully see the words that had been written in the pages of my life until now but it was a chapter which had to be finished.
I reflected over this again tonight with Joanne as we sat and sipped on a bowl of Chicken Soup at the local Vietnamese Restaurant in Harvard Square, Cambridge. I relented to Joanne how I am so sorry for bringing her into all of this. I asked her to forgive me for me being the way I am. I told her how truly I thought that getting out enfemme would satisfy my urges and quell the woman who raged inside me. I told her how afraid I was that I realized that my getting out as Christen has only served to solidify inside who I now know I am truly....That the angst I feel does not subdue the more I get out but rather becomes stronger as I learn of the comfort I feel when I may be myself. I started to tear up in the restaurant feeling so upset that I could not hurt her yet could not deny myself who I am.
I sat for a moment in silence and took a sip of my imported beer and then told her quietly - “I will work with you on this – I only need to feel like I am at least able to be moving in some kind of direction which allows me to be who I now fully know and accept I am”
Joanne told me how much she loved me and that we would work together with this... that we would take this journey together, both of us, one step at a time – and that one day Christen would be able to live as she feels inside. With that, she vowed again how much she loved me and we left the restaurant that evening and parted ways as she went to spend the night at her mother's house.
And we come full circle back to where we were at the outset of this story, with me walking alone in the wind and the drizzle along the slick sidewalks of the streets in our suburban Boston apartment. My thoughts jumping in, through and about the events just recounted. And as I finished my walk the drizzle subsided and the clouds, buffeted by the brazen winds, began to break. I looked up and could just see my way beyond the holes in the parting clouds – to a disk of the moon and to the stars in the deep blue sky beyond. Better weather may be forthcoming one day.