Last night I had "The Talk" with both my parents and my mother-in-law. I told them I was transgender. Up until now, I had kept my secret deeply hidden inside for 40 years, for fear of the repercussions which might be incurred and as a sign of respect for my spouse. The mental burden, internal stress and anguish of these had ultimately culminated in a series of nervous breakdowns.
It was my spouse, Joanne, who took it upon herself to initiate the discussion about my being transgender to her mom. I had not wanted her to have to deal with the possible retorts and alienation which might ensue and so had always told her that I would not bring my situation up to her. It was quite a shocking surprise when she called me up yesterday to tell me that she had told her mom about me. I was both amazed and shocked.
She told me that she could see the stress I had been under in recent times with this. I had been very sullen and pensive these last few days mainly as I had been watching my mother's slow decline into the abyss of an ever worsening dementia. Just the night before my departure for SCC, from the basement where I was packing some laundry from the dryer I could hear someone fiddling with keys in a door. I grabbed my laundry pile and tromped up the stairs to find her standing at my apartment door trying to stuff all manner of keys into the lock.
I asked, "What are you doing mom?"
"I'm trying to find the keys to your apartment", she replied.
"I don't understand", I quizzically replied, "For what purpose?"
She thought a moment about this as if I had caught her off guard and uttered, "We're going away for a few months and we will have to put the cat in the kennel"
"Where are you going?", I asked
"Home... I'm going home", she told me.
I suddenly had a knot in my throat as I told her bluntly but softly, "You are ALREADY in your home now"
She looked back at me for what appeared to be an eternity and then softly said, "I'm going home and I don't know when I'll ever be back"
I was very frightened over the connotations of what she had just said, and just as I was considering what this might have fully meant she added firmly but with an apprehension of fear.... "I think I'm going down the tubes"
I nearly burst out into tears at that point, but held my composure and told her to get some sleep. I hugged her and told her she would feel better in the morning after a night's rest and went upstairs to finish packing for our departure early the next morning for SCC. That was a conversation with her which I would think about and re-envision for the entire time I was at the conference and it was the thought that she would never ever know who her son really was inside that plagued me internally. I cried myself to sleep that night.
Joanne saw the stress inside me during the conference. During quieter times when I was not being outwardly silly and humorous, I was pensive and occasionally withdrawn in thought. She could see it in my eyes and sense the tears behind my smile. Joanne made the impromptu decision on her own to tell her mother about me the day after we returned home. She explained to her mother how she loved me and that this is something we had been working together with for over 18 years now. Joanne called me on the phone from her mother's house to let me know she had done it.
I went silent for what seemed like an eternity and then I spoke.... "How did she take it?"
Joanne replied, "She's fine, she says that she knew something was up with you for many years but could not figure all the piece out and put it all together. She always knew you were very feminine in your ways".
Joanne's mom had seen a recent television show regarding a transgender woman who had been a very popular football player in high school. She felt compassion for what she saw that day and she felt compassion and empathy for the hurt I was and must be feeling today. Once she knew that Joanne was calm and accepting of who I was, she was able to then turn her consideration and empathy towards me. Her mother said how she felt bad that I had kept this in for so many years and was saddened to know that I had twice attempted to end my life back in my college days. Joanne affirmed that depression and the feeling of self loathing I had felt had been that strong within me.
I stopped over the house after work that day to pick up Joanne at her mothers. I entered the apartment with some nervous trepidation but kept the bulk of it internalized. Joanne met me at the door and guided me into the living room where her mother sat on the couch. She gazed at me and smiled as she immediately said for me not to ever be ashamed of myself . She said that she knew that some people are are just born this way and that there was nothing we could do to change that. It meant a lot to me to hear this and her words were more than I could have imagined she might say.
I cautiously asked her if she would like to see a picture of what I looked like as my female self. I wanted her to see that I was not some kind of a freak show in a dress and was nervous of what she might be envisioning. She said yes and I brought up a picture on my laptop of me alone in our backyard. I was wearing a red knit top, black pants and boots, smiling and clasping a wine glass in one hand.
She looked at the picture and said "Wow, you are quite a beautiful woman". I was humbled and honored. She asked me if I had told my parents yet and I said no, but that I was mulling it over in my mind to talk about it tonight.
I drove back to our Boston Apartment with Joanne and she stayed in our apartment while I went downstairs to visit with my parents. I had to have this talk with them. For weeks now I had been listening to my dad relating endless stories to me of how my sister's children had such difficult times growing up and the issues they faced in school. None of the issues were anything beyond what most children would have but my two nephews had a way of playing up to their grandparents in such a way as if it seemed they had had the worst of childhoods. My dad would relate this to me and continually insist how much better off I had been in growing up when compared to what their grandkids had had to deal with. Hearing this had been the final straw for me and the push I had needed all these years. My ability to keep my inner soul bottled up for so many decades had sprung a leak and become a geyser of pent up emotion. I kept my sense of logic and of calm, knocked on the door to their apartment and entered.
My dad and mom seated themselves at the kitchen table as I presented my story to them.
I began... "There is something I need to tell you about myself that I have been keeping quiet for many years. I had kept knowledge of my issue from you at first because I was ashamed of myself and later because of shame you might feel toward me. I felt that you might not understand if I told you and that it would cause you undue stress and a mental burden I never wanted you to have to bear - so I hid it - as long and as best as I could"
They asked me if something was wrong with me and if I had consulted a doctor. I told them I had been seeing a therapist for the condition I have and that my therapist was able to simply confirm what I had known all along was different about me from my earliest years of recollection.
I told them I was transgender.
They both looked back at me, puzzled at the word as I had suspected they would
I explained to them further, "Do you remember how I used to play with all of the girls in school? How my best friend, Susan, would come over the house each day after school and we would do things together like making our own cosmetics and skin creams by mixing others together? Do you recall how I had always wanted that "Easy-Bake Oven" and other girls toys I would circle in the Christmas Wish Book? Do you recall how excited I was when I had the brief opportunity to play with that really cool dollhouse before you took it away telling me that this was not for boys to play with? Do you remember how I had a hard time fitting in with the boys at school, the panic attacks that would drop me to the floor in a catatonic state, my left arm going numb and the feeling that I was having a heart attack? How the other boys would call me names and then do things to me like heating a test-tube clamp red hot and sticking it on my arm? Being called names and tied to the flag pole with hockey tape along storrow drive and left to wait for a passing motorist to stop and free me? The nervous breakdown in the restaurant in Bermuda where I could not stop crying for an hour? - Do you know what led to all this?"
I explained how I had the mind of a female occupying a male body and how the discrepancy and variance had led me to create a facade as a defensive stance to cope.
I asked my mom, "Did you ever notice starting when I was around 8 or 9 years old that certain articles of your clothing would disappear??
My mom, whose mind had been clouded by the sadistic tyranny of dementia seemed suddenly to clear as she perked up and spoke as if it were yesterday, answering "I remember that I started missing underwear and slips and then later on makeup".
She continued on and startled me when she thought for a moment and then said, "I have always known that you were different, no, special.... and I was waiting for the day when you would someday bring this up to me".
I asked her, "Do you remember the time you and dad came back unexpectedly early from out to eat and found a pair of women's high heels in my room?"
She didn't take a moment to reply "Yes - I do"
"Do you recall how you asked me if I had had a girl in the house and I said no? Then I said to you that they were mine when you asked whose shoes those were?" , I continued.
"I purged everything I had and went into a state of self flagellation and remorse as a result and I recall you telling me that you would keep this from my dad and for me to not speak of this incident in the house again"
She nodded slightly. My dad had a look of overwhelming sensory overload and could say nothing.
I continued on with a slight chuckle, "I recall how the very next day you were calling up everyone you knew to try to get me a date with a girl to 'fix' this problem and I ended up marrying the very one who enjoyed seeing me AS a woman"
My dad told me he loved me and just wanted to be sure that I was happier now than I was before and that things were better for me. It was surprising as I had not expected him to say those words given his nature when I was growing up. He just wanted to know that I was happy with Joanne and with my life and that was, in itself, enough for him to be happy for me as well.
My mom nodded consent when I brought forth the laptop to show her pictures. My dad would not look. He said only that he wanted to see me as he has always known me. I turned the laptop away from him and toward my mom who gazed down and studied the picture of me intently. She mused for a moment and then said that I made a beautiful woman. I thanked her and held back emotional tears that had been decades in the making. My mother had understood and remembered everything I had said and was, for but a brief moment in time lucid and sentient. I had been given a gift, albeit brief, to have my mom back, long enough to tell her who I was and am, for her to tell me what a beautiful woman I was and for her to reassure me how much she loved me and always will.