This morning I read a post by someone who has come to be a dear friend in a very short time. She is a transgender woman and she mentions having to break herself down to become the person she needs to be to go back to work. This means she has to dress and present herself as a male.
Another blogger who is a transgender male has no choice but be “female” to receive much needed assistance at a shelter.
If you are not transgender, you cannot begin to know how this makes them feel. I can’t. I try to imagine it but I just can’t. What I do know is that it’s not a good feeling. I think that if it was me, I might be feeling a bit of panic- like- What if I’m not able to be my true gender? When can I just be me? And then there are all those emotions a transgender person feels that goes along with having to go by the other gender. I’ve talked to my son and other transgender people. I’ve read a lot. I’ve talked to parents of transgender kids. Those feelings are not good ones. They can be scary. And as a mom, to think that my child is feeling that way, it scares me too!
This brings me to the upcoming dreaded family weekend and why I can’t forget about the apple cart.
Let me say, before I begin, that obviously what Kris was going through is different than the blogging friends I mentioned above. It could even be considered a small thing. But if you keep it in the frame of reference of an 18 year old who has just come out to family, maybe you can understand why it is a big deal to me.
Kris came out to us right before he left for his freshman year of college. It was a time of complete confusion for all of us. We packed up our daughter and sent her off to college. She moved into the girls’ dorm and we thought we would just figure things out.
I’m not sure what we were thinking. All I can say is that in the early days after Kris came out, I still didn’t fully understand what being transgender meant. I had a general idea but really? I had no clue. If I had, I wouldn’t have just shipped my kid off like that.
Within a month or so, Kris told us that he had asked all his professors to call him by his male name and use male pronouns. It was at that point that we decided to tell our families. My husband talked to his parents and siblings and I talked to mine. They went as well as can be expected and we moved forward. It was only as some of my pain was showing, that I realized that my mother and my sister were expressing anger toward Kris for what he was doing to me. I wasn’t going to have any of that and I immediately squashed that train of thought. It was not Kris’s fault and I made sure they knew it.
When Kris came home over the holidays, things were awkward, he was called Kerri. Everyone was ‘trying’ and Kris was quiet. I quickly realized that after Kris left, no one was really asking about him. And since they did not ask, I did not tell.
Then came my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. We were planning this party and the guest list would include my aunts and uncles, my parents’ friends and us, their children and grandchildren.
As we planned the party, I asked my sisters to please call Kris by his male name and if they couldn’t use the correct pronouns, could they at least not call him “she and her”. One expressed horror that Kris was not going to be coming dressed as a girl. Both made it clear that they would not use the male name. In their opinion (and since both said practically the exact same thing it led me to believe they had discussed this) this was not about Kris. It was about my parents’ anniversary and I was not being reasonable to expect them to call Kris by a different name. With each of them, I explained how I wasn’t planning on hijacking the party and making it a coming out party for Kris. I just wanted him to feel accepted. I asked how hard would it be to call him by that name. Damn, they could have just kept their mouths shut and called Kris nothing and no one would have questioned it. And hey, guess what they did?
I drove to the party separately from my husband and kids. I was going early to help with set up and I was giving my sister a ride. On the ride, I mentioned that Kris was having a really difficult time getting a job. When she asked why, I said it was because he had to put his birth name on applications and when he showed up for an interview and was obviously not a girl, it was incredibly awkward. Besides he didn’t want to be outed before he even walked in the door. My sister’s response- “Well, that is her legal name.” So much for compassion. I had tried to explain to everyone how this would appear to Kris- their refusal to call him by his name. They assured me that it was not a sign of not accepting him; it was just all about Mom and Dad and the party.
Then there was the video. 50 years of marriage is quite a feat these days and everyone wanted a video. I’m not sure if it was luck, fate or what but the task to create a video of photos commemorating the last 50 years was left to me. It made sense. I had 95% of the photos saved digitally. And I offered. To this day, I don’t know if they all realize how heart wrenching it was for me to scroll through those pictures- watching our childhood and those of my children, niece and nephews also pass by. Most of all, to see Kris’s life through much different eyes now. I made the video. I tried to keep the girly girl pics of Kris out of the video and to be honest, as puberty hit, Kris disappears from the video for awhile. It was the best I could do and I warned Kris. I don’t think he ever looked at it. I don’t blame him. It makes me sick to watch it, knowing the circumstances surrounding its making.
Kris arrived at the party along with his father and brothers. He had bleached his hair white blonde earlier that week so it was a bit startling. He wore a binder, which I had said he most definitely would. There was no way I was going to make him girl it up for anyone. He wore jeans and a striped shirt. He looked good.
My siblings avoided him, like the plague. He stuck by me or his brothers or his dad. If he was with me, I would introduce him to whoever it was. Most of these people hadn’t seen him in 5 years or more. I simply said, “The name is Kris now.” No one gawked or stared. No one said anything. They nodded, smiled and maybe gave me a questioning glance but that was it. One aunt engaged Kris in a big conversation, not missing a step. I almost suspected she knew what was going on.
My sisters were upset that I had called Kris by his male name. I didn’t care and I made it clear that I was not going to compromise mine or Kris’s principles just to make them comfortable. Oh, by the way, that sound you heard- the thump, thump, thump,tthrrrrrrr, plop. It’s the apples slowly falling off the cart.
And things went downhill from there.
Looking back now, it still makes me angry. They didn’t show an ounce of compassion, understanding or acceptance toward Kris. They were too worried about how it would look and what people would say. They were too worried about themselves and they didn’t give any thought to what this would do to Kris. What it meant to say to him, “Oh sure, we accept you, but could you just go back to being a girl for this party because it would be easier for us?” I’m sorry- I cannot even repeat it again- what I told them about the message they were sending to Kris, how importance acceptance is. At a time when my son was transitioning and becoming his own person, they wanted to shove the square peg into the round hole that he didn’t fit in. They wanted him to pretend to be something he wasn’t. They couldn’t see it.
And the reason I can’t forget it is because if I was to bring this up to them and asked them about it, I’m sure they would respond that they did the right thing. Based on conversations, I have strong suspicion that they still don’t get why that peg doesn’t fit. And why it shouldn’t!
And so I think about a transwoman who has to don a male get up and a male demeanor in order to provide for herself and her family and to help her to work towards the goal of being a woman all the time- not just off hours. And I think of the transman who has to live in a women’s shelter to get the aide he needs to get back on his feet and live his life. And let me be perfectly clear- these two are not victims. Kris is not a victim. They are strong, brave people. We are all square pegs in some respect but these two people and Kris and so many like them keep getting pushed into round holes. I hope that someday very soon we make strides in the area of accepting people who are different from what is considered “normal” and let them live lives full of love and happiness.