But of course it couldn’t last for ever. I was Jean for eight years. Six of them I remember as being happy and uncomplicated but things began to change towards the end of Grade Five. We were all growing up and I was becoming aware that my body wasn’t developing quite the same way as Karen’s and the girls we hung out with. I was still small for my age but I was beginning to lose my elfin features and getting a bit more chunky. My wrists seemed to be getting thicker, and my hands bigger than my friends’. It was probably not very perceptible, but it began to worry me. As did the conversations when the girls would talk about what was happening to some of them and their big sisters – developing breasts, training bras, periods, boyfriends and the like. Even talking about getting married and having babies some day. After such conversations, when Karen and I were alone, she’d look concerned, and say, “Oh Jean, what’s going to happen?” or “Oh Jean, what are we going to do?” Which scared me because, of course, I didn’t have any answer.
In Grade Six it became something I thought about more and more and by the time we got back to school to start Grade Seven it had become an obsession. Many nights I’d cry myself to sleep. Sylvie and I had separate bedrooms so she didn’t know this, but she and Mom could see I was less and less happy, and it wasn’t too difficult for them to guess why.
It all came out one evening the following March when I broke down and told Mom and Sylvie all my fears. I also — to my own surprise – blurted out what I’d been dreading, but what I felt was the only real answer, although I didn’t know how it could be made to work. “I’ve been so, so happy as a girl”, I said through my tears, “ Up till last year I thought I could be a girl forever, but it just won’t work. I’m really scared what is going to happen. I think I’ll have to be a boy again”. Sylvie put her arm around me and stroked my hair and Mom said, “ Darling Jean, you know that most of the time I think of you as a girl, but of course I’ve never been able to forget the truth, and I’ve always known that this would happen eventually. I’m afraid that what you say is probably right”. By this time she and Sylvie were crying as well. Then Mom said “We won’t rush into anything. It’s not going to be easy. I’ll think about it and decide what to do”.
We all hugged for a while and then I went off to bed early, very upset, but in a way relieved.
Mom didn’t say much for a while, except to sometimes gently reinforce that becoming a boy again was going to be best for me. Was she right? Twenty-five or so years later I’m still not very sure. But Mom was firm – she says she’d actually been making plans for this for years. Déjà vu, I guess, her solution, although we didn’t know it yet, was that we’d move again and I would start a new life — as “Jon”. In June she went off by herself to Vancouver for five days – we went to stay with friends – and when she got back she laid it all out for us. Mom had been in oncology for years — it’s a branch of nursing that sometimes has a problem recruiting as it takes a special sort of person to handle the stress – and she’d been able to find a very good job in a Vancouver hospital – better than the one she had in Saskatoon. She’d also closed a deal on a small house in an older neighbourhood in East Vancouver — this was before Vancouver house prices went stratospheric – and we were to take possession in late August. She’d start her new job at the beginning of September and we’d start new schools – me as Jon. So the house in Saskatoon went up for sale and we started preparing for our new life. It was tough on Sylvie as she was just finishing her first year in high school and had made a lot of new friends. But she was a trooper and did all she could to encourage me that it would work out okay.
I was in a sort of state of denial and kept on being Jean in my mind. I told Karen what was planned and she was devastated, but she also understood, maybe better than I did, that it had to be. Shortly before we left Saskatoon Sylvie and I went out and bought clothes for Jon. That was almost fun. Somehow I didn’t really grasp that Jon was going to be me, and that Jean would no longer exist. Finally it came to the night before we were due to get into the car – early before the neighbours were up — to start the long trip to Vancouver. That evening was very, very traumatic for me. I sat in an old kitchen chair – the movers had taken all the good furniture earlier that day — Mom tied my hair behind, then gently cut it off. My bangs went too, leaving me with a very short, boy’s haircut. She put a ribbon around the ponytail and put it away in a box, with a photograph of little Jean, looking very happy, in her First Communion dress. That was when reality hit home. Ever since I was six-and-bit, pretty well as long as I could remember, when I looked in the mirror I had seen my face framed by bangs and shiny straight hair past my shoulders. Until a couple of years ago, that had been all the proof I needed that I really was a girl. And now it was all gone. I curled up in a sleeping bag on the floor and cried long into the night.