Every good story should have a fairy-tale ending, and this one does. Fast-forward to one evening when I was 23, playing with a woodwind group attached to the university. We had just finished a recital and the audience was drifting out of the small hall. I was putting my clarinet away in its case when I sensed someone behind me and a voice, quiet enough that only I could hear, said,
“ That was lovely …… Jean.”
Even before I turned I knew who it was and the effect was electrifying. There was Karen – very different from the Karen I had last seen twelve years before, but still Karen. A little taller than me – I had stayed small and slight – and dressed in a conservative, “corporate” sort of way with a neat short hairstyle. Smiling uncertainly, not knowing if I’d even talk to her.
Life changed forever for us in those next few moments. Karen was in Vancouver for a training course. She was a computer-science graduate and working as a programmer, still living in Saskatoon. Still single, like me. She’d seen a notice for the recital and had decided it would be a pleasant way to pass a quiet evening. Instead she’d sat through the performance in a state of mounting excitement mixed with terror after frantically looking through the programme to confirm the clarinet player’s name.
Another whirlwind romance, but unlike that of Mom and Claude, this one was to last. A week later, by which time we knew that we wanted to marry, I took Karen home to “meet” Mom and Sylvie. They were ecstatic. I had had several girlfriends, but I’d never allowed anything to become really serious, mostly because I worried how a girl could ever cope with the fact of my very different childhood. Mom and Sylvie had had the same worries. Long ago I had told them that Karen knew all about Jean-Marie’s transformation to Jean. This was a solution beyond their wildest dreams.
Karen decided that we would stay in Vancouver, rather than me move to Saskatoon where there were too many ghosts. During the balance of her course she networked furiously and by the time it was over she’d arranged a transfer, within her company, to Vancouver.
There was still one more major hurdle to overcome. Karen’s dad had passed away some years back, but her Mother was still very much alive. She would have to be told; if we waited she would eventually meet Mom and Sylvie and the truth would come out then. Karen broke the news of our engagement over the phone and said she’d bring Jon — no surname mentioned – to meet her. As soon as her course was finished we drove to Saskatoon in my Cherokee, to the house I remembered so well. When introduced to her soon-to-be son-in-law – no surname yet – Karen’s mother was charming and there was no flicker of recognition. She poured us drinks and we sat down to chat. Karen gently led the conversation round to Jean and then, in as few words as possible, we told her who I was and how it had all happened. She looked more and more incredulous as we talked and I feared the worst. There was a long, long silence, then her face broke into the wonderful kind smile that I remembered from many years back and she leaned over and patted my head just as though I was still a kid. “There was always something different about you, Jean, and I never could put my finger on it” she said. “Now I know.” Looking into my face she went on: “You’re Jon now, but I think there’s still quite a bit of Jean in there. And that’s not a bad thing – it will make your marriage very special and unusual, and it will make you a more caring husband and father than most men. You were a lovely, lovely little girl, Jean, and I know that you’ll be a lovely, lovely husband to Karen.” And that was that.
All this happened fifteen years ago. Today we still live in Vancouver. I have a successful music store, selling CD’s – mostly classical – and instruments – mostly woodwinds, and I play in a suburban amateur orchestra. There’s a studio attached to the store and I teach piano and clarinet. Karen has a senior computer programming position with a shipping firm. We are comfortable financially with a house in Kerrisdale, an upscale Vancouver inner suburb, and three vehicles in our garage – Karen’s Grand Cherokee, my five-speed Neon R/T and our toy, a 1954 Austin-Healey 100/4 sports car. Best of all we have two wonderful kids, Christine aged twelve and Ron, aged ten. Exactly two years apart, both born in early May.
Deep down inside me, and Karen knows it, there’s still a lot of Jean. On the outside I’m all male. I don’t rejoice in it but I have long accepted it. When I look at my body I see a trim Jon, but I don’t take any pride in what’s there. I would much rather see something very different but, hey, that’s life. I have male friends and I socialize well in male company, just another guy. I do guy things like coach hockey, go for a beer, and I’m an avid Formula One fan. Yes, I do have a ponytail, quite a long one, but that’s not too unusual for a man these days. No sign of hair loss or grey yet, so for the meantime I don’t have to worry about the aging-hippie look. The only clues that might suggest anything different — if someone had reason to look for clues — is that I am clean-shaven all the way up to my hairline and my eyebrows are perhaps a little better groomed than most guys’. Beyond that the only clue, if one was to see me at home with my hair free and brushed, is that I do take very good care of it. There is none of the scruffy, unkempt look that is common with bikers and heavy-metal types who wear their hair long. Pantene is a valued friend and Karen regularly trims a little off to avert split ends. Every so often Christine will look at me and say accusingly: “Daddy, your hair is just like a girl’s – it’s even nicer than mine!” Which I answer with a wink, a pert smile and a wiggle of my hips, something that breaks her up every time.
The kids know nothing about Jean. They sometimes wonder why there are no photographs of me when I was their age, and sometimes they ask about the little girl beside their mother in grade school pictures. “Oh that’s Jean” says Karen, “She left Saskatoon.”
And we don’t want them to know about Jean, at least until they are both well into adulthood. There is no knowing how the information might affect them now. In the case of Ron, I don’t want to sow any seeds in his mind about boys not being boys. Growing up is tough enough without that complication being added.
The debate goes on as to whether gender confusion or dysphoria is genetic or due to factors in how one was raised. Nature or nurture? All I know is that in my case it was definitely non-genetic – just the result of a crazy conspiracy of circumstances – and I see no reason why my past and my own inner feelings should affect my children.
With the internet today there are resources available that didn’t exist in the late ‘seventies when I was struggling with having to leave Jean behind. I sometimes wonder if Mom, Sylvie and I would have handled things differently if there had been support groups accessible. But even today, gender transition is something society doesn’t want to acknowledge. In the last two decades political correctness has made people generally accepting – at least on the surface – of gay persons. However apparently it’s still okay to ridicule and vilify anyone who wants to cross the gender chasm, regardless of where that person fits in the broad and complex spectrum which covers everything from homosexual transvestites to heterosexual cross-dressers to lifetime transsexuals who have undergone surgery. If Ron was to announce, when he was a late teenager, that he wanted to become Veronica, I’d be supportive — envious actually — but I’d still want him to think long and hard before making any moves. I guess I’d have a bigger problem if Christine told me she wanted to become Christopher, but that’s only because I think femininity is such a wonderful gift and I can’t understand anyone wanting to give it up.