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On the pain of keeping the secret; and the paralysis of fear (Part 2)

It was lovely afternoon, sunny after weeks of cloud and rain. I had been up the street, visiting my friend, Bev, and admiring her new greenhouse, while the dogs, hers and mine, played in her back yard. I had enjoyed our visit immensely. (So had the dogs.) So I was in a good mood as I clipped Zoee onto her lead and walked back down the road toward home. (Already, you can hear what’s coming, can’t you?) My next door neighbour was standing on the boulevard, just outside his gate as I walked past.

I knew he was uncomfortable with my being trans, but foolishly, I was determined to be as pleasant as I could be…polite, anyway. “Hi, Ben,” I said, expecting little more than silence (or perhaps a nod) in return.

What I got was just the sort of confrontation that for so many years, I had feared.

His face contorted ever so slightly, then he spoke. “Why do you talk to me?” he asked.

Puzzled, I stopped. “I beg your pardon?” I asked.

“Why do you talk to me? Back when you were normal you wouldn’t give me the time of day. Now you always talk to me.”

(Actually this isn’t true, but apparently that’s how he remembers it.)

I shrugged. “I said, ‘Hi,’ Ben. Is that a problem?”

“Yeah, it’s a problem.” The disgust in his voice and on his face was palpable. “Why can’t you be normal?”

“Actually, this is pretty normal, Ben. There are more of us than you might think: maybe three percent of the population.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s ‘normal?’ Like three percent is a majority?”

“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, Ben, but I guess you’re going to have to get used to it. I’m not going away.”

There was more, but I will spare you some of the details. I told him that only three people in the whole world had ever spoken to me like this, and he was one of them. It was true.

“Well, that’s only because the rest of them didn’t want to say anything.” Then he turned his back and walked away. He had the last word. Inevitably.

I was upset; I admit it. I wanted to ask him if rudeness, hatred, and bigotry were “normal.” Perhaps in his circles, they are, but I doubt it. I felt as if I’d had one of those confrontations that a teacher will occasionally have with a student. Over thirty years in the high school classroom…I’ve had a few of them, though truthfully, such confrontations are really very rare. After awhile, you learn how not to hoist your sail into their wind. It was a lesson I had temporarily forgotten.

Note to self: in the future, if you have a bad feeling about someone, trust your instinct. Forget about reaching out. Forget even about simple courtesy. It will be twisted into something else. Smile briefly, if you must, but do not engage.

Not so long ago, the thought of such a confrontation would have paralyzed me with fear. What would happen if someone saw me? What would happen if someone said something? What would happen if…?

And so, for almost five decades, I hid myself away, paralysed by fear, until I simply couldn’t do that anymore.

And what did happen? He tried to shame me, but he didn’t. He tried to tell me that most people found me just as disgusting as he did. but it isn’t true. Three people have reacted like he did. Exactly three,and none of them are, or ever were, part of my life. And hundreds more have not. In fact, those who know me, even those who knew me before, in my male life, have reacted in quite the opposite way. I have been overwhelmed with huge smiles, hugs, congratulations, acceptance, and support. I have friends, now; close ones…friends like I never had before.

So what is the lesson I am finally, slowly learning from all this? To confront the fear. Not to do so is to remain paralysed. Unless you confront the fear, You will never take that dance class. You will never join that choir. You will never walk freely and proudly under that clear bright afternoon sky.

Confront the fear. Whenever I do, it seems to just dissolve and disappear.

About Karen McLaughlin

Hi, I’m Karen, and welcome to my Cornbury blog. This blogging thing is a new adventure for me, but several of my friends have been urging me to keep one for awhile now. I’ll do my best. I hope you will be patient with me when I stumble, but mostly, I hope that this blog will help make this business of being trans a little less weird, maybe a little less scary. If you’re here, there’s a good chance that you, or someone you know, is dealing with the same issues that I have been. (Please note the past tense. I'm very proud of that.) I want to tell you that it’s going to be alright. You hear that? It’s going to be alright. I’m speaking from experience. So who am I to talk? Well, when I started all this, I was a pre-op trans woman in the middle of her RLE, her so-called “real life experience.” While I had lived (almost) full time for several years, in 2010 I finally decided to seek gender reassignment surgery. (Note: the accepted term for this among medical professionals is now gender confirmation surgery–an improvement, to my mind on all kinds of levels.) Whatever we call it, to qualify, one of the hoops that must be jumped is this RLE. That means living full time in female mode; no going back. Before I could apply for surgery, I was required to have lived as a woman for at least 12 months. The reasoning behind this is that by doing so, the applicant, me, in this case, would have a better idea what life would be like, should she decide to press forward. This meant finally coming out to my son and my elderly father, both of whom have been reluctantly supportive. I have been very blessed in this. Others have not been so lucky. Coming out is risky. Living full time is even riskier. A trans friend of mine once remarked, “Being out as trans means laying everything on the table. And you have no idea what you’re going to be allowed to keep.” You can literally lose everything: family, home, friends, colleagues, job, career, savings, pension, everything. I know people who have. But I have not, though I would be lying to say that this has been easy, or that there have not been strains, and deep, deep pain. Still, I have been blessed with an understanding, if not always totally supportive spouse, and with a family that has tried mightily to accept and come to terms with (in their eyes) the loss of a father and the emergence of this new person, Karen, who in her new hormonal adolescence, seems at times a stranger. (A nice one, though, I hope; one they can eventually come to love.) What I have discovered through all this, is that while the journey into Mordor is long and fraught with danger, it is filled with unexpected beauty and joy as well. Since coming out, (to everyone, family included,) I have been accepted, even loved, by people I never expected would be on my side, and in places I never expected (or thought) to go. In the past few months I have joined an all women’s Latin dance class, sung female tenor in a wonderful choir, learned basic silversmithing, (I make my own jewelry! How cool is that?), and surrounded myself with wonderful friends. I was supported by an amazing counsellor, (alas, recently retired), who connected me with a speech therapist who specializes in teaching feminine voice. (It has taken time, but it’s coming! I can hardly believe it!) And I have discovered that the future is not a road to be travelled, but a landscape to be constructed. The world I live in is one that I am building for myself, and you can do it, too. This one is a world filled with color, with love, and with joy, and for the first time in my life, I feel whole and totally alive. And the voice in my heart tells me, “This is soooo right! And about time, too!”

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