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Rebuilding Connections: an opportunity lost

The call was waiting for me when I walked into the house: my brother. He was going to be in town this weekend, and wondered if we could get together for lunch…and talk. I need to say at this point, that we haven’t seen each other in about five years. The last time we spoke on the phone was almost exactly six months ago, when he called in response to my coming-out letter telling him I was about to start my RLE. Call me this evening, the message suggested, so I did.

It was agreed; we would meet at a local restaurant for lunch…and talk: the two of us, alone together, him meeting his older brother for the first time, now that she was his older sister. “Wonderful!” I thought. “A real heart to heart.” Just the thought made me smile.

The reality, however, (maybe I should have known), would prove disappointing. Okay…I probably should have known, but I came home feeling disappointed, all the same. Our meeting had such potential for being so much more, and it didn’t happen.

He didn’t recognize me at first, from across the street. His first reaction, looking me up and down, was, “Whoa. That’s change!” (I was wearing white jeans and a white crocheted top over a red sleeveless shell. Oh, and my red sandals.) Yes, I suppose it was, considering what he would have remembered. We went into the restaurant. He already had a booth. We sat down, exchanged pleasantries, and for all intents and purposes, that was about it. He wanted to tell me that I was “family,” and as far as he was concerned, we were raised to believe that family came first; he’d tried to raise his own kids that way, and they were raising their children the same way, too, so naturally he accepted me, no matter what. Gratifying, I suppose, but it sounded (to my ears) more like something meant to impress me with the quality of his character than heartfelt compassion or understanding. I’m probably being unfair. I’m sure he did mean what he said, and he did intend to express his support for me, but as I say, to my ears, the words sounded just a little hollow: a set-piece intended to impress, rather than real thoughts coming from the heart.

I did try, at first, to tell him a bit about what my experience of being trans is like, but there were no questions asked, nor was any curiosity expressed. The conversation quickly steered itself to other topics: his work, how things were around home, how his children and grandchildren were doing at work and at school, the best way to cook prawns or barbecue salmon. All surface topics…safe ones. Mostly he talked, prompted with the occasional question. I listened.

How easily we slip into our gender roles! He was treating me like a woman. I suppose at some level, I should have been glad of that. After all, it meant he had accepted my”femaleness,” if there is such a word. But his being male, and my being female meant that he had things to say worth listening to, and I, relatively speaking, did not. Genetic women will know well how that feels…how devalued their knowledge, their opinions, and their experiences are when confronted with the male ego. This is relatively new for me, but I can tell you, the novelty of being “treated like a woman” like this gets old really, really quickly…maybe about five minutes? It doesn’t take long for the pattern to establish itself. I am reminded (emphatically) just how conversations with my female friends actually are conversations, not monologues. And best of all, when we talk, we talk about everything. Today, we talked about almost nothing. Driving downtown, I felt so wonderful, so hopeful. I thought we really had a chance to rebuild some important connections between us, but it didn’t happen. Yes, we will try again. Of course we will. But today, I am disappointed. It almost seemed as if he didn’t want to…or maybe didn’t know how. Until we succeed, I am saddened at the thought that maybe I am the only one of us who understands just how precious those connections can be.

Still, we have made contact again. And some connection has been made. Perhaps not what I have wished for, but it’s a start, and I am grateful to the universe for that.

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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