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What qualities do you look for in a friend?

A friend asked me today, “What qualities do you look for in a friend?” In my male life, not so long ago, I would have rattled off a quick list, almost without thinking, but in my male life, truthfully, I knew very little of friendship, and truthfully, had only a passing interest in it. A friend was someone I could go fly fishing with. Someone I could share fish stories with as we drove to the stream or the beach. Or, as Deirdre McClosky observed in her memoir, Crossing, a friend was someone I knew “who wouldn’t actually take a gun to me in the street.”

I started taking hormones almost exactly a year ago, and the effect (mentally) has been profound. (Alas, the physical changes seem less obvious, unless I turn just so, and the shadows fall just right, but that’s a subject for another entry. We won’t go into that right now, so if you’re reading this, you’re safe. I can almost hear the big sigh of relief.) What I will say is that the very first change that I noticed was a sudden, and I do mean sudden, and profound change in my whole way of thinking. It happened within two weeks of my starting treatment, and, I will add, here, that at the time I was on only a half dose of t-blocker and estrogens. Suddenly, I was seized with the imperative to find and surround myself with close and intimate friends. It was astonishing to recognize this in myself. As I said above, until then, my attitude toward friendship had been stereotypically male. And suddenly it changed. I wanted friends. I needed friends, close, loving friends, friends of the type who shared their secrets and their confidences, their innermost thoughts, fears, fantasies and feelings. Female friends. It was so sudden, and so overwhelming, I have to believe it was hormonal. And my life has changed dramatically as a result. This desire for connection has become absolutely, fundamentally, part of who and what I am. And I will confess it freely: I like the change. A lot.

So when I was asked the question earlier today, I had to stop and think for a while, because I honestly didn’t know the answer, but it was an important question. What qualities do I look for in a friend? It deserved an answer.

So here, finally, it is. I don’t think we look for qualities in a friendship. I don’t think that’s how friendship works. I don’t think we can simply make up a checklist ahead of time and say, “These are the qualities my friend must have.” I don’t think we can, and I don’t think we do. I think friendship works the other way around. We find the friend first. Only then might we ask, “What was it that attracted me to her in the first place? And why do I like her so much more, now?”

What I love about friendships is that they simply “are.” We meet and become friends, sometimes close, sometimes not. And that’s okay. There are no expectations, hopes or conditions. Those rare, intimate friendships that we treasure so much, are, I think, often happy accidents. What qualities do I look for? Mostly, I think, I do not.

If I had to answer the question, I think the best I could do would be to list some of the qualities I see in my own best friend, but I certainly didn’t go looking for them, first. I would rather ask “What is it in her that makes her so dear to me?” Now that’s a question I would happily answer, instead.

A partial list: I love her for her intelligence and her accomplishment, both of which she tempers with genuine modesty. I love her for her passion (especially for the arts, her own and others’). I love her because she is my uncompromising truth teller, my severest and most loving critic, especially of my own art, but also, when I need it, of me. I love her for her compassion and her ferocious, loving kindness, especially, but not exclusively, for those within her closest circle. I love her for her generosity, her open-mindedness, her good humor and her ready laugh usually at her own expense. I love her for her love of good company, her willingness to seek out friendship wherever she goes and with whomever she meets. I love her because she is interested in everybody, and she speaks to them all! I love her for her strength in adversity. I love her for the joy she takes in life, even in the face of physical pain, diminishing capacity, and personal tragedy. I love her because she loves generously, protectively, and unconditionally, and because she is unafraid to speak her love aloud.

I love her because the mere thought of her makes me smile.

I am so blessed to have her in my life. Who, I wonder, could not love her as I do? But would I have dared to go looking for a friend having composed such a list of her qualities beforehand? If I had, I think I would have gone friendless, forever. And I am so thankful I have not.

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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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