Germany, May 13, 2012:
I ended the call with a heavy feeling in my chest. I decided on a warm bath to clear my head and help me focus. In the next couple of minutes, I was lying in my tub filled with warm water, caressing my breasts rendered tender by the hormone therapy. As I started to relax, my mind started to ponder over the course of events, from the beginning of the day to the conversation with my parents, and then raced back down memory lane to a year ago, when I first explicitly came out to my parents.
I had woken up this morning feeling a bit low. My next hormone shot was due in four days, and my only waking thoughts were on how I was going to survive those four days. I knew things were going to get more complicated the moment I saw the email from my sister requesting me to call our parents. Though she phrased it in a casual way, mentioning how our parents worried about me, I believe she was fully aware of the complexities involved in both sides of the conversation. Ever since my coming out as trans to my parents, our conversations have been like treading on thin ice. Or perhaps, like treading on Occam’s razor: with each side wanting to believe in the solution that appeared simplest. In my case, the simplest solution was to transition, while for my parents it was to deny and ignore the realities of my existence and identity.
I had a short break during my afternoon at the university and hence decided to call my family. The first conversation was with my father. It was predictable: we both knew where to steer the conversation, and more importantly, which topics to avoid. They tended to focus on the weather in Germany, my food habits, and my interactions with my professor. These would generally be answered with the practised monotony of a year of similar conversations. The weather is cold, schnitzel and sausages are cheap and they are good for the cold. The only variable responses concerned the interactions with my professor. At some point this past year, I had disclosed to my father that my research group knew everything about me, and perceived me as a woman.
In today’s conversation, I was careful to avoid the words ‘girl’, ‘female’ and ‘woman’, due to past experiences where any remarks alluding to my present and chosen gender were received with a stony silence, or with a stream of curses ostensibly aimed at BSNL for poor and noisy connectivity. The curses were supposed to indicate to me that the last few statements I had uttered had not been heard, as they had been lost due to a poor line.
Conversations with my father are a breeze when compared to those with my mother, which are like battling tornadoes. If I am to expect a response, I have to use my former (male) voice while speaking with her. Additionally, when I broach forbidden zones of conversation, I incite tears in her, which leave me troubled and brooding for over a week.
This time, I wanted to avoid any discussion that would result in an emotional response from her. I was pleasantly surprised when she used female pronouns with me, and spoken in a pleasant tone that she had never before used with me. Listening to her relaxed voice, I felt that perhaps she had come around to accepting me, as I had always wished. It was not until she remarked ”your father was talking with your brother” did I realize the pleasantness was not intended for me. In my haste I had forgotten to lower my vocal pitch, and she had mistaken my voice for my sister’s. Once I let her know whom she was speaking with, the conversation returned to its usual track.
As I prepared, disappointed, to wind up the routine and meaningless conversation, my mother unexpectedly broached a new topic by asking if I still wore unwashed jeans and metal jackets. A strange turn of events indeed. During my years in Chennai, she had been the first person to heap scorn on my biker/metalhead manner of dressing.
Harsh words were exchanged, and before I could fully grasp and take control of the situation, she began to sob. Deciding against a full-blown argument, and partly because I felt she was opening herself up to me, I allowed her to convey her opinions without interrupting. The rest of the conversation could be summarized in the message “be spiritual and you will be cured”.
What irked me most was the concluding statements of both my parents, wherein both of them asked me not to undergo surgical procedures. Both conveyed their conviction that their prayers would not go unanswered, and that by consistently believing in God, I should be able to stave off these thoughts.
While I have no issues with people invoking their faith to overcome their everyday tribulations, my parents’ constant exhortations to me to seek spiritual guidance were troublesome. They also kept reiterating how they could have obtained the best medical care to cure my “condition” had I informed them beforehand.
Through this conversation, the main thoughts that kept coursing through me were: ”Why did they not offer to ask me how I felt the whole time?
No questions about why I had been a loner all through my high school.
No questions about what had prompted me to decide to transition.
No questions about whether the decision had brought me peace of mind.
No questions about my present legal name.
Only the repetitive message that I needed professional medical as well as spiritual guidance to help me leave my present lifestyle.
I started to reevaluate the feelings I had had when I first came out to my parents. It struck me that I had been too naive then. At that moment, I had only considered two likely responses from my parents: either they would embrace me as their daughter or they would disown me. Even though I had been cautioned by people who had come out to their parents that the news takes a lot of time to sink in, I had concluded that, in due course of time, they would educate themselves about transition and try to reach out, or – alternately – gradually erase me from their collective memory, expel me from the household, and cease all contacts with me.
The recent events presented me with a totally different scenario that I had not anticipated. A scenario in which they had totally rejected a particular important and defining aspect of me, and cultivated a false sense of security that I would be the same person that they perceived me to be. The illusion that I was their perfect son, and hope that one day I would return to being their son again.
The thought of my family being in limbo clinging to such false hope left me in a state of despair. Over the past year, I had asked them if I could send them relevant literature on transgender issues. They had refused. I had tried to provide materials from the internet. To this, they invoked the whole internet illiteracy card. I had tried to get them to meet resource persons in Chennai, and this plan was vetoed as well. Anything linked with my present identity was immediately ignored…
I decide to end these ruminations in the bathtub, and start to dry my body. I notice that over the past few days I have become increasingly comfortable with the sight of my naked body. The skin on my abdomen and waist appears healthier and smoother than ever before. My thighs are still muscular, not in the bulging sort of way, but proportionate, covered in skin now strangely sensitive. My calves are no longer prominent, and with flesh replacing muscle, they augment the appearance of my femininity. My feet are still large and overtly masculine. I would be happy if they had been a bit smaller and more rounded. The most prominent change was that of the fat redistribution in my rear. My arms have always been slender and my shoulders have never been broad.
As I get dressed and step out of the bathroom, I feel a new sense of confidence flushing through me. Armed with this self-confidence, I start to coherently reorganize all my thoughts:
My family still wants to communicate with me. So, things are not as bad as in the worst possible scenario I had envisioned. On the contrary, they still harbor a false hope of me reverting to the gender I was assigned at birth, and expect me to present my former external self in all my interactions with them. My former self is a role that has become increasingly difficult for me to play, even on an internet voice call.
Will they ever react positively to my decisions, or will there always be a rift between us? Will the rift remain the same throughout the years, or will it widen, eventually making us strangers? More importantly, should I take the initiative to educate them, or should I keep my fingers crossed and hope for them to reach a stable state?
Too many questions. All I know with certainty is that I am a lot more comfortable with who I am at the moment than I have ever been before, and that I have the will to survive this ordeal.
Maybe what I am experiencing is a part of the transitioning process. The skill to convince the ones you love to see you for what you are, and the ability to make them accept you for what you are.
I wonder if I am being immature in expecting them to accept me within a narrow span of time. As a very good friend of mine said to me: “Brenda, it took you 26 years to come to terms with your own self. Imagine how long it would take for your parents to accept you!
I will wait patiently.