On this, my 67th birthday, I found a tear wrenching letter to transgender old people at the Advocate.
Now the letter was not so much aimed at me personally. I did not transition in my 60s. I transitioned 2/3 of my life ago, at the age of 44. That was enough of a problem in itself.
How did you do it? How did you keep yourself going all those decades in the wrong gender? You must be the toughest person alive.
Marlo, there just a wasn’t a lot of choice. Survival is a strong motivation.
You see, my daughter is like you. Or you were once like her. She’s 7 years old. When she was 3, she told me she wasn’t the boy we had all assumed she was.
This morning I watched her picking out a dress to wear to school (the one with red and yellow flowers or the blue one with sparkles?), and I thought about you and felt so sad and so lucky that it scared me and I had to put you out of my mind for a while.
Back when many of us were growing up, we had no words to express what we were dealing with and probably nobody to tell about it who had any ability to understand.
I’ve written about my daughter in a blog, and you read it and started writing me emails, telling me about your life – the years of secret longing, the bliss when you finally got to become you, the career and the wife and the children you lost when you did, the good man who’s loved you for 20 years.
Sometimes you sound wistful. Sometimes you joke and ask me to adopt you. And sometimes you admit that you’re jealous of my daughter. But you’re always supportive, cheering me on, assuring me that my child will be OK. When people are cruel and I get down, you tell me that jerks aren’t worth my time and that I have to be tougher. I listen. I know you know what you’re talking about.
Personally, I’m not attracted to men. But even we lesbians are often lucky enough to find someone to love us in spite of our past difficulties. I’ve been with my partner nor nearly 20 years now.
And I know that my daughter is walking a remarkably smooth path because you have paved the way for her. Without a doubt, she is indebted to you. And yet I often wonder, and worry, about whether she will realize this.
Recognition is not what we seek, Marlo. It makes us happy enough that your daughter has the chance of a good life.
I was having coffee recently with a friend whose transgender daughter is 13. My friend said that when her daughter transitioned at age 8, her first encounters with older trans women didn’t go very well. “Mama,” she said, “I’m not going to look like that, am I?”
No, she told her daughter, you probably won’t look like that. Like my daughter, hers has access to medical interventions that you didn’t. Hers is already taking hormone blockers that suppress the male puberty her body would otherwise undergo. We sipped our coffee and shook our heads (relieved, guilt-ridden) at the miracle of it. “Can you imagine our girls sprouting facial hair?” we said. It’s unthinkable.
It was unthinkable for you, too, of course, but then it happened anyway.
I admit that I still struggle with facial hair thing. I hate shaving every day. But there is a rice we sometimes have to pay and I guess this is mine.
Back when I was in transition it was either build a fund for the surgery I required to make me happy or squander it all on electrolysis.
I was at least fortunate that my facial hair was not dark…and not very coarse since I had not shaved it for many years. I was an ex-hippy with a full face of beard.
I sometimes think that you and my daughter are like twins separated at birth and raised on different continents: Your childhoods couldn’t have been more different, and yet, on some profound level, you will always understand each other perfectly.
Will she acknowledge you as her long-lost sister, I wonder? Will she experience some version of survivor’s guilt, as the twin raised on the kinder continent? Will you forgive her when she isn’t strong enough to take on the whole world, as you’ve done? Will you let me adopt you, as I’ve already done a thousand times, in secret, in my heart?
My only hope is that through my writing that I somehow make your daughter’s path a little easier. That is enough. Making a difference in the world should be enough for anyone’s life.
While it would be nice if your daughter would never forget us, we know that being forgotten is part of the nature of growing old. Please pardon us if we vicariously try to capture some of the youth that could have been ours by cheering your daughter on through the successes that she surely will achieve as grows into the strong woman she will become. She doesn’t owe us anything more than finding a productive and fruitful niche in this society.
Nothing would please us more.
May you both live long and prosper.
A poem from several years ago:
Cracks in the Shell