I haven’t written for a while. I feel I should apologize, though that presumes I have an audience. I can say I’ve had reasons or make excuses, but the truth is I did not have much to say; or rather I wasn’t certain how to say it. Writing about gender is hard, especially when taking a contrary position to mainstream contemporary thought. I do not possess a degree in Philosophy, Women’s Studies, or any other discipline, which would give me an assertion of authority. I write about my experiences, my feelings and my life. If I’m being pretentious, I say I am writing from a phenomenological perspective. To a large part that is true. I hope by exploring the micro and the personal, I can comment on a broader scope. I am aware by writing about personal events and experiences I open myself up to attack and abuse in a way a straight academic approach does not. I have come to terms with this. It is who I am. Long ago I learned to suffer the slings and arrows to be me, and I would not have it any other way.
I have not written of late, because the holiday season past was, and this is not exaggeration, one of the most important events of my life. The first Christmas with my family, post-transition, was something I had waited for my entire life. I have written at length about my relationship with my parents and my broader family. I have talked about what it was like to come out to them, of the difficulties we faced, and the awkward times we suffered. My family has always been important to me. I went through a prolonged period (My thirties) when I attempted to deny their importance. I thought I could live without them that I, and they, would be better off without one another. Love is a funny thing. I’m not sure I truly understood its power until I was honest with them. Love can be challenging. It is oft tested and our fear of losing, of being rejected, drives our insecurities. We become our own worst enemy forgetting that to truly love someone is to embrace them no matter what.
My family embraced me, and I them, with a big exception. My grandparents are well into their nineties. They both maintain their faculties. In fact, I would consider my grandfather brilliant. At Ninety-Three he is witty, observant, and a critical thinker. (He does hold rather strong conservative political views. Nobody is perfect.) Growing up he and my Grandmother were love personified. They were an idealized vision of what grandparents should be. Only later would I hear the stories of how they treated their actual children. To say they were stern is a profound understatement. When I talk of exception, I do not imply they rejected me, or had a negative reaction. They simply weren’t told. The general consensus amongst my family had it that they wouldn’t understand. They were too old; too set in their ways.
When I made the decision to return to Detroit for Christmas, keeping them in the dark was no longer an option. My mother decided she would tell them. Unbeknownst to me, she, and her sisters, concocted an elaborate plan. The details of which aren’t really important suffice to say they put a lot of thought into it. When the time came to actually tell my grandfather, she didn’t even get through her first sentence. He stopped her halfway through and said: “I already know.” My mother was dumbstruck. I…am not surprised. The man is very smart, very perceptive, and let’s be honest my appearance had been trending in this direction for years. I’m more surprised nobody else figured it out. It goes to show just how much people rely on their own ideas about who you are over who you actually are. My grandmother had not noticed. She was surprised, and a bit confused. How did she finally wrap her head around it? I hate to say this…but it was Caitlyn Jenner. (It pains me to have written that sentence.) All of the articles, the news stories, and the hype during this year of Caitlyn permeated my grandmother’s bubble and her consciousness. Life is weird.
I had previously decided I would visit my grandparent’s prior to Christmas Day. I didn’t want my appearance to be an issue. It’s best to deal with the awkwardness beforehand, and let’s face it there is always awkwardness. I was nervous as I walked up their front walk. They did not know we were coming. My partner knocked. I could hear my Grandmother’s voice beyond the door. I wanted to run. I always want to run. She opened the door and embraced my partner. Before I continue I need to tell you how much my family loves my partner. From the first, they embraced her as if she was part of the family. I’ve often joked they love her more than they love me. (I’m not really joking.) My grandmother and her share a special bond. When she saw my partner her face blossomed in happiness. Their embrace was long, heartfelt, and tearful. My heart melted. The love they show one another means the world to me. When she finally saw me my grandmother hugged me. It was not as long or as tight as the one she gave my partner, but it was genuine. She was truly happy to see me.
My grandfather was otherwise occupied fastening a ribbon to a wreath in another part of the house. He was, as ever, engrossed in his work. Our arrival wasn’t going to deter him. I wanted to climb out of my skin. It would take time for the nerves to disappear. My grandmother really looked at me for the first time. She told me “You look really good. You should be a model.” I blushed then wandered briefly out of the room before returning. I don’t take compliments well. Eventually my Grandfather joined us. I mumbled a sheepish “Hi Papa.” He rumbled, (My grandfather possesses an amazing bass voice.) “Hi Diane.” He hugged me. I hate “Diane.” It’s Diana, but I wasn’t going to quibble. In that moment, I didn’t care. We were good and that was all that mattered.
I would see my Grandparents three times over the course of Christmas Week. We talked very little about me, about being trans, or transition. We talked about family. We talked about the past. They told me stories of their life, of things that happened long ago before my mother was born. How I looked didn’t matter to them. I was family. That’s all that matters. At one point, I tried to broach the topic of transition, and my disappearance from their lives, with my Grandmother. She didn’t really want to talk about it, or maybe it truly didn’t matter. All she offered in response was: “We are all God’s children. We are all the same.” This simple declaration is the most honest, most profound statement of Catholicism I have ever heard. So often religion is used to push others away. For my grandmother it is this love under God, this equality, which cuts through all of the other barriers we erect. I was one of God’s children, and she loved me.
Perhaps you’re asking what the point of all this is, besides some sort of rambling humblebrag. Perhaps you’re thinking: “Yay Diana! Your family sees you and accepts you as a woman. Bully for you!” Well, here’s the thing. My family does not actually see me as a woman. I don’t know how they see me. Christmas was amazing. I was able to be myself. I was able to dress how I wanted. I fluttered through family gatherings like a social butterfly. I was unfettered from my social anxiety, my eternal sense of awkwardness, and my shame. Some in my family used female pronouns. Others used male pronouns. Some used my old name, some my new. My grandmother, after complimenting me on my hair and my dress, told me “You will always be M-, to me. You will always be my grandson.” She spoke out of love, and I love her all the more for it. Honestly, all I felt from my family was love. Names…pronouns…none of it mattered. By not dwelling on labels, by not policing pronouns, or asking them to rewrite their memories, I avoided the awkwardness and the pain too many experience. I know who I am. I know what I am. I’m comfortable with this. How others see me does not validate me, nor threaten my self-esteem.
Would I have reacted the same way five or ten years ago? I can say with some certainty I would not have. Only after educating myself on gender, and feminism, only by reading the words of my friends, and working through my own internalized transphobia and male socialization have I arrived at a place free from the need for validation. It’s a pretty great place, to be perfectly honest. I can talk about my childhood honestly. I can remember the good times I had with my friends, and with my family. None of us have to compromise our memory. My transition, and post-transition existence is as much a part of my life as my boyhood, my adolescence, and life as a young man.
I watch so many young transwomen dissolve, or lash out, at the notion that they aren’t female, that they haven’t always been female. The conflict arises because deep down they know they aren’t female. They know they cannot be. Any insistence they are male triggers an existential crisis. I wish I could show them how it doesn’t have to be this way. I want them to feel what I felt during Christmas: The joy and freedom the truth allows. I wish other transwomen would listen to that voice that knows what you really are. I want them to embrace it. To deny the truth, to insist otherwise, is internalized transphobia. To speak this truth is not self-hatred. It is self-love. It is self-care. I speak from experience. The truth will set you free.
Originally published on neopythia.com.