This is a post about the strange story of how I came out to my family as transgendered. But before I can tell that story, I have to explain how I came out to my mother as lesbian. It’s hard to unravel the ball of yarn and know where to pick up the beginning or end of the strand.
I have already shared bits and pieces of the story in other posts. I had attended the school for the blind in my home state from kindergarten upwards, and I was still at that school when my adolescent years were approaching. I began to notice my friends pairing up in female / male couples and the stupid boy pranks to get the attention of girls they liked while the girls, the ones who had enough eyesight to write, would doodle hearts inscribed with a favored boy’s name.
None of this made any sense to me. I had never heard the word “lesbian,” but without the vocabulary, I began to suspect that that was what I was. When I was in the 8th grade, a new girl enrolled in school, and we developed a mutual crush on each other. Her name was Carol. We didn’t know we were crushing — it was nothing more than innocent puppy love not acted upon. In fact, we had a close bond because we were both going through other difficulties in life.
In the summer between 8th and 9th grade, we spent a lot of time together, Carol and me. I had sleep-overs at Carol’s house. Like me, Carol was an only child, and her parents were just divorced. So she was living alone with her mother who was a nurse. The sleep-overs were largely unsupervised due to her mother’s work shift. We had great fun, memorizing the lyrics to Jesus Christ Superstar from beginning to end.
Yeah, we raided Carol’s mom’s supply of Boone’s Farm wine. That was our “naughtiest” deed, and perhaps the naughtiest deed of my childhood. And there was sometimes a six-pack of Budweiser in the refrigerator. One afternoon, we had a can of beer, and a little tipsy, we went walking around Carol’s apartment complex holding hands. We made a circuit around the apartment swimming pool, giggling like teenage girls. Holding hands was as far as anything physical got between us.
When the new school year started, 9th grade, we were still leaning on each other for comfort against our life difficulties, and so we would walk across campus holding hands. One day, a boy came up to us and shouted, “Don’t you know that’s not natural?” What? Not natural? It felt like the most natural thing in the world to me.
We got into a great deal of trouble at school. Word spread like a fire gone wild in Colorado in a dry and dessicated summer. Soon, everyone at school from principal to kitchen cook, from the class seniors to the newly starting kindergarteners, knew that DogDharma and Carol were lesbians — and I still didn’t know the word!
We were individually called before the school psychologist. I remember him demanding harshly of me, “Are you a lesbian?” I said “no” because I didn’t know what the word meant, and because I was afraid of the stern looks I was getting. Very confused.
Remember that my gender issues had been submerged beneath a wall of denial. So, I “accepted” the label, because I knew that boys were gross and that I was “attracted” to girls. The school set some silly rules and insisted that Carol and I must stay 10 feet apart from each other at all times. It was a horrible emotional crisis, and shamed beyond shame, I transferred to a public school at mid-term.
Carol isn’t a lesbian. I don’t know if she would call what we had puppy love, or how she would define herself. We are still friends, though in distant states, and she’s had the same male partner for decades.
When the incident at school occurred, my mother also demanded to know if I was a lesbian, but still confused, I had also told her “no.” Yet as I said, I took on the label because it was the only thing that seemed to fit. Now I have to explain a little bit about my mother, who I call at best a “not nice person.” She wasn’t interested in my life. She did not attend my college graduation. She could have barely told anyone what I’d majored in. When I began working, she couldn’t remember my job title. So as I grew into adulthood, I felt no need to have the conversation with her, “Mom, I’m a lesbian.” I just lived my life, and she well knew that my relationships were with women. Why bother to have the conversation with someone who doesn’t care?
I finally “came out” officially to my mother as lesbian in April of 1993. I was living in Pittsburgh with my second partner, Donna. After seven years as partners, the relationship was unworkable. I’d sat with Donna at our dining room table in the home we owned and said something like, “I don’t think this is working for us. I think we should split up. Do you agree?” Donna agreed. Well, my mother and her childhood friend, Dova, had already planned to visit us in Pittsburgh. The break-up was too raw, and neither of us were prepared to put on any pretense. (See my tribute to Dova here.)
Donna and I had s sleeper sofa in the living room for my mom and Dova, and we slept upstairs in our usual bed. That first night of my mom and Dova’s visit, we could hear them giggling and wondered what they were doing. Next morning we found out the reason behind the giggles — they’d found our copy of The Joy of Lesbian Sex on the bookshelf! My mother wasn’t readable, but Dova was warm and accepting. We were officially “out.”
Though we were now out, we didn’t have the heart to broach the topic of our decision to split. So we tried to have as much fun as possible, given the circumstances. A lesbian author had been scheduled to give a book reading at the Border’s bookstore in the big mall to the south of Pittsburgh. Donna and I had been disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to attend the reading, due to my mother’s visit. But now that we were “out,” there was no reason not to attend the reading. My mother and Dova were in their 70’s by then, my mother in a wheelchair.
We packed them in our car and took them to the reading — quite ironically, the book was Different Daughters: A Book by Mothers of Lesbians. Everything in my life is ironic. As I recall, most of the people attending the reading were women. Most likely, everyone in attendance thought my mother and Dova were the oldest lesbian couple in existence!! So that’s the story of how I came out to my mother as a lesbian.
I was now living in Washington, DC, with my partner Kim in the condominium we owned. In planning my transitioning, I had decided to start testosterone and schedule my top surgery so as to avoid the prospect of having “hairy boobs.” Again, I didn’t feel any immediate need to tell my mother I was transitioning, and you will soon see why. When we talked on the telephone, my mother noticed that my voice had begun to crack a little, and she assumed I had a cold.
Well, I’d had my top surgery, and it was mostly healed, and my mother decided to come for a visit to DC with another friend of hers, Jean. I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d handle it. One day, Kim and I had taken my mother and Jean to a store, and I was wearing a sleeveless t-shirt. My mother noticed the healing scar under my left armpit and made a comment. Since we were in a store, I brushed aside her comment. I could see in Jean’s eyes a hint of surprise and recognition, but my mother was oblivious. My own mother didn’t even notice my boobs were gone!!! Now can you see why I felt no urgency in saying, “Hey, mom, I’m transgendered”?? (I should probably mention that everyone was long used to seeing me with my shaved hair and men’s clothes — no one questioned, and I guess they thought that was a “lesbian” thing.)
So the visit by my mom and Jean was uneventful. The testosterone began to kick in, with the changes slowly coming. I was still very much in that phase where people look at you and scratch their heads, “Is it a boy or is it a girl?” The changes were inevitable, so I decided it was time to prepare my mom. We had “the talk.” I had already legally changed my name to “Terry.” That was my first step toward transitioning, done before I even knew I’d have the courage to follow through. My mother had balked at the name change and refused to honor it, keeping my cousins in a state of confusion as to what to call me. My friends and co-workers had been great about the name change.
My mother’s reaction to my disclosure was “Whatever…” She resisted using male pronouns. In fact, I don’t think she ever used a male pronoun up to the time she died, but she did begin to refer to me as her son. I tried to tell my mother that she was going to find herself royally embarrassed if she came to visit me and we were out at a restaurant or somewhere, and she referred to me to the waiter as “she.” People would think she was crazy or senile. I tried to keep it light-hearted and chuckled about it.
Now, by this time, all of my aunts and uncles had passed away on both sides of my family, except my Uncle Julian, my mother’s brother. In her “not nice” way, my mother had driven a wedge between me and my family, so I rarely communicated with my cousins, except in email I wasn’t “close” to my cousins, and they sat of the periphery of my life (to my great sadness). They all lived thousands of miles away from me. And so I’d felt no immediate need to have “the talk” with them. They would be like, “We don’t even know where you work or what you do for a living — why are you telling us this? And in email?” My plan was to take it as it came.
But then my Uncle Julian died after a long decline from Parkinson’s disease. I loved my uncle and wanted to go back to Arkansas for his funeral. But now the problem of being transgendered… I couldn’t very well show up at his funeral as a man, and disrupt the family’s goodbyes. I couldn’t conceive of sending out an email en masse to my cousins, explaining about being transgendered on the cusp of the funeral. So I asked my mother to tell the rest of my family so they’d be prepared — otherwise, I couldn’t come to the funeral and disrupt it with my unexpected presence as a man. To her credit, my mother honored my request.
So I flew down to Arkansas. It was gut-wrenching to see my uncle in his casket, wasted away to skin and bones. I would not have recognized him if I’d met him on the street. In his younger years, he’d been a short, jolly man with a round tummy who played Santa Claus for his church at Christmas.
There were a couple of odd twists to the funeral. Besides me, the other black sheep in the family was my cousin, Debbie, my Uncle Julian’s daughter. A “family secret” that wasn’t so secret and couldn’t be kept secret at the funeral. You see, Debbie had gotten involved in drug use, she’d been caught, and she’d been sent to prison. She was in prison when her daddy, my uncle, died. Authorities had allowed her to attend her father’s funeral, but she was accompanied by a guard. Debbie read a poem she’d written for her dad at the funeral, and it made me cry.
The twist? My cousins were respectful, at least to my face, about being transgendered. They hugged me and talked to me, but they said not one word to Debbie. Apparently, getting involved in drug use is a bigger sin than being transgendered… Since she’d been in prison, I figured that Debbie might have been the only family member present who hadn’t been told about my transitioning. Perhaps her mother had told her? Or perhaps not, amidst the grief.
So after Uncle Julian’s casket was lowered into the ground, and we were all standing around in little clutches, I went up to Debbie and said to her, “Do you know who I am?” (We hadn’t seen each other since we were young children, so I don’t know if she would have even recognized my female self.) She said, “Yes, I know who you are.” We hugged each other and cried, and I told her how sorry I was that she’d lost her daddy. Later on, Debbie penned me a letter from her last days in prison, telling me how I was the only one of the cousins who had even spoken to her and how grateful she was. Debbie is now on my Facebook friends list, has grandchildren, and from what I can tell, she has overcome her drug use problem.
The other odd twist during the visit to Arkansas for my uncle’s funeral… When I was in high school, my mother had finally remarried. She married a “not nice” man named Shannon who was an alcoholic. They were both “not nice.” But I felt some sympathy and a great deal of concern for my mom, because the man had episodes where he threatened to kill her and commit suicide. I had tried to help in various ways, to no avail. Shannon had one of his episodes at the viewing before my uncle’s funeral.
So, I had a quiet conversation with my mother, and asked her if she had anyone to confide in, or if she was getting help from anyone? Everyone in the family knew what she was going through, but they were also helpless. I suggested to my mother that she talk to the minister at her church.
Apparently, my mother misunderstood my suggestion. Toward the end of my stay in Arkansas, she came back to me and said something along the lines of, “I talked to my preacher. He said you were a lesbian. I didn’t know you were a lesbian! He said that everything is okay now, and you won’t be going to hell since you are a man.” !!!!!!
So my mother passed away on February 7, 2012, while I was in England with Paula, going through my own hell. She’d come around to calling me “Terry” and calling me her “son,” but never referred to me as “he.” Knowing the hardships I’d had in my prior relationships, before her death, my mother asked me if Paula was treating me well. It was one of the few times she ever showed any concern over my well-being and it still makes me cry. I lied to my mother and said, “Yes, Paula is treating me well.”
I have contact with some of my cousins on Facebook, and even play Words with Friends with a couple. Things have gotten much better, but I still don’t feel like I have a “family.”
Here is a picture of me and my cousins at my uncle’s funeral. I’ve blotted out their faces to protect their privacy.
Some (hopefully) comic relief:
Don’t be discouraged…
You with the sad eyes
Don’t be discouraged
Oh I realize
It’s hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small
But I see your true colors
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful,
Like a rainbow
Show me a smile then,
Don’t be unhappy, can’t remember
When I last saw you laughing
If this world makes you crazy
And you’ve taken all you can bear
You call me up
Because you know I’ll be there
And I’ll see your true colors
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful,
Like a rainbow
Terms and Conditions of Use
All content provided on this DogDharma blog is for informational and entertainment purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site.