I wish I could say that I had a plan.
But when I eventually decided to say something… it was as if the awkwardness in my gut dissolved and carried me along with it. A moment before, I had been prepared to shut down Skype, close my laptop, and go to bed as though I didn’t have a thousand threads of disappointment squirming like tapeworms in my belly.
Looking back, maybe it was because I could see Mum’s face, not just hear her voice.
‘Actually, Mum… there’s something else I have to tell you.’
Immediately I could see she knew that it was serious, whatever ‘it’ was. Which only made me even more nervous.
‘Don’t worry… I’m not on drugs, I’m not gay, and I haven’t got anyone pregnant.’
What else could she possibly think it could be now? That you’ve murdered someone?
She won’t like it she’ll look at you like you’re a monster and that’ll be it over done finished a disappointment
THAT’S ENOUGH. Just say it. Say it. She’s your mother. Think of your stepfather, your stepbrother- no, she’s my stepsister now… quickly, before you run away again, say it, say it, say it, say it!
‘Mum… I… I have a condition called Gender Dysphoria… I’m a girl.’
Beat. Mum nods slowly.
Another silence. In hindsight, a second.
‘Well, I can’t say I’m surprised.’
That was when the mouse escaped into Mum’s kitchen.
‘What if… hypothetically speaking… I was your daughter instead of your son?’
‘Darling, I’ll always love you. No matter who you choose to be, you’ll still be you.’
I wish I could remember that conversation as it happened. All I know for sure is that we were driving away from the theatre one afternoon. It was cold, but the sun was shining so brightly.
I take a quick look in my wardrobe after hanging up from Skype two hours later. A fluffy black scarf, complete with matching hat. Kitty ears. My favourite skirt. Two pairs of jeans, carefully shaped. Elegant leather boots with perfect heels that I’ve never had the courage to wear in public.
I always told myself that I was good at hiding who I really was. Even now, I’m still surprised when someone, usually someone who I’ve never met, manages to actually see me. That friend of Mum’s whose first thought on meeting me was ‘what a lovely woman he’d make.’ Katie’s first boyfriend, who, just after I’d figured out who I was, took her aside after a long day of Dungeons and Dragons to ask her if I was transgendered. Another friend of a friend, after seeing me from a distance, asked Katie who her ‘gorgeous’ companion was.
Every time it happened, I couldn’t figure out why. I wasn’t beautiful, or even pretty. I was about as feminine as a gorilla, with the hair to match. … or so I thought.
Did you know that every human being is female in the womb? It’s a difference of a few degrees in temperature that determines our eventual sex, but every single tiny embryo starts off as a girl.
‘I wonder if you’re transgendered because you were born premature, Callie?’ Mum muses one evening. We’re both curled up in our respective thrones in that sleepy half-hour between eight-thirty to nine o’clock at night (she in her red-and-white striped armchair, me buried in my nest of pillows on the couch,) so it takes a little while for her question to filter through my daydreams of maiden knights kissing sentient stories and even longer for me to think of a response. It’s honestly never something that I’ve thought much about before, but the thought that I might have been born in that magical period of time just before my sex was imprinted on my brain by those few extra degrees makes a lot of sense.
I try to convey this as best I can without sounding as though I’m about to fall asleep. The last thing I see before I close my eyes is Mum smiling to herself.
Whenever I think about telling my Father, I seize up.
It’s not that I don’t know he loves me. Or that I don’t think he’ll support me. But in the moment that I do tell him, I know that I’ll be taking away his son. And the disappointment in his eyes when I do… I don’t know if I can take that. I really don’t.
‘I’m sorry darling… right in the middle of the most important conversation we’ve ever had- ACK! Kimba, no!’
‘Drop a towel over it, Mum! Drop a towel over it!’
Finally, after a frantic minute of shrieking from both of us, flying towels from Mum, and hysterical laughter from me, the furry invader is trapped underneath a fluffy white bathtowel. Our cat, a sleek ginger specimen, looks up at Mum with an expression of shock on his gormless face. It’s not surprising: to him, we’ve just taken his squeaking, scurrying dinner and erased it from reality.
After that talking about my situation is easy. I tell Mum everything: the visits to the endocrinologist that I’ve been keeping secret, the hormones I’ve been taking, the wonderful way my body is slowly changing. I tell her about how scared I’ve been to say anything, how every time I’ve tried, my fear of disappointing her has paralysed me. She shakes her head.
‘I’m only sorry that you had to go through all of it alone.’
After I tell him, my father sits silently, staring at me. My stomach slowly begins to fold in on itself.
‘I think you’re wrong,’ he says finally. ‘I’d rather you lived a little more of your life before you made a decision like this.’ He sighs. ‘Go on. Get it over with.’
I blink. ‘Wh-what..?’
‘The name. What name have you picked out for yourself?’
‘Callie,’ I mumble.
‘Thank God for small mercies. When was Gender Dysphoria first recognised as a condition?’
‘I-I don’t know.’
‘I say this to all my patients: become an expert on your condition.’ He takes a sip of wine. ‘If you expect me to take this seriously, you’re going to have to put in the work for me. Can you do that?’
Something inside me snarls. What do a few dates have to do with how I feel, with what I’m trying to explain to him?
‘You haven’t disappointed me. I’ll always love you, and I’ll never judge you. I’ll do whatever I can to support you.’
‘But I am going to challenge you every step of the way.’
I don’t reply. Around us, the bustle of the restaurant continues unabated.
It’s my twenty-second birthday.
Growing breasts hurt. They remind me of the growing pains I used to get in my elbows when I was younger: dull, prickling aches that can last anywhere from a few seconds to an hour or two. Sometimes they grip me so tightly that I have to grit my teeth. Once, I forgot that they were there and whacked them against a doorframe: I used expletives that I never thought I knew and have never thought of again. So many different pains, large and small, chasing each other across the growing wonder of my chest.
I love them all.
When I first talked to my supervisor about possibly putting the story of my coming out into writing, he was enthusiastic, if a little wary.
‘I think it’s an amazing idea… I just hope you can do it. Whenever I try to write about my own coming out, it comes out sounding like rubbish!’
I think I know what he means now. This story is so close to my self, the core of who and what I am, that actually trying to put it on paper is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Impressions become mixed, events and dates blur, feelings whirl together in a maelstrom of extremes eight years in the making. How could I possibly set out a story like that in a way that makes sense?
Perhaps I don’t have to. Perhaps I can be content with this. After all, my journey has only just begun.