For Lesbian Visibility Week, A Lesbian and Her Laptop will be releasing a series of 8 lesbian guest posts all week long! This post by Chelsea Jones, delves into the intersection of lesbian, ace, and trans identities. Read all identity posts here.
First, there was silence. A long, uncomfortable silence, as thoughts were born and facial expressions were formed. Many thoughts, which entered the world screaming and then lived full, happy lives before dying. Facial expressions that were tried on like thrift store coats; none fit quite right. I could almost see my parents deflate like balloons.
Then: “I don’t know what to say. I’d be less surprised if you told me you were gay.”
It was a hot summer day in 2018, and I’d just come out to my elderly mother and father as a transgender woman. I’d spent almost five hours on the road on the way to their house up in Lake Country—AC blasting, music loud—and the whole time I had rehearsed how this conversation was going to go. I must have imagined it a hundred times—thousands. I thought I’d prepared for every scenario. Yet, almost immediately after stepping out of the heat and into the dry, cool entranceway of their home, things went off the rails.
I’m a bit of a late bloomer; the “discovery” that I was transgender came to me about six months after my 41st birthday. I put the word discovery in quotes like that because it wasn’t like a light switch popped off in my head and I thought, oh, I’m a girl now. The signs had been there for a very long time.
I remember being in first grade and we were naming the rows of desks that we had been assigned to. We all got to vote on some suggested names—mostly based off of cartoons and toys circa 1984. It was my first taste of the democratic process! I made my vote for Rainbow Brite known vociferously; Mr. T was chosen instead. Democracy can be a double-edged sword, I learned.
In the summer of 1986—the year I turned nine—all I wanted to do was play with the Jem and The Holograms dolls that the neighborhood girls were flaunting like pageant moms. GI Joe toys and Transformers were fine, but Jem, and her accompanying cartoon, planted a seed in my mind. With the press of a button, the character could change from a gorgeous, mild-mannered music executive, into a gorgeous, talented musician, utilizing the power of holograms, courage, and friendship. I didn’t have many friends, or much in the way of courage. How’s an eight-and-a-half year old supposed to get their hands on a hologram? How could I become a girl? I desperately wanted a button to press.
And in eighth-grade French, when we all had to form teams of four for dreaded group work, can you guess who didn’t have any friends in the class, and had to be shoehorned into an established group of girls who had named themselves “Les jeune filles”—The Young Girls? I’m including this one more for comedy value, but it highlights an interesting dilemma I dealt with for my entire adolescence:
I felt like a girl, but I was attracted to girls. It didn’t make any sense.
It would be decades before things started to make sense.
I was thirty years old before I entered my first real long-term relationship, with a woman that I clicked with instantly. She was younger than me and lived in the city—I was sequestered in my suburban basement suite at the time—and she worked at Pottery Barn, wore vintage dresses and loved musical theatre. She was the most charming woman I’d ever met, and she was gorgeous, and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. She smoked cigarettes and her father had been an Olympic speed skater, and the first time we met, she made fun of my point shoes. I wanted to be with her so bad. It wasn’t long before we were spending every available second together, and only a year or so before we moved into our first apartment. There was something a little strange from the very start, though, and I blamed myself: I was attracted to her, but dreaded having sex with her.
For my entire life, I’d been ashamed of my body, and the fact that I hadn’t had a girlfriend. Every book and TV show I’d ever read or seen had tried to hammer home the fact that—especially as a young, ostensibly hetero dude— I wanted sex. I needed it! I didn’t feel that way, though. It took me a long time to figure out that my attraction to women was mostly aesthetic; I wanted to look like the women on TV, or the cute girl in the book store, not have sex with them. I hadn’t, and wouldn’t for many years, hear the term “asexual.”
This revelation didn’t come in time to do me any good, of course. This was all so buried under layers of mental detritus that I couldn’t have articulated these thoughts if I wanted to, not then. It’s taken months and years of introspection, of unpacking my entire life, examining every part of me that makes me tick, and deciding if it’s worth keeping. With my girlfriend—soon to be my wife—all I knew was that the thought of being naked in front of her and having any sort of foreplay or intercourse made me experience a feeling close to panic.
This wasn’t something that we ever really addressed, or paid much attention to—at least I didn’t. I knew that she was disappointed, because exploring her sexuality with a long-term partner had been something she’d dreamed about. I’d have sex with her once in a while, almost as a chore, and then I’d pray that she wouldn’t bring it up again for a while. Eventually, she stopped asking. I was relieved. I was deluding myself into believing everything would be okay, because, aside from this subject, there was nothing that we even slightly squabbled about. There were no raised voices. There was a lot of cuddling, but little passion.
Reading over that last paragraph is painful, because I sound—and was—completely self-absorbed and blind to the jeopardy I was putting our relationship in. It’s easy to say now that, if I could, I’d go back in time and do things differently. Talk more about the issue; try new things. Go to counselling earlier. It’s easy to say these things, but I don’t know if I could make myself do them, because if things hadn’t played out exactly they went, my wife might not have come out as a lesbian when she did, and I might not have come out as transgender at all.
That sounds like a copout, but let me finish.
It was a humid day in August of 2018. I was sitting in the office of a woman I’d never met, in the hopes that she’d write a letter of informed consent to my GP, who could then refer me to an endocrinologist to start hormone replacement therapy. I was perched on the little couch in her tiny room, sweatier than any time in recent memory, and nervous. Very, very nervous.
Fifteen months earlier, the inevitable had happened. My wife and I were coming up to our fifth anniversary, and something in the air was different. I was preoccupied with worries about finances—we’d been struggling for a little while; neither of us had been very good with money—and the vague notion that she was deeply unsatisfied. A few months earlier, she had come home from a party a little tipsy, and had confided with me that she felt more like my roommate than my soulmate. This would probably have spurred a better person into action, in an effort to patch things up, but instead it just added weight to my depression.
My wife had been going to counselling for a couple of months, and she said that it was helping her quite a bit. She suggested that we should both go—together—and I agreed. I had a single solo session with the counselor in which I talked a lot, but didn’t really say much of anything. The couple’s session was planned for mid-May.
Another strange thing was happening at around this time, though: I was starting to have thoughts about coming out as transgender. For several years now, I’d been familiar with the term, and more and more I was reading new stories about people who were coming out as their true selves. For the longest time, my thoughts were, wow, they’re lucky. It was never something that I could allow myself to imagine happening to me. That mindset was changing within me, though. Little by little, I was imagining what it would be like if I came out as a woman. On the day of our tandem appointment, on the bus ride home from my office, I daydreamed about what it would be like to make the step. Would our marriage survive it? Would I have the guts to do something like that, and if I did, would it happen tonight?
I didn’t have the chance to explore this avenue much further at that time, because that was the night that my wife came out to me as a lesbian. She’d been struggling with her own feelings of sexuality, and had been talking about it with the counsellor. I was floored, but supportive. We had a long talk in our parked car and decided to separate.
I’m describing all of this to a strange therapist that I’d only been introduced to ten minutes prior. I told her about how, in June of 2018, everything came to a head for me. I felt like I had only two choices left in my life, and they were to either come clean to myself, and allow myself to be the person I was born to be, or—to put in bluntly—end it all.
I’m sobbing in front of this strange woman, trying to articulate that I feel like I need her permission—I feel like I need every woman’s permission—to live my life in the most authentic way I can. I tell her that, even though we had separated, and we had our issues, my wife and I loved each other very much, and would still go out of our way to make sure that the other was comfortable, almost like an escalating war of politeness. We’d never said so much as one angry word to each other in the whole time we were together.
“I see,” said the therapist, smiling gently. “It sounds like you two were in classic lesbian relationship.”
It was music to my ears.
In the end, coming out to my parents didn’t go exactly as planned.
In my head, I was going to sweep grandly into their home on that July weekend, and, after the usual completely non-forced pleasantries, casually beckon them out onto the deck overlooking the lake, and, with a glass of wine in hand, tell them they had a daughter. Oh, we’d all laugh!
What actually happened is that I barely got the word “Hello!” out of my mouth before my mother blindsided me with a question that derailed everything:
“Have you been wearing mascara?”
That’s where it all came out. I ushered them outside, and we sat and talked for a long time. I tried to tell them everything I had been feeling for the past 3 or so decades, and I tried to let them know that everything was going to be okay. My mom—bless her— began to cry at the thought that she was losing her son. I gently explained that she had never had a son, and she hadn’t lost anything. We were all going to get through this together, but I needed their support.
Those words again: “I don’t know what to say. I’d be less surprised if you told me you were gay.”
“Well,” I replied. “I like women, and I am a woman, so you could say that I am gay.”
My mom asked me for a wine refill. I smiled.
Chelsea Jones is a transgender woman living in Vancouver, B.C. She smells nice, has named all of her appliances, and she may or may not believe in ghosts. You can follow her on Twitter and send her a couple bucks if you can! All contributions to Chelsea will help her update legal documents with her name.
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