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Forgiving Someone Who Isn’t Sorry

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Forgiveness doesn’t come easily to me.

For example, in the UK, there is a song called something like “The Farmer Wants A Wife” that is sung by young children. During the song, one child starts as the farmer, and picks another as their wife. The “wife” then picks another as their “child”, as so on and so forth until all the characters in the song have been played out.

I played this song at nursery school. Unfortunately, as a (let’s say)¬†particular¬†child, there were some characters I was not comfortable playing.

In particular, I was not comfortable with pretending to be a cat. So, when I was chosen to play the cat, I replied, as three year olds are wont to do, “I don’t want to.”

This seemed acceptable. The teacher moved on to the next child in the circle. Who replied “I don’t want to.” As did the next. It was at this point, and only this point, that I was told to go and sit at the back of the room and think about what I’d done.

I’ve been thinking about it for nearly twenty years and I’m still not sorry.

“What do you say?” the teacher asked at the end of the lesson.


“Say sorry.”

“But it’s not my fault.”

“Whose fault is it then?”

“It’s nobody’s fault. It was an accident.”

“It has to be somebody’s fault.”

Actually, it doesn’t. She prevented me from rejoining my peers until I said sorry. I wasn’t sorry, and I don’t lie, so we were very much at an impasse. To this day, I believe she was very much in the wrong. Yes, I had unwittingly ruined her lesson. Yes, she was annoyed. But I was three years old, and she should have known better.

I can’t forgive her actions after twenty years. So, this new year, I have resolved to do something spectacularly difficult. I have resolved to forgive J’s mother for hating me.

The first time I met J’s mother, she had no idea he was seeing someone. I was eating breakfast in the kitchen, in yesterday’s clothes, and I hadn’t been introduced, so stayed out of things.

Rather than ask at the time, she called him up afterwards to ask about me. He told her I wasn’t his “girlfriend” because I’m not female, I’m non-binary. She responded that she isn’t going to change who she is, and also that I didn’t seem very friendly. He explained that I have Asperger’s, so I’m not very talkative when I first meet people. She found other things to complain about until he hung up. Their next telephone conversation ended in much the same way- she asked how he was going to have children, and he responded that it really wasn’t a pressing concern for him.

When I met her for a second time, I made an effort to exchange small talk. I shared a bottle of wine with her, and thanked her for letting me stay.

Apparently, I was ungrateful, and didn’t make eye contact. J asked her if she’d heard of Asperger’s syndrome. She said that wasn’t the point. Maybe it’s not. (Maybe the point is that I’m queer, and she’s bigoted, and she hates me on principle.)

J was going into hospital to have a day operation. His mum works shifts, so had to try and wangle a day off in order to look after him. So, he asked me as well if I would be willing to stay with him on the day, and of course I said yes.

It got to the day before the operation, and she still hadn’t said whether she’ll be there or not, so he called her up. She harangued him for not calling sooner. He explained that he was waiting for her, as only she could have known whether or not she’s asked for the day off. He mentioned that I was going to be there. She refused to come and look after him.

She. Refused. To. Look. After. Her. Son.

After going around in circles a few times, he hung up. The topic of choice, rather than being “J is having an operation under general anaesthetic and will need people to cook for him and take him to and from hospital” was “I’m not comfortable with Parker being there”. I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t overlook whatever problem she had with me, to, y’know, be a parent.

I could hear every word of the conversation. He told me that he wanted me to hear what she was really like, because she’d put on a pretty good show of “being nice” with me when all I’d ever done was be genuine with her. I’d treated her as a fussy middle-aged woman of low-to-average intelligence who was maybe a little stuck in her ways and needed time. Really, she had a bit of an unpleasant edge to her.

J called up again. Again, I could hear every word. Despite him not trying to talk about me, within minutes she was shrieking down the line.

“J, I am fifty-two years old! I’m not going to change! You’re asking me to conform to something that I’m not!”

He’s asking her to conform to something that she’s not?

For a start, he hadn’t even mentioned the frequent misgendering she was doing. Not one bit. He was asking her to take him to and from hospital. That was it.

When I say she was shrieking, I’m not exaggerating. And I realised. She hates me for what I am, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. And the more I heard her bitch and complain about being asked to “act like someone else” and “believe in that sort of thing”, the less and less human I felt.

She hadn’t been asked to do anything unreasonable. She doesn’t even have to like me. She just has to be there for her son when he needs her, and accept the fact I exist.

But she won’t.

I couldn’t listen to the whole conversation. She wasn’t listening to a word he was saying, instead deciding to play the victim. I went downstairs and played with my DS on loud so I wouldn’t be able to hear any more.

And then I spent the day at the hospital with her, and she was just as Janus-faced as before, and I made sure to thank her for *everything* and make an appropriate amount of eye contact. She, in turn, continues to hate me.

But I forgive her.

She isn’t trying to be two-faced. She’s trying to spare my feelings. Despite everything she’s said to J, she’s never misgendered me to my face. It isn’t her intention to cause pain. She’s just very, very stuck in her ways. She can’t help not “believing” that I exist. What she can help is being openly unkind. And even though I’d rather people were entirely candid with me, she believes that doing the opposite is the most polite thing to do.

She’s not right. But she doesn’t realise that I know she hates me. She doesn’t realise the pain she’s caused me. If she did, I’m sure she’d be sorry. So, even though she’s not, I forgive her. And I feel happier for it.

Back on Track: An Attempt

So, the last anyone heard of me, I was moving to Manchester to train as a teacher. That was over four months ago now, and I should really explain why I went from posting daily to simply dropping off the face of the Earth.

It’s going to take a lot of doing. Things have, unsurprisingly, changed. I did move to Manchester to begin my PGCE (a teacher training qualification). I moved into a flat in the centre of the city with an old school friend. We had no internet for a month and a half.

By the time we had rejoined the 21st century, I was commuting daily to a school in Stockport. I was up at 4am every morning and in bed at 10pm. By the end, I was so tired I no longer knew how to cry.

My writing has suffered. By which I mean I have, utterly against my will, stopped writing. I never noticed it happening, but then it did. First went the novel, then the blog, then the poems, then the idle notes on throwaway scraps. I had no words left.

To say I was anything other than miserable would be a lie. But I remember why I’m doing it.

I’m doing it for the child who came back from three consecutive suspensions and never gave me a bad lesson.
I’m doing it for the quiet child who had struggled, but found the confidence to teach the rest of the class about something she finally understood.
I’m doing it for the child who struggled to trust new adults, and who ran away from my lessons, who eventually managed to look me in the eye and smile.
I’m doing it for the lowest attaining child in a top set, who managed to impress an inspector so much they thought he was Gifted and Talented.
I’m doing it for the child who was kept separate in primary school Numeracy lessons, who got into a number of fights from the ages of 11 to 14, who was so disruptive in Science lessons that from the ages of 11 to 16 they were either excluded from them or able to leave as they wished– who went on to get a degree in Physics.

Yes, that last one was me. Because no matter how much some teachers (Hanley, Smith, McKenzie) neglected to veil their disgust in me, there were others (Sanders, Bell, Pothecary) who were actually the making of me.

I’ve already made an impact on some students. I’m not even a good teacher. But I was there when one boy, who’d just calmed down after becoming distraught said, “I don’t know if they’ve told you about me; I’m autistic.” I was there to smile and say, “me too,” and watch the grin on his face as he got to see an actual adult who could do things and have AS.

Representation, as we know, matters. If I’d known that real, functioning, happy people could have AS, I might not have been so frightened. If I’d known that boring people like me could be transgender, that might have saved a lot of stress as well.

I’m not out at work. Mostly because, as it’s not “work”, I don’t have any rights. I’m not going to tell anyone older than 11 that I have AS either (though considering how stressed I’ve been lately, it’s frankly been obvious). The UK is still transphobic, homophobic and ableist and there’s no point in denying it.

I went for a job interview while still living in Liverpool where I admitted to being transgender. I didn’t much care for the job in the long-term, and thought it would be a good idea to try and see what attitudes were like.

She frowned at me and asked me to explain further. She got me to stand up, smooth down my shirt so she could see my body better, see what I had done to it. Asked me to turn around. Frowned, said she would have to speak to her business partner, “to see if it would be alright”.

I never heard from her again- nor did I want to.

I was humiliated.

So, in the classroom, I endure being called “Miss”, and fail to notice when they call me “Sir”. They’re kids, and they’ve been told to behave a certain way on pain of detention. It’s all fine.

Grown adults, meanwhile, should learn to find out someone’s name.

But there’s another reason why going back into the closet (again) doesn’t hurt so much.

I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.