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Family

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In a state of worry, I baked three pounds of shortbread for eight people.

It was the day of my partner’s brother’s housewarming, the day I met my sunshine’s parents. We arrived early, greeted by his brother and brother’s partner. We toured the new house, and sat in the living room.

They were full of excitement; told us how a friend of theirs had painted the word “GAY” onto the wall with their paint samples, and how they had hurriedly painted over the “Y” when they realised family were coming over.

It was still obvious that it had read “GAY”. I didn’t think it would help if I told them, so I kept it to myself.

My sunshine’s parents and two of his other siblings (Catholics, remember?) arrived not long after. I would later discover that they had not been told that I was coming, that his admission a week earlier that he was seeing me had been the only warning they got.

We shook hands, made vague “nice to meet you” noises. I’m crap at all that. Food and wine made for a welcome distraction.

I made a joke and my sunshine’s dad laughed for a good thirty seconds. Maybe it was going to be okay.

I didn’t talk much apart from that (I don’t talk much in large groups at all). Dad drank too much wine. Mum doesn’t drink at all these days, apparently. I was introduced to them by name, but I struggle with names. The labels don’t seem to fit them yet. I don’t really see them as people yet.

The happy homeowners announced their engagement; a magnum of champagne was uncorked. At least three of us didn’t drink any, so I can only wonder at where it all went.

“GA” apparently is the name of the paint colour: Green Apple. That was a better cover up than the blob of Kiwi Crush used to mask the “Y”, at least. I wouldn’t have bought it, but I generally spot “gay” when nobody else does. It’s a gift.

I learnt very little about them really, and gave no reason for them to like or dislike me. My sunshine has inherited his mother’s ears, but otherwise looks very little like them. I think that’s because he is full of youth, and they are both quite incredibly old.

The worst case scenario would have been my packer slipping from its perch and bouncing, gracelessly, onto the living-room rug. That didn’t happen.

His dad misgendered me with only his last word to me, and then slipped out the door as Sun corrected him. I’ll blame the wine. His mum said that we should come and visit them. I’ll take that.

Family isn’t always easy. I wrung my hands so hard I had to rub ibuprofen gel into my wrists to get to sleep. But I can see the value in it.

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“Sexually Confused”

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When my sunshine told me how telling his parents about me had gone, he replied “well enough”. I later learned that this meant it had been a 6 on a scale where 10 was “alright” and 1 was “screaming and crying”.

What he really meant is that they don’t like it, but don’t see that there’s anything they can do to stop it.

This bodes super well for my relationship with my future in-laws! Hooray!

His father did the standard “Oh, bloody hell” etc., but there was a football match on and, y’know: priorities. His mother wanted a detailed medical history, after which she went, “good”, and my sunshine was understandably a little upset.

She also said that people, like me, who are “sexually confused” (at which point my sunshine made a small disbelieving noise and she backtracked ever so slightly) form fissile relationships. I didn’t know what fissile meant. Apparently it means likely to fall apart.

I laughed. She’s never met me. She doesn’t know what I’m like. Words that could never be used to describe me include “flighty”, “dreamy”, “changeable” and “inconstant”. Words that pretty accurately sum me up include “direct”, “decisive” and “fucking stubborn”. The thought that someone could get me so wrong on account of my gender identity was hilarious.

And then I went to bed. And I realised.

This isn’t just some random person. This is, on a theoretical level, a candidate for the vacant “grandma of my babies” position. The fact she has such preconceived notions about “people like me” is vile.

I know it’s not her fault. She’s in a cult. But. She could at least… meet me before deciding I will never know love, or friendship, and that she feels sorry for me?

We could, in theory, get along. We probably have some interests in common. Providing she can see me as (and treat me as) a person, everything should be grand.

He says, smiling weakly.

I’m going to meet my sunshine’s parents in all of (counts on fingers) five days and I’m fucking petrified. Look at my writing style. It’s all over the place today. But it absolutely echoes how I’m feeling so it’s staying.

I want to love them so much. And I want them to love me. And I want them to understand that I love their son (and I liked him for a long time before that). I want love, and family, to see us through this whole clusterfuck, and bring us out the other side having learnt a little more about each other.

Please, God. Please.

Why Disclosure Matters

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I was having tea with my ex recently, and happened to express my biggest fear about my current relationship- that my partner will baulk at telling his parents that I’m trans.

“Does it matter?” my ex asked. “How often are you going to see them, really?”

I asked for clarification.

“Well, if you’re only going to see them once or twice a year, what does it matter how they see you?”

I was staggered. Was he really suggesting non-disclosure, that I undo everything I have fought for these past eight years for the sake of not rocking the boat?

Then I remembered why I have this terror in the first place, but that’s another story.

I could go on about this all day. In fact, I’m going to struggle to keep this post brief.

The most important reason why disclosure is important however, is because it’s the mature and honest thing to do. I am monogamous, and I’m looking for someone to spend the rest of my life with- and I’m not just talking about time.

I’m talking about growing my family. I’m not talking about ditching the previous generation and moving on with the next. My partner’s parents are going to be people we both confide in. They’re going to be free childcare, recipe-bequeathers, the unshakeable foundation of a loving (if not particularly conventional) family.

I am going to love these people- because I know that my partner loves them. And I want them to understand why my partner loves me- I need to be honest with them about who I am.

Being transgender is not shameful, and I don’t want my children growing up thinking I, or my partner, are ashamed of who I am. I want them to be proud of all that they are, just like I am.

I don’t come out to people as a political statement, to challenge their religious and moral beliefs. I come out because I feel comfortable. If a person comes out to you, it’s a sign that they respect and trust you, and you should feel very proud.

In the ideal future that I dream about, I love my family. Not my “in-laws”, my family. Every last one of them. We may differ politically or religiously, but we stick together on the things that really count. And the freedom to be and love whoever you choose is one of the things that counts.

Disclosure matters because without it, I deny my authentic self. It isn’t about my comfort versus the comfort of those around me. It’s about moving forward together towards the future we want the next generation to live in.

“I love you very much – you are my son.”

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So I planned to come out to my mum shortly before returning home. As in bag packed, ready to go, just in case.

My mum offhandedly suggested we play Scrabble, so I set everything up. Scrabble would be good. Scrabble, chatter, nice cup of tea. A nice relaxing atmosphere in which to bury bad news.

Eight turns in, she glances at her watch and goes, “I have to go!”

Well. That fucked up my plan. I thought I had all the time in the world, and now she’s hurting about the house trying to find her handbag, phone, keys…

In short, the atmosphere is not calm. It is not relaxed. It is tense, and I am tense with it.

Once we were out the door, though, I told her. And I don’t want to tell you about the exchange we had because some things are private, and private they should stay. But it went well, and for that I am grateful.

As I was leaving to go to the train station, she hugged me, saying, “I love you very much- you are my son.”

I think that’s all I need.

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.

“What?”

“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.

Setbacks

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Well, much as I can dream of writing 1000 words per day, it doesn’t seem to be a reality this week.

Currently, I am staying with family in Oxfordshire. Green space and blue sky abounds, and my family cannot see why any sane person should wish to be inside staring at a computer screen, or scratching tensely into a spiral bound notebook.

It’s because, if I hit 16,000 words before a certain date, I will allow myself to eat takeaway. This is a rare and exotic luxury in my world, along with ice cream and white wine spritzers, which are in contrast rather commonplace in my family’s corner of Oxfordshire.

Hemingway might have produced his best while three sheets to the wind, but after two days here, I could do with a detox before attempting any more fiction writing. The thought of crafting so much as a haiku makes me want to weep.

Just writing this blog post has been a considerable strain on my resources. Incidentally, the cricket scores have not helped.

I shall try to proceed through the week sober, but it is a constant trial. For now, my word count targets are delayed. Real life 1, Parker 0.*

*If anyone can think of a cricketing analogue, I would be curious to hear it. I doubt that there is, mind.

The Worst Kind of Good News

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So, I just checked my emails and it turns out I have been selected to attend a poetry workshop next weekend. I ought to feel happy about this. Unfortunately, I don’t.

My family is currently a swirling maelstrom of politics. Next weekend, there is a wedding of an obscure cousin which I must go to  because I refuse to be a pawn in the childish powerplay between differing sides of the argument.

And in doing so, I know, I become a pawn of an entirely different kind.

I don’t see my family often. I have a sixth sense when it comes to family drama which told me to get out of there, immediately, and not look back. As a result, I live several hundred miles away, and because I chose to do this, they don’t visit. That’s fine. They expect me to visit. Less fine.

Visiting means taking a closer look at how family member X is letting their life fall around their ears. Visiting means listening to family member Y whinge about family member X for hours on end, complaining that I, or X, somebody else, is autistic, when they are the ones who cannot read the very blatant social cues I am kicking off. Visiting means going to see Z bitch about Y and X and take only token interest in my life for gossiping purposes.

Family is a minefield. It costs a fortune for me to visit, and when I do, there’s no tea-drinking, board games or barbecues- the things you want family for. Instead, all that happens in the brief time I am there is an intense cataloguing of every time someone in the family has said something upsetting since the last time I was there, punctuated by snide comments about my hair or my taste in jumpers.

Group hug. We all have families.

There is literally one reason, one good reason, why I should go to this wedding.

I have a kid brother. And as much as I hate my family dynamic and wanted to get out, he doesn’t have that option. He’s stuck. He’s thirteen, which is the worst age to be for anything, let alone being forced to go to the dull second wedding of your cousin-once-removed because of a family feud.

When I left home for university, he hated me for it. I was selfish and I left him alone. All he wanted was one person who talked to him like an equal and who understood how badly our parents were falling to pieces. And I left.

I don’t regret that. I went to university, I got a degree. Not a good one, but I got one, and for a time I had a great life with someone. Now that’s ended, and I still don’t go back, because nothing’s changed for the better.

If I could have taken him with me, I would have. He’s nine years my junior, and has had to worry about way more than I ever did at that age. My parents were old enough; his are older, and rightfully divorced. I was an independent only child who gained a brother; he is a sociable younger sibling who lost his elder. I may have had the pain of growing up gender-variant, but I have no idea what goes through his head.

He is the only person I feel guilty for leaving behind. Everyone else chose their way; he didn’t. He got landed with it.

So, I’m going to the wedding. It really hurts, but I have to go to this wedding. I hardly ever get to see him, and some members of the family go out of their way to make my brother pay for the unknown sins of his parents- while treating the adults with civility. I go to show solidarity with him.

I just wanted someone to know I did good. I can’t find the words to tell my parents that I’m writing again. It was always something they discouraged. They’re very practical people. It’s not that I don’t think they’d be proud of me. But they would question why I couldn’t put my intellect to better use financially.

Be productive; make coin.

But I know that there are more important things in life. If I can win once, I can win again. There will be other competitions. But I only have one brother.