[Trigger warning: abusive relationship, cissexism, binarism]
[6/26/2013] Samson: c-can I say a thing about my mom?
[6/26/2013] Holly: Yeah
[6/26/2013] Samson: I got my watershoes in the mail! so I’m taking a picture of my hairy legs with them on, and I’m gonna text it to her
[6/26/2013] Samson: I’m gonna see if I can get the scary anger over with now before vacation
[6/26/2013] Samson: text back, no mention of legs >.>
[6/26/2013] Holly: !
[6/26/2013] Samson: she’s coming for lunch on Friday; I’ll make sure she sees ‘em again then
Shoe department, corner display
Mom turned to me as we were walking away from a pair of shoes that didn’t fit–here it comes, I thought.
“You have got to shave your legs,” she said, lips pursed in a tight smile.
“I like them like that,” I said back, smiling.
“Really,” she said.
“Really really,” I said.
“You’re going to shave them for the beach, though, right?”
“Really really really.”
Shoe department, bench
She sat down next to me as I went to put my shoes back on and I knew she wasn’t going to let it go.
“I just think it’s going to look strange having a girl bathing suit and not shaving your legs.”
“Well. I’m wearing swim trunks.”
She looked a little shocked, which surprised me–I’d told her about it on the phone already. “Swim trunks. So… a man bathing suit.”
“Well…” I mean, yes, they’re typically found in the men’s section? No, too snarky. “Yes.”
“And is that how you feel?” she went on.
“Like you wanna be a guy.”
Well. That wasn’t what I expected. And if that was the framework she was using–that by wearing swim trunks, I de facto want to be a man–I was going to have a hard time explaining my gender to her–but I expected as much anyway.
I looked at the ceiling and pretended to ponder her question for a bit. “Mm… no. Not really.”
“But you want to look like a guy.”
Close enough? “Mm… yeah, sort of. I just don’t want to look particularly womanly.” I smiled.
“But you are,” she said.
Ooh, thanks Mom. Right in the assigned-at-birth gut.
“That’s hard for me,” she added.
I nodded and looked down, affecting a sympathetically sad face as I finished wrangling my shoes on.
“How do people respond?”
I looked back up at her. “They don’t really respond at all. I mean, my friends don’t say anything about it.” Because they’re not assholes, Mom.
“Well,” she said. “It’s hard for me.”
I nodded. “Yeah. I’m sorry that it’s hard for you,” I said gently, looking down. As my eyes slid off her face I saw the slightest hint of what looked like a leer forming–she learned to spot my ‘non-apology apology’ a few years ago, and she hates it. I waited. She didn’t go in on it.
“And are you happy like that?”
“Yes. Very.” I felt my face tighten into a grim smile as I looked down again. I would not fake happiness for her in a tense moment. She would have to take my word for it.
Shoe department #2, chairs
“I don’t understand sparkly shoes,” she said. I smiled, shook my head and opened my mouth to agree–I don’t particularly like sparkly shoes either, nor this particular pair, but if they went with the pants I was wearing to my cousin’s wedding, and they fit over the braces on my feet, then I’d take what I could get. But she went on: “The sparkly shoes, with hairy legs. I mean, what’s the point?”
A small marquee of YOU CANNOT CONFINE ME TO BINARIST GENDER NORMS was scrolling by behind my eyes. I ignored it. Not now. I can’t have this whole conversation now.
“I don’t really like these shoes,” I said carefully.
“Okay?” my mom said. She looked confused. “So what are we doing?”
“Well, I need something to wear to the wedding. So I just have to wear something I might not like.”
“But–what if they want to go swimming? At the wedding. And you’re wearing clothes you don’t like to the wedding, and then–? Swim trunks?” People’s minds just couldn’t handle the contrast of a blouse and swim trunks on two separate occasions, I guess.
“I probably just won’t go swimming with them,” I said flatly. I wanted to say I’d just wear a suit and tie to the wedding and solve everyone’s apparent gender-perception crisis that way, but that wasn’t where she was going with this.
“I mean, do you understand what I mean?” she was saying.
“Not really,” I said.
She pursed her lips angrily and nodded, looking away from me.
“I don’t understand what kind of look you’re going for,” she said to the shoe display. “I mean, what am I supposed to be looking for?”
“Well, I can look.” Please. I’m 25. I can pick out my own clothes.
Car, on the parkway
“Okay,” she said, “I’m not trying to run this into the ground, but. I really don’t understand. So you don’t feel like you want to be a guy.”
“Not really,” I said.
“You just want to look like one.”
“Um, a little more androgynous-of-center than a guy,” I said.
“I don’t think that’s how you come across. It looks like you wish you were a guy. That’s what your hair looks like. You wear masculine clothes. You wear tight bras so it… doesn’t look like you have breasts. It looks like you are hoping to change your sex.”
“Okay,” I said. (“Changing your sex” is quite a way to put it, but–at least she has a concept of it at all, even if only a misguided and binarist one.)
“But that’s not how you feel?”
“No, not really.”
“I just. This is hard for me to understand.”
“Well,” I said wryly. “I am sort of unconventional–I’m probably not easy to understand by conventional standards.”
“I don’t even think you’re unconventional,” my mom said, laughing a little incredulously. Beyond unconventional, clearly.
“So are you attracted to guys, or to girls?” she said.
“Both,” I said. Mom, we’ve been having this conversation since I was 17. You know the answer to that question.
“I feel like. I’ve never had a problem understanding guys liking guys, or girls liking girls.” But you think bisexuals are fence-sitters. We know, Mom. We’ve heard.
She tacked around a bit. “I mean, I think it’s going to be hard for people to understand.”
“Okay,” I said. “It could be. That’s okay.”
“I mean, I think it’ll be hard–to have people in your life who understand. I mean, don’t you want to have someone around?”
“Like, a partner?”
“I’m seeing someone,” I said. “[They don't] seem to think it’s hard to understand.”
“And is that Holly?”
There was a pause.
“I feel like… I’ve always been accepting of you being attracted to who you’re attracted to–”
Hah, I thought. And then I promptly stopped thinking before I had time to remember the abuse, the manipulation, the guilt trips, the seven years of silence before she could express that she was okay with it but give me a lecture about how I would be less accepted should I choose to be with a woman.
“–but this is hard for me. It’s hard for me to look at you and not see a girl child. Because you were my girl child.” Her voice broke.
I felt my throat tighten up too. I nodded, and looked down. “I know.”
“I just feel like it’s going to be hard for people who knew you as a girl.”
I nodded slowly, looking straight ahead.
“What,” she snapped, “you’re not gonna help me out here by saying anything?”
Ah, there was the anger. I was waiting for that to come out eventually.
“I mean, I don’t know what to say,” I said quietly. “It might be hard for them.”
“I’m glad I came,” she said.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
There is so much more to say that I cannot tell her yet. I want to ask for my pronouns. I want to tell her about both my girlfriends. I suspect I will hear enough of her thoughts, however, on vacation next week, without giving her anything else to think about yet.
I am anxious, and I was anxious today, but I was sure of myself talking to her, which is new. I have no uncertainty that she can capitalize on the way she used to. I am afraid of the abuse she might try, but I am not afraid of losing the sturdy footing I have in who I am.