I never planned to make my blog a diary-type-thing–I usually only do polished, organized posts–but I’ve been blogging about this as it happens, and it seems people are reading and/or wanting to keep up with what’s going on.
It doesn’t help me process to write–unfortunately my brain processes on its own, constantly, very slowly, and I can’t make it stop, ever. The writing is just the result of the processing. I don’t need to do this to process. But the feedback–”you are being abused, you are not alone, you are OK”–keeps me sane. And, should I get gaslit in the future about what happened today, this will be here for posterity, fresh from memory, no chance for much corruption.
So here goes.
Under the cut (if I can get it to work): trigger warning for abuse, abusive relationships, aggressive degendering, binarism, biphobia, cissexism, and my fucked-up dysfunctional family.
What came before [with the same trigger warnings]:
I felt much calmer after I talked with my brother, but I knew the next night I’d be alone with my parents before we flew out in the morning. I anticipated it might not go well, but was planning to head off conflict and smooth things over.
So much for that.
My parents brought up what my brother said they would: more communication, a better relationship. They certainly have a point: to avoid having direct conversation with them, I let them stumble on things, or they stumble on them whether I want them to or not. They scramble to react while I expect them to immediately support me.
Of course, I avoid talking with them about topics they don’t like because my mother manipulated, abused, and terrified me growing up whenever I did or was something she did not like. And their “scrambling to react” is due to a general inability to be open-minded about anything unfamiliar or to seek more information before forming opinions–they simply measure my actions against their ideas of social conformity, and reject with hostility anything that does not fit in the box. But I digress.
I apologized for the way I had handled this, that I had not sat them down and had a conversation well in advance of this vacation. I explained why I had not done so, and what I was thinking and feeling. I listened to them explain other actions of mine that they had found inconsiderate, and I apologized for those as well, and briefly identified ways I could do better.
As the conversation went on, though, one thread emerged, and it grew thicker and more tangled as the conversation suddenly turned very sour.
If the tears of cis people have a color, this allegorical thread is that color, because man was this line of conversation absolutely steeped in cisgender self-pity. They (mostly my mom) tossed aside the “let’s have a better relationship” conversation and pulled out every narcissistic, selfish, cissexist piece of nonsense I have heard, and then some–but the underpinnings of all of it (and some of this was said verbatim, repeatedly) were this:
OUR FEELINGS ARE HURT. YOU AREN’T CONSIDERING OUR FEELINGS ABOUT THIS.
WHY IS YOUR DISCOMFORT MORE IMPORTANT THAN OURS? WHY CAN’T YOU BE UNCOMFORTABLE ABOUT WEARING SOMETHING FOR A FEW HOURS SO WE CAN BE COMFORTABLE?
YOU ARE MAKING MANY PEOPLE UNCOMFORTABLE JUST SO YOU CAN FEEL COMFORTABLE. SOMETIMES YOU MUST CONFORM BECAUSE OTHER PEOPLE WOULD BE UNCOMFORTABLE AND IT’S NOT FAIR TO INFLICT THAT ON THEM.
Things got ugly. It was a frenetic timelapse of three people exiting and entering the same room over and over again in different combinations to tread the same conversational ground.
I explained over and over: it’s not my sexuality. It’s the way I relate to my gender. The way I dress is not a broadcast of my sexuality. It’s not meant to be in-your-face or a confrontation. It is how I feel comfortable, and every little piece of my presentation helps me feel that way. I have been uncomfortable with my body since puberty and when I finally discovered I could change my presentation, it has helped. I tried to change this and conform for a long time, but it causes me depression, mental pain, and physical discomfort. I am wired this way and I cannot change it. My mental health has improved since I accepted this.
(I got emotional once: I said one sentence with a tone that was not calm. I was immediately accused of being dramatic.)
I said I could go to the beach and wear clothes instead, or stay behind while they went to the beach, or go separately–I just couldn’t shave my legs and wear a “women’s” suit.
Eventually, I offered to just go home, and repay them the entire cost of what they’d paid for me to join them on this trip.
They told me repeatedly as I offered these things that I was uncompromising–because, I suppose, I wouldn’t take the compromise of their choice–my complete capitulation to their discomfort.
My mother said she would never accept my bathing suit, that she understood she was rejecting part of my identity, and that it would not change.
She spent a good fifteen minutes fixated on how I had voluntarily done competitive swimming for years as an adolescent and she’d “never seen [me] vomit” the way I say now that wearing a “women’s” suit makes me feel.
She said that I should have told her about my bathing suit choice earlier in the year, so that she could arrange a family trip that didn’t involve any swimming, so she wouldn’t have to see it.
There were moments like that that were so patently ridiculous that, in my imagination, I just threw back my head and laughed (and it kept me sane). Like that one, and like when my dad pointed out that male cross-dressers only dress at home, so why couldn’t I. Or when my mom straight-up said, “You’re not considering our feelings” and I mentally crowed, “CIS TEARS!”
In a rare showing for him, my dad got in on the guilt trip too: “So. Your mother is upstairs crying. Is this really worth that?”
And then he told me an anecdote that made a lot of things I suspected about about my family click into place and ring true.
“Back when your mom and I got married–you’re going to tell me this has no bearing on your situation and is not comparably painful, but–when your mom and I got married, I refused to wear my jacket out of the church, when we left. Felt really strongly about it at the time. I was a total asshole about it. And, it turns out, I found out later, your mom’s mom and dad were so upset, and cried, and never really forgave me, for not wearing my jacket.
“And if I could turn back time and, for just those three minutes, have done something that could have changed so much–I would. It didn’t really matter whether I wore my jacket or not–I could have been uncomfortable for those three minutes for that.”
They never forgave him? For a jacket. Their son-in-law.
I wanted so badly to say, “Your discomfort was not less important than theirs,” but I couldn’t. I don’t know why–I guess I thought it was fruitless, and that he’d shrug it off the same way he did so many other things I’d said that night. But things were clicking in my head. My mom’s parents acted then just like my mom does now. My dad’s been getting manipulated for over thirty years, by both my mother and her parents. My mom was probably manipulated by her parents too.
Oh God. No. This stops with me. I will not do this to my kids.
I kept gently bringing the conversation around to this: what will we do at the beach?
And finally, something broke. Something broke in my mom.
She cried. She talked about how she has sacrificed and sacrificed for others all her life [yes Mom, you're a narcissist, we know]. About how she doesn’t know what she’ll tell her friends, the neighbors, our family, about me. About how she has carefully cultivated relationships and she doesn’t want to lose them. She doesn’t
There it is. I’ve suspected this since I was a child, but this was it coming out right into the open, the fear at the root of every controlling thing my mother does: the fear that if her friends and family find out that our family is in any way abnormal, they will abandon her.
And she passed that fear on to me, through her abuse: that if I do anything that is in any way abnormal, she will silence and abandon me. And she will do it to protect herself.
She sat huddled on the couch, limp, looking broken and defeated. This was such a paradigm shift for them to get used to, she was saying. She thought the hard thing would be telling people that I had a female partner, and it took her so long to accept and get used to this idea, and now this.
Her words were almost bending towards acceptance.
Very gently, I asked, “Would it help if you could see me in it?”
There was a long silence. Eventually she said to the coffee table, in a croaky voice, “That might help.”
I went upstairs and put on my rashguard and my swim trunks. I looked in the mirror, paused a moment, then hiked up my chest and peeled off my long socks.
I came downstairs and into the doorway.
My dad didn’t visibly hesitate before looking at me from the armchair. He looked up and down unflinchingly. Then he said, “Well. Come on in, step over–”
I walked behind the sofa, behind my mother’s unturning head. I sidled up past a lamp and into the dark yellow stain of light it was casting across the carpet. I turned toward her.
She looked at me with her tearstained face, expression unchanging from sorrow.
Finally, in a tiny voice, she said,
“That’s not as bad as I expected”
and she laughed
and my dad agreed
and laughed too.
I smiled and said, “Yeah, I kinda thought so.”
She cried about what on earth will the neighbors think and was I miserable when we went prom dress shopping and
I broke down and sobbed about how I had spent so much time trying to change myself and I never did this to hurt them
and we agreed to go on vacation, and I would wear this, and we would all be glad and have a good time.
They both hugged me and said they loved me.
I wish that was the end.
Thirty minutes later she was telling me I couldn’t wear my glasses because she didn’t like them and she was trying to rearrange my hair because it “looked like Donald Trump.”
It was a reminder that whether or not she struggles to accept my gender identity (not that she understands, still, what that is), she will not change as a person.
She will always be a manipulative narcissist. She will probably always manipulate me as much as she can.
Within another year, we will have another fight when they find out–because I will sit them down and tell them–that I am nonmonogamous. She will probably be as no-holds-barred nasty to me then as she was tonight. And maybe that will be the end of things between us.
There was one thing. One more thing, though. At the end of the night. That I have never, ever seen her do before.
She was hovering, as I was packing–coming into my room, sitting down, watching, leaving, coming in again. I knew she wanted to say something. And every anxious-abused-child bone in my body wanted to say JUST SPIT IT OUT, GET IT OVER WITH, I CAN’T TAKE WONDERING WHAT IT IS I’VE DONE THIS TIME but I swallowed it back.
On her third hover, she said, in a voice like a shy child that I haven’t heard her use in living memory,
“I just wanted to say–that when you offered to put your suit on for us to see it, that was really–”
her voice broke
“Thank you for how you kept on trying to problem-solve.”
I was staring at my folded clothes in the suitcase.
“Thanks for keeping trying, Mom,” I said back softly, smiling a smile without hope at my shirts.
“That’s all we can do,” she said, and left the room.