Saturday, November 20, 2010

REQUIEM FOR JEAN

I carry in my mind so many maps of my city.

There’s the A-Z, Google, and bus map, usually, but superimposed on that there’s another. Marked in black.

That’s where those teenagers laughed at me. That’s where I almost got beat up by those drunks. That’s where the man hammered on my taxi door. That’s where that man shouted abuse at me from the pub. That’s where the barman called me “sir” even though he could see I was wearing a dress.

A dull map, and a dreary one.

I prefer the one marked in white: the one with the little points of light on it. That’s where the support group met. That’s where the dance classes were. That’s where Jean held her trout party.

Many of these places feature Jean.

She loved fishing, and held parties with her partner where she could share her catch and be Jean.

And I could be Jo. And Miranda Miranda. And Annabel Annabel.

And we could meet with her straight friends also.

Those were the first occasions in which I was able to be myself with ordinary people; and they gave me the strength to go out into the street in daylight.

It’s these simple daily acts that at the beginning can be the hardest; and Jean helped me through them.

We’d also meet regularly, her and me, in a series of wine bars, eventually settling on one in the West End which I think she favoured because it had dark alcoves where we could sit together and only with difficulty be seen.

She tended to dress as the conventionally successful male academic she also was. I would wear the effeminately androgynous style which was as much as I then dared.

And we would talk about the agonies of electrolysis, and of hormone pills. Of the gender specialists we had seen, or were seeing (she had gone private. The NHS specialist she first got herself referred to had dismissed her as “not serious”). Of the vile managements she and I were both working under. Of the betrayals of New Labour. Of trips to Spain. The painfully few occasions on which she could be Jean. Of the anguish with her family. Of the daughter who did not know her. And was not to be told.

Occasionally she spoke of her dream of us being able to meet in the wine bar, and not in male disguise. Not in “male drag” as she called it. But dressed as herself. Just being Jean.

But poor Jean was never really able to give herself much of a chance. She was too haunted by the fear of being seen by her neighbours.

We usually got through a bottle of wine, and enjoyed it (though it was lunchtime), but I was naive about these things and was shocked when her distraught partner told me they had split up because Jean had such a problem with drink, and she couldn’t stop her.

I should have known. Jean would occasionally talk of the misery of being brought up male in the west of Scotland. Of how men there solved their problems with drink.

I remember her helping me with my shopping when I was ill, driving me to the supermarket with her breath stinking of alcohol. But the more I came to living as a woman, the less frequent our meetings became.

Up to then, like her, I’d seen it as a frontier it felt impossible to cross. The wire was too high. Too dangerous. Electrified.

Looking back on that time I don’t know how I managed the crossing. I know she helped me. And I did. And she did not. Perhaps my happiness was too painful for her to witness.

She withdrew further and further; changed her email and her phone; and finally placed herself out of my reach.

Not long ago I learnt the police had been called in to break down her door.
That she had died alone.

And then was buried under her male name.

It’s the time of year when we remember our transgendered dead. When we read out the names of those of us violently killed just for being who we are.

Her name belongs to that list, I think.

Her name, and who knows how many others killed by loneliness and shame.

By fear and prejudice.

By the inability to become the people they really are.

I wish I could have helped her. It saddens me I could not give her the help she gave me. And was unable to give herself.

She was so kind to others: so kind to everyone but her own dear suffering self.

I know one day all this will change.

I know that one day, when one of us comes to know who we are, we will be able to openly tell the ones we love.

And they will rejoice.

They will give thanks another being has come into the world with the miraculous richness and diversity and compassion and pride that belong to us as our birthright.

Jean was born too soon for that, and never could live out her full potential either as a woman or a man. Or as an academic, or as a politician, or as a parent.

Or as a full human being.

But in spite of her suffering she helped so many. She was a step on the way.

She did not live in vain.

And I want to honour her name.

Jean McIntyre.

Rest in Peace.

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Comments:
Jo

As I started to read this, I guess I steeled myself slightly as the narrative unfolded. And really, it made no difference. Today, and in recent days, there has been lots of tears. And your story - it's ordinariness, the ordinaries of our marginalisation - it's nothing short of a human tragedy.

Thank you for sharing this.
 
Thanks, Jo. I thought of you as I wrote my post on Transgender Day of Remembrance... and mentioned "Jesus, Queen of Heaven" as a related spiritual resource.
 
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