Friday, March 16, 2012

a small sad skirmish in the gender war

My mother-in-law is 87 years old and has been a devout Christian all of her life.

She believes the bible is the literal truth, at least in those matters which confirm her prejudices, and all her life has taken this verse very much to heart:

"A woman must not wear man's clothing..." (Deuteronomy 22 verse 5).

So only once in her long life has she worn trousers. It was a pair of track suit bottoms,and she felt so uncomfortable in them she never wore them again.

So the fact that her son-in-law is now legally her daughter-in-law is something it is difficult, in fact impossible, for her to understand or accept.

My trans sexuality is one of the growing list of things she finds painful and difficult and so chooses to ignore.

It is not that she dislikes or despises me; on the contrary, one of the many painful aspects of all this is that she loves me dearly and absolutely does not wish to include me in the category of detestable beings the Lord apparently considers an abomination.

So every time I come out to her she simply disregards it. If I am in her presence wearing a skirt or a dress she ignores me, using all her Christian talents for inducing guilt and shame. It is a deeply unpleasant experience and I try to avoid it.

Me and my daughters are the only family she has and sometimes I wonder whether it wouldn't be best just to leave her in her isolation.

But I am fond of her, too, and in her vulnerability could not simply abandon her.

So I adopt an uneasy compromise. I cannot dress as a man, but I wear the kind of androgynous women's clothes I wore in the years before I transitioned. And I deal with the embarrassment she causes me by introducing me as "John" and "my son-in-law" to her friends from church or hospital staff.

This particular day, wearing a tunic and skinny jeans, I had come out to the Occupational Therapist who is trying to negotiate the impasse caused by my understanding that she can no longer cope living at home on her own any more and her insistence that home is the place she wants to be.

Then I had gone to the hospital shop to buy her lip salve. I couldn't see it anywhere and so asked an efficient looking young woman who was stacking shelves. She told me where it was and then added "but you can always ask for it behind the counter, dear", as if she talking to a halfwit. Middle-aged men retain their intelligence and authority, apparently, and so are still addressed as "sir". We middle-aged women do not, and so generally get a very condescending "dear".

I tell myself to be grateful for small mercies, and move on. I go the ladies in the corridor outside the ward. There are two identical toilets side by side, one marked with a stick person in trousers and the other by a stick person in a skirt. It feels safer than the larger and somewhat chaotic ladies on the ground floor.

Just as I'm leaving a small boy tries to dart inside. But he's not quick enough, and his father restrains him.

"but I want to go to the toilet".

"Then go to the gents".

"I don't want to go to the gents!"

My heart goes out to her with such force I can barely stand.

The memories of my own young self, trapped in boyhood, utterly overwhelm me.

and the fear and the panic, and the shame.

And before I know it I am down the corridor and gone.

Sometimes on the bus when I see a child being shouted at or abused I can catch their eye and smile. I hope somehow my presence in this world can help them.

But this time even that was beyond me.

Meantime I am back by her bedside with the lips salve. In spite of everything, I remain a model person in law.

"I was sick and you visited me" as the Gospel says.

Also: "I was in prison and you visited me". So many of us remain in prison. I wish I could be with us all.
Comments:
Dear Jo, I can see the hurt, in the tone of your post, that continuing to love a person who holds a perfected ideal of Christian values, by the book, which ironically precludes them from being truly Christ like in there actions. Might I suggest some alternate bedside reading for your inlaw, by a Christian whose struggle with being a less than by the book follower of Christanity, dose not stop him from walking in the footsteps of the person called Jesus, namely Richard Holloway's 'Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt'. This may open eyes to an acceptance of a less than perfect calling as being a route by which one is able to embrace a loving understanding of those that do not meet the literal expectations found in the words of the book, but nonetheless are worthy of either forgiveness or support, but certainly Love!

I am never all that good with saying what I mean, but I hope you get the jist of it. Don't give up on her acceptance, allow her to challenge her own actions through exposing her to a better view, a Jesus like view, that questions what the loving thing to do now is, rather than blindly following and hiding behind a flawed perfectd ideal.

Posted with love Ray.
 
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