This post is part of a series, click here to start with the introduction.
The grapevine raged and the news was spreading fast. Random people who hadn’t been in touch over the last 7 years suddenly sent us long involved email lectures on how wrong we were, and how much they cared about us, and how could we do this to people who cared about us? At first we tried to respond to them, answering their questions, and explaining as best we could. But when it became clear that most of them had no actual interest in our experience, but just wanted to be a spokesperson for their idea of god, we got better at discerning which confrontations to engage with.
We heard that Haley’s parents had told the extended family that I was a longtime atheist lesbian who had married Haley in order to convince her to become a woman to satisfy my immoral desires. Meanwhile my parents were telling people that Haley was manipulating me into staying in our marriage, because how could I possibly want to stay? Sometimes it felt like no one really cared enough to hear what we actually thought or felt, they were too busy coming up with their own explanations to try and save face. At one point a non-affirming relative pointed out that if we persisted in this, pretty soon everyone was going to know! We explained that we were fine with that, as that was kind of the point of coming out.
Emotional exhaustion set in that summer. We had people who loved and supported us no matter what, and that was life-giving. But sometimes the sheer number of negative perceptions made me feel like I was getting nailed to the ground in the hot sun, and left there, alone.
We had to re-build, form a new community with people who didn’t judge us or eliminate us based on personal differences. But sometimes, I didn’t even know where to start. So I tried to focus on home base. I got up, took care of my kids, went to the park, made meals, went to work, curled up to watch movies with my wife and tried not to listen too hard to the reactions and rumors surrounding our coming out.
To the kids, Haley’s transition was fairly old news, and they were used to it. Months ago our then 4 year old Ms Action had declared loudly in the store where we were shopping “Look! Look! Wouldn’t this skirt look fabulous on Daddy?” (much to the surprise of the middle aged lady perusing the next rack.) They’d been calling Haley a mix of “Daddy”, “Dee” and “Haley” for a while, and now it seemed to be more and more consistently “Mama Haley” than anything else. In those early months of Haley living as herself full time, they would tell the story in conversation. “Our mom used to be a boy, but she was a girl on the inside, so she stopped acting like she was a boy and she is a girl now.” They felt no need to hide or avoid the truth. It was the same to them as relating their mom’s hair color or favorite music.
About two months of silence after the incident with my mom, she started calling my phone again. The first time it happened I almost dropped the phone when I saw her name on the screen and couldn’t bring myself to answer. She left a message about wanting updates about the kids, as though nothing had ever happened. I thought about it a lot, and decided that I did not feel ready to engage yet. I figured as long as I was feeling physically shook up at the thought of taking her phone call, I just shouldn’t answer the phone yet.
At one point that summer, 4 year old Ms Drama asked about when we would be visiting grandma again, I didn’t really know what to say. I hadn’t told the kids anything that was going on with my parents, and since they really only had personal experience with accepting people so far, I hated to introduce them to bigotry with their grandparents as the example. I stuck with an ambiguous “I’m not sure honey, grandma and grandpa don’t really want us to visit right now.” She thought for a minute, and then asked “Is it because Mama Haley isn’t a boy anymore?” I sighed, and admitted that yes, that was why. She looked at me and said seriously “Mom, you should tell them that is not very nice, and that it would hurt Mama Haley’s feelings, because she is happy being a girl.” I felt speechless again. She was four years old, and her emotional intelligence just stunned me sometimes. I told her that I had tried to tell grandma and grandpa that very thing, and that we would just have to see what happened. She seemed to accept that.
The summer slipped by. I started going to counseling again after finding a new counselor in our new city. When I was relating what had happened with my parents, I laughed. She asked me why I laughed, when obviously this had been a very hurtful experience. I could only say that if I did not laugh at the complete insanity of it all, I would cry. And I had cried enough tears over them.
Something inside me changed that summer. I felt like the last shreds of hope I’d had for having parents I could count on to believe in me, and be there for me, had died a violent death.