The Phone Call I Never Imagined Would Come
The day I received “the phone call” I was 52 years old. The phone call I never imagined, never expected, never had the slightest inkling would arrive. My brother, who held a significant place in my heart and in my life, who was 55 years old at the time, called to say he was struggling with feelings that he might be gay. The same person who was a loving husband and adored parent of two teenage children. He revealed to me that he had been cross-dressing privately since childhood and never spoke of it to anyone. He said he had never experimented with a gay relationship but he had many fantasies.
Wait, what……. HOLD THE PHONE! Uh, uh…. speechless. This just did not fit into my picture of reality. I was stunned, literally struggling to find words, as my mind whirled in confusion. He had never shown the slightest signs of having these thoughts or feelings. He always seemed comfortable and happy in his traditional role as a son, brother, husband, and finally as a father. In fact, he had learned to keep this part of himself hidden so well that it came out of the blue, completely unexpected, and I felt as if I had been knocked over the head with it. This phone call rocked my world. I was confused and worried about what would come. The fact that he had never shown the tiniest hint that this existed inside himself, made it that much more mind-blowing for me to accept. I immediately had thoughts of concern for my sister-in-law and my niece and nephew. What this would mean for them. I worried, knowing how much he cherished his family and creating this enormous disruption to their lives would be so hard on them. Hoping the guilt wouldn’t destroy him. Worried for his safety going forward in this world as a gay person and a cross-dresser. I wasn’t sure how this change would happen and the uncertainty left me feeling unsettled.
After our phone call, he entered into a year of therapy, a year of contemplation, and discovery. I kept in contact with him regularly and admittedly could not understand exactly what was happening in his mind and why all this time in therapy was necessary. I thought, if you’re gay, you’re gay, right? Does it really take all this time and therapy to “decide”?
At the end of the year, I completely understood the confusion and the need for time. He had come to the acceptance of himself not as a gay man, but as a transgender straight woman. WHOA……. thus, began the second mind-blowing phone call. I was really stunned once again and my mind immediately went to work on coming up with all the ways this would change EVERYTHING. How hard it would be for him, and all of us who loved him as a “He”. I worried if I could accept him as a woman just as closely and comfortably as I had accepted him as a man. Who would “she” be in comparison to who he is now. I couldn’t imagine my life without him, ……. uh “them”, …….no… no, I guess now it’s “her”?! Yet, I was worried about how our relationship would change. Appearance wise I worried that he could never pass for a woman. This transition would not be along the lines of a gorgeous Kaitlyn Jenner makeover. Who has money for all that plastic surgery after all? I believed that people would always see him as a man dressed as a woman. Not as the woman she truly is. I would no longer have my brother as I had always known him. I would have a sister, yes, but I was losing my brother.
My mind just kept returning to this place of fear, and worry. I feared how his children would accept this, another huge step for them. They would no longer have a father, but two moms. I feared how society would treat him, feared for his safety.
There was also anger that this was happening. My thoughts of his responsibility to his children. He had chosen to get married and father children, therefore he “owed them” and needed to stay a man to continue being their father. After all, he had lived 55 years as a man, why change all that now? Why? Why? Why put “us all” through this!!? Can’t you just stay a man so WE can all remain comfortable?!!
With time, my anger and confusion subsided, as I began to understand why things had evolved as they did. When we were children, it was not possible for him to even imagine a different life, other than that which was assigned at birth – “male”. We were not aware that “gender identity” existed. Throughout our early childhood years in the 1960s in midwestern America, he did what was expected of him. He led the only life that was available for him, life as a boy. There was not even talk of gay people at our Catholic grade school, and the concept of transgender didn’t exist at all. We grew up in a large Irish Catholic family in a tight-knit neighborhood in Detroit. Our lives were centered around our best friends and their families that attended the Catholic school in our neighborhood.
In the mid 70’s, the world was rocked with the story of Renée Richards. He tells me now that he was fascinated by Renée’s story. He knew then that he wanted to have a sex change like Renée but it was not something he saw as a possibility for himself. He was 17, and never thought he would have the confidence to withstand all the criticism and hate that Renée received. My brother buried
Life progressed pretty routinely for our family. There were marriages and divorces, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Our family grew and our parents passed away. I believe it was the passing of our parents that allowed him to begin to acknowledge what he had locked away his whole life. He began to allow himself to recognize this part of himself that had been “unacceptable” and hidden. He never entertained the thought of living his life in any other way than what was expected. He lived a lifestyle as a loving husband and father, that made everyone around him comfortable and happy. Yet, he fought this internal struggle his whole life. A battle well fought for 55 years, as nobody close to him ever saw even the slightest hint of it.