“He was always so… Manly.”
These were the words I’d been waiting to hear my whole life. Said by the person I’d always wanted to say them. Unfortunately, when my mother finally spoke those words, I wasn’t there to hear it. I was a hundred yards away and under general anesthesia.
My girlfriend, now fiancée, was the one who heard them. She told me later, back in our hotel room. While my chest was being reconstructed, the two women in my life had gotten to know each other better.
Alma and I had only been together for six months. It seemed perfectly natural she’d accompany us to Cleveland to help take care of me after my surgery. My mom cooked; Alma cleaned my drains full of blood and pus. Her tender care and steel stomach made quite an impression on both my mother and me.
While I was in surgery, Alma was overcome with worry. True to form, my mother tried to feed her. And she told her things about me–some she’d told me before, and some she never had.
Things I already knew: That there was always something different about me. That they’d been really worried about me and were relieved I was doing so well since starting transition.
Things I didn’t know: That she noticed I was masculine from the time I was a tiny child. That I always had a masculine look. Square jaw, muscular limbs, broad shoulders. She said I looked like a little linebacker. She said she knew there was something there, and it seems so obvious now–but at the time, she just didn’t connect the dots. Remorse ran off her voice, rainwater in a gutter.
It was a great gift to get this information, no matter how indirectly. Some thunderstorm in my heart finally went quiet, a temper tantrum I’d been waging for twenty years resolved at last. Like when the heater turns off and you’re suddenly aware it had been humming in your head for hours. Like the first day you wake up feeling better from the flu. You remember what it’s like to feel good.
Then I understood why she’d never told me. My parents bit their tongues on the very words I needed to hear the most. They thought those words would crush me. They thought they’d be calling me ugly. Now they know they were wrong.
They had probably never met a transgender person. They’d certainly never been parents before. This year I’ll be as old as my father was when I was born.
I forgive them.