03 October 2009

What Would Grandma Think of an Escapee? A Parolee?

The other day was my maternal grandmother's birthday. Today is the anniversary of her death. The latter, I realized much later, sent me into one of the deeper troughs of the depression in which I spent about much of my life as Nick.

I can't honestly say that I've mourned her--or anyone else's--death in a while. Perhaps that sounds callous. But for the past few years I have not had a new death to mourn, unless you count Nick. Yes, at times I mourned him because even though I wasn't happy when I was living as him, there were pleasurable moments. And I certainly learned a few things from him. But there were days that it simply didn't seem fair that he lived and he suffered--for my sake. Not only did he not have the opportunity to bask in the light and warmth of his flame, he also did not have the chance to receive gratitude, or any other reward, from me. That simply didn't seem fair!

And that very lack of justice is the reason why mourning becomes, after a while, futile. We all die; almost none of us gets to pick the time or way in which we'll leave this planet. Grandma was so ill that it was all but impossible to determine her precise cause of death. But would it really have mattered which of the complications from her diabetes killed her? To some doctors and forensic scientists, yes. But not to anyone else.

I think about her now and wonder what sort of relationship I could have, or could have had, with her were she still on this planet. If she were, she'd be 96 years old. I can't say I've spent a lot of time with people around that age. Then again, not many other people could say they have, either.

I loved my grandmother because, well, she was my grandmother. But I liked her because she always seemed to know how I felt. Sometimes I think she suspected my gender-identity issues, or had fleeting thoughts that I was gay, or at least not straight. But she knew that I wasn't a "normal" boy: I could see it from the expression on her face when I showed no interest in toy soldiers or erector sets.

What would she think of what I've become? I'm sure it would be difficult for her to understand, as she was certainly a daughter of her place and time. She was also religious, but I've found that a person's religious beliefs don't always determine how or whether a person will accept someone different from him or her self. I've experienced kindness and compassion from some people who worship in institutions run by men who think that what I've done is wrong, or even worthy of a death sentence. (Actually, a lot of people extend what they think their religions say about homosexuality to transgender people when, in fact, the holiest documents of their faith may have said nothing at all about homosexuality or transgenderism.) And someone who has a PhD in gender studies and no discernible religious beliefs ended a friendship we once had.

Somehow I don't think Grandma ever even had a conversation with anyone in which those subjects came up. She probably never knew anyone about whom she could say with certainty that he or she was not heterosexual. That may have had to do with being in a time or place where people were more covert about their lifestyles, much less their inner lives. And it may also have had to do with the fact that, well, she didn't know or didn't care.

I can't deny that there would be times she would have looked at me and seen her grandson. Even if I was an unusual boy, it was as a boy that she knew me. She may have even wished that I weren't trans or that I didn't make the changes I've made.

Then again, she was always so proud of the things I did, whether they were the grades I got in school, becoming an altar boy or simply taking a long bike ride. I think it would make her very happy that I write and have been published and that I teach in a college. I also think she would be even happier to know that I have become someone with whom people talk about their fears and secrets--none of which I've betrayed on this blog! She might not like the fact that some young student got pregnant out of wedlock, but I think she'd be really proud to know that such a student sought me out for advice.

I haven't treated some people very well. But I have made every effort to be better, especially to my parents. And I really would rather deal with people through kindness and gentleness than through hostility and suspicion. Sometimes I'm still on "high alert" or I respond to people as if they're more bigoted than they may actually be. But I'm learning who is and isn't, and simply spending as much of my time and effort as I can with those who aren't, or who simply don't care.

Yes, I would like for Grandma to know who I am now. I think we could've had a nice relationship. But then again, Grandma died at 68 and was--physically as well as emotionally--much, much older than that. Even in comparison to other women of her age, she wasn't healthy. By the end, she was clearly suffering, though she never lost her will to live. At times it was almost painful to see: Her body had become a prison, but she wouldn't dream of escaping.

That's not what I did, though. I finally embraced what was within me. And I was released. I think she might've appreciated that.


Gunnar Berg said...

Find some old people you can really talk to. When we get older we tend to much more tolerant. It's amazing the wisdom simple humans can accumulate. I enjoy talking to elders. I hope to avoid the same mistakes they made. At 64 I suppose at some point I'm supposed to become the sage, but I am still not quite qualified to don the responsibility.

EdMcGon said...

Gunnar, old people are like anyone else, just moreso. They can be incredibly tolerant, having seen it all. Or they can be incredibly close-minded. I've seen both kinds of elderly, even within my own family.

Justine Nicholas Valinotti said...

Gunnar and Ed: Thanks for the comments. I do have some older friends and, yes, they are tolerant because they've "seen it all." My friend Millie, whom I've mentioned on this blog, is one such person.

About two years ago, I re-connected with my great-aunt, who is 85 years old. She has been very sweet. So has her stepson, who is 67 and whom I hadn't seen in about 40 years--until last month.

I didn't mean to imply that older people are less tolerant. I just wondered what kind of a relationship I'd have now with my grandmother, who was a child of her place, time and religion--and who knew me as her grandson, and her first grandchild. I suspect it would be a loving relationship. But I also think it would different from what we had.