We attend a local church, one that is a combination of liberal and conservative, with a congregation skewed towards the older and wiser amongst us. The pastor of our church is a woman a few years younger than I; I knew she was going to be “one of us” from the very beginning because of the colourful pink streak in her brown hair and the funky skirts she wore when “off-duty.” We’ve already told both priests (the other priest is also a woman; clearly we attend an Anglican church!), and several other folks at church about Melody; she’s been welcomed graciously, and some of the choir members are already calling her by her “girl name.”
And so it was that on a recent sunny Sunday, Melody stood in front of her closet, in her skimpies, a half-hour before we had to leave for choir practice. She seemed a little pensive; when I asked her what was wrong, she shrugged one shoulder and said, “I have these cute skirts and dresses, and I haven’t gotten to wear them yet. I kind of want to wear a dress to church today.” She fingered the green/blue/yellow patchwork gypsy dress that had so transformed her in my eyes a couple of months ago.
“Well…” I said, taking a deep breath. “Are you ready? I mean, I know you said that you wanted to wait to Dress until you could present as a woman more clearly. (“to Dress” is our euphemism for dressing in unmistakably female clothing, such as a dress or a skirt. We say it with a slight emphasis, as though it were, in fact, capitalized.) The electrolysis is going well and your face looks great, but you still have your Adam’s Apple…” I trailed off, seeing the disappointment in her face.
“But they already know I’m Melody. I’ve been wearing feminine tops and shorts for weeks now to church. What would be the difference?”
I needed a few minutes to think. I wasn’t sure what was going on inside my own head, and I had an idea it was important to try and understand my own reactions to this. To gain myself a bit of time, I waved at the dress and said, “Well, why don’t you get Dressed up the way you’d like to today, and we’ll see how things are when you’re all put together.”
I turned over thoughts and feelings within me as I helped her pull the dress over her head, find a necklace, then a bracelet, and held up various earrings she might wear with the outfit should she ever decide to get her ears pierced.
As we debated shoes, I realized that I was feeling hesitant, cautious, maybe even…nervous. Perhaps even the beginnings of scared. Up till now, no one had to know what was going on if we didn’t want them to know, because we had to specifically tell them. Melody’s dress and speech, her gestures and facial features, her hair and body are, for the most part, those of a young gay male, perhaps a bit on the I-want-to-wear-girl-clothes side of things. But anyone who wanted to ignore who and what she is could do so. That was just fine with us, as it protected our privacy out in public to a great degree.
Walking into the church choir pews in a dress, well now. There’s no way to hide that, not if you’re a six-foot-tall person most of them first met as “Nicholas.” Wearing a dress to church would be making a very public announcement, in a non-verbal fashion, in a way that would not allow us any control over what people would think, or what conclusions they came to, or even what name they gave to what they were seeing. We also lose control of who knows; we don’t get to choose only the “nice” people, the people we know will be supportive.
Talk about coming out of the closet: Sunday morning choir practice, small-town Anglican church, and more than half those folks have been in the congregation for thirty years. Hoo-boy.
No wonder I was feeling wee bit apprehensive.
As I fixed her hair for her, trying to bring a bit of femininity to a haircut that had originally been chosen for its professional appearance on a male professor, I realized that, while she might be ready to step out, perhaps I wasn’t ready yet. When I admitted this to her, she looked up at me and said, “That’s completely understandable. These folks are an important support system for you right now. And even if I’m completely comfortable with Dressing today, which don’t know that I am, your comfort level is important, too. So if you’re not ready, we don’t have to do this yet.”
I’d finished with her hair, and we stepped in front of the mirror to see how she looked.
She was utterly adorable. Her smile, the glow of happiness, the aura of self-confidence, the absolute “rightness” of the outfit on her, all of these made the Adam’s apple and other masculine cues not quite so noticeable or significant anymore.
Chagrined, I thought to myself: “There she is, brave and confident and ready to make her first public appearance in a dress, and it’s ME who’s holding her back, it’s ME who does not have the courage to take this step. I’ve been expending so much effort trying to convince everyone–the cats, the dog, Martians, whomever–that Melody’s transition is about HER, not about me, that it was hard for me to admit that in fact, yes, if she was stepping out of the closet as a transwoman, then I would be holding the door for her, and then following her right through that same portal. I wouldn’t be a “normal” married woman any more; I wouldn’t be “one of them,” someone they could joke to about their husbands with a knowing raised eyebrow. As I crossed that threshold, I’d be making my own transition, from hetero married woman to lesbian wife of a transgendered person who is barely a few months into her journey. Because of this, I would have to have my own bravery, my own confidence, my own readiness to face whatever might come after we step out of that closet together.
My feelings were telling me that I wasn’t quite there yet. I wasn’t feeling that brave, I was shaking in my shoes at the thought of what some of the more conservative fok might think or say or do, and I hadn’t prepared myself for this moment, not in any real way. Maybe one cannot prepare for such an event, but I wanted to somehow, someway, feel a bit more solid and courageous than I did now.
Melody kissed me, and told me it was OK, that it was totally fine, there would be plenty of days to Dress in the years ahead. She took off her dress and changed into one of her less obviously feminine tops, and a pair of linen shorts; and we took the clips out of her hair; however, she insisted on leaving the necklace around her neck.
I felt disloyal, as though I had chickened out on some promise I had made. Here she was, being all brave and stuff, and it’s SHE who will have to bear the brunt of people’s reactions, and yet, I’m the one who’s afraid. I could see how disappointed she was, but she was also very gentle and gracious and understanding.
We walked to church hand-in-hand, and because of her recognition and gentling of my fears, I felt loved. No matter how courageous and politically correct a transwoman’s wife I try to be, it’s realistic to be scared, it’s normal to be nervous.
After all, it’s my transition, too.
P. S. Some of you asked for a photo of Melody in her prettiest dress. A photo of the dress on its own will have to do for now; we’ll post other photos when we’re ready.