More than a Change of Heart
“I’m not related to you!” My twelve-year old self made this sentiment perfectly clear to my father across the kitchen table. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with his half of my family tree. I would have been mortified if anyone had found out that my Uncle Jeff would soon become “Aunt Joanne”.
The news could not have come at a worse time. I was just about to enter middle
school, the biggest adjustment I would make since starting kindergarten. Now I had to figure out how to handle this family situation as well. Couldn’t Jeff have timed this better for my sake? Was that really too much to ask? He was going to tear apart the family with
this news, not to mention his marriage with Barbara, my favorite aunt. Over the next few weeks these angry thoughts took a front row seat in my mind, resulting in hasty scribbles
in my journal about how horrible and inconsiderate Jeff was and unexpected outbursts at friends and family.
In the coming months this juvenile anger subsided and my curiosity about thesituation grew. Since Jeff and Barbara lived in Boston, I couldn’t keep tabs on the small physical changes that my uncle was going through. Instead, multiple changes were thrown at me all at once. During one visit, his pierced ears and the lack of his trademark facial hair were the first indications that this was no joke; he was actually going to go through with becoming a woman. At this point I started to acknowledge that I would someday be okay with this decision. That came sooner than I anticipated.
A few months after seeing Jeff with his pierced ears, I met Joanne. She was the
same height as Jeff, wearing size 11 women’s shoes and a short brunette wig. Her voice was higher than his, but her smile was also wider and her hug tighter than Jeff’s had ever been. She was genuinely happy and comfortable as a woman. That day I surprised myself
by becoming the first in my family to begin accepting that the person who stood in front of me was the same person I had known and loved all of my life.
These days I see my aunt Joanne more regularly. I am comfortable with the woman she is today and the confidence with which she carries herself. She is the first transgender member of the boards of Point Foundation and of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, as well as a columnist for “The Advocate”. Joanne’s openness about her transformation has helped me to be comfortable speaking to others about transgender people and my experiences with them. Of the many things her involvement in the LGBT community has taught me, the most important has been to embrace everyone’s differences, whether it be race, religion, sexual identity, or even something as simple as someone’s taste in music. My appreciation is much greater now for the unique qualities that each person brings to a relationship.
Living in my very homogenous community, had I not gone through this with Joanne, I would have been ill-prepared for interactions outside of my town with people of completely different backgrounds and experiences. My world has been exponentially expanded, and I’m more willing than ever to meet new people and embrace our differences. I know now that having a transgender aunt will never define me, but that my aunt’s transformation helped to bring out positive traits in me that more accurately define my character. I am emotionally stronger, I stand up for what I believe is right, I am loyal to my friends and family, and I am a more patient, accepting person. I am proud of myself for becoming one of Joanne’s biggest fans and supporters. Most of all, I am grateful that Joanne and I could embark on our journey into womanhood together.