What a weekend I have had. What a draining, exhausting, stressful, terrifying, rewarding, fabulous, utterly wonderful weekend I have had. I have done something I have been building up to for quite a while now. I have come out to my siblings. All four of them; two brothers and two sisters. And it went, well sit tight and I’ll tell you. And I warn you, it’s a bit of a mammoth post. I’m pretty sure it’s my longest ever. Sorry about that. But I’m preserving this for me.
Without wishing to retread too much old ground I’ll say again that I’m the baby of the family, despite being 46 years old. My four siblings’ ages range from 61 to 66, so there’s quite a gap until little me. For all that, though, we always got on very well and remain close even more than 20 years after losing both our parents. Mrs K refers to my side of the family as “The Waltons”, and I suppose we are generally very harmonious. There are no other trans people in the family (as far as I’m aware), but the younger of my two sisters has a gay daughter and the younger of my two brothers has a gay son, and both are loved for who they are. As it should be. So I was hopeful of a reasonable reception, albeit having a child come out as gay in their late teens is a bit different from having a middle-aged brother come out as trans. And really, it’s probably futile trying to second guess people’s reactions.
I knew that it wouldn’t be fair to tell one or two of my siblings far apart from the others and expect them to keep it to themselves. It would be asking them to keep my secret, and would also be a snub to the ones who didn’t find out until later on. However I didn’t think I could cope with telling all four of them at the same time. Too much scope for the conversation going off the rails and veering off in all sorts of unforeseen directions, particularly if one or more of them were to react badly. Also, considering one sister would have a 275-mile round trip to come to visit me, it wouldn’t be fair to expect them to do the travelling for some unspecified bombshell to which she might react badly. So I decided that the best thing to do would be to tell them all individually, in their own homes, over the course of a single weekend. This weekend.
On Wednesday morning I sent them all an email which said;
I was wondering if you’re going to be at home this weekend. I have some very significant news about me and my family, but particularly about me, that you need to be aware of. It’s something that I’d much rather tell you about face to face than on the phone or on email so if I could drop down to see you that would be perfect.
I’m trying to get round all four brothers and sisters this weekend, so I need to check if and when you are all free so I can co-ordinate getting round all of you in two days. I need to tell you all so close together because I would hate for you to find out this news second hand, on the grapevine, and when you hear this news I imagine you will want to speak to each other about it so it wouldn’t be fair to tell one of you before the others.
Sorry I can’t say more about what it is for now, but I can at least tell you that nobody has a fatal illness, which is something. So please don’t worry. In fact I think it’s something positive, although I’m sure it will still come as a shock to you.
Can you let me know if and when you’d be available?
My brother John (middle one of the 5, aged 62) replied almost immediately, and seemed very concerned, asking if he could do anything for me right now, did I want him to organise getting everyone together so I could tell them all at once, and so on. I thanked him for the offer but replied that I had been thinking about this a lot and over a very long period of time and I felt that the best way was to tell everyone individually. So he said he would be there whenever I wanted to call in, evening or weekend.
About an hour later the next to respond was my sister Hilary (next youngest after me, aged 61). She had nothing on that wasn’t too important to be cancelled, just tell her when I was coming and she would make herself available. This was quickly followed by a similar reply from our other sister Patsy (second oldest, aged 65). She added that she didn’t know if she could put up with the worry of what I was going to say until the weekend, so I tried to calm her down a little, saying nobody’s dying and it really is something that I will be a happier person as a result of.
Finally, after a long wait until nearly 11pm my brother Brian (the eldest, aged 66) replied. A cursory “I’ll be here whatever it is”. So with that I was basically free to make up my own itinerary. I decided to cover the more distant two on the Saturday, with the two who live locally on Sunday. The most distant is Hilary, who lives a good 135 miles from me in Co Kildare, in the Republic of Ireland. Brian lives about 30 miles closer, in Co Meath. I decided to visit Hilary first so I could do the longest continuous drive while I was still relatively fresh, then calling in with Brian on the way back to break up the journey home a little. Patsy and John I booked in for Sunday afternoon.
At around 10.45am I left the house armed with little more than my driving licence, credit cards, and four letters, one for each of them. I didn’t know how each conversation was going to go, and I wasn’t so rigorously rehearsed that I knew that each of them was going to hear exactly the same thing, so I wanted to make sure that they all were going to get exactly the same letter with one or two minor variations such as telling them when the others were being told so they didn’t spill the beans in advance of me getting to them. I wasn’t due at Hilary’s house until 2pm which meant I didn’t have to drive too fast and was able to stop for a toilet and coffee break at a motorway services around halfway there.
At around 1.55pm I was pulling into Hilary’s driveway. She was at the door to meet me with a hug. “We’ve been so worried”, she said, “we’ve been playing out every possibility in our heads”. I replied that I’d be surprised if she’d played out the real one. I asked if her husband Adrian was about, but she said he had had to nip out and would be back in around half an hour. I suspect she had told him to make himself scarce for a while.
We went into the kitchen while Hilary put the kettle on, at which point she really did surprise me;
“I even had a dream last night that you came down here to tell me you were a cross dresser”
I stood slightly stunned, before gathering my courage and saying that the dream may have been somewhat prophetic.
“You’re not wearing women’s clothes, are you?”
“Well not right now” I replied. (Strictly speaking I was wearing panties, but I decided it was best not to mention that right then.)
She handed me my cup of tea and we moved into the living room. I started by telling her that Mrs K and I were going to be separating, but had it just been that I would probably just have told her on the phone. It was the reason for the separation that had brought me down to her home. I went into how I had had these feelings since childhood, and went through a bit of history about how long Mrs K has known, and how I had had to go to my doctor to get referred for specialist help, and all the while I was saying this she could see I was getting increasingly distressed, so she got up from her chair and moved round to sit right next to me. She put her arm around my shoulders and held me tightly, her head finally resting on mine as I finally said the words
It’s all a bit of a blur after that, but what I will say is that she didn’t scream or shout, she didn’t even act upset, she just took it in her stride. Once we established what progress I had already made, that the kids know and are good, that Mrs K is supportive and we remain on very good terms despite the imminent divorce, that work know and are supportive, and that we have thought all this through over a long period of time, well once we had established all that, she was acceptance personified. Just brilliant. She gets a younger sister for the first time ever.
I went into quite a bit of detail about what services and treatments are available from GIC, and likely timescales, showed her the red marks on my chin from the electrolysis and told her my new name. And she took it all in her stride. At this point I asked her if she wanted to see what her new sister looked like. She accepted eagerly. I showed her a head & shoulders photo, and she almost squealed with delight
“Well you look a lot better than you did in my dream last night”.
At around this point her husband Adrian, my brother-in-law, returned from wherever he had been, and walked into the room with an inquisitive “Well?” Hilary said very succinctly
“Well Bob’s going to be changing quite a bit and he’s going to become Kirsty and she will be my sister”
“Fantastic”, he replied, “that’s great news. Congratulations. Well done for taking this step”
And then I had to tell him what I had just told Hilary, but with a lot of pressure off. It was great. Hilary asked me to show him the photo, which was fine, but he also asked if I had any full-length shots, which I duly provided. They were just so pleased to see how happy I looked and how at ease with myself. Hilary asked me if I had noticed anything different in how I am treated as a woman versus as a man. Not a huge amount, but some things – I told her about having a man in a bar offering to buy me a drink, being manhandled in the waist area, having some bloke shout out “nice legs, darlin'” and so on. She rolled her eyes.
Hilary and I (and both our brothers) are big fans of Nobel laureate and whiny old goat Bob Dylan. In fact, Hilary and I had gone to see him in concert in Dublin three years ago, so a few weeks ago when he announced another concert in Dublin in May this year, she had asked me if I wanted to go. My reply was very evasive, about not knowing if I would be able to make it, things are a bit complicated, and so on. Sitting in her house yesterday afternoon the penny dropped.
“Now I know why you were being so shifty when I asked you about going to see Bob Dylan. Do you want to go to see him?”
Yes, of course I do. So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to the Dylan gig. Kirsty and Hilary, two sisters. Yes.
Before too long I had to leave because it was time for my second visit of the day. I got another huge hug as I left, and I handed Hilary the letter explaining that it was just there so she had something to refer to, and in case I had accidentally left something out. As we parted she asked if I had could send her the photos that I had showed her, so she could show them to her kids (I say kids, she has three daughters and one son ranging between 27 and 34 years old) so they could see their Auntie Kirsty.
I left Hilary’s feeling on top of the world, but as I drove the 30 miles to Brian’s house that feeling was replaced by growing nerves about how the next disclosure was going to go. Unlike the rest of us, Brian has no children and never married, although he and his partner Jean (who is the same age as me) have been together for about twenty years and are married in all but name. I pulled up outside Brian’s house around 40 minutes after leaving Hilary’s to find him alone. Jean was at work (on a Saturday!) but would be back in about an hour. So it was just the two of us. And it was a struggle.
We went into the living room where he muted the football match on the TV (but didn’t switch it off – nothing’s THAT important!) and we took our seats. It was very similar to the spiel that I had for Hilary. Opening up with how Mrs K and I are going to separate and divorce (“Sorry to hear that”) but it’s really the reason for the divorce that brought me down. Another long preamble (too long in retrospect) culminating in that same two-word bombshell
Except this time the reaction wasn’t great. Brian looked as if an invisible man had hit him with the world’s biggest sucker punch in the gut. He just stared off into space (or maybe at the football, now I come to thing about it) actually panting, breathing heavily like he was trying to stop himself from fainting.
“Bob. I don’t know what to say to that. I don’t know what I can say.” He was really struggling to take this in but he fought bravely on after what was clearly a huge shock for him “but look whatever it is I will be there for you. I’m not going to say I never want to see you again, I still want you to be part of my life, I… I just don’t know what I can say”.
It was clearly very difficult for him, but through it all he maintained that whatever it took, he would do it. And after talking round everything I had done, how long I have been feeling all this and seeing how seriously I was taking everything, how carefully I seemed to have considered everything and everyone affected, he slowly but surely started to come round. At no point did he raise any huge objections (or any objections at all, he was more dumbstruck than anything) but knowing that my kids know and are ok with this, that work knows and my job seems safe, he did come round. He said that whatever he could do to support me, all I had to do was ask. All I need him to do is to carry on being my big brother. He said he could manage that ok. He got up and made me a cup of coffee, and we had just sat down again when Jean returned. She was a godsend.
Brian asked me if I wanted to tell her myself, and I indicated that I would prefer it if he broke it to her. He brought her into the kitchen where I heard him say “mumble mumble transgender mumble mumble”. Jean came in to the living room and hugged me. Just having her there made things so much easier. I got to tell her largely the same stuff that I had told Brian, but this time round he actually interjected in the explanations, assisting me in telling her what I had already told him, and you could see it sinking in, the acceptance that this wasn’t the worst thing in the world that could happen. I told them both my new name, which was fine, and then Jean asked if they should only call me Kirsty from now on. It was nice to be asked, but I said as long as I am presenting as male they can continue to call me Bob.
I told them about Hilary’s prophetic dream, and asked what they had thought I was coming to tell them. It seems that their main theory was that I was gay, but they had also noticed on my email that I had said that nobody had a fatal illness, so they did worry that someone might have a non-fatal but nevertheless debilitating and life-changing illness. But it never occurred to either of them that I might be trans.
Eventually the strangest thing happened. From being a very difficult, stressful, pulling-teeth type of conversation at the start, it had mutated into a fun, enjoyable, light-hearted chat. I told them some funny stories that I have written about on this blog, they asked if it was ok for Jean to tell her parents and two sisters (all of whom know me reasonably well). It is fine, by the way. All siblings and partners, as well as Jean’s parents and another couple, friends of the family, go away on a golf weekend every year, although the golf is secondary to the craic. So it was important that Jean’s parents knew this about me before this year’s even which will be in May, and which I will probably still attend as Bob. Although I did chance my arm and ask Brian if I could get a few extra shots back as I would be entitled to a woman’s handicap now (answer: no).
I said to Brian that he needed to bear in mind that at some point he would have to see me…
“Dressed as a woman?”
“Well I wouldn’t put it like that. Dressed as my real self.”
“I suppose I will”
So I told him that he can say no, and if it’s too soon that’s absolutely fine, but if he wanted to see some photos now he could.
“Well I’m going to have to see you eventually so it might as well be now”
And as with Hilary, he was pleasantly surprised. People who don’t knowingly have contact with trans women expect us to look like Lily Savage or RuPaul. And if you’ve seen any of the pictures I post on this blog, I don’t really look like either. I just look like me. The photos, even more than every word that was said, seemed to settle him, because it felt like the reality was so much less bad than what must have been in his head.
I left again with hugs from them both and Brian came out with the immortal line
“Whether you’re Bob or Kirsty, you’ll always be my wee brothe.. oh, I mean, siste.. oh, erm, you’ll always be my flesh and blood”
It was a long drive home in the dark, but by and large I was pleased with how the day had went. At least Sunday would involve a lot less driving.
First on the agenda for Sunday was my sister Patsy. I pulled up to her house and she showed me into the living room, where her husband Frank joined us. I was in two minds about this, as on the positive side it meant I wasn’t going to have to explain myself again, but on the negative side out of all my relatives, Frank is the one most prone to dropping the odd homophobic comment into conversations. John or Hilary wouldn’t do it because they have gay kids, and Brian wouldn’t do it because Jean would kill him. But with Frank it made me feel a little uneasy because of that.
After the protracted preamble with Brian yesterday, I decided to cut straight to the chase with today’s disclosures. I just went straight in and said Mrs K and I are separating, and the reason we are separating is because I’m transgender. That got it out of the way without the painful build up, and then I could go back and explain all the background when it wasn’t a mystery. I think it was much better that way, but Patsy was completely supportive from the off. I don’t even know where to begin with recounting this one, it was just so smooth and friendly and accepting and everything I hoped for. And when I explained how I had explained to Melissa in child-friendly language (“Being a boy makes me feel sad and I don’t want to feel sad any more”) Frank spoke up and said
“When you put it like that, it’s a no-brainer. You have to do this.”
There’s so little to relate on this story because it’s so smooth and undramatic. I explained all the processes I’ll be going through, told them my new name, and they asked why I didn’t just choose “Roberta”, i.e. feminise my male name. I explained that I want a proper new name for the new me, and also it feels important to me as a woman that my name isn’t one that looks like a feminised form of a male name, although as Kirsty is a Scottish diminutive of Christine, my name’s masculine form is Christopher or Kit, but that’s not immediately apparent. And my male name is neither Christopher nor Kit.
I asked what they had thought I was coming to tell them. They guessed that it might be that Mrs K and I are splitting up, but they also thought (as with Brian) that it might be that I was gay, or that we were going to emigrate. No thought that I might be trans.
So as with the previous two, I offered to show them photos and they accepted. Frank came round the back of the settee where Patsy and I were seated so he could look on. Again, it was the head-and-shoulders shot first. I showed it to Patsy and she could barely contain herself.
“You look amazing. I could have walked past you in the street and not recognised you, but I can see it is you, but you just look so content and relaxed and right.”
I showed them a few more and every one was met with delight. Again, while this conversation was great from the get go, the photos really help because I/Kirsty become an actual person rather than just an abstract concept. So even if I were less passable than I am (and the photos don’t show how very tall I am so probably make me look more passable than I am in real life) I think they would still be useful in putting a face to a name. This is me, meet me.
Frank asked a question that was weighing heavily on his mind. At the golf weekend, would I be wanting to play from the ladies’ tees now? Oh ha ha, yes of course I will, but probably not until next year. Until I start HRT I’ll still have the strength of a (slightly weedy) man so the ladies’ tee would be an unfair advantage. Never mind that being rubbish at golf is an unfair disadvantage.
As I was parting with more hugs, I said that the next step would be to meet me as Kirsty. Any time, was the response. So I think quite soon I will be heading round to Patsy’s house (which is about 5 minutes’ drive from my own) to introduce her to her sister. And I know it will be great.
That left just one more to cover. As I drove the 12 miles or so up the motorway to John’s house, I received a text from Patsy.
So glad to have spoken to you and so glad that happiness is on the horizon. I loved you as Bob and I will love you as Kirsty.
Could you send a photo so that I can show my lot how great and right you look..
By her lot she means her three daughters and one son. In fact, her two eldest daughters are only four and six years younger than me. The third daughter is a little younger than that, but all three girls were looked after by my parents when they were kids while their own parents were at work. So my relationship with them is still quite close, and in many ways they are more like little sisters than nieces to me. Patsy’s son is in the same position that I was 24 years earlier in that he is the “wee late one”, 19 years younger than his eldest sister. It will be good to get them on board too.
As I arrived at John’s door I felt very few nerves indeed. I just knew he would be ok. If I had to pick one out of my four siblings that I would be confident would be ok with Kirsty, it would be him. It’s just his character. And his wife, Marie, will be the same. Marie has a saying which I have thought of many times as I contemplated embarking upon this journey, and I told her as much.
“Life’s too short to be unhappy.”
Very wise. I told John and Marie in the same way I had told Patsy and Frank two hours previously and the reception was as good as I had hoped. Marie put her saying into practice and all is well. They were also hugely empathetic with the position Mrs K finds herself in, and hugely impressed with how my kids, but particularly Amy, have reacted.
They did express some fears about how some people might react. Some people being strangers, or people who find out second hand and are just knuckle dragging bigots. The younger of their two sons (also John) is gay and suffered quite a bit of homophobic bullying when he was at school. He went off to Manchester University 10 years ago, and while he comes home regularly to visit his parents, he says he would never ever return to Northern Ireland again to live. I think they fear for what I might come across. Maybe they’re right, but it’s a chance I have to take.
Yet again, I asked if they had any inkling. This was the best one yet. Hilary nearly got it right (thanks to her dream). Brian thought I might be gay. Patsy thought I might be emigrating. John also wondered if I was gay, but Marie wondered if I was coming to see them to tell them that Mrs K and I were going to adopt an orphaned refugee. What??!? We’re not that nice unfortunately.
John asked if I had actually tried being out in public as a woman, and I think they were both a bit taken aback when I told them that I have been doing that very regularly for three years, including the Dublin-Holyhead and Belfast-Cairnryan ferries. Kirsty has been in the North and South of Ireland, as well as England, Scotland and Wales! I don’t think they expected that. So they saw the photos, and then asked if I was on Facebook, and they particularly liked my Facebook cover photo, which is one Andrea took of me at Ennerdale Water in the Lake District.
I told them the story of my first trip over to England as Kirsty, when Andrea and I went to the TransLiving October weekend in Eastbourne in 2014. And how the main event itself was awful. I think I described it as like a rugby club in dresses and heels, just blokey blokeyness parading about in a really unappealing way. Whereas Andrea, Ruth and I took ourselves off and just did more standard tourist-trap things because really, I have no interest in living inside some “trans community” bubble, where you don’t go to a shop, you go to a trans shop. You don’t go to a pub, you go to a trans pub. Where it feels like some people are trans first and women (or men) second. That’s not me. It turns out my nephew John has a similar problem with aspects of the gay community. He feels exactly the same way about uber-camp gay men in tight 1970’s-style tennis shorts at Pride as I do about the OTT drag queens at the same event. That’s not me, but that’s what grabs the attention of outsiders.
So I ended up with quite a bit of in-depth understanding and empathy about how certain elements within the trans* (or gay) communities can hijack the narrative somewhat, whereas my nephew just wants to be an ordinary bloke, and I just want to be an ordinary girl, and the fact that he fancies other men and I have lived as one for 40+ years are just mere details, and not the cornerstone of our existences. Seriously, that’s a lot of serious understanding of shades of grey and empathy for a “coming out” conversation.
I departed after nearly two hours with yet more hugs and a box of buns Marie had baked for me coming. Marie said “I’ll give you a hug now as my brother-in-law, and the next time I give you a hug it’ll be as my sister-in-law”.
So that’s it. Job done. No more secrets. Everyone I feel I need to tell about my transition face to face, I have now told. All four siblings. Kids. Line manager. Close friends. All done. All told. Every single one of them has been kind, accepting, supportive and just fantastic. Every single one of them. Every. Single. One.
I feel like the luckiest girl in the world right now.