Bee Ulrich is an undergrad living in Newport News, Virginia. They're extremely worried about the concept of identity, they make tweets happen @cavegift and they love you, too.
1 story by Bee Ulrich
I would dissociate when my father yelled at me. Every six months or so as a teen, we would have these excruciating, dragged-out conflicts (I hesitate to call them arguments because I never spoke). Something I did would make him pop, and I would sit there waiting for it to stop, sometimes murmuring an affirmative, for thirty minutes, or an hour, or two. He had long since realized that hitting me didn’t do anything; a shift that seemed to come about from my father unlearning the disciplinary measures of his youth. So he shouted, in a voice like a gnarled oak-branch raked over coals that I would never hear from him otherwise.
I can only speculate what the situation looked like to him: his son seated on the bed with feet dangling off, head down and eyes obscured by a thick tangle of long blonde bowl-cut that goats have been known to mistake for hay. He’s adopted some sort of limply-rigid posture, like his overlong bones and thin muscles settled by chance into his current position and don’t plan on moving anytime soon. Maybe he’s staring at his hands, the wall, his father’s face, it doesn’t matter. His body is there but his mind has clicked forward to a scene where this is already over.
I don’t have clear memories of this, just snapshots. Which, I guess, makes sense. What I do remember is locking my eyes on a single point and concentrating on it, letting the sound go tinny like a radio just off-station. Colors would begin to bleed into each other, patterns smoothing out into flat monochrome expanses. Auras resembling photo-negatives bulged out of any object I fixed my gaze on, afterburns left behind by the slightest of movements. Field of view expands and at the periphery tiny glow-worms dance in odd lights; any attempt to focus on them would find they were never there. It was an exercise in focusing on nothing.
I think I did this because I thought it was what my father needed. He’s the best salesperson in a multinational company with out-of-touch and failing management. His youngest child and only son is almost antithetical to him, sharing none of his interests but all of his hard-headedness. Both his parents and his in-laws deal with chronic illnesses. I know it’s vain, and selfish, and a pretentious display of pseudo-martyrdom, but maybe I thought: if he didn’t yell at me, then what could he do? All I had to do was stare at a wall, block it out, and wait for him to calm down.
Neither he nor my mother know that I’m transgender. Being out at school, and to my friends, has always been easy thanks to the distance between my college and my home. As I grow more active, however, I’m having trouble reconciling what I need with what I think my parents need. Age seems to thrust children more and more into the dealings of the family, so at home, my opinion is asked more and more on important issues, sometimes to flak and strain.
Now, both of my mother’s parents have passed away: my grandfather in early 2013, my grandmother this fall. My mother’s grieving process for both began a year before the first death, so the event itself wasn’t as hard as knowing it was going to happen. For the last four years my mother’s side has grown extremely close, working together to make my grandparents comfortable, taking turns visiting my grandmother’s small house to make sure she has her groceries, takes her medicine, gets to the doctor, stays happy and surrounded by loved ones until the end. My mother worked the hardest-- the relationship between them was always strained, but she loved my grandmother. Even when she was bitter, or rude, or downright cold, my mother would clean the small house she grew up in, tidying up affairs, collecting and distributing heirlooms, getting ready for it. Even to the point of straining my parents’ marriage, my mother worked harder and harder to keep my grandmother comfortable.
Within a day after she passed, my mother was working on a memory board: a three-foot by four-foot, cloth-embroidered foam board collaged with photographs of my grandmother as a child. The centerpiece of this was a handmade card with careful cutouts of black-and-white portraits, complete with flowery red-ink handwriting penned by her own grandmother. Scattered throughout were iconic pieces of jewelry she wore: a thick silver heart locket, two fragile, flowery brooches, her and her husband’s wedding ring looped through a gold chain. After the funeral it was posted up in my uncle’s house for a family gathering; every relative stopping for a moment to stare at the board and think about her at her best.
I want to transition soon-- I need to transition soon. Obtaining drugs and surgery and legal documents is only going to get more difficult with the election of Donald Trump. As time marches on, there’s less that testosterone blockers and estrogen can do for my body. Lost hair stays lost, gained height stays gained. The transitional period between which I’ll be performing womanhood but not yet passing is growing by the day, and growing more dangerous.
But my parents need me, I think. To take care of my remaining grandparents with them, to take care of them when their time gets close. I want to help. I want to buy groceries for them, and take them to the doctor, and buy their medicine, and work to pay back the immense debt of supporting me when I needed the same things. I know my grandparents would cut contact if I came out, even when they needed me most. I have no idea what my parents would think, but I worry they’d resent me for getting out of interacting with my father’s side of the family.
I know it’s selfish to not come out. I know it’s vain. I know it’s pretentious pseudo-martyrdom. But it feels even worse to do the opposite. So much on the horizon for my family to deal with, and I want to duck out now? To be a girl? When I could just sit down, shut up, and wait four, or five, or ten or twenty years for everything to settle; disclose when I have a nice job far away when there’s no one left in the family to disown me for it? Or, better yet, never come out at all? My body will be there, hairy and bony-hipped and broad-shouldered, but my mind will have clicked forward to when it’s all over.