“Oh, grow up.”
This was my mother’s reaction when I came out to her as being transgender.
I think she knew already. I had probably left her clues: a bra not so carefully hidden, evidence that I had been using her makeup, leaving a razor stubble ring around the bathtub after a Sunday morning bath to shave my legs while she was off at church. I didn’t consciously want her to find out, but maybe unconsciously . . . .
I was just lucky that my father had passed away, because he would've done more than tell me to grow up, he would've thrown me out of the house. Still, the fact that my mother thought it was all just a childish game hurt.
“I AM grown up,” I protested.
“Well you certainly aren’t acting like it. Get over it. And stop using my lipstick.”
“You don’t understand! This isn’t just some game. I’m trying to find myself!”
“You’re 19. You should have found yourself by now. You need a job is what you need.”
On that score, she was probably right. It would help pay for college, and give me valuable experience. But how, I thought, was I supposed to get a job, and continue my transition? Who would employ a male to female transgender who was barely passable at best?
“Regardless, this is who I am. Deal with it!” I yelled, storming out of the room.
I decided to go for a run and clear my head, so I put on my pink women’s running shorts, a “Keep Asheville Weird” T-shirt, and my pink and white Reeboks that I had searched all over Asheville to find in my size.
I went out Medford Street to Pigeon Street, then up the hill to Main Street in uptown Westville. (The central business district was located on a ridge, so it was always “uptown Westville”, not “downtown.”) I ran down it, dodging pedestrians, to the Masa County courthouse. I turned left on Depot Street, and ran down the long hill. I was getting warmed up, and feeling pretty damned good about myself, when I tripped on something, a shoelace, an uneven place in the sidewalk, and did a face plant right in the middle of the Toad Flat part of town.
“Oh, my God,” a woman cried out, running over to me. “Are you alright?”
“NO, I’m not alright!,” I half yelled and half cried. “I think I broke my nose.”
“I’ll get you an ambulance.”
“No, don’t,” I said. The pain in my nose was excruciating, but an ambulance would make a scene, and I didn’t want that. Plus a trip to the hospital might mean they’d see my bra and lacy panties, and I REALLY didn’t want that. I got up, tied my shoe, and started running back to the house. I tried to concentrate on my stride, and my breathing, and not on the pain, and the blood staining my T-shirt.
“I’ll swan,” my mother said when I came in the door. “What happened to you?”
“I fell. I think my nose is broken.”
“Well, come on, I’ll take you to the hospital.”
“Just a second,” I said. “I want to take off this bloody shirt.”
At the ER, a little man named Dr. Vasquez looked over the damage.
“Yow!” I yelled as he adjusted my nose.
“Well it’s definitely broken.”
“It hurts like hell, too.”
“Nurse,” he said to the pretty blonde in dark blue scrubs who had been writing down everything he said, “give this man something for pain.”
“No thanks, doc, I’ve got plenty of pain as it is.”
“Clever. Clev-er. Seriously, I’ll give you a prescription for pain meds. Don’t drive or take alcohol with them.”
“Got it. So what happens now?” I said, looking at the posters for diabetes and heart disease on the walls. I was glad I didn’t have either of those. Maybe that’s why they put them up in the first place, to make anything seem worse than one’s own present situation.
“I’ll put some dressing on it to absorb any bleeding, and a splint.”
“That’s it? Don’t I need surgery or something?”
“Nope. I’ve realigned it. Just gotta let it heal.”
“How long will that take.”
“About 6 to 8 weeks.”
“Great, just great. A splint in the middle of my face for 6 to 8 weeks.”
“No, we can probably remove the splint after 6.”
“Gee, thanks, that makes me feel so much better.”
He tapped his own nose. “In the meantime, I wouldn’t be snorting any cocaine.”
“How did it happen, if I may ask?”
I felt stupid saying I tripped on a shoelace like a klutz, so I made up a better story.
“Was playing volleyball. Got a ball spiked in my face.”
Back at home, I stared at myself in the bedroom mirror. I looked hideous, with the big white splint and gauze and tape on the middle of my face. It had to happen the very day there was going to be a concert in downtown Asheville by my favorite band, Southern Culture on the Skids. It was going to be my first time out in public as Victoria, but she surely couldn’t go out in this condition, I thought glumly.
“David?” my mother said, knocking on the bathroom door. “Is everything alright?”
“I’m not David anymore, mother, I’m Victoria,”
“Sure, whatever you say. Can I come in?”
“So you can stare at the freak? Why not?”
“You wouldn’t be a freak if you stopped trying to be a female.”
“I’m not trying to be female, I AM female. I’m just trying to embrace that part of me, but for some reason the whole world is against it.”
“You know, it says in the Bible that it’s an abomination for a man to dress in the clothes of a woman.”
“And did you know men wore robes back then, not pants?”
“Fine, be that way, David.”
“Whatever. As long as you’re living in this house, I expect you to dress as a man.”
Suddenly going to that concert meant a whole lot more. If I couldn’t cross dress around my mother – I had no intention of not dressing in my room or around the house when she was at church, where she went a lot – I would definitely do so in Asheville. I put on my favorite denim mini-skirt, and tucked it into a pair of baggy boy shorts, and chose a T-shirt that said “Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History”, which I covered with a green pull over. My Reeboks looked femme enough, and even if I HAD sexy heels, I would break my neck just walking in them, let alone dancing.
“Where are you going?” my mother asked, as I came out of my bedroom.
“Concert in Asheville,” I said. I wasn’t going to deceive her, at least not totally.
“Isn’t that a little risky? With the coronavirus still out there, we aren’t supposed to be gathering in large groups.”
“It’s fine if you’re vaccinated. And I’ll wear a mask.”
“Oh, okay. Say, are you putting on weight?” she said, pointing to the my bulging shorts.
I was almost tripped up enough to tell her the truth, but I caught myself. “Yes, yes I have been feeling puffy here lately.”
“You should see the doctor about that. I’ll call Dr. Craig and make you an appointment.”
“Thanks, you do that,” I said, heading for the door. “Don’t wait up.”
“You should eat something before you go.”
“I’m sure there will be a food truck or two at the concert.”
“But that stuff is not healthy. Let me fix you something.”
“No, really, I’m fine.”
“Well just remember, unprotected sex is not acceptable.”
“Mother, I’m going to a concert, not an orgy. The worst that’s going to happen is they may throw fried chicken. Or serve banana pudding.”
“Don’t think I haven’t read about these ‘concerts’. I know what goes on when rock-n-roll is in the air.”
The concert was happening in Pack Square, so I parked in the Wall Street parking garage planning to walk over, to maximize the number of people who would see Victoria. In the car, I slid off my shorts, pulled down my skirt, and took off the green pullover. I brushed my hand through my sandy brown, longish hair (my mother insisted I get a haircut at least every 2 months, which made it hard to gain much length), applied some lip gloss, and got out of the car.
The walk was very satisfying. I liked the look of my long, strong legs sticking out of the skirt, and apparently some of the onlookers did, too, whistling when I went by. I got one catcall that said something about “That fag,” but I ignored that. Most of the people I passed smiled at me, and it just felt good to be able to show my true self to the world, instead of keeping her closeted in my room.
I got to Pack Square just as the opening act, a local group called the Honeycutters, were packing up their stuff. A couple of roadies brought out a couple of guitars and a bass, the drum kit was taken down, and a new, bigger one was set up.
I watched the crowd, just daring someone I knew to be in it. No, I wasn’t just daring, I was HOPING to see someone. I wanted to be out to the world, but the hard trick was going to be outing myself to people I knew, and if it happened by accident, so much the better.
My attention suddenly turned to the stage, when SCOTS lead guitarist and lead singer Rick Miller stepped up to the microphone.
“Howdy Asheville? Y’all want a little banana pudding?”
The band launched into the song ”Banana Puddin’”. I was standing by the stage, which meant being near the speakers. I knew it was bad for my ears, but sometimes Miller would invite people to come up on stage, and I was determined to be one of those people.
I also liked to be by the stage so I could see what was going on with the band. As an aspiring guitarist myself it was amazing to watch Miller’s fingers flying up and down the fret board of his guitar. And bassist Mary Huff and drummer Cris Best kept up a steady beat to keep the crowd dancing.
After a parade oi songs – Voodoo Cadillac, Camel Walk, Holdin’ Up The Roof of a Cheap Motel, and Walk, Walk, Walk, with Huff on lead vocals – I was out of breath, and bent over at the waist trying to catch my breath. Miller looked in my direction and spoke to me.
“What’s your story, then?” he said.
At first I didn’t realize he was talking to me, and I looked around for somebody who might have a story.
“You, yeah you, with the cast on your nose. What happened?”
“Volleyball. Took a spike in the face.”
“Volleyball! Isn’t she great folks? Somebody get her a T-shirt.”
The night was perfect for dancing, not too cold, but not too hot, either, so I kept dancing.. I danced with girls. I danced with children. I danced with old ladies. By the end of the concert, my legs were stiff and sore, and I had worked up a pleasant sweat. I felt good about the evening, that I had been seen cross dressed in public and I hadn’t caused a panic or gotten arrested. It felt, so good, in fact, that I almost forgot to change back into my boy clothes. I figured my mother would be asleep when I got home. That would’ve been a disaster. It turned out the disaster would come from another direction entirely.
When I made it back home to Waynesville, and opened our front door, my mother was standing there, and she wasn’t happy.
“Uh, what’s up?” I asked.
“You want to know what’s up? I’ll tell you what’s up. I just watched the 11 o’clock news and saw my only son at a concert, out in public, dressed as a woman. Care to explain that, mister?”
“I told you I was transgender. You won’t let me dress up here, so I figured if I did it in Asheville . . .”
“The phone has been ringing non-stop. First it was Mabel Grossman down the street. Then it was your English teacher, Mrs. Belk. But worst of all was Father O’Malley. He raised questions about my efforts as a single parent. I might get thrown out of the church for this. But you don’t ever think about how your actions might reflect back on me, do you?”
“Um . . .”
“Well do you?”
“Didn’t they ask about my nose at all?”
“Of course not,” my mother said, wringing her hands. “Oh, this is even worse than the time you siphoned gas out of your Uncle Louie’s car to make it look like his gas mileage was decreasing.”
“I saved it all and gave it back to him.”
“Or when you brought the class ferret home without telling me, and let him out in the house. I’ve still got scars from where he bit me on the neck. Thought I was never going to get loose. You just don’t think! And you say you’re grown up. Pah!
“I’ll tell everybody that it couldn’t have been you on the news because you were home studying, and . . . .”
“Mother, I . . . “
My mother broke down in tears. “Where did we go wrong, David? What could we have done differently?”
“Nothing, mother. This has absolutely nothing to do with your parenting. Why can’t you just accept me for who I am, and maybe stand up for my rights instead of trying to make me go back in the closet?””
“I want to, I really do, but it’s all just so confusing. And I worry about you going out like that. I worry someone will try to hurt you. I worry this means you’re gay.”
“I’m not gay, I can assure you of that, mother.”
“But how can you want to be a woman, and not be into men?”
“It doesn’t work that way. I like women, and at the same time I want to be one.”
“That’s just weird. Do you wish you were me?”
It was a question I hadn’t considered, and a disturbing one at that. Who in the world would want to be their own mother? “Goodnight,” I said, and ducked into my bedroom to avoid it,
That night I had a dream. In it I was my mother, and I was nursing me as a baby, and I had this uneasy feeling that I was going to be ripped away from me at any moment, and it scared the shit out of me. I wanted to protect the infant me even if it cost me my life. I didn’t tell my mother about the dream, but I saw her concern for me in a whole new light.
“Mother,” I said the next morning over breakfast. “I want you to know that I get your fears for me being trans. It doesn’t change the fact, but I understand your position better.”
“Thank you, David, er, Victoria.”
It was the first time she ever called me by my nom de femme, and it felt amazing.
“Not a name we would’ve chosen had you been born a girl. We would’ve named you Judith.”
“So you’ve thought of me being a girl?”
“Yes, I’ve considered it, and I’ve decided Victoria suits you very well,” she said, putting her coffee cup in the dishwasher.
“Thank you, mother.”
“I’m going the church now, and I’d like you to come with me. Go put on a skirt or whatever you feel comfortable in.”
“But it’s Saturday. You go to church on Sundays.”
“You’re acting very strangely, mother, If you think for a moment I’m going to confession, you better think again.”
“Then why . . . “
“Just come with me, Victoria. You’ll see.”
The Catholic church in Westville was a river rock building on the side of a hill, with a rectangular bell tower that rose about a floor above the church itself. The sanctuary had bright red doors, which I always found warm and inviting. Father O’Malley’s office, by contrast, was not. It was cold and barren, with no pictures or keepsakes or any decoration at all. Just a desk with a Bible on it.
“Ah, Mrs. Krebs, I see you’ve brought David down to confess. Give me a minute, and I’ll meet you in the booth.”
“No,” my mother said. This was new, I thought. I’d never seen her stand up to authority. And what she said next came as a complete shock. “We did not come to confess. And her name is Victoria now! She is transgender, because that’s who she is. It has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with my parenting! And you haven’t even asked about her broken nose!”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Krebs, but I’m afraid we can’t have David here being seen in drag on the TV, and causing an uproar in the church community. I have no choice but to ask you to leave, and take your abomination of a son with you.”
“Fine! Maybe I’ll go become a Methodist.”
Outside the church, I gave my mother a bear hug. “Mother! That was amazing. I can never repay you! Giving up your faith for me, that’s a big step. Are you sure about it?”
“Yes. I’ve been thinking of leaving the church for awhile now. You just gave me the inspiration to pull the trigger. I love you, and you’re a more important part of my life than the church could ever be. You understand that, don’t you?”
“I do now, mother, I do now.”