Breaking Your Parents' Hearts
March 30th, 2008
When I was in the process of packing and moving from rural Japan to Tokyo, I got a text message from a woman we shall call Hiroko, an older coworker who took me under her wing and had become something like a surrogate mother in Japan, to invite me out for lunch. I said sure, because I was glad to see her and glad to tell her about my recent successes, re: finding housing.
Now I'd sort of promised myself (and her, but the one to myself is more binding) that I would tell her about the trannie thing after I quit working at that school. She's helped me through a lot of wangst over the past year, and I'd wanted, wanted so badly, to tell her what was really causing me so much anxiety. But it was just too big a risk, given my current job and the context in which I would have to interact with her if it all went terribly poorly. I had been on the verge of telling her several times, but bit my tongue, forcing myself to think of the worst case scenario.
So we had lunch, picked up some boxes for packing, then went back to my apartment, where she was somewhat amused that I was doing laundry. More to the point, she was amused that the laundry hanging outside was women's clothing that she had never seen me wearing. (I brought it to Japan with me on the off-chance that I suddenly recovered from the trannie thing. Yeah, still waiting on that.)
Hiroko: "They're very nice!"
Me: "Douzo. You can give them to your daughter, if you like."
Her: "No, but it suits you!"
Me: "Uhh... not really." [very long pause] "Okay, so remember how I mentioned that I had something I was going to tell you when the school year was over?"
And I don't remember who started laughing first -- probably me, because I'm socially inept like that. I know exactly how weird it is for other people to hear that because it's just as weird for me to say it. It's so stupid and improbable and why the fuck is this happening to me? I wonder that a lot. I'm not epic enough to deal with this. But if I'm not, then who is?
She was laughing, and I'd been standing at the window, and she came over and hugged me. Okay, so either she doesn't believe me or she's in shock.
"冗談じゃない！" I insisted. I'm not joking. Which was kind of really ironic, and I realized that as soon as I said it, because I had just shown her a clip of Ataru Nakamura's 「冗談なんかじゃないからネ」 on youtube -- Nakamura, who is in fact an MTF transsexual herself. Hiroko was still laughing as she backed away again and sat down in one of my chairs.
Then I realized that she wasn't laughing, she was crying, a lot.
I'm criminally bad at giving comfort. Even people who like me will attest to this. I hovered there awkwardly, wondering whether I should give her a hug or whether she wouldn't want to touch me now.
"It's not such a bad thing," I said hopefully, even though it sort of is. "Please stop crying. You're going to start me going too." I wondered briefly why the hell I should be trying to convince her not to cry for me, when I had cried for myself often enough over the past year.
"Does your mother know?" she asked me between sobs, clutching my hand in a death grip.
"Yes," I said. "Yes, she does."
And that was the first time it occurred to me that my mother had probably cried the way Hiroko was crying now. My parents had always been so stoic and so composed when I talked to them about it, but I'd broken the news over email. They'd had plenty of time to get at least some control over the idea before we had to talk about it face to face, and in retrospect, email was such a cowardly way to tell them but I'm not sorry for it at all.
She stood up and walked across the room to her purse. For one sick moment I thought she was going to pick up her bag and leave, and I would have been hurt and heartsick but even then I wouldn't have regretted telling her. I knew -- I knew that this was too much a part of me for anybody who's important to me not to know. Even if I lose them for it. And if that's not proof that I'm serious about this thing, then I don't know what is.
Because I could picture, with clarity but with that third-degree lack of punch, what it would have been like if I had at any point been afraid that my real parents would pick up and walk out of the room. Hiroko is important to me, I care about her a lot, but I realize that it's probably due in large degree to feelings that I've transferred wholesale from my real mother. I could have recovered from being rejected by Hiroko, I can deal with the guilt of having made her cry. I don't want to watch myself break my parents' hearts like that.
It turned out she was just going to her purse for a handkerchief. She wiped her eyes and then hugged me again and held on, and it was probably the least awkward, non-Shelley hug I've had in years. Eventually she sat down again, dabbing her eyes and making a bid for control.
"I've calmed down again," she informed me. "I was just surprised. You're the first... I've ever met."
"Yeah, I'm the first I ever met too," I muttered. Which explains a lot, really.
We didn't talk about it much. Just a little bit, about differences on the whole between American culture re: the gay thing vs. Japanese culture. We went out to the cellphone store and changed the address that I would get my bills at, and it was only much later, after we'd parted ways, that I received a text message from her:
別れがせつない。 がんばれ。 ;)
I'm not going to cut ties. Good luck.
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