For many years after my transition, I wondered if I was imagining it. Was I being ignored and shunned by my other 6 siblings or was it just my imagination?
I come from a large family of 7 children. For most of my life, the joke was that we were 7 children with only one girl! But every time someone would say that I felt a little jab. They were wrong. There were actually 2 girls!
I knew from a very young age that I wasn’t one of the boys. They regularly reminded me of it if I ever forgot. My feminine mannerisms and gentle nature often resulted in being taunted by my brothers with the stinging derogatory label of “girl” over and over again. I preferred soft feminine things. I liked my hair long and wanted to wear make-up and dresses. But that was not a possibility in my childhood. I was eventually bludgeoned into conformity. At least on the surface. In fact, I never really changed inside. That same soft feminine person never went away. Even after my father left when I was 6 and my mother died from breast cancer when I was 14, my female self persisted.
My sibling order is broken into two distinct groups. The older 3 (Boy, girl, boy) were raised in relative abundance. They had both a mother and a father throughout their childhoods. Their father was a successful doctor and their mother a very glamorous socialite. They wanted for nothing. They were the envy of their classmates. They always had the latest fashion and went to expensive private schools and on fabulous European or Hawaiian vacations. They had free time to play musical instruments and drove expensive cars.
8 years after these came four more. Ostensibly all boys. I was the third of these with one younger brother. Our childhood was marked by a divorced mother abandoned by her philandering husband. What made his crime worse was that my mother had already been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Our childhood was the opposite of my older siblings. We never had quite enough. Our food was always the cheapest blue-label brands and was purchased in the largest possible quantities. Regardless we always ran out before the next week’s shopping and many was the day I went to school with only an apple for lunch.
My mother was bedridden and only got up once a day to prepare our dinner. She was in enormous pain and was perpetually self-medicating on a deadly cocktail of pills and bourbon. I knew how to mix her drink as did my other 3 brothers. She could knock back 4 shots of Jim Beam with a splash of water in the afternoon and follow it up with Demerol, codeine, and Percocet as a chaser.
Our role was to be good little soldiers. We had to “take care of our Mom” and “be good.” Taking care of our mom meant cleaning the house every week and doing all the chores that might be expected of both adults in a household. That also included taking care of my mother and changing the dressing on her perpetually open chest wound. Her double-mastectomy never entirely healed after multiple rounds of radiation. Her body was ground zero for all the latest experimental cancer treatments, and most seemed to have left less and less of her.
When she cried and moaned in pain at night I was often the one that went and sat with her. My brothers knew I had the softest heart and had the least resistance to her cries. I sat up many nights watching Masterpiece Theater with her as she chain-smoked next to me in her bed. When she finally passed away we realized how all her blankets were like swiss cheese from all the times she had fallen asleep with a lit cigarette in her hand. And this while she was breathing pure oxygen from two large tanks behind her bed.
I managed my anxiety at night by slipping on something feminine. It was almost as if I could self-soothe by bringing on my own nurturing side. Genivieve comforted me when no one else would. She told me not to worry too much that we had no money or food or that my mother could die at any moment. She also told me I was OK and that I really was a girl. Of course, I still kept her hidden from my brothers. I knew my job and my role and that was definitely not in the job description of a “good little soldier.”
Fast forward 40 years to the time of my transition. My older siblings still live in abundance and the younger four of us have always struggled. The older three had the option to go to any University they chose, but of the younger four, I was the only one who went to school, and that was on my own dime. I paid my way through school on a waiter's salary and by living in my car while attending UCLA. I never asked for financial assistance nor told anyone at school because I was so ashamed of my impoverished circumstance. I had graduated and had a family and all seemed to have worked out. Except for one thing. Genivieve was still inside of me. She had never left. All the years I had listened to my older siblings crow about how “we” had all survived our difficult childhood. My poor sister too. She who had taken fabulous trips to Europe as a girl and purchased expensive clothes there with a healthy vibrant mother. She was our legal guardian after my mother died for three years, so it hadn’t all been Jett-setting and fun for her either. She did still claim the “only female” role however and was honored as if she were a queen.
Then I transitioned. At first, all seemed well, but cracks immediately began to show when her husband paid just a little too much attention to me at a family gathering. I was so naive in the ways of women. I didn’t know how quickly these sorts of slights can expand a crack in a granite face until it bursts open like a yawning valley. I also didn’t realize that the facial feminization doctor had done his job too well. He had actually made me more attractive than my sister. Not only more attractive than her, but more attractive than any of my brothers’ wives too.
Now I have no way of proving this of course. Except that every time I tell women friends about how I am now shunned from family gatherings they all say the same thing. “They’re jealous.” After a decade of living post-transition now, I think they may be right. I have a slightly better view of why women do what they do now. Petty jealousies like these can cause all sorts of trouble. I was fine while I was a “good ‘male’ soldier” and fell into line with my mouth shut. But now as the belle of the ball, I am no longer welcome. The sibling order was fine as long as there was one queen, but heaven forbid that one of her foot soldiers outshines her!