Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On Losing a Daughter

It's 4am on a sleepless night in Bucharest.  Discarded tissue surround my bed and fill the trash.  I'm in mourning over the loss of my daughter.

It is said that a divorce is much like a death with the difference that there is no grave to visit, no one to share the grieving.  The divorced husband or wife is still very much alive somewhere, only dead to a relationship that had once been the center of life.

I am now learning in my heart that a transgender death is much the same as a divorce.

I will not name names, although some readers will divine the identity.  Indeed, I have not written much at all about the person who has been at the center of my life for ten months.  She is my emotionally adopted daughter, just one week younger than my own son.  We've known each other for more than two years, but it was only last summer that I offered her a place to stay when she was going through a difficult time.  Little did I suspect when I made that offer that I had acquired a new family, that this mother had a daughter.

For ten months we have shared joys and sorrows.  We have helped each other with clothes and hair, with cooking and shopping, with almost every conceivable part of life that a mother and daughter could share.  We have traveled together.  We have entertained friends together.  There were Thanksgiving joys, Christmas hugs and presents, and New Year's champagne.  Since my return from Thailand, it is my daughter who has cared for me most by taking over almost all the housekeeping.  Even if I grimaced over a broken glass or dirty dishes in the sink, I was never so grateful to share my life with someone as I was with this young woman whom I had come to love as if she were my own.

On Saturday morning my daughter broke the news that she had made a decision.  She would give up on transition and would live her life as a man.

The life of any transgender person in Romania is not easy.  Many transgender women end up as sex workers, a hard choice that I respect in a country where life is so difficult for anyone who is transgender.  Very few are able to transition and live normal lives.  Identity documents reflecting one's true, transitioned gender are nearly impossible to obtain.  Without those documents, life for any transgender person can be a living hell.

Perhaps I was wrong to take my daughter under my wing.  I gave her refuge, knowing it was temporary.  The hope was that we would find her work as herself.  Despite many interviews and letters, it did not happen.  In the US, perhaps, a person in transition is employable.  In Romania, a transgender applicant is more likely to be met with strange looks and barely restrained laughter.

It is time to say it:  my time in Romania is coming to its end.  Just over seven weeks from now I will leave Bucharest for good, heading on to my next assignment in Washington.  For weeks I have worried silently over what would happen to my daughter.  I began hatching plans.  Perhaps I could take her to the US for a year as my maid?  Then I could take her to my next overseas post as my member of household.  The money did not matter.  Something would eventually work out for her.

That was my pipe dream, but what was I thinking really?  What sort of life would it be for my daughter to follow her adoptive mother around the world?

My daughter was the one who was thinking more clearly when she broke the news to me on Saturday.  As a young man she will be able to find work and support herself.  Perhaps she does need time to turn her back on transition to find out if she can make it as a  man.  I certainly did . . . .again and again and again for all of the right reasons only to find myself miserable and those around me equally miserable.  But who knows?  My daughter may find the happiness of being a man that I never did.

I was intellectual and supportive through the weekend.  Tonight, however, I came home to find my daughter dressed as a boy for the first time.  I had never seen her that way before.  My heart broke into a million pieces.  I have been a sobbing mess ever since.  How I will get through the coming day is beyond me.

How ironic it is that I should react in this way.  I am supposed to be the one who understands and accepts issues of gender identity in all its gradations and colors, but I reacted the way most any mother would react if her daughter announced she would henceforth live as a man.  I now have a better understanding of what my sisters went through in coming to terms with my transition.  They came to love their youngest sister even as they mourned the loss of their brother.

I love you, dear daughter, no matter how you choose or are forced to live your life.  Forgive me as I go around in grief for now, a trail of tissue in my wake.  I miss you even as you stand before me.  I am in mourning.  It will take time.

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