Monday, March 18, 2013

A Deal with the Devil

A Deal with the Devil

Right before I transitioned, I made a deal with the devil. Like most deals with the devil I did it knowingly because I thought it was the best thing to do. Like most deals with the devil, it turned out to be more bitter than I expected. And like most deals with the devil it ultimately involved a loss of hope.

Last September I made a journey back home on a special mission. It was a difficult task, and I had my spouse along for support. It was potentially life changing, the hardest thing I'd ever do. At age 56 I was going to tell my parents that I was transgender... that the third member of what my mother always proudly referred to as "my boys" was really a girl, and always had been, always would be.

I expected this to be hard. My parents were getting so old and frail that I doubted their ability to grasp what I told them. But still, I hoped that they would try... I was their child, right?  I'd always done my best to be a good kid... I knew that if it were my child I'd want to know. I'd try to understand. And ultimately I'd do my best to to support them. My parents had raised me, they had helped me form those values, so they would do the same for me, right?

Unfortunately I never found out. Before I told them, I told my oldest brother. I think I was hoping for an ally, for someone to say that whatever I had to do, I should at least be honest. I was hoping for someone to stand by me, to accept me as I was.

Instead I was offered a deal with the devil. Why upset the old folks? Why force them to face a truth that would make them so unhappy? The unspoken message was that they wouldn't be able to deal with something as terrible and disgusting as the truth of who their child was. And in turn my other brother joined in. Knowing who I was would be an unbearable burden of guilt for my parents, something that would literally kill them.

Am I really such a monster? Apparently I am. And such is the power of family that coming from the older brothers I so looked up to as a child, that judgement immediately transported me back to the child who knew, absolutely, dreadfully knew, that the truth would mean I was no longer loved. Like most deals with the devil, it exploited my deepest fears and doubts about myself.

So I made that deal. I told myself it was for the best, that I was being unselfish, putting the comfort of my aged parents first. That was noble, right? To do otherwise would be unbearably selfish, right? And they were so frail, that if I told them, suppose the shock caused a death? Or what if they died before they accepted it and we came to peace?

And yet... As I thought of their character, the values they instilled in me, I kept thinking they'd want to know. I was their child and they loved me. They were proud of me and wanted me to be happy and whole. How could they not want to see me as I was? I kept hoping and telling myself they'd want to support me, that from the perspective of 90+ years, they'd rather have a real, if somewhat unexpected, child who was happy in her life and own skin than a miserable mockery.

But the deal was done. Less than 2 months after I made that deal my mother was dead. Less than 4 months after that, my father had passed. In less than 6 months the devil had taken his due.

While even one of them was alive there was hope. There was the hope that somehow they'd find out.... that they'd think about it and then let me know that it was okay, that they still loved me. In my wildest fantasies they'd even acknowledge that I was more 'right' now than before. Clearly these scenarios were unlikely, but while they were alive they were possible. At least there was hope.

Once they died, that hope was lost. I suppose it shouldn't matter. I suppose I should continue to tell myself that I chose correctly, that it was a good cause. And yet... it feels wrong. They never had the chance to give me that most important piece of love and support. They never had the chance to be there when I needed them most. Somehow I can't believe they would think that was the right choice.

I was sold that choice, urged to make that deal with the devil by those I trusted. When I was small I looked up to them so, and on some level I suppose that feeling never goes away. And yet, when I needed them, they let me down. They haven't been there for me at all, nor have they even tried to show understanding or acceptance. In short, they behaved exactly as my childhood self had feared... "if anyone ever knows, they won't love you anymore." It's hard to describe the absolute desolation that thought brings a child, even the child that still lives inside the adult.

Those old fears made me complicit in my own damnation. They conspired to steal my hope. Like most deals with the devil. And I had chosen to go along and trade hope away for nothing. Like most deals with the devil.

In memoriam: 

Howard Ceder, July 20, 1921 - March 17, 2013
Eunice Ceder, August 27, 1922 - November 22, 2012

I love you both and I hope you're at peace. 
But I wish I knew that you still  loved me. 
For who I really am.


  1. Nowhere do you write about the love and acceptance from siblings and I suspect it may have been their own comfort zone they felt uncomfortable with. I too hesitated to tell the older generation but have found that rather than be shocked they have been very understanding and supportive.

    My parents never lived long enough to find out the reason why I hated life so much...

  2. The reason I don't write about love and acceptance from my two brothers is that there has been none. That's pretty much all there is to say.

  3. It may still come... My mother passed away several years before I transitioned. She knew I had struggled with my gender. She knew when I had an abortive transition attempt 7 or 8 years before she died, but she never knew I had finally made it.

    A couple of months ago I very briefly caught up with a long time friend of mine. She is an amazing and accepting woman that I have thought the world of for many years. When she saw me, without getting any warning that I had transitioned, she was wonderful. She grabbed me, held my face between her hands, looked deep into my eyes and told me she was so proud of me. In that moment she looked, acted and "was" so much like my Mother that I was just overwhelmed. I totally knew that my mother was OK with it and that she was proud of me too. It's easy to paste wish fulfillment on the encounter, to dismiss it as an emotional hormone moment. But in my heart I know that my Mom is proud of me too.

  4. Naomi -

    There's not much you can do about the past. From what I read on other transgendered folk's blogs, a parent's acceptance is never assured. Do you take the risk or not? I haven't done so, and I'm at peace with that. My definition of who I am does not place gender at the highest level of identification. So it's much easier for me than many others to live as a bi-gendered person.

    You are not a monster for keeping your true nature secret. My dad might understand - I don't know. There was one event when I was much younger that might have given him a hint about what I am. After that event, nothing was mentioned, and I don't bring it up today. But I don't think my brother would understand - he has enough problems with his wife, that he has no energy to think about his issues. Could he deal with my nature? I'm not sure, but it took my wife's death *AND* my mom's intercession to get us speaking again after 3 years of being out of touch. (And no, I won't go into that situation here.) When my dad passes, there will be no one to bridge the divide - so I preserve the links we have, at the expense of a certain amount of sibling intimacy....

    But I'll close out by telling you that hope can be yours if you want it. How are your relationships with your brothers? If you get along well with your brothers, start talking about transgendered issues without saying anything about yourself. (I'll leave it up to you to figure out the opening....) See what they think, when you mention Chaz Bono. Then mention Renee Richards, and see what they think again. Drop the line of thought for a while. You'll be surprised how many people are open minded. But be careful no matter what you do....


    1. Thank you for your comments. You're right about the past being the past. And to be clear, I do think I did what was best - it's just that sometimes "best" isn't all that good.

      As to my brothers, I'll certainly keep that in mind, if and when they are ever willing to talk to me. In other words, at the moment I have no relationship with my brothers at all. I told one in person, and I did give them each a letter with a couple of pages of explanation about me and what that means, so they know. They've even told at least some of their kids, who are all adults... out of them all only one niece still counts me as family. So it goes.

      Again, thank you for the comments.