When women go through the change of life in menopause, everyone they know goes through it too. When your co-worker keeps adjusting the thermostat in the office, you suffer right along with them. When your life partner suddenly develops insomnia, you both lose sleep. If your sister is uncharacteristically irritable, you are upset and disappointed. Usually, though, you realize what is going on. Your colleague or partner or sister is struggling to emerge into her new self.
All that puffing and blowing and door-slamming can’t go on forever, can they? Where has the old self gone? We shake our heads and say “She is not herself today,” and accept this transitional period as an anomaly. We grit our teeth, hold our tongues, and hope that the personality we knew will, sooner or later, re-emerge. It has to. We have too many wonderful memories of the way it once was.
Aside from mid-life biological changes, we change in lots of other ways, too–when we learn new skills, when we acquire or lose faith, when we move to a different city or country, when we end or start a relationship. We are constantly changing. Sometimes we change for the better, sometimes worse, and if we are lucky we learn from it all.
One of the joys of looking at old photographs and reading old diaries is realizing how much we have changed and grown; how much we have learned and assimilated. If I could go back in time and somehow make myself taller, or smarter, or more self-assured, then it would probably change the trajectory of my life. But, to quote one of my favourite songs, I like my life, I like who I am. This is who I want to be.*
There are parts of my life that were inglorious, decisions made that were foolhardy, some companions who were bad influences, but I don’t think I would want to change even those things. They have contributed to my personal evolution in ways that perhaps an “ideal” experience would not have done. Once I gave a lot of money to someone who was dishonest, and I am embarrassed about it; I don’t want to talk about it. I cannot, though, pretend it didn’t happen. It did. And, because it happened I am now much more aware of my own vulnerability and the ways in which I can be persuaded. The experience, while awful, has its benefits. It’s now a part of who I am.
Recently, I read an article about transgender change that included the precept that one should “Never tell a story from the past that requires you to bring up the [transgender] person’s former sex/gender.” I balked at this. As the mother of an adult transgender child, I have thirty years of memories and stories of his life and former gender. That history and my memories are not going to change.
At some point I may acquire the ability to tell a story without using a pronoun, but I somehow doubt it. More to the point, I don’t think it is either necessary or beneficial. My stories will include my child’s gender as it once was, and the changed gender now. That way, I am honouring her struggles and his courage, her frustrations and his integrity. I am also acknowledging the change. I accept that she is now he. I love remembering all of our shared past experiences. As a female, he shared life’s experience with his friends and family. We all loved and appreciated him as a female, just as we love and appreciate him as a male now.
We cannot change the past by wishing it were so, or by rewriting it. It is what it is, and that’s ok. It’s more than ok. It’s the foundation for a new and improved self, even if we have to huff and puff a little to get beyond it.
* This is Who I Want to Be. Unpublished. Must Be Tuesday.