So, when i went home to Red Deer, in December, I looked up my old friend Simone*. She and I were BEST friends in Junior High. I loved Simone. She lived really close to the school, like, a block, and it was an “inner city” neighbourhood. Red Deer was barely a city then, but still, they were close to the main drag in the middle of town–a couple of mean bars close by, the Park Hotel and the Windsor within walking distance. Mind you, the school, two or three churches and a couple of pharmacies were as well. All the Institutions of Power within spitting distance of the house where my friend lived. No power themselves, but surrounded. Like most of us, eh.
her parents were commissionaires. Which meant they worked for the city, and took payment for parking at the lot by the post office, or walked around and ticketed cars parked by expired meters and other stuff of that nature. Not exciting work, and i don’t think it paid all that well, either.
In Simone’s house lived: Simone, her two older brothers, her younger sister and brother and her mom and dad. This was a tiny house, and pretty rugged-looking. A rental in a constant state of dubious repair. I think the two big boys slept in roughed out rooms in the basement (which I remember as having a dirt floor–but i could be wrong. It was DARK down there). Simone and her sister slept in bunk beds on the main floor, I can’t remember where the youngest brother slept. There was also an assortment of cats and a bunch of gin bottles.
Simone and I hung out all the time, especially in Grade nine. we would sit in her room and listen to Black Sabbath and other stuff like that. Until she became a born again christian, then she got rid of all her Black Sabbath records. She wouldn’t give them to me, either, ’cause they were satanic. I didn’t care about that, I liked the music (i have NO IDEA why, looking back now). But she wanted to protect me from that stuff, I guess.
One weekend, my family went to Jasper for a long weekend. I invited Simone to come too. I wanted her to come live with us, because her house was so cramped and she was always working to take care of things, cooking, cleaning, trying to take care of her younger siblings…her parents were, well, neglectful at best. Mom said Simone could come, but she would have to tell her parents where she was. I don’t know why we didn’t do that. But she did come for that weekend with us. We rode horses one day, and hiked around. Dad built a big fire every evening and we roasted marshmallows. It was a lot of fun. We were relaxed with each other. We were like sisters.
When we started high school, she tried to set me up with her boyfriends cousin. We liked each other alright, but there was no spark at all. For our first date, he picked me up in his truck, I think Simone and her boyfriend were with us, too, and we went down to the school parking lot and spun donuts in the snow for a while. That was in the days before speed bumps and concrete barriers. that’s what kids did on Friday nights. I’d often borrow my mom’s car and go there with some friends to do exactly the same thing. Then we went to some late-might diner and had french fries and hot chocolate. Or maybe we went to Tim Horton’s for the other kind of donuts.
Anyway, it was a nice night, but he and I didn’t match up. Turned out, he and Simone took a shine to each other. By and by she became pregnant. She didn’t finish grade ten. She made her own wedding dress, it had a medieval looking bodice and sleeves that were tight at the shoulder and upper arm, and flared out below the elbow. Really pretty, if you go in for that kinda thing. She had her first son that summer, and moved with Stu to a trailer near Blackfalds, I think. We tried to keep in touch, but our lives were just so different now. I was a high school girl and she was a married woman and mother.
A couple of years ago, Stu found me on facebook. I was SO happy! My old friend! Now when I go home, I try to get together with her at least once. The first time, she and Stu came over to Mom’s place. I never have had Simone all to myself like when we were girls, I wish that she would come to see me on her own sometimes. But I don’t know how to ask for that without hurting her feelings, or Stu’s. Ah, never mind. we see each other once a year, maybe twice. If we were regulars in each others’ lives, I would ask to see her alone, but not now.
Anyway, the first time they came to see me, that time at Mom’s place, Simone told me that her youngest brother had decided he was really a woman. He’d gone to Montreal to get the operations done, and health care had paid for it. Stu grumbled, “I can’t have a machine to help me at night with my sleep apnea, but he can go get this done for free.” And little brothers’ surgeries amounted to about 10 times Stu’s sleep apnea machine.
Simone and Stu take a dim view of little brother’s decision to “transition”. He asked her younger sister for tips on how to “dress like a woman”. Simone laughed and said, “neither she or I have much to tell him,” and gestured vaguely toward her over-sized sweat shirt and jeans. Of course, being women, they dress like women, but for sure not in the impractical pocketless stuff so relentlessly marketed at us. They are neither of them “ideal women” the kind their brother is supposed to be (according to the doctors who are “helping” him). He was supposed to live as a woman for two years before heading off to Montreal to get surgery. That meant, I guess, wearing crippling shoes, sitting down to pee, shaping his eyebrows, pitching his voice high, wearing dresses, and taking short, maybe even mincing, steps to get where he wanted to go. If either Simone or I had to “live as women”, we wouldn’t be able to manage it, i’m pretty sure.
I asked Simone why he wanted to become a woman, and she didn’t know. She is disdainful of his decision and he has written her off as not supportive because she’s too religious. Which is a bit too simple, I think. She is religious, yes, but even though I think the religion she follows would take a dim view of me, her lesbian atheist friend–she hasn’t expressed her disagreement or turned her back on me. If her disdain for his decision was only about doing what her religion dictates, she would turn away from all of us. But she has not.
He was her little brother. She cared for him while he was growing up. She tried to protect him and she comforted him when he was afraid, and she made sure that he made it to adulthood. I’m pretty sure that she was as much, or more, a parent to him than their parents were. We all grew up in a small city on the Canadian Prairies. It’s not easy to be gay there, even now. Maybe that’s part of it. He’s gay, and he’s from poverty; his brothers are rugged and masculine–his sisters too, kind of–(though Simone’s younger sister does amazing things with nail polish–manicures, I mean). There was no place for him to fit–youngest kid, always at the end of the line. Growing up gay in the middle of the prairies surrounded by combine pilots and bikers–maybe he didn’t see anyone around him who had what he wanted. Maybe some grown-up man sexually abused him. It’s too common a story to be dismissed as a possibility.
He is suffering. And he sees this as a solution to his feelings of discomfort, dislocation, dis-ease. it’s not. It’s a drastic, individualized answer to a big social and political problem. It is not a solution. and it won’t get him closer to comfort, ease, or inclusion. Ah, damn. it’s too bad. He needs his big sister now as much as he ever did, but he can’t have her. He sure as hell can’t BE her, either.
I hope he finds solace somewhere. I hope he comes back.
*i’m not using real names here, of course.