Toronto
3 min

Don’t kill the grandparents

Coming out as a male to the elderly

BODIES CHANGE. Because of age and other reasons. Credit: Mia Hansen

When I transitioned, my mother told me that she would never call me “he.” She understood of course, but my grandparents would not, and if she called me “he” the rest of the time she might let it slip to them. She also told me that I was not to visit them as, “It would kill them.” Amazing how powerful being a transsexual is.



She had said similar things about coming out as a dyke to my grandparents, but then I had the balls to do it anyway. My grandmother listened, and gently asked, “What’s a dyke, dear?” I explained, and her response was, “As long as you are happy, dear. Don’t tell your grandfather.” I assured her I was happy, and that I would not tell my grandfather.



My grandparents are rural and old, exactly the kind of people us hip urban youngsters expect pre-judice from. They are in their late 80s and live on a small farm in Britain. The farmhouse is 300 years old and made from local stone. Farming has been in the family for generations. My grandfather has never been further from the farm than the nearest seaside some 20 miles away. It’s very picturesque – the word quaint comes to mind – and very rural. I love my grandparents, and used to visit often, but I listened to my mother and resigned myself to only writing letters.



Then, in the space of two weeks, my grandmother fell and broke her hip and my grandfather had two strokes. Believing they were dying I felt a strong need to see them and say goodbye. My mother was adamant that I not go.



We had terse phone calls and I explained that if they died without me seeing them I would hold it against her permanently. It wasn’t an idle threat. Desperate for a second opinion I phoned an aunt who lives on the farm. She said yes, come, but come as the girl you were. I wrote and rewrote coming-out letters to my grandparents, never sending them. Then I received an e-mail letter from the aunt saying that it was time to end the deception. She wrote that she and my uncle were proud to have a nephew instead of a niece and that I should come as I am. I thanked her immediately and without telling my mother I booked a flight.



My aunt met me when I arrived with a warm welcome. She said that she had explained to my grandparents, and that while she thought it had gone well, she wasn’t sure my grandfather understood.



It was striking how much my grandparents had changed. They were older, frailer and seemed smaller. They both use walkers now, although my grandfather proudly pointed out that he can sweep and hoe using his. While they used to care for the family, now they are cared for; others prepare their meals, count out their medications, help them dress and help them bathe. They didn’t seem surprised that I had changed, too.



It was overwhelming how normal it all seemed. My grandmother enjoyed introducing her Canadian grandson to her daily visitors, most like her, in the over-80 blue-haired set, and not one batted an eyelid. I served customers in the farm shop, and no one screamed and dropped their vegetables. Occasionally people would comment that they didn’t know that the Walton’s had a grandson in Canada or that it had been a long time since I was there. I was consistently called “son” and “laddie,” as I had been in my childhood. My grandmother did get my name confused sometimes, but when she did, she called me John and she never once called me she. “As long as you are happy, dear.”



My grandfather, whom people had been most concerned about, was charming. Late one evening he called me over. “I’m very proud of you,” he said. “You’re growing up to be a fine young man.” And winking, “Not as handsome as me, of course.”



It was sweet to be there as a man and to belong, to still be family. I came away with a great deal of respect for my old, rural, open-minded grandparents. My visit didn’t kill them, all it killed was the myth that they couldn’t deal with my transition.