The sins of the fathers are visited on the children to the tenth generation, and Robert Hoffman sought to break that chain. During the Hoffman Process, a week long immersion in techniques to connect participants to our inner inspiration, to confront us with ourselves, and to free us from patterns inherited from parents in imitation or rebellion, I visited my parents’ deathbed again. Four years afterwards, though I have not escaped my parents’ programming, I find the model useful. I don’t use the “tools” to let my unconscious speak, because I find they work in particular heightened circumstances rather than the quotidian, and I have the Quaker meeting for that. Or perhaps because I am frightened of going into such a magical, mystical world, where I see in metaphors the reality which fails to correspond to my apparently rational illusions.
Twenty of us sat in a large room visualising our parents’ deathbeds, whether or not they were already dead, surrounded with mementoes of them, crying our hearts out. How to describe, introduce or capture that scene eludes me.
Also that weekend, I lay supine, a helpless baby, and she said to me, I don’t want you. While I have no conscious memory before I could walk, I trust this unconscious memory or reconstruction, just as when in counselling I went back to the pram under the tree- you told me that I liked looking up at the leaves in the wind- I felt such rage and terror. I went back there. At the very least my unwavering belief makes it real now.
Then there is the demon mother. She came to the CAB with her son, who had lost benefit through being found fit to work, and when I asked him about how he felt, she answered. One of the points available was “does not care about his (sic) appearance or living conditions”. The doctor had written “Appeared well-dressed today” and she started to wail. “He only dresses well because I make him. I even have to shave his head, or he would let his hair grow long, and untidy, and dirty.” There was nothing wrong with the man that liberation from his mother would not cure, yet when I thought of her I felt my own mother was worse.
And there was my friend showing grief twenty years after being 24 with a new-born, and no idea what to do with it, and her shame and distress now, as great as at the time. I don’t have any, but I understand that bringing up children is not easy. We all have these memory-scars, where if you touch them our pain is as great as ever. My mother’s solution, to control every aspect of my life, could be faulted, but it really was the best she could do. She didn’t understand, she didn’t see anything better, she did not have infinite resources money or energy, and she did her very best.
So I have a number of disparate elements, a rich seam to mine- the experience of everyone and something completely alien to most; extremity of feeling; there might be too much detail in places, too little in others, so my projected “four visits” might become three, or an essay with incidents.
I won’t be long back from Flintshire before going to the Yearly Meeting Gathering- another week on a campus with Quakers, you would think I would have learned my lesson- but I will work on this, hoping to produce a piece of continuous prose worthy of the subject-matter.
I had thought I would sit on the floor, symbolising being a teenager. If I sat in the chair, I would be the sulky teenager, dragged along with the adults to silently suffer their polite conversation. Actually I sit in the chair, but feel different- playful and child-like rather than -ish.
Here am I in the “world in a grain of sand” moment. My sensations feel heightened. I notice the grain on that table or that speck of dust by the skirting-board. It still feels vulnerable but bearable. I meditate so can get like this easily, such as when washing my hands.
-When is your benefit reassessed? Early next year?
Oh, these irritating questions. Must you just be brute Reality? I don’t say that.
I am irritated about that coffee invitation. My friend does not have time. So I ask once, then a few days later ask again, then see her and yes having coffee together is a lovely idea. Well, suggest a time, I say, and she doesn’t. So it goes from a desire to a velleity. One would not say (though there are exceptions) “I do not on any account want to spend time with you” but lets down gently with that “Let’s do it- sometime-” I was glad later to find this was my own silly misunderstanding, and failure to listen to phone messages, but it was useful for the session this morning to think this way.
I fantasise that you are bored, just enduring the tedious hour as we only have one more appointment- but alternatively you might be giving me my head.
I despair. Yes, I could look for work, or do voluntary work, but I don’t want to open up to yet more of the endless, painful rejection. That woman and that Quaker meeting. Not having the funding decision for April in March, with a sincere belief it might be withdrawn.
I feel too intense, as if I scare people- HERE I AM ready to take on the world and other people want conventional, trite, unreal interactions. So I hold myself in check and am trivial. Though such Power would be useful for cross-examination, and I never managed it there.
I had wondered if I would play the Empty Chair with my mother, or visit her deathbed again- but I have nothing to say, and no purpose in saying it. Whether I express rage, or love and care, so what? The bed spins away, receding to a point on the right, and vanishing. I can’t put my head in the sand, now, so I spend most of the rest of the time with my eyes closed. It is defensive.
Yet I feel more open, like the grass which bends in the wind, not the tree which falls. The paradox is that the more defended I am, the more vulnerable. Yes, let’s meet again, it has not been entirely useless. Oh, Thank you, she says- it was a litotes!
If I were on £72.40 JSA, £1 for a cup of tea in the caff would be an extravagance to consider carefully, but on ESA, which is more, I can manage it. I sit outside in the cool breeze and watch the passers-by. I find the loo surprisingly decorated with quotes: The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart, said Helen Keller.
It is never too late to be what you might have been
said George Eliot. Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate brownie in one hand, latte in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO what a ride!” They may have amended that last one.
“You are on a very long journey,” said the woman. Oh yes, Caliban to Ariel- but I did not have the words for it then, only the struggle and the anger. A week on a campus with Quakers was the perfect place to poke my illusions, and show me what matters to me.
We are an odd lot. We like to imagine ourselves calm and wise, so avoid the appearance of conflict; and “Plain-speaking”, so dive into it. I like getting to know people. Here is a man who has led a committee of twenty and 125 volunteers for two years fundraising for a statue of Walton in Oldham, where Walton was born; they have raised £3000, and would have been better spending their time in menial jobs for the money. I joined a couple walking across the campus, and when the wife went off to get coffee the husband said, “Do you mind if I speak bluntly? Are you having a sex change?” I could wish these people less perceptive, sometimes. They notice so quickly. One said it was obvious I wore a wig, because it was flat, not moving like real hair.
We were assigned small groups, to spend an hour together each day, but our two facilitators had not had time to discuss how they would run the group beforehand. A woman told me she had been playing croquet when “this idiot” came over and demanded her friend go to discuss the group. Of course she refused. I got irritated that we spent the first of our five hours together discussing how we might spend the time- I wanted more structure- but when Philip produced a conch for people to hold, so that one person would speak at a time, Peter picked it up and said he did not want to proceed in that way. Next day some were missing.
We hurt, and we open. Jeff was alcoholic until he decided he had to Be Himself or die. When I said I had avoided suicide by deciding that I must not hurt my father, a woman said how serendipitous the conversation was, as she sought to console her friend whose daughter had killed herself. So I shared about how angry I felt about the oppression of my kind and the lack of self-worth we feel, and how liberating transition is- like moving from monochrome to technicolor.
During the week, I went to Leicester to consult with Dr Khoosal, a psychiatrist. I needed a second opinion so I could have my penectomy and vaginoplasty. He told me I was not ready: I needed laser treatment to remove my pubic hair and speech therapy. He thought I should not have testosterone suppression. Until I sorted all this out I could not have the Op. When I finally brought myself to open his letter weeks later, I found he recommended surgery: he had seen my distress, and changed his mind. However I left Leicester unable to express my misery or anger. I curled in a ball on the floor, and my friend covered me with a blanket.
I met a woman who had transitioned ten years before. She told me that she had put transition behind her and was simply a normal woman- an enviable state, I thought. Then she moaned about her wife and about transition experiences: she still felt the same anger. I asked a solicitor in the Blue Group what was the effect of a decree nisi without a decree absolute after ten years, and she revealed she was the trans woman’s daughter. Despite all my sharing, she had not thought to tell me before.
Before transition, I had loved country dancing. I could get high on movement, music, touch and eye-contact. I travelled to Germany in a demonstration team. Now, trying it in an afternoon session, I got angry with the others bodging, and laughing at their mistakes and ungainliness- this can be so much more! Worse, I was embarrassed and uncomfortable dancing on the man’s side, and confused on the woman’s. I left early. On the Friday evening I danced in the closing Ceilidh. Yes, I see other people are enjoying themselves, and still feel angry. So I went to find Anthea, the healer.
We went into the deserted Hazlerigg ballroom. This Healing stuff really is ridiculous mumbo-jumbo- but having nowhere else to go, I go along with it. She places me in a golden circle of light, so that only the highest and finest energies may come through it, then asks me to focus on my chakras: what colours can I see? None. I do not have a mind’s eye. We both insist, and eventually I give up, picking red.
Can I imagine my coccyx extending downwards to root in Mother Gaia? No. I try to extend it, and it pulls back. The base chakra is tribe and family, or roots. Sit on the ground to root- but I cannot trust. I express my anger, not at Dr Khoosal, I am pleading with him: how did you diagnose? Can you not see I am female? Have you any idea how I feel?
Then I am back at my mother’s death bed. I look down on you with the foam on your lips and scream at you. What did you mean you still have work to do? Did I ever smile? Did you ever smile at me or touch me?
I hear the Carpers at the back of my head. There are three of them. The first is like a baby, I can pick him up and cuddle him. The second has chalk and a blackboard, to teach me. Anthea says I should help him write out his feelings, then burn the paper. The third is a mass of energy, a black hole destroying light. She says nothing. I try to touch her hand, to make friends as with a cat in the garden. I need to integrate, love, and calm these aspects of myself.
Anthea suggests I have a shower and go to bed, and in the shower I find myself channelling healing energy through my hands.
On your seventieth birthday, Dad bought you a dozen roses, and placed them in a vase on the window sill. He thought, after, he should have bought them earlier, as he did not think you noticed them, but they were for him rather than for you. He sat downstairs or busied himself, and I sat by you reading- The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman, about how von Kluck catastrophically turned away from Schlieffen’s projected encirclement of Paris. I sat there, and you lay on your back, with your arms above the covers. Perhaps I misremember that detail.
The day after, you were unconscious, and I sat beside you, reading. You started to foam at the mouth in the evening. Dad came in, got distressed, and tried to wipe the foam away. Then you stopped breathing.
Elaine came over and the GP visited to check details for the death certificate. I thought I should be upset, but it seemed I was not: I was unconscious of feeling anything.
Around that time I decided “I do not want to be a sad, lonely pervert- I want to be a happy, gregarious pervert,” joined the transvestite club, and met other trans women. Before, I had felt such disgust for myself that I would buy clothes and soon after throw them away- I sought aversion therapy because either trying to make a man of myself, or cross-dressing, would be bearable but rapid shifting between the two was not. Four years later, though sure I would be sacked on some pretext, I realised that I could not bear not to transition.
More than once I lay curled up on the bathroom floor weeping “I am Not a man” and it was your voice I heard The Carpers. From the back of my head on the left, they said,
You are play-acting.
Stop being so childish.
I kept my job, and in April 2002 I left the office in a shirt and tie and went to have my ears pierced. The following Monday I went in to work as Clare.
A year after that I went to the week-long Quaker “Summer Gathering” in Loughborough. We Quakers are an odd lot: we like to imagine ourselves as calm and wise, so we do not manage conflict well.
[How much build-up to do? How much detail? Lots of feeling in that week- man says "You're having a sex change aren't you," people tell me how quickly they read me, I go Playford dancing and am confused dancing female and distressed dancing male, desperate to make the moves absolutely correctly and angry when others go the wrong way. What and where to expand into scenes, when to conflate disparate material in my journal into single scenes, how to show feeling with dialogue or description...]
and while there went to Leicester to see a psychiatrist: I wanted a second opinion, recommending that I have a vaginoplasty. The psychiatrist told me I should wait, but then saw my distress, and when I opened his letter weeks after receiving it I found he recommended the operation. When I talked in the small group at the Summer Gathering about how I felt, I did not realise that one of the others in my group was the daughter of a trans woman. She told me much later that she had not come to terms with her father’s transition, perhaps because her father had not either.
I sought out Anthea, a healer, and we went to the deserted Hazlerigg ballroom. I am quite happy opening my chakras now, but was not, then.
I imagined you on your deathbed, and walked around it, screaming my rage and hatred at you.
I roll you onto your side, facing the wall, then bring your legs forward, bending at the knees. Your knees are over the edge of the bed. Lifting you under your right shoulder, I raise you into a sitting position. You can put your arms round my neck. I embrace you, and lift you to a standing position. You are facing the commode, so we have to shuffle round until you have your back to it.
We step out of time into eternity. Two bodies are together, sensing each other. I am patient, happy in this moment to be supporting you. I will not rush, but take it at your pace. You relax completely. The pressure always to hurry up and get it done is gone. It is only a second or two, but in that moment I feel the certainty of Love. I feel it from you. I know that I communicate my love for you. Love flows both ways, and we are both aware of it.
I lift your nightdress at the back, to maintain your modesty as much as possible, and lower you onto the commode. Then I help you back into bed.
After you died, I decided that that would be my primary memory of you- one embrace in total Love. The other main memory I picked was you picking me out of Loch Lomond, wrapping me in a towel, and carrying me back to the camp site- I felt at the time I was old enough to walk, but chose to see your loving care in that.
This incident is important to me, and I wish to convey its importance. What of the accumulation of dry detail? That first paragraph yesterday has a lot of dry detail: I thought the contrast between the subject matter and the clinical way I conveyed it shows my character’s analytical nature- she is as much me as “Marcel” is Marcel. Then again I could omit the detail and convey that with yesterday’s second paragraph.
I don’t want to pad it out- dreadful idea- but I want to find detail which fits and works with it, or other ways to express it, and so strengthen my communication. I am also unsure whether to address the whole to my mother, or refer to her as “she”- swapping between the two is possible but does not appeal.
This bit has to go in somewhere: I carried a memory of her for years, of when I was told to show my piano-playing skills. I wanted to play one piece, she told me it was too simple, and I started to cry. She did not understand! I would have told that story with all my anger and resentment and incomprehension in She Didn’t Understand! Then in September 2010 suddenly it clicked. Oh, right- she didn’t understand. This was a moment of- forgiveness is a difficult word- acceptance of my childhood and my mother in which a great weight of resentment and anger drained from me. I want my reader to feel my relief, not just be aware of it.
My mother had her left breast removed when she was 63, around the time her back pain became unbearable. Later, she had bowel cancer, and though the tumour was removed she had complications later- “adhesions”, where scar tissue or the healing process creates a blockage in the bowel. Shortly after I moved to England, she developed liver cancer. She became addicted to the morphine, and for some reason her oncologist thought this needed reversed: he stopped her morphine, and she suffered from withdrawal. Then he found that while the chemotherapy was inhibiting growth of the tumour, it was not reducing its size, so she decided to stop chemotherapy.
I told my colleagues that she was dying using the peculiar jargon of our trade. “I have made an application for Attendance Allowance- under the Special Rules- for my mother.” When I said she had only days left, my boss surprised me by giving me as much time off as I needed. I returned home to find her in bed, a week before she died.
We wanted her to die at home. We had a friend from the church who is a nurse, and my sister is a nurse. My father and I were fit enough. After we made this decision I had a client suffering from back pain and depression after nursing his wife through terminal cancer, but we were sure enough we could cope. We had the aids we needed. First, Dad had had a stair lift installed so Mum could go up stairs; then a wheelchair, so she could go out. She was embarrassed by the wheelchair, initially, as she did not want to be seen in this weak state, but soon got to enjoy sunshine and different views, as she was wheeled around. And now, we had incontinence pads for her to lie on, and a commode beside the bed. I arrived a week before her death.
All of her was in pain, but she would rather get up to the commode. As would I, of course. Elaine understood the steps involved, to move her legs, then get her into a sitting position, then lift her up, then turn her to lower her onto the commode. As the expert, Elaine preferred to do this herself, and I did it only once. As I held my mother with her arms around my neck, before lowering her, I had a sense of Love, felt and communicated by both of us. But I did it only once.
I decided after she died that this moment of love communicated totally would be my most important memory of her.
I have a memory which shames me, which I have told no-one: sent to the town centre for a flannel for a bed-bath, I had a choice between one for an adult, undecorated, and one for a child, with Postman Pat on it, which was wonderfully soft, far softer than the other. I chose the adult one, for appearance’ sake, though she needed that softness. Perhaps she would have, too- appearance is important to us.
Then I sat, on her seventieth birthday, beside the bed, not touching her- reading, to pass the time.