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My Story: Diane

Coming Out to My Mother. Being trans in a family dealing with cancer

“You can’t tell her, it will kill her!” It was either L. or her mother who said it – they were united in their anger, grief, shame and confusion towards my transgender identity.  

From them I learned that I had destroyed L.’s world; that I was ruining my son.

“I don’t want the neighbours thinking I’m OK with you being trans. I’m looking out for myself now, this divorce will not be amicable.”

Her words rang in my head: “You can’t tell her, it will kill her!” My mother had sinus cancer. She was preparing for chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. The cancer was destroying her cheek bone and eye socket.  It hadn’t reached her brain yet. I had to see her. I was never there. I had to tell her about me.

A few months earlier, I went to my GP in a panic. Finally, I’d put two and two together and admitted to myself that I was trans. I knew I’d left it too long and if I didn’t fix it, soon I’d be gone. I was a mess when I learnt about the waiting and how there was nothing to do but to help myself.

At the same time, my mother went to see a consultant about the severe pain in her face. They diagnosed cancer: then the NHS kicked in to gear.  Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy, pain killers. Nothing helped. I had to see her.

“You can’t tell her, it will kill her!” I took mum to one side:

“I’ve got something to tell you, about me.”

“It’s OK if you’re gay.”

“I think I’m transgender.”

“Like on the telly?”

She held my hand: “If it makes you happy that’s all me and Dad want for you. I suppose L. isn’t happy with this?”

“No, I think we’re done.”

“I love you.”

There was warm silence for a beat then: “Can you paint me a picture of bluebells so I can have it in my room while I’m in bed?”

Back to reality with a bump.

Over the next few visits I presented as female. I couldn’t sleep, so I painted a bit each morning.  When it was done, my brothers framed it.

On the next visit, the house was busy with people.  Old family friends and aunties and Nana. No one had any problem with me or the way I dressed.  My aunt recounted how Mum had told Nana about my gender identity.

“D. told me something about himself.”

“Is he gay?”

“No, it’s something new. He’s transgender.”

Something new.

Then my aunt said: “Mum has been so worried about you for so long. All she cares about is her children and grandchildren.  She just wants to know you will be alright.”

The next visit, Mum was like a skeleton, uncomfortably moving in her bed. I sat there and talked to her: I told her we’d be alright. My youngest brother had moved out, and my middle brother’s business was going well, and I was sorting out my gender identity. I like to think she heard me.

Then I said: “I’m going to get a sandwich.”

Then from the kitchen I heard Dad say: “I think she’s gone.”

All at once and just a moment too late, brothers, friends, aunties and Nana appeared. There were tears, grief, wailing, all of us together as a family.

At the funeral I presented as female and gave a speech, doing my best attempt at a female voice.  I talked about my memories of mum. Everyone was so kind.

“I’m so happy you told Mum before she went”
“If you need anything let us know”
“Very brave”
“Good for you”
“You look just like your Mum”
“You’re the image of your great aunt”
“You’ve got to live your life, do what makes you happy”

I am so glad I did.