Of friends and gifts received

When I was a kid, I hated receiving clothes as gifts. I always felt somehow cheated. After all, my parents had to buy me clothes anyway, didn’t they? Some gift, I’d complain.

This response was a reflection of the boy world I had to live in, but I had another entirely different one that occurred simultaneously that I kept to myself. Whenever my sister would open up her presents and reveal some pretty piece of clothing that my parents bought for her, I’d always think how happy I’d be if that dress or that skirt or those slippers had been under the tree for me. I wanted them so much it almost hurt. Much of the pleasure of receiving gifts is removed when you know you’ll never get what you want, and can’t even express your desire for it.

I had to wait until I was 24 before I received my first gift of feminine clothes. The gift was given to me by a couple, the first people I told I was transgendered. It consisted of a brilliant purple garter belt and fishnet stockings. They were not the sorts of things I customarily wore, but I loved them anyway. The female half of the couple had included a note which said,: “All my love and support. I am privileged you let the cat out of the bag to me.” The fishnets have long since been discarded, but I’ll never part with the garter belt.

The second gift arrived soon after the first, and was also the result of my telling another couple with whom I was friends. This gift consisted of bottles of nail polish, small items really, and yet they packed an emotional punch for me because they told me that these friends I had been afraid of losing were standing beside me also.

I continued to tell friends about my transgenderism, but after that initial surge of support the reaction was mostly silence. People pretended, the next time I saw them, that nothing had happened. The courage I had mustered was never acknowledged through words. Not surprisingly, to this day the people who gave me the gifts are my closest friends and understand my head space best of all.

Recently a friend phoned me and apologized for missing my birthday. She had a barely perceptible edge of excitement in her voice that told me she was up to something. Years ago I had complained to her about my childhood frustrations at not getting the gifts I wanted and that what I had wanted most of all was a pair of pink ballerina slippers. Now my feet had grown so much that I’d never have a pair. Well, she announced, she had done it! She had just been at a dance boutique, and had ordered pink ballerina slippers, specially made for me. Just thinking of what she’s done gets my eyes all teary.

For a trans person, these kinds of gifts are very powerful. They tell us that we are all right just the way we are; they ease old pains and injustices that we’ve felt; and they tell us that we have good friends that support us. It’s a lot of joy to come out of a garter belt, stockings, nail polish and ballerina slippers.

This column was first published in volume 3 number 3 of the print edition of Triple Echo.