Secret Selves by Jamie Johnson


The Book End

This Child of Mine

This Child of Mine is based on an excerpt from Jamie Johnson's full-length memoir, entitled Secret Selves: How Their Changes Changed Me. A Mother's Story. Jamie's work is centred on the four most terrifying, yet transforming years in her family's home, the years during which her daughter transitioned into her son, and her second son shared a year of his life with five alternate personalities. It is the surprising, touching and sometimes humorous account of a mother trying to ease the panic and accept the unthinkable twists fate has dropped in her lap. Johnson lives in her home town in Ontario and works alongside her husband in their store.

An excerpt from Secret Selves by Jamie Johnson

Secret Selves, by Jamie Johnson
Paperback: 330 pages
Publisher: Transitions Studios (November 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0987845004
ISBN-13: 978-0987845009

They say there’s nothing like a mother’s love. But…just how far can that love be pushed? 

I wondered how to tell my 81-year-old, very religious mother, our secret. It had taken me so long to get through the tough initial stages of adjustment. But, my mom…well…she thought in very straight, very defined lines.

I pictured myself going to visit her, talking distractedly about the weather and then, with a burst of courage, handing her the family letter Julia had written to explain her private suffering. I would kiss my mom goodbye as her hand closed around the painful truth…and run. 

I couldn’t just leave her with a bomb like that, though. We had to tell her in person.  Picturing the look of confusion she would wear as we tried to explain this, however, haunted my thoughts. 

When Julia and I headed to her seniors’ home the afternoon was warm, but I shivered with the worry of the unknown. I wished the corridor leading to my mom’s room was longer that day, so I would have more time to somehow come up with just the right thing to say. 

Explaining would be a challenge. There have been times when being Julia’s mom has been effortless. When I look at photos, one from ’93 reminds me of sitting on the front porch, watching my daughter demonstrate the art of climbing a tree. It was a massive Maple, with branches in all the right places. Joey (5) watched eagerly. He thought his sister (9) could do anything. You could see his enthusiasm, the ache to be up there with her. It was adorable. Her scrappy personality reminded me of my fort-building, frog-catching years. My daughter was just like me.

There have also been times, however, when being Julia’s mom has been challenging.  During her youth, we’d meet people I knew, and they’d say, “This must be Joey?”  I’d search Julia’s face, but she looked…well, content. It bothered me, though, especially when it was still happening at sixteen. Her butch look suggested that she would eventually announce to the world that she was gay.

The truth was much more complicated. 

I couldn’t even imagine how complex that truth would seem to a reserved, small-town grandma…one who had lovingly taken her granddaughter to church every Sunday for years.  How would we get the words out?

My mom greeted us with a loving smile. I hated having to take her happy look away. 

I stalled with idle chatter, but talking about everyday things seemed to be winding my nerves tighter. It couldn’t wait any longer.

Timidly, I began, “Mom, we have something difficult to tell you about Jul.”  I had done it — I had stolen her contented look and replaced it with fear. I quickly continued, “She isn’t terminally ill or anything, but it might be something you’re not going to be happy about.”

I took The Letter out of the safety of my handbag. Her eyebrows lowered suspiciously, glancing quickly at Jul to see if this news was something she could recognize from across the room. I gingerly handed it to her and softly said, “This is a letter Jul wrote for our family.”

The day my daughter had told me, in 2003, I had come home to find her watching Oprah. 

Jul hates talk shows…must be pretty interesting.  Maybe I’ll watch a little

When I settled into my chair, I had no idea how difficult the show would be to sit through. All of Oprah’s guests were transgenders or transsexuals. They were born with reproductive organs that didn’t match how they felt in their hearts and souls. Doctors think it happens in the first trimester of pregnancy. As the fetus develops, the brain forms as one gender, and the body the other. It is referred to as Gender Identity Disorder. 

Each guest had been bruised by judgment. Some had been disowned by their families, lost friendships, or had trouble finding love. Being brutally beaten was not uncommon.

Jul had decided this was the time. She looked at me apprehensively and quietly said, “Mom, I think that is what I am.”

Jul’s letter was a much gentler way of sharing. 

As my mom opened it and began to read, I looked at Julia, or Kip, which was my new son’s chosen male name. Kip appeared as frightened as I felt. No matter what happened, though, I was there for my child.

My eyes returned to my mom.  She was reading with intense concentration.  I figured she was probably half way through Kip’s words.  Then it happened – our worst nightmare.  She lifted her head and glared a fierce look I can only describe as How Dare You- straight at Kip.  His most difficult moment had been telling me that he was a man, now that feeling was repeating itself. 

I had wanted this day, the day I introduced my new son to his grandma, to be painless.  My own rocky path to acceptance had started with denial. I had hoped for better this time.

I didn’t have to look at my son to know his horror, I could feel it. My mom’s piercing stare emitted raw anger. 

She looked back down to the page. 

Then time stopped. 

It couldn’t have taken her more than a few minutes to finish reading, but those few minutes seemed to last a lifetime.

Finally, she slowly stood up. God, I thought, what is she doing now?  She took a few awkward steps toward Kip…then put her arms around him. She quietly said, “Honey, I hope you don’t think we would ever stop loving you?”

Those words are engrained in my memory for life. Big, heavy tears rolled down my cheeks. I had worried for months about this moment. 

It’s estimated that more than 50 per cent of people like my child end their lives, or attempt to. Even the strongest consider it. The anguish of trying to live the role of the wrong gender is excruciating. And there is a consensus that telling their families is the hardest part in the whole process. Kip had expressed his worst fear in his letter — that he would lose the people he loved so dearly. 

Those words must have connected with my mom. My first reaction had been denial. Fortunately, I eventually arrived at acceptance and support, and luckily in time to rescue my relationship with Kip. I watched my mom as she stood hugging Kip tightly and realized that the “love-ability” of people could have amazing strength.

My mom slowly sat down. I attempted to explain as much as I could. 

From that moment, my memory becomes a blur. I do remember my mom’s eyebrows softening though, as she told us that she had always thought this sort of thing was a choice; that maybe she’d been wrong. Her anger had changed to compassion.

After a temporary moment of passion, my mom had received this difficult information with grace and an open heart. I learned that she could, when necessary, have a mind much more open than I had given her credit for.  

Kip and I left my mother’s room feeling half like we were in shock, barely able to believe my mom’s reaction, and half like we had been injected with pure love. 

A mother’s love can certainly surprise you sometimes…if given a chance.  

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