I wrote the following very short entry for the Penguin Blog in support of my story, “Trans,” in the anthology LOVE IS A FOUR LETTER WORD, which is about broken hearts and breakups. The entry I post herewith; the blog itself you can visit here, if you want, and read more from the other authors about this subject, and their own stories.
Breaking Up With Myself
by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Nine years ago, I made a big stack of all the clothes I had ever worn and gave them to the homeless. This included wingtip shoes, three-piece suits, Grateful Dead T-shirts, ties, belts, cotton shirts and boxer shorts. Pffft, down the chute. A moment like this is one of the rites of passage for transsexuals in transition, or can be. It was for me.
And yet it was not without a bittersweet pang that I hauled the bags of clothing down to Goodwill. What I realized was that I was saying farewell not only to the Perry Ellis suit and the Timberland jacket, but to the man I had been when I had worn them. In some twisted way, I was breaking up with myself.
Fifteen years earlier, I’d broken up with Allison (an account of which appears in Love is a Four Letter Word). I was glad to be done with the endless bickering, (like the night after my friend Tim died, and she said, “I’m glad he’s dead! He was so annoying!”) On the other hand, Allison was the person I’d been closest to when my father died, when I lost my first job, when I got my first short story published.
It was Allison who’d held me in her arms, when I was twenty-five, on the day that the dog I’d gotten as my eleventh birthday present was put to sleep.
So when we broke up, I wasn’t only losing her. I was losing the person I had been during the time we were together.
It’s like that Hopkins poem, “To a Young Child,” when our man tells little grieving Margaret, “It is the doom that man was born for; it is Margaret that you mourn for.”
I think the same thing is true of breakups. When we lose someone we’ve loved, it’s not only that relationship we mourn. It’s the loss of our own history, a connection to the people we have been.
I was so glad when I left the world of being James, and began the world of being Jenny. In its own way, it was a miracle. Still, after I gave away my clothes, I thought: Who would know that the stains on that striped shirt had come from the Beaujolais I drank the night I got engaged? Who would know that that green tie was the one I’d worn that day in high school, when I wrecked my parents’ car?
I think about the man I used to be, now and again, with fondness, and bereavement, and wonder idly, what ever became of that dude? I look at photographs of my younger self, and heave a sigh, and think the thing we all think as we grow older, and our former selves recede: You never call. You never write.