Breaking Up With Myself

417cw8Su9BL._SL500_AA240_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.


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One Comment

  1. Morgan
    Posted September 19, 2009 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    September 20, 2009

    Dear Professor Boylan,

    I found your article “Breaking Up With Myself” to be a revelation. Here I am, doing battle with decades of GD, seeing a gender therapist I trust, and yet remaining uncommitted to a clear course of action regarding the perennial question “to transition or not to transition…”

    Your article helped me understand that I struggle with the thought of losing the person I have been. Until now, I had thought my stalled process what the result of not wanting to hurt my family. You have shown me that I often struggle because I am afraid of being suddenly adrift without my previous history and selfhood (no matter how painful) on which to rely.

    May I ask you this–”Have you just become aware of this insight, or did you have to confront this loss of James during your own transition process?” If so, what helped you to follow through with transition, and to find the courage to align your body with your Self?

    I would be grateful to learn from whatever comments you have to share. With kindest regards, Professor Boylan, I remain,

    Sincerely,

    Morgan

    .

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