Being other.

I met Christopher about six months after I first arrived in Bangkok.  We met through mutual friends on a night that can only be described as ‘epic.’  We ate, drank, sang, danced till our feet bled and got along as if we had known each other all our lives.  Christopher made me laugh till my eyes teared and my belly hurt – in my view, the best kind of people.

He was a good looking man with a mass of fiery red hair, deep dark brown eyes that sparkled with mischief, alabaster white skin, tall and lean.  All the necessary ticks that will get a lady to look twice.  However, his mannerisms yelled out gay.  And that was all good with me, as I firmly believe every girl needs a ‘gazband’ (gay husband).

After that night Christopher and I spent loads of crazy nights and weekends together.  We became firm friends very quickly.  The experiencing and acquiring of all things fun was first and foremost on the agenda.  We sought out the hedonism that Bangkok nights offered like addicts.  We often slept over at each other’s places to make sure we both got home safe and unscathed.  Our shared hangovers were always severe and rendered us useless.  However, the recollections of the night’s antics and escapades would make us laugh till we gasped for air.

After one such antic-filled night, we ended up staying at Christopher’s apartment.  It was about midday, and we were still in bed, trying to claw our way back to some semblance of normality from the over indulgence of the night before.  We had just recovered from a fit of laughter after recalling an unfortunate incident involving Christopher, an imaginary cigarette, and a very cute barman when he turned to me with his serious face.  By this time, Christopher and I were together so many days and nights that we could read each other’s expressions perfectly.  We both suffered the fate of having no poker face; our emotions always blatantly revealed on our faces.  So when I saw that expression, I quickly sobered up, straightened my spine and readied myself for what was to come.

Now I might have left you with the impression that every moment Christopher and I were together was filled up with nothing other than moments of hedonism, but that was not always the case.  There were also many red wine fuelled sofa nights where we just spoke about everything.  We would discuss every topic under that sun, challenge each other’s long-standing beliefs on every subject and just vent about what we thought were unfair and undeserving.

Eventually, Christopher turned to me and asked: “Nols, what is the real reason you came to Bangkok?”  My initial thought was how strange that this topic never came up before, quickly followed by wondering why the question never came up before now.  We had spoken about our past before and briefly, flipped on the reasons we ended up in Bangkok, but I could sense that that was not what he was asking.  He wanted more; he needed to know about my introspection.  After a big sigh and a very quick decision to be completely honest, I said: “I am here to heal and learn to love myself.”  Christopher looked at me for what felt like the longest time and then slowly started nodding his head as if my answer confirmed what he was already thinking.  He dropped his chin to his chest, crossed his arms, gave a big sigh and then said: “ Me too.  I am not myself yet.  I am here learning to be me – the real me.” His voice and demeanor held the deepest sadness, but I could not figure out what he meant.  Also, I was slightly confused as Christopher always seemed happy, contented and confident. Clearly, it was not the case.  And I should have known better, the queen of sublimation herself.

We sat in silence for a while as I sensed that Christopher was not done, he just needed time.  After a few moments, he said: “Nols, I am going to tell you something that I’ve not told anyone, in fact, it’s something I had only admitted to myself a year ago.  Lots of people, honestly, everyone I know believes that  I’m gay, but I’m not.

Again I just sat and waited, not knowing what was coming next.  I braced myself for any possibility.

“I’m actually transgender, “ he finally said.  For the first time in forever, I was utterly speechless, gobsmacked.  No words have been invented to explain the confusion I felt accurately.  All I could muster at the time was a very lame, “Oh.”  As I sat on the bed trying to wrap my head around this, Christopher went on to speak and explain as best he could.

“That is the real reason I came to Thailand.  It is so that I can transition.  So I can be complete.  So can start to live my life on my terms.” All this time I sat silently listening and absorbing as best, I could, also, I felt that Christopher did not need me to say anything, he needed me to listen.

He continued: “I’ve been living as un-me for so long, I feel like I can’t breathe anymore.  I know what Atlas feels like, except my burden is not the world itself; rather it’s the weight of the world’s judgment, prejudice, stereotyping and fear.  Other people’s perception of how I should be has imprisoned me for as long as I can remember.  I know many people think I am gay, but I’m not – never have been.  My manner has always been feminine because that is who I am; that is how I feel.  No, it is who I feel.”

He finally lifted his head, uncrossed his arms, placed his hands on his lap and with a big sigh looked at me and said: “This is the quietest I’ve ever heard you.  You’ve not spoken a word in over 15 minutes – that must be a record for you.”  It was then that I snapped out of my stupor.  I straightened my spine, snapped my mouth shut, cleared my throat and said: “Well, I’ve always wanted a man to leave me speechless, but this is not quite what I had in mind.  The universe got it horribly wrong.”

We both just started howling with laughter; we could not contain ourselves.  Rolling on the bed, snorting between breaths then clutching our bellies and just laughing over and over again.  It must have been a full 10 minutes of uncontrollable, tension relieving, belling aching laughs.  We eventually just laid side by side on the bed staring at the ceiling, completely exhausted by the fits of laughter.  Christopher slowly turned his head to me and shyly asked: “What are your thoughts Nols?  Now that you know who I truly am; are you disappointed?”

I quickly jumped off the bed without saying a word and ran to the kitchen.  Christopher must have thought I was deserting him in his neediest hour, but I came back a few minutes later with two glasses brim full of red wine.  I stood at the bedroom door and said: “Hey, it is after midday, and I think this calls for a toast, a celebration and a plan for a shopping trip.  ‘Cause my new girlfriend is going to need some new clothes.”  Christopher gave me the biggest smile, I passed him his glass, placed mine on the bedside table and gave him the biggest hug I had the strength for and one that he could stand.  I whispered in his ear: “I could never be disappointed with a soul as brave as yours, or with a person as courageous as you.”

We picked up our glasses, clinked them together and toasted to the start of a new life, celebrated friendship and acceptance.  It was also the last time I ever referred to Christopher as he, or even used that name.

And that is now Christine’s journey to womanhood started, and how I met the bravest girl, I know in Bangkok.

Look out for part 2 of this journey – it is coming soon.

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