Content Warning: I will be describing coming out, transphobia, homophobia, gaslighting, non-consensual touching, and incest. This does not include outright sexual assault. There will be strong language. Please be safe.
July 15, 2017.
I’m twenty-seven. I’m in a bathroom stall at the local shopping centre, in the ladies’ room – of all the fucking ironic places. Don’t worry, my pants are on, this isn’t that kind of story. I’m just crying. I’m in the ladies’ room, in a bathroom stall, and I’m crying, and I’m typing frantically on my phone.
My best friend is on the other end.
Reader, it took me years, fuck knows it’s not even that big of a deal, but I think now, today, I want to tell you what happened.
You have to understand I was living alone at the time, far away from my fantastic, amazing, supportive parents. Even farther away from my fantastic, amazing, supportive partner. I had exactly one family member around. If I was going to say something out loud, with my vocal cords, with quivering sounds and whatever facial expression my muscles deemed appropriate in the moment, I couldn’t very well pick and choose. It had to be my uncle. He shall remain nameless, not for his protection, not for mine, just because a name is pointless. You don’t know the man. And if you do know the man, you’ve probably already put two and two together. It’s hardly rocket science.
It had to be my uncle, and here’s how it went.
We’re at the mall together. Later, I have a haircut scheduled nearby. I’ve been going shorter and shorter, inch by inch, tentatively. I’m not some sort of uninhibited hair-hacking barbarian. Inch by inch, tentatively, I’ve been going shorter, and shorter, and it’s felt good.
As we walk by the lingerie aisle, I glance over at the bras and something possesses me to open my mouth. “And none of those are my size!”
Look, I knew what conversation would likely follow. I knew what I was awkwardly hinting at, what I was fumbling my way towards, and I knew it was one of the worst possible ways to start this particular conversation. I didn’t plan it. I couldn’t have planned it if I’d tried. I was barely aware of myself. All I knew was I’d been going shorter, and shorter, and it had felt good.
“You are rather well endowed, it’s true,” he says.
“Yeah,” I say. “I hate it.”
“No,” he says. “It’s beautiful.”
“No. I hate it.”
“Well, you’re not going to get a breast reduction, are you?”
At this point, you may be thinking this is all extremely inappropriate, and here’s the thing.
Yes. Yes, it is.
That “haha, very funny” in his voice doesn’t bode well, not that I was expecting anything else. I’m beginning to reevaluate my decision-making abilities, but now I’m in. There’s a lump in my throat. I shrug.
“No!” he says. “You’re going to get yourself butchered? Plastic surgery? Really?”
Now I’m getting defensive. “You have no idea how heavy it is! And yeah, even aesthetically, I think it’s way too much.”
He looks at me. “It’s not too much.”
“I’m wearing a binder,” I tell him. “It’s specifically designed to flatten my chest.”
“I can’t believe this! My niece who’s asexual…”
Oh, yeah. Back then, I thought I was asexual. I’m not. More on that here.
“Well, this is more of a ‘your niece who’s trans’ thing,” I say.
“Yeah, but you’re not really trans.”
I’m debating whether or not it’s appropriate to cry at this point. He’s talking a bit loud, and it’s taking me everything I have to refrain from shushing him. I shrug again.
“I’m thinking about it,” I mumble.
“No way! You want to become a guy? You’re not going to do that to me, are you? Guys are ugly! I have a niece. I don’t want another nephew. I have enough of those!”
Fuck, he’s loud. Is someone looking?
I hush a bit. “Jesus, chill. I didn’t say I was going to do anything. But wow, thanks a lot for the support. That’s good to know.”
He’s on a roll. He’s on a fucking roll now. “I have to say, this is something I can’t understand. Mind you, I’m not attracted to guys. I mean, if you’ve felt in the wrong body forever… Have you felt like this for a long time?”
“Couldn’t you sort of tell when I was growing up?”
“Not at all!”
“I think you saw what you wanted to see.”
“No, not at all! You used to play ‘ladies’ with your cousin.”
“I have no memory of that.”
“I’m only stating facts. Please don’t do this.”
“I didn’t say I was going to do anything! Don’t freak out!”
“Would Phil be okay with that?”
“So he’s gay?”
Reader, he didn’t say “gay”.
Then the topic got changed, we parted ways, and I beelined for the restroom.
It’s July 15, 2017. I’m twenty-seven, in a bathroom stall in the ladies’ room, and I’m crying. Quiet, like. Don’t want anyone to ask questions. Don’t want anyone to see me, if I’m honest. I feel disgusting. I feel gross and misshapen and repulsive.
Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room. At some point during that rant, if you didn’t get bored and click off the page, you probably started thinking “Whoa, whoa, whoa. This has gone beyond inappropriate and we’re now knee-deep in plain old creepy.” Well, let me tell you something.
That’s what she said.
Nobody had ever said those things to me before. “This is not OK.” The words were new. The behaviour was not.
It was no secret, either. It was out in the open for everyone to see. The blatant favouritism. My brother “had his temper”, but I could do no wrong. The constant drone of “that’s my niece”, “my niece is sexy”, “what an amazing, smart, sexy woman my niece is”.
I drew the line. He conveniently forgot. I drew the line again and again and again. Whenever he said “my niece”, emphasis on the possessive. Whenever we hugged and he kept an arm around me. Whenever he suggested I dress sexier when singing for an audience. Whenever someone took a family picture and his hand found the back of my neck.
It was no secret. The people around me knew and sometimes they’d tell him off. He’d act all hurt, and stop for a bit. The people around me probably got bored of telling him off. I know I did. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t unacceptable either. It was an annoyance. It was meh.
It was so meh, in fact, that to this day, whenever I try to talk about it, my brain fights back.
“Yeah, he’s annoying, but he’s harmless. It’s not like he’s a predator.”
“He’d never do anything about it.”
“Think of all the fun moments you had together when you were a kid.”
“You humoured him, so he thought it was okay.”
“You liked the attention, didn’t you? Didn’t you like at least some of the compliments?”
“You’re making it sound worse than it actually was.”
But you know what? I’m not embellishing anything here. I’m not ad-libbing. Maybe it sounds bad because it is bad. I can honestly tell you that the man never crossed the line into illegal. Whether or not that’s good enough, well, why don’t you decide?
I got the haircut.
A month later, I got another haircut. Baby steps eventually add up. Eventually…
I got from here…
… to here.
And my uncle? Well.
We don’t talk anymore.