Bruce & Carrie & Travis & AnnikabyCinner©
"I now pronounce you, husband and wife!" the portly, good-natured minister declared.
Everyone cheered wildly and applauded as loudly as they could. Jacqueline, a recovering post-operative transsexual woman, reflected on the eighteen months that had passed since they all knew that there was love in the air in their support group, and how they had come to be here today. She grinned broadly at the delighted couple, and at their mutual friends who had served as best man and matron of honour. They were all happy and revelled in the fact of being in love with life and each other.
It hadn't always been like that though, and Jacqueline thought some more about that time; and shook her head. She could not have scripted this better had she done so herself.
"Hello everyone! My name is Bruce, but if you come to see me at work at The Cave in Montego Bay, you'll see the divine, Miss Davinia!"
Jacqueline looked up from her blackberry and smiled at Bruce.
"Hello Bruce; welcome!" she intoned along with everyone else, somewhat amused.
There were only four other people at the meeting the first night that Bruce Lewis joined the support group. Carrie Tang, Travis Peynado and Annika Karlsdottir were all old hands at this; Jacqueline Conway had joined the group more recently after undergoing two years of gender corrective surgery and moving back to her island homeland. Although respected as a vast resource to the group, she had not been included in the clique's inner circle despite the fact that they had been very friendly and welcoming.
Everyone smiled at Bruce. They all knew that he would soon become more quietly interested. That enthusiasm and the fact that they were all smart, professional people who sometimes cross-dressed at nights and on weekends, and who were considering going the whole way and undergoing operations with a view to becoming the people who lived beneath their skins, were what they had in common.
Carrie, a former psychologist, now artist with an important solo exhibition in New York under her belt, was the first to speak beyond the cursory welcome.
"Nice start, Bruce. Would you like to continue?"
Bruce hesitated. It was obvious that he had not rehearsed this beyond his opening salvo. Carrie was a kind woman though, and she was sure that after her change she would be friends with people like Bruce: the sweet and vulnerable.
"Would you prefer it if we all introduced ourselves to you first before you told us your story? It might make you more comfortable to talk to friends."
"Thank you," Bruce whispered.
Jacqueline introduced herself next, and could see that Bruce looked at her with reverence, the others with respect. She was the only person in the group who had as yet actually gone through with sexual reassignment surgery, though that was the plan for everyone. Jacqueline's profession was vague. She freelanced and was an advocate for transgender rights on the island.
"Annika?" Carrie said after Jacqueline was done speaking.
"Hello everyone, I'm Annika." The voice was heavily accented. She seemed to be genuinely Scandinavian; interesting in a place like Jamaica.
"Welcome back, Annika," Carrie and Travis said encouragingly.
It was clear that they really had become friendly with each other.
"I'm a business woman on my own now. My little bed-and-breakfast is doing very well and we had our first long-term reservation this week! Someone called booking all our rooms for a family gathering at Christmas. I was very gratified! She said that she had stayed with us before and that she found our inn delightful. She was planning to bring her relatives from overseas to stay with us while they explored their ancestral home and reconnected with loved ones here."
Everyone applauded. Annika beamed.
"It is very gratifying to be able to live as I choose. I have done it in this area of my life and I want to go further. My soon-to-be-ex-husband does not understand this about me. He has tried to turn my children against me. That I want to be a man does not mean that I am rejecting him, or that I'm gay or that I need to be killed as he threatened to do! It just means that I am embracing my true self. I have been unhappy about Marvin's attitude, but I suppose I understand it. I hope that you have a better time than I have had, Bruce."
Travis and Carrie murmured quiet support. It was only his pride that had prevented Annika's husband from exposing her plans to the world precipitously. They had discussed the probable need for all of them to make plans to leave the island permanently after their change. Exile was something that none of them had considered before joining the group, but now being older and wiser they would help this enthusiastic newbie. Jacqueline's public profile had brought mixed results, but she was a start that everyone appreciated.
Bruce shuffled in his chair, a flush on his face. Jacqueline was sympathetic. Annika had singled him out. She had had that effect on Travis in the early days, and on many of the other men who popped in and out of the group. In all, there were about a dozen of them on the island that they knew of, who were considering gender reassignment. Annika was an incredibly beautiful woman who could have been an international supermodel if she wanted, but who wanted instead to be a man. Even for someone also wanting to be a transsexual man herself, Carrie had confided in Jacqueline that she couldn't fully understand Annika's decision. Jacqueline had found that revelation interesting.
"May I ask questions?" Bruce croaked.
"Certainly," Annika said, smiling encouragingly.
That was unwise, because Bruce obviously lost his nerve again after Annika spoke to him. Annika's needs had nothing to do with not cutting it as a successful woman. None of them were unsuccessful in life, they were just unhappy with some snippet of the life that God had given them. Annika had said in the group that it was no different from other women wanting bigger breasts. Of course, it was much more complicated than that, but Carrie had told everyone that she had used that line on her sister when she had explained her plans to her, and got the laugh that helped to get them both through the conversation.
"It's nothing! I-I just wanted to clarify the rules of engagement here," Bruce stammered.
"Well may I ask you a question, Bruce?" Travis asked.
"What do you do when you're not being The Divine Miss Davinia?"
"I'm a lawyer."
"Are you planning to continue in your career?"
"I haven't come to a decision about that. I've been moonlighting at The Cave on the North Coast, and I'm quite popular there. It's as if I become a different person. I feel so alive! I feel braver, more confident in who I am. It's funny really. I take the stage in the courtroom; and I do alright," Bruce was breathless as he hastened to reassure them of his competence.
"But nobody knows the fear that I have to punch through to get to my feet and do my work. I'd say that I'm naturally shy," his voice dipped as if even saying that about himself cost him something. "Yet, I sing and dance and do a strip tease as Miss Davinia and I feel none of that! I just can't explain it! I want to be her all the time. So, yes, I suppose I'm leaning toward leaving the law. I have to wait to see if I am more comfortable being a woman in other situations."
"You haven't gone out in public as a woman except for when you're being Miss Davinia?"
"I have a few times, but I was worried about what my neighbours would think."
No one said anything, and in the awkward pause that settled on the company, Bruce stopped talking and looked around suspiciously at everyone. Jacqueline noticed how his body folded in and guessed that if they didn't act quickly this would be his last meeting with them. Carrie obviously noticed it too.
"I think that you should go out more as a woman," Carrie said, cheerfully. "Remember that you've told your doctor that you want to be a woman full-time and that is why you're here with us in this group today. Don't let anyone second-guess your decision. What you do is not your neighbours' business. I think that you'd be quite a head-turner. I think that your new-found confidence will attract good people to your life; and to yours too Annika," she said turning to the woman on her left.
"You don't have to leave the law if you don't want to. Annika was a hotelier in a large chain before she opened her own place. The point about this is to do exactly what you want to do with your life."
Jacqueline could see that Carrie carefully watched Bruce relax as she spoke. She smiled. Carrie really ought to consider staying in psychology and forget art, Jacqueline thought. These people needed her. They all did.
"Travis? Would you like to introduce yourself to Bruce next?" Carrie asked, taking charge again, as she seemed to do naturally.
"Sure. I'm Travis. I'm a doctor, and I intend to continue to practice medicine."
At 50, Travis was the oldest member in the group. He had had a phenomenally successful career in trauma work and research at a large teaching hospital. He had won every accolade, married well, divorced and had three successful children; but since none of these trophies made him very happy, he had gone into therapy to see what the problem was. He and his current live-in partner, Jill, were surprised, but not overly so, when Travis admitted to himself, finally, that he wanted to be a woman called Francine.
Jill and the children had been very supportive. Surprisingly so, Travis had said. They had said that they were only saddened that Travis had lived for so long without being truly happy. Travis adored his family. He had always done so, but their support of his decision had made him even more in love with them all. He had struggled with the implications that his decision would have on their lives. In the end he and Jill had decided to share a home even after Travis' change. They were best friends. They had been passionate lovers in the early years but that had simmered down into a comfortable companionship that neither felt needed to change. Slam dunk!
"So how will you feel if Jill decides to date someone after your change?" Carrie asked gently.
Travis froze. The room went quiet again.
"I am not married," Bruce offered, tentatively. "It took me a long while to sort out my head space on this. I actually came out to a few of my closest friends as being gay before I realised what I really wanted."
Carrie and Annika turned to look at him, and away from the pensive Travis.
"But who ever heard of a gay lawyer in Jamaica? Homosexuality is still illegal though times are changing now. I was talking about all this with a friend who told me that her office at UWI did not hire someone who was a recovering post-operative transsexual once. She thought it unfair, and that the lady was being discriminated against, but she was not in a position to influence the decision about it. I know that I can count on her support for my decision, but I don't think that I really have anyone else in my corner."
Annika grunted understanding.
"I don't even know how that will happen for me now; marriage and a family."
"Nonsense! You are a very attractive person!" Annika interjected, in her clipped accent. "You will make a very pretty woman, and men will like you. Who knows, I might even marry you myself!"
Bruce smiled. It was clear that he did not want to seem to be laughing at her, but it was equally obvious that he found Annika's prophesy funny. Women like her didn't look at men like him, even now. He didn't feel that he had enough machismo.
"Would it be possible for all of us to come next week dressed as we really see ourselves?" Carrie asked, suddenly.
Everyone agreed; and so it was that Gustav, Bettinia, Taylor and Francine came to the meeting the next week. Jacqueline had no need to come as anyone else. She was already completely invested in the process; but she wouldn't have missed this for the world.
"Hello everyone, I'm Taylor Tang," Carrie said. "Perhaps it would be helpful if we all introduced ourselves."
She turned toward Bruce.
"Hello everyone, I'm Bettinia Evans, formerly Bruce Lewis. I've been thinking about it since last week and I think that a complete break from the past would do me some good; so I'm not going to call myself Bettinia Lewis, and I'm not staying in the law," he said shyly.
"Hello, I'm Gustav Karlsson," Annika said, unwittingly brusquely, her thick accent clipping her words harshly.
Jacqueline stifled a smile when she saw Bruce sit back a bit. She found it amusing when he put his hands in his lap casually. Jacqueline and Carrie exchanged brief glances and tried hard not to look at his groin. For the first time since the previous week, Jacqueline considered Annika's joking proposal and wondered if there was a future for a couple from within the group. Life could be damn unfair. People like Annika always landed on their feet, didn't they?
"I am Francine Peynedo-O'Rielley," Travis said languidly, cutting across Jacqueline's jealous thoughts. "I've decided to use my mother's maiden name as well, from now on. It will help Jill to explain me if she cares to; it should also keep some of the sharks at bay, and it will be a link to my past, I think."
Jacqueline had noticed that Francine had shaved her legs. She wore low-heeled sensible shoes, but looked very elegant sitting there with her legs tuned under the chair. It almost masked her amused smirks at the Bruce and Annika drama playing out in the room, and her good-humoured understanding with Carrie that they would mock the world together. Jacqueline wondered if there would be any chance at all for Carrie's Taylor with Francine after their change. Bruce and Annika were giving her hope. Some people, and she was hoping that Travis was one of them, went for the androgynous Asian look that Carrie carried so well. Jacqueline hoped that her increased confidence when she became Taylor full-time would help Carrie to find a life partner where her previous career success had not. Jacqueline decided that she really liked Carrie and that she would like Taylor too after Carrie's surgeries.
"Is it too early to suggest that we go out as a group for drinks, and see how we feel?" Taylor asked an hour into their meeting.
Everyone agreed, and so they found themselves as a little group of friends at one of Kingston's hottest night spots, for a more discerning crowd. They had all been there before, and Jacqueline was amused that the others were awed by the fact that no one recognised them. The live band played a nice reggae-jazz fusion to which Taylor shyly asked Francine to dance, after a discrete nudge from Jacqueline, while they waited for their meals to arrive. It was obviously surprising to Carrie to be accepted, and Jacqueline was pleased to see that Carrie learned something else about her preparedness for being a man: she really had to be more assertive. Annika had it down pat. She was already a Gustav, Jacqueline thought. Jacqueline wondered if she would dare to bring up this epiphany at their next meeting, but decided instead that it would be best for Carrie as Taylor to discover this for himself. Jacqueline had not forgotten Carrie's comment about not understanding Annika's decision to become a man even as she had made the same decision herself. Jacqueline decided that she was going to have to find a way to drop a word that each of them needed to go out more in public as their new selves, and see how they really felt about their impending changes.
By the time Taylor and Francine returned to the table Gustav and Bettinia were already firm friends, playing mischievous footsy under the table. Taylor and Francine exchanged startled looks. Jacqueline just smirked back at them. That was fast! Jacqueline couldn't decide how she felt about this, since it was Carrie's often-expressed view that one ought not to make too many major decisions in tandem with a decision as large as the one about gender reassignment. Jacqueline endorsed that belief.
"What's happening, guys? Bruce? Annika?" Carrie asked, accusingly.
"Nothing! We're just getting to know each other," Gustav remarked. "We've decided that we're going to be there for each other. Bettinia will hold my hand through my surgeries, and I will hold hers through hers. Neither of us has the family support that you two do, but it seems as if we don't need it after all since we have each other now."
Francine smiled kindly, but Carrie seemed angry. Jacqueline was interested in that reaction. She had always thought of herself as being a good judge of character and she believed that Carrie was interested in Travis and that she would be in love in Francine even after becoming Taylor, but now she wondered if she had been mistaken and that Carrie had been interested in Annika all this time.
"What are you doing, Annika?" Carrie cried. "You know that Bruce can't make big changes on top of this very big change that he's about to make!"
"Forgive me, but it seems to be you who is confused about whether you want to be Carrie or Taylor," Gustav said in Annika's usual forthright manner. "Bettinia and I are comfortable with our decisions. You have spent so much time analysing and helping the rest of us that you have forgotten to sort out your own feelings, my friend. You haven't even been able to remember to call us Gustav and Bettinia while on this outing, and it was your idea that we do this."
This was true. Jacqueline had noticed it as well. Francine signalled to both women to tone their voices down. Although the music was loud, the place was crowded, and their conversation would probably soon begin to attract interested stares if it continued for much longer. Francine needn't have worried though, because no one was in a very talkative mood after the confrontation between Carrie and Annika's Gustav.
Carrie did not return to the meetings for three weeks after that. A surprisingly despondent Travis had called her, and been told that she just needed a little time to sort out some "stuff". It was strange not to have her around. She really was the recognised and, until now, unacknowledged leader of the group. Jacqueline did not want to be the leader even though she had the most experience with the process. She had served in the capacity as "advisor" and was happy with that since she believed that she was allowing the others to find their own voices.
Jacqueline found it interesting that it was Carrie who had the psychological training to help her friends, yet it seemed that she was having the most difficult time of them all to adjust her thinking. As a doctor, Travis felt it his duty to try to fill in for Carrie's absence. Although not a psychologist, he knew enough to know that the group needed to mourn Carrie's loss. Beyond that, Annika and Bruce needed to understand that Carrie's withdrawal was ultimately, not their fault. Transmen and transwomen linked up all the time, and it was sweet that they had formed a strong friendship before their truly rough days of surgical gender correction, and recovery, began.
One man rejoined the group. Jacqueline reflected that they had last seen him six months ago, long before they met Bruce and knew about Carrie's doubts. They were not sure about him; Jacqueline suspected that he was a journalist looking for a story, and said so to the others, and so no one opened a discussion about their problem with Carrie for several weeks. Then Francine lingered after the meeting one night, and invited Bruce, Jacqueline and Annika for drinks after their session. Francine explained that Carrie had been in touch and that they had resolved some of her issues. Francine asked if anyone would have a problem with Carrie rejoining their little group.
Annika told the others that she and Bruce had decided to marry as soon as her divorce from Marvin came through and that they would remarry after they became Gustav and Bettinia and her birth certificate was fixed in Uppsala and his was in Kingston. They knew that it was a quick decision, but it felt right and they were sure that it was for the best. Francine was quiet for the rest of the evening, reflective.