WILLIAM LAWRENCE | CREATIVES
Francis sat in the waiting room, leg bouncing anxiously as he chewed on the sleeve of his oversized jumper. His jeans, too long and rolled at the cuffs, scraped gently against his calves.
“Francis Brookes?” a voice called. It took him a moment to process that the call was for him, his head whipping to the side as soon as it sunk in. His eyes were wide, heart pounding, knee frozen halfway through its jittering. A tall woman, long hair falling in brown curls around her kind face, smiled at him - the owner of that voice. “Would you like to come through?”
Swallowing his nerves, he followed, rising from the hard plastic of the waiting room chairs and soon sinking down into the cushions of a white armchair in Dr. Reed’s office. Dr. Reed herself – who had personally collected him from the waiting room; something about that comforted him – sat down in a matching armchair across from him. She settled in her chair, notebook in her lap, and smiled at him.
“It’s good to meet you, Francis,” she said, voice warm and genuine. “How can I help you?”
He breathed in deeply, shakily, and cut to the chase. “I’m trans,” he said, not meeting her eyes. He ran a hand over the fuzzy regrowth of his recently shaved head. “If you hadn’t guessed already. I mean, it’s what you specialise in.” He glanced at her, at the warm smile she still held, and caught the encouraging nod she gave him. He dropped his hand. “I don’t know what to do. I want to transition, but I don’t know how. I don’t know how to talk about it.”
“Well,” she began, smile growing a bit. “I’d say you’re doing brilliantly so far.”
Francis huffed out a laugh, sitting back more comfortably in his chair.
Francis had a habit of willing away hours, inadvisably, watching videos of hard candy being made. There was something mesmerising in the repetition of it all; fold and pull, fold and pull, fold and pull - until, eventually, it began to look like something entirely new. He began to feel like those candy makers, working and working at the same thing, over and over, throwing all his strength into it until the finished product began to form in front of him. Except it was himself he was throwing against a wall, over and over - it sure as hell felt vulnerable enough. He felt stretched thin, revealing the core of himself for all to see, for the air to permeate, over and over again.
He had thought, at the start, that it would be a one-and-done experience; he would muster the courage to say those words – I’m trans – and his world would come crashing down around him in seconds, crumbling and reforming into something nearly unrecognisable from what it was; that he would look back at himself from months, weeks ago and see someone entirely different.
The idea had terrified him, really; the uncertainty of who he would become, of the world he would step into.
It was bittersweet, then, to realise it was like pulling candy. Slow and hard and seemingly never-ending. But the result was always worth it – carefully crafted, deliberate, something so different from how it began, yet still made from the same stuff. It was a process, recrafting oneself, but the reward was sweet.
Everyone should learn to sew, his grandmother had said, holding a seven-year-old Francis in her lap, helping him guide the fabric through, the steady thrum of the needle as it rose and fell keeping time. It’ll save you a world of trouble, someday.
Looking back, as he sat before his own sewing machine, the memory always cracked a smile. His grandmother, as she’d taught him to make his own skirts and frocks, was unlikely to have ever predicted this being the reason the sewing machine became his salvation, but she had been right. The machine’s light shone as he guided another pant leg through it – clothes hemmed at the ankle, out at the waist, in at the shoulders, turning dresses he once loved into shirts and shorts, making his own clothes wholesale to get by in a world where men’s clothes didn’t fit men like him.
He hadn’t cared much about clothes for a long time. He’d never seen the appeal his friends seemed to, never felt the draw that was expected of him as a teenager. He understood it, now, sending silent apologies to all the people he’d written off as shallow. There was an inexplicable joy in an outfit that was him.
He reversed the needle, sending the seam over itself to seal it, cut the thread, and slipped into jeans that fit now. Something, at last, that was made for him; not oversized, not the odd mix of too-loose and too-tight at once, no compromises.
“A world of trouble, for sure,” he said, and chuckled to himself.
How long will it take? Francis had asked, in that first appointment in Dr. Reed’s office, in what felt like eons ago. He had barely been able to put voice to his thoughts. He had only told friends via text because his throat had caved in on itself whenever he tried to talk about it, and yet he’d been desperate to get it over with. It had felt like a box he needed to tick. Step one: tell everyone you love that you’re trans. Step two: transition, so you never have to talk about it again.
Dr. Reed’s smile had softened, in that matching armchair of hers, sympathy etched clearly on her face. How long is a piece of string? she’d asked, and Francis remembered almost resenting her for it. There’s no timeline, Francis, she’d explained. And no end goal, either. Everyone wants different things out of their transitions, and everyone will find their own points where they’re happy with where they are. It might take two years, or ten, or no time at all. Her voice had softened, and he’d dreaded whatever would come out of her mouth next.
But you’re going to be trans for the rest of your life, Francis. And that’s ok.
He hadn’t understood it at all, at the time. I know that. That’s obvious. He thought about it again as he laced up his boots and considered, with a few years of experience under his belt, that he got what she meant now. It wasn’t a race and there wasn’t a finish line. There would always be time. He wasn’t the frightened teenager he had been when he first began to notice the unease that settled in his stomach when he heard his birth name. He wasn’t the hesitant boy he’d been in Dr. Reed’s office. He probably wouldn’t always be this Francis either, out and loud and in-your-face in a way he never expected he would be. He would always be changing, shifting, finding what fit him and his expression on that day, in that minute. He would never be a woman, and he would never be a cisgender man. He would always be Francis.
He shrugged on his jacket and set off to carve his place in the world.
You set the pace, Francis, Dr. Reed had said. You do this at your own speed. He had failed to consider, when she said this, that not everyone would match it. His grandmother had done her best, sitting down with him and a pile of childhood photos to see whether he wanted to keep them or not. Looking at pictures of him as a baby, sleeping and laughing and getting into all kinds of mess, unfamiliar with the complexities of the world and unknown by it in turn, he’d laughed and felt warm and given her permission to keep all of them. There was an age – he couldn’t pinpoint it exactly – when the photos started setting off that unease, where he couldn’t quite recognise the child in them as himself anymore, but they were his history nonetheless. Young Francis in dresses and skirts and sparkly shoes had led him to where he was now. He didn’t want to forget that.
His parents had a harder time adjusting. He both understood it and didn’t; he couldn’t imagine how it had come as much of a shock, after he’d shaved his head and started shopping exclusively in the men’s section, but he could understand it was a change, and a difficult one at times. So he gave them his patience – as much as he felt he could, and then some. He sat through their stumbles and corrected them when he had the energy. He bore their awkwardness when he brought friends around who used his name and pronouns freely and openly, watched them adjust their language around others only to slip right back into she and her and his birth name as soon as company left. Transition was a process, for him and everyone involved, so he gave them time. As hard as it was.
On his twenty-second birthday, almost three years after he’d come out to them, he watched apprehensively as his mother fidgeted with the blue envelope in her hands. He took it with a smile and a thanks, mum, noticing the lack of address curiously. Francis slipped a finger under the top corner of the seal, and tore. His mother stood beside him, hands wringing, gaze intent. His eyes flickered up to her, brow pinched as he wondered what was making her so nervous.
The card slid out, and he understood. Letters swirled across the front, white on baby blue:
Our darling son, on your birthday.
His stomach swooped as he flipped it open – the tacky, cheesy newsagent card meaning far more to him than the two dollars it probably cost – for once more interested in the note than the money within it.
Dear Francis, it read. Happy birthday. We’re so proud of you. Love, Mum & Dad.
His eyes welled as he looked up at his mum, at her nervous smile and matching damp eyes. She laughed as, a moment later, the full weight of an adult boy propelled itself into her arms. Francis’ beard scratched against the soft weave of her cardigan, his arms wrapped tight around her as she hugged him back.
“I’m sorry it took us so long,” she whispered into his shoulder. “Thanks for being so patient.”
He nodded against her, squeezing tighter. “Thanks for getting there. Thanks for catching up.”
Transition was a path, a process, a journey. It was inconsistent, and messy, and personal. Sometimes it was scary. Sometimes it hurt. Sometimes, though, it was joyful. Sometimes it was really fucking beautiful.