Saturday, April 29, 2017

Like Mother like Daughter

When I was in kindergarten, our mothers took it in turn to walk us home from school.  It wasn't far.  Our route lead us across a green park and into a housing estate.  You got to know the other kid's Mums and how they were different to yours. My Mum was feisty, short haired and outgoing. One of my friend's Mums less confident.  I think her name was Audrey.  She was kind, tender and gentle. I suppose that she was the epitome of a caring mother of that time. She took her turn with everyone else on the school walk home. One cold Winter's day, I ended up with dog mess on my shoes. Audrey kindly cleaned the mess off with a tissue. She was so kind to me; no blaming me for not watching where I was going like some of the other Mums did. It was however the last time I ever saw her.  Not long afterwards, she contracted pneumonia and died. She left two young children.  It was an awful shock.  Aged six, I couldn't imagine life without a mother.  How could any child manage? It was so tough on my friend with whom I used to play, even worse for the father.

My mother died a good many years ago now.  She too died from pneumonia.  She didn't live to see me marry Martin, nor to see her daughter blossom into the confident woman she is today. I really miss her. I've often wished I could chat to her and hear her voice. In our memories we tend to idealise our loved ones I think. My Mum is no exception. I knew her as a mother, someone who cared for me and about me.  I have come to realise though that motherhood is only a role: Behind it is a whole person.  We don't always see that individual for the complex adult that they are, especially when we are children.

More recently, clearing my father's house, I came across Mum's diaries.  They span the period between 1980 and the mid 90's before she became ill. They lay in a box for some years; I didn't feel emotionally strong enough to open them. More recently, I got them out again. I've begun to read them and to reconnect with her through her deeply private thoughts. It has been wonderful, like getting to know her again, but this time as an adult and a friend. So much of my mothers writing in 1980 was about the approach of a big birthday. She was more or less the age I am now. No longer a young Mum she had begun to take stock of her life so far, her sexuality and where her life was going. As I read her thoughts about that year I became aware of my Mum as a grown up person, one with deep feelings and aspirations, unmet needs, yearnings and a great capacity to love.  An author, and local politician she was clearly caught up in her writing but struggling to balance it with her married relationship and her immense capacity for love and intimacy.

Reading through the months and events of 1980, I realised that both my Mum and my Dad were balancing their sexual needs against their wish for companionship and support. They both loved each other deeply, that is clear. They stayed married throughout their lives.  They lived however in an adventurous era of wife swapping, free contraception and sexual experimentation. They weren't prudish. They were open with me about sexual relations, weren't ashamed about their nakedness and had a bookshelf full of books about sex. It wasn't foisted on me, but the books were there to be consulted if I wished and as a teenager I was told where to find the condoms if I ever needed them. I know that my father had a collection of girly magazines like many men, though they weren't on display.  They were behind the books and found by my curious teenage self accidentally one day. It was good to grow up with parents I could actually imagine being intimate enough to conceive me. I was lucky. Most of my friends couldn't. 

As I read my Mum's diaries I began to get to know her as a woman who enjoyed sexual release and fulfilment. She was also one who wasn't ashamed to get it outside her marriage.  I read about her recurring and purely sexual extra-marital relationship. One in which it's clear, my mother called the shots and he obliged her.  Looking back with new eyes at my parent's relationships, I realise that my father almost certainly had sex outside their marriage too. Wife swapping was certainly part of it and I realise now that, aged 14, I was used to babysit the other couple's children, while they had nights out. That makes me smile now.  I enjoyed babysitting and was good at it. You learn good mothering skills yourself that way. I had no idea at the time however what was really happening. My parents were certainly discrete.

I feel closer to my Mum now than I ever did as a child.  Reading her diaries has elicited a great respect for my feminist mother who was quite clearly very sex-positive in attitude. I feel a new affinity to a woman whose nurturing and caring took a while to have their effect. Being sexually adventurous doesn't stop you being a good mother. I realise now that Mum knew perfectly well about my gender confusion. As a teen I borrowed her clingy sweaters and her coats with her blessing. The same dress size, we shared jeans and a certain orange kaftan! Earlier, as a preteen child, I naively hid a pile of modified clothes underneath old toys at the back of my wardrobe.  These were jeans I had turned into skirts, cute little cut offs, shirts modified into side tie blouses, hair ribbons, kirbigrips, barrettes and some of my mother's old sandals. My Mum must have been aware of them. She also assured me that sewing wasn't sissy; lots of men were tailors and sailors in the navy had to mend their own clothes....  Now I wonder whether this was to save my embarrassment when I asked to learn. Did my illicit summer trips into the city wearing those clothes really go unnoticed when I was in my teens? While she almost certainly knew, she probably wanted to spare me censure and stigmatisation. Tentatively asking me if I was Gay was the nearest we got to discussing my gender dysphoria.

People comment now on the marked resemblance between me and my mother.  They recognise the same facial features and something of her attitudes and life philosophies.  I'm flattered. For a child who was pronounced her baby boy at birth, it is lovely to hear and validating to acknowledge the truth of their comparisons. Even so, I'm not wholly like her. I have a deeply satisfying sexual relationship and don't feel the need to find it outside my marriage. What I owe to my Mum is my unwillingness to stigmatise those who do. Some of my friends are poly-amorous, they have more than one love and for all I know, my mother was the same. I realise now that my work as an adult glamour model wouldn't shock my mother either, neither would the lives of any other friends who work elsewhere in the sex industry. 

Later in my teens, I shocked teachers and my school debate team mates by giving an address on legalising pornography. My Mum helped me prepare my well researched case with evidence and facts.  She herself had argued for the legalisation of prostitution to protect the girls who's work it is. It was a lesson well learned. My mother never publicly avowed me as her daughter though she raised me as one. She did so because she acknowledged, loved and respected the girl within me.  She also gave me the sexual confidence to hold my own in a relationship and to thrive as a woman. That was so important in what is still a patriarchal society. I am so indebted to her. 

There is much talk and silliness about whether Trans women are actually women. Of course they are. If my mother could accept me as the girl I am, so can my sisters. To deny a girl her upbringing and shared experiences is to divide and exclude. Exclusion isn't part of the feminism I embrace, nor should it be part of anyone else's.

HUGGS, Jane xx

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