For Old Acquaintance
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne…
~Robert Burns, 1788
For whatever reason, this song has become traditional to the New Year. The Scottish phrase “auld lang syne” best translates as “for old times’ sake.” It asks us to reflect on friendship, and times past. After the most tumultuous year of my life I have had the opportunity to take stock of old acquaintances, and consider what has come and gone.
Coming out is a uniquely LGBT rite of passage. However, if LGB people need a spoon full of sugar to help make the medicine go down, coming out as trans can require the entire dessert cart and an anesthesiologist. Thus, eight months after I began living as a woman full time and finished coming out to virtually everyone, the smoke has cleared. The diabetic shock is over, and I can conduct an accurate battle damage assessment.
My family is still with me, even the extended variety. We told the girls what was happening in January. They seemed to think it was funny at first, but have decided that Maddy’s a lot easier to live with. Mom is confused but supportive, and working hard to make it known I’m still welcome at home. Dad is still talking to me, but desperately trying to pretend this isn’t happening. My step-mother can’t bear to look at me or speak to me.
My step-father’s family was something of an enigma, being blue-collar, Italian Catholics, and dyed-in-the-wool, union-supporting Democrats. I don’t think they knew what to make of me coming out at first. In the end my step-family seemed to decide as a group that if being trans was what it took for me to vote for Obama, then it couldn’t be all bad.
I came out to a select few military folks early on whom I deeply respected for various reasons, but they were all from my time at the Naval Academy: The woman who was in my company, a free-thinker, and an outsider. The brilliant man who blended intellect, ethics, and wisdom seamlessly to became a great doctor. The surfer-dude plebe/summer roommate who seemed to live by the motto “It’s all good, man.” The giant of a man who knew the value of trampling stereotypes. The woman whose smile and optimism never seemed to be touched by the oppressive atmosphere of the institution. I sought each out individually, and came out to them on purpose because I valued them as friends and individuals. They reciprocated. I felt humbled and grateful.
However, those military folks from my active duty past who sought me out after transition were another story. In dribs and drabs they found me on the internet. I have given them the truth, and the option to back out gracefully.
All of them took the opportunity to avoid further contact with me.
The group of people from my past that surprised me the most, though, were my friends from high school. We were a tight knit, if eclectic and intellectual, bunch. The way they rallied to me was inspiring. I disappeared off the face of the Earth in one place, and popped up somewhere else as someone else. Yet, one by one, they found me online, and asked what the deal was. I was honest with them, and left each with option of gracefully declining to be involved. Every last one refused to bow out, and all still wanted to keep in touch regardless of who I am today.
I was humbled to have such friends. Here, almost 20 years later, and after having spent only 4 years together, there was still a sense of loyalty and camaraderie.
Somehow, though, one of the most difficult situations was also the last. My best friend through high school, whom I had kept in touch with continuously for 20+ years, was the last person I came out to. It didn’t happen until this September.
“Ethan” is probably the smartest person I know. He has a doctorate in linguistics, wrote his dissertation on why Noam Chomsky’s theory of language origins was wrong, and speaks God-only-knows how many languages now. Seriously, last I counted it was in the low-20s. He’s also one of the most thoughtful and devout evangelical Christians I know. Over the past decade he and his family have lived in China while studying and recording dying dialects. Thus, I had held back what was going on in my emails, and I hoped I could postpone the truth from him indefinitely based on our distance.
Then, I got an email from Ethan. He and his family were back in the U.S. on a yearlong sabbatical. He had found out I was trans after he stumbled onto one of my online profiles, and he wanted to talk. The jig was up, and I just hoped for the best.
He called. We talked. After perhaps ten minutes, he stopped the conversation and remarked, “You know, even though you sound different, even though the accent is different, I still hear the old you. Your choice of words, your pauses, and just how you use language; it’s still you in there.”
“Yeah, still me,” I replied. “I couldn’t tell you because I thought so much of you as a friend and as a person that I didn’t want to lose you.”
“You’re still my friend, regardless.”
“Thank you,” I said, with a giant lump in my throat. “You don’t know how much that means. I’m sorry I wasn’t forthcoming, but I didn’t know how your religious beliefs would allow it.”
“Brynn, if I shunned everyone who didn’t live the way I thought they were supposed to, I would have been really lonely in a country with 1.2 billion people,” Ethan answered simply.
I will leave it there. On New Year’s, I will be raising a cup o’ kindness yet.
For auld lang syne.