Family of Me

by Daphne
Updates Mondays and Fridays

Scene 130: Joy vs. Fulfillment

(Twyla stands nearby as memories of herself, her partner, and her child sit together watching a calming television show. Everyone looks to be enjoying a well-deserved break. I approach and stand close by.)

Mom (Me): Good afternoon, Twyla. Catching up on a bit of rest, I see.

Twyla (The Parent): Hey Daphne. Something like that, yeah… Parenting was an exhausting experience, so much so that even looking back on those moments is a little tiring.

Mom (chuckling): The joy of parenting, as they say.

Twyla (annoyed): Ugh, I hate that phrase.

Mom: I know you do. To your credit, I still dislike it.

Twyla (calm): You know, it’s kind of a relief to hear that hasn’t changed. It’s validating, you know? We went through our entire life taking in messages about how parenting was the most joyful thing in the world; how it makes you happy in a way you can’t even understand unless you’ve experienced it. And that just isn’t true.

Mom: No, it isn’t. Parenting fills you with something, but it’s not joy.

Twyla (snarky): Exhaustion?

Mom (laughing): Hah! Yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I think you know what I mean; my views haven’t changed on that either.

Twyla: Fulfillment.

Mom: Yes. Parenting isn’t necessarily joyful, though there can be a lot of joy in it. But it is fulfilling in a way that’s difficult to describe. There’s something about raising a child that’s intensely rewarding; helping them learn new knowledge and skills, taking pride in their accomplishments, watching in awe at the person they’re growing into.

Twyla: There’s a surreal quality to those events, even as the person who lived through them. As if it’s hard to believe that I really lived them and emerged unscathed.

Mom (reflective): Well… We didn’t emerge unscathed, did we? We were overwhelmed by all of it. We were always doing our best, but we had to adapt to our circumstances. They changed us—in a very real sense, I’m not the same woman who held our child in her arms for the first time, years and years ago. You aren’t even that person anymore.

Twyla: I wonder if that’s why these memories feel so unreal now. It all feels too intense to be real, as if those moments don’t belong in our everyday life.

Mom: That’s a pretty good way of putting it, honestly. Those moments might have been our daily life at one point, but they aren’t anymore.

Twyla (flat): Is this the part of the conversation where we compare this experience to your transition?

Mom (smiling): I see you’ve captured the theme of this series.

Twyla: Seriously though, that’s the entire point of this discussion, isn’t it?

Mom: Yes, transition feels a lot like that too. Transition isn’t necessarily the most joyful thing ever… Though don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of joy in it.

Twyla: More than in these early days of parenting?

Mom (self-assured): Absolutely. Unlike being a parent, which is something we wanted but didn’t really have a clear concept of, being a girl is something we secretly, desperately desired our entire lives. So just getting up in the morning and truthfully saying “I’m a girl” was an intensely joyful experience. I still get a rush from seeing myself in the mirror or feeling a skirt sweep around my legs.

Twyla: Being a girl can’t all be joy, though.

Mom: Of course not. Nobody’s life can be joyful all the time, regardless of who they are. Society is set up to disadvantage women in all manner of subtle ways, which naturally includes us. And anti-trans politics and sentiment has been supercharged and weaponized against everyone in recent years. Life can be seriously scary at times.

Twyla: But none of that changes the fact that we’re a girl.

Mom: I think some cis people get hung up on that—they see how difficult life is for us and they can’t understand why anyone would want to put themselves through that. But like parenting, I didn’t transition to make my life consistently joyful. I transitioned to become the woman I was always meant to be. It’s a remarkably fulfilling experience.

Twyla: Fulfillment rather than joy again.

Mom: Just so.

(The two of them sit quietly for a bit, watching the television show with the echoes of their former self.)

Twyla: Do you get that surreal feeling too, like the things you went through happened to someone else?

Mom: Looking back on my early transition, you mean? I do, actually. It’s hard to believe I was ever the woman who was terrified of starting hormones; who looked herself in the mirror, unchanged by HRT, and confidently asserted “This is a woman’s face!” Or the woman who wrestled with dysphoria so strong it sent her into a depressive spiral for two days. Or the woman who, a few months after starting HRT, felt all of her emotions come loose at once and was on the verge of tears for an entire week. All of that feels just as unfathomable to me now as being the woman who bounced her baby to sleep on a yoga ball after sleeping on-and-off for three hour chunks all day.

Twyla: Honestly, that depressive spiral sounds pretty intense.

Mom: It was all intense. You know, maybe that’s the common thread here? Both early parenthood and early transition are intense, challenging experiences. We have no choice but to adapt to them. But they’re also powerfully emotional, because we’re so emotionally invested in the process and the outcome—I think that determination carries us through to the other side.

Twyla: Even though the journey we made seems unbelievable when we look back at it.

Mom: It does. Our first puberty kind of felt that way too.

Twyla: Some parts of college felt like that as well… And trying to feel our way through our twenties feels kind of wild in retrospect…

Mom (content): Those time periods sound kind of familiar, now that you mention it. I guess we Stars are a whole family of surreal people.

(Twyla and I watch the rest of the show in silence.)