We chase a lot of things in life…whatever “it” is changes from person to person. Status, stuff, love, beauty…whatever. But the one thing you can’t chase is perhaps the most valuable of all. Friendship.
Christmas eve mass in a very small town in Italy which was my first home when I moved back here a decade ago, and which is still home from time to time. Divorce shouldn’t force people to take sides, but it does. Italy is very conservative. My soon-to-be-ex-wife (half Italian) fits the mould. Conservative. I used to be thought of as conservative and did little to disabuse people of the notion, but my freak flag was flying all along. It was useful to hide. I can’t hide anymore. My wife has told them all we are getting divorced. And why.
She has been around more. For work reasons, I have not. This is changing, as I am no longer working. It is time to just live. I haven’t figured out the part of how to support myself yet, let alone hungry children and a rapacious soon-to-be-ex-wife. We’ll get there. But we both have some friends here who have been great from the day we bought a house here. And let me tell you, small town Italy is not all Jamie Oliver bonhomie around the dinner table. It can be nasty, venal, petty. Actually, it is. Add to that already testy mix a divorce. Boy, at least one of us is heading for the chopping block. Oh, and since it is no secret that I am trans—my wife and I both have told people—for very different reasons, this is added grist.
One of our mutual friends in this town told me, “people are talking”.
“Wonderful. What are they saying?” I asked.
“They’re not talking to me,” he said. What a phenomenal answer. If I could only ever remember such a thing. So elegant.
Why am I here on Christmas eve instead of with my children? Well, our former family home has become my home because my wife is pretending that a property I bought as an investment is our family home and is suing me there because she thinks she will get more money. The truth is, she will actually get less, assuming a fair outcome, because she already has everything, but that’s beside the point.
Divorced and divorcing people don’t usually live together or even share houses. As a person who is intensely in need of a nest, I couldn’t begin to imagine co-habiting with a cuckoo [I’m thinking of a person who succeeds through a process of deceit, based on the literal behaviour of the bird]. Well, my wife took our kids for a ski holiday and had promised to bring them back on Christmas eve. I was not consulted, but reluctantly agreed on the basis that we would have resolved things by now. That was naïve. What all of this meant is that I am not really in a place that makes celebrating Christmas with my wife possible. But she decided to stay in what in what used to be our home and which is now mine in order to celebrate with the children.
In Europe, we have our Christmas meal on the 24th, not on the 25th as is done in the US. As a cook, and as someone whose love language is cooking for people, you might guess that the 24th is such a special meal that I wait for it all year. But I’m not in a place that would allow me to cook for my soon-to-be-ex-wife even if it is really for the children. Our divorce has become so toxic that ended up just leaving. She wasn’t supposed to be there, wouldn’t tell me when she would leave, so, I just left and figured, I’ll see my kids when she lets me. I also knew that I would have said or done things that would have been wrong or damaging had I stayed.
And so, I found myself celebrating Christmas Eve mass with friends in a town that has taken sides. And when I say town, I mean 100 inhabitants, half of which were at the church, and all of whom know exactly why I look different and why I am soon-to-be-divorced. There was “slimy guy” who nobody trusts because he is a thief and doesn’t work. There was the Christian author who was always welcoming and friendly but tonight was standoffish. There was the former chef who worked at a prestigious hotel and who is the grand gentleman of the town, and who was cordial, and there were the neighbours who were so frosty they didn’t bother to even look at me when we were asked to shake hands with our neighbours in the pews…and then there were my friends, a married couple, who decided to sit on either side of me. That is friendship.
Not a word was said. But in Italy, putting me between them was announcing to the entire congregation, to the whole village, this person is our friend. After, we stood outside in the piazza and drank mulled wine and munched on cake. Others started talking to me again. Another person, who is a long-time friend of the friends I was with, had previously asked me whether I had “changed religion” when he first saw me presenting female. And in a way, I guess that’s right, but tonight, even in jeans, I came across as more female than I would have done in a dress six months ago. He said later, “if you’re not with your family tomorrow, you’re with ours. I expect you to call me,” he said, “I’m serious.”
I’ve complained about how people stare at me in Italy, and how unpleasant that can be. Especially compared to NYC or London, where I have had beautiful experiences just because I was presenting. But here, in small town Italy, I found the most beautiful thing of all—people who had my back, demonstrably, publicly, and it just felt great.
Generally, I have been thinking of how beautiful my friendships are. How much they mean to me. How fortunate I am. The story that I have recounted is but a prelude to a few thankyous to some very special people.
First, an aside. On the 23rd, I went on a date with a beautiful woman. One of the things we talked about was cultural differences in human interaction. I contrasted my most direct personal experience as a national of both the UK and the United States, and my observations having lived equally over a lifetime in both. I find Americans so much more accessible and friendly on the surface, but also more often dishonest. Brits, on the other hand, can be standoffish, aloof, hard to know, but once they are your friends, they are with you through thick and thin. The story I recounted of my Italian friends suggest the same.
One of my dearest friends is a woman I was instantly drawn to when I first laid eyes on her. We met in school. The most beautiful woman in the entire school and I became friends. The burden of beauty is real, especially in a male-dominated environment. I sometimes wonder, if my safe-haven status makes these relationships work—here is a “man” who isn’t a man…who doesn’t put out male energy. I’ve always had mostly female friends, and I think many of my trans sisters have the same experience. Anyway, we became good friends and discovered a shared passion for riding and went out into the forest after school on most days. After graduation we shared a 1-bedroom apartment, just on different days. You get to know each other well when you can still smell each other on the bedsheets even if you aren’t in the bed at the same time.
Our friendship, despite long periods of inactivity, has kicked up a notch recently. She is one of the small number of people who are doing more than just cocooning me, but who are actively running interference and really protecting me, advising me, supporting me, encouraging me, listening and just being there in the most extraordinary way. That is both in marriage and as I come out.
My closest friend of all is a woman who has shared a weird, powerful, and wonderful energy with me since we met in University. She gave me a pair of panties she nicked when we first lived in New York, and she was the only person I ever shared a picture of me in drag—I use the term loosely here as in those days I did wear a wig and makeup for photos.
She and my then-wife-to-be did not get on when I introduced them on one summer holiday. It was beyond bad. There was verbal sparring from the outset, and after, my wife squelched her out of my life. Both the incidents and the squelching were my fault. I was passive in the face of the onslaught.
Her husband couldn’t stand me either. And she let the same happen, and for 2 decades we barely spoke. But a year ago, she got divorced, and we started to talk. And because I was spending time in the US without my wife, she graciously suggested I get back in touch, knowing how important she was to me. So, I did. And then I flew up to NY to meet her.
“I have something to tell you,” I said.
“You’re going to tell me your trans,” she replied. I wasn’t even presenting yet.
“How did you know?”
“I’ve always known. From the day I met you.” Jesus, if that isn’t friendship. We learned a lot about each other that day, things that we couldn’t say when we were younger. It is so wonderful to have her back.
My closest male friend married a woman who asked me on a date to spur his jealousy, knowing full well that I was energetically safe and passive. She is a striking woman, so similar to my mother. Statuesque, absolutely gorgeous, regal, and has the most perfect bearing, is wickedly intelligent, and is relentlessly strong. My friend is the warmest, kindest, biggest-hearted man I have ever known. A full on emotional whirlwind, he has had my back at all moments since we were housemates in school.
I was his best man. He is the godfather of one of my kids. As couples, we have holidayed together, and they are friends with my soon-to-be-ex-wife too. Indeed, recently they see her as often as I see them. This is a good thing. My wife has positioned her brother as a more appropriate male role model for my children, actively courting this, taking holidays with him, and positioning him as a father figure to them. It is nice for him to do this, even if the motivation is questionable. Even if he is the one paying for her relentless fight with lawyers. Even if they have what has always felt like an energetically inappropriate relationship.
My friend, without trying, is a perfect alternative role model for my son. He is everything a man should be. Kind, gentle, as solid as a rock. Emotional, warm, loving, caring. There are people who warm your soul when you sit next to them. He is such a person. The life force burns so strongly in him that I fear of losing him in ways that I never feel towards anyone else. He and his wife have totally embraced me through this change. When people go out of their way to stand by you, it resonates deep inside when nothing else will.
Another person who has been a watershed for me is Mistress. To say that I serve her or that I am her slave or anything like that understates and overstates in equal measure what she means to me. She is an inspiration. She has born witness to this process, and who has provided a quiet example. She has been my first sister. Someone to talk to about things that are awkward or complex to speak on with vanilla friends. She has not fetishized me. She helped me process my feelings for ex-Mistress when I was first falling under ex-Mistress’s powerful spell, and also there as it unravelled. And throughout, she simply was. And this way of being, so grounded and confident, has showed me the essence of womanhood. Her trust and engagement with me has transcended anything that I could have ever imagined from a Pro/client dynamic.
Ex-Mistress rightfully criticised me for looking for something, for not being sated by our interactions, our play. And that’s true, I wasn’t. What I looked for was friendship, to not be fetishized (yes, it is a two-way street)—the play was incredible, but it felt fake in the end because there was no normality in our interactions. Another Domme friend explained to me that I had no business looking for what I was looking for, but in truth, what can I say, that is what I am looking for. I have found that now. She told me the other day that when she met me, she decided, “I want that one,” and then made a plucking gesture with her hand. I was totally flattered. I am very aware that Pro’s at the top of their game can choose their clientele at will. I don’t have the means to treat her as well as her other clients. I don’t have the means to see her as often. That she lets me serve her at all, that I am allowed to be openly hers, is a delicious treat, and one that is having a profound effect on me as a human.
We discover our friends when the chips are down. We discover our friends when they rally around. I have been blessed by friends and family alike and am sustained greatly by them. My trans experience has been only positive. Not a soul has given me anything other than support. Even friends of my wife have been supportive. She stands alone and I am sad for her. So, I wish her a happy Christmas even as her behaviour has made it too hard to be with my children as planned. I carry them within.
The Christmas pheasant, partridge, and duck out hanging in the cold will have to wait another day.