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Sunflowers on a Frosty Morning

A close-up photograph of a sunflower with leaves and a blue sky in the background.

A few days ago, in a telephonic conversation with my mother, I was made aware of the inadequacies of my gender; in her unforgiving tone, she rendered me a woman without a body, and a woman ill-suited to be one, “Tui meye holeo maa hote parbi na (You can be a woman but not a mother)”. Her harsh tongue struck me, like a deep wound to my heart, searing into my skin like only a thousand needles could.

I have very few shields, and while they can withstand the harshest transnegativity this world has to offer, against my mother, they shrivel like sunflowers on a frosty morning. My mother can be as cold as ice – and in her darkly, disquieting demeanour – she bruises my mind time and again. I don’t intend on painting a beastly picture of my mother; she is a fiercely independent woman whose mind is as troubled as mine, but our challenges to gender and sexuality are starkly dissimilar and uneven.

Her vindictiveness about my gender is omnipresent in our conversations, but she is quick to reassure me that my non-heteronormative sexuality has never ailed her. Since my sexuality is less jarring in her eyes than my transness, this came to me as no-shocker. Still, the more I think about this dichotomy she presents, the more I find it baffling, because her disavowal of my motherhood is at the heart of sexuality. The idea of a pure sexuality for a woman (as our societies perceive) is akin to being heterosexual and having the ability to reproduce; thus her opinion on motherhood is as much a question of gender as it is one of sexuality. To her, becoming a mother is a feeling that only females can experience; it has no bearing for a transwoman like me. Her TERF-ish [1] angst reminds me of the Surrogacy Act of 2021 passed in the parliament of India that excludes me from parenthood, but that’s a conversation for another time.

If I had to draw my mind as a geometric shape, it would be a closed circle, with no exits for it to branch out into a different diagram. This closed circle is expanding as the universe itself, absorbing its dark, unrelenting void. I am hardly able to make any headway with my mother – the more I resist or escape, the more I am drawn into a pool of perpetual guilt. For many transwomen out there, this pool is a similar one we have dived deep into, often knowingly and helplessly.

I made some headway a few months ago, but unfortunately it was short-lived. In early October last year, as the autumn winds drew to a close, my mother visited me in my erstwhile residence in New Delhi. When I went to the airport to pick her up, in a green polka dot dress, my heart began thumping as if I had run several miles without water; this was the day she would see me as a woman in public. I imagined several scenarios in my head – I had eased her into the process, dropping hints now and then – but, predictably, I was met with a steam-hot face, her Kafkaesque eyes running over me from head to toe like those of disgruntled passers-by.

As the days passed, it seemed like she felt more comfortable around me. Amidst all the heated arguments and abuse, we would cook together at home, go shopping, share a meal and a drink at a restaurant. Those moments, as rare and transient as they were, solidified our delicate bond – and on the day she boarded her flight back home, we kissed each other goodbye – teary-eyed, and heartbroken.

The melancholia although, was short lived, and our relationship only soured from that point in our lives. Months on months passed, and the conversations with mum returned to me as the ghosts of Christmas past. It came to a point when I asserted my transness to her with a medical certificate that ‘confirmed’ my dysphoria, since my testimony falls short on explaining my sense of being. Like the courtroom, in my family as well, I must grapple with an endless cycle of proofs that animate my identity. I do not blame my mother for not understanding my dysphoria – it’s too exhausting for her, at the age she is, to come to terms with a grammar of gender unfamiliar to the world around her – and perhaps she is too steeped in her imagination of a pure idealised body of her child to let any queerness seep into it.

However, the fire and brimstone I endure; I understand her state of mind in deeper ways than she does mine. I realise what it must feel for her to be a working-woman in her early 50’s, in a cis-normative society, divorced but partnered, with a chronic illness. The discourse on mental health so active in my social circles has equipped me to understand her position. But the same is not accessible to my mother. She fails to perceive that her words can be sharp triggers that jeopardise my sense of wellbeing; with words like ‘change’ and ‘correction’, she tells me time and again that she could, if she had her way, ‘reorient’ my mind to suit my biology.

Surprisingly, she often tells me to perform my transness in my mind alone, and render the body invisible, “Tui meye thik acche, kintu eishob dress and makeup keno porish, mone mone bhaab tui meye, shoibaike keno dekhate hobe?” (You are a woman, but why do you need to wear female clothes and makeup; just think of being a woman in your head, why display it to everyone?). The symbiosis our minds share with our bodies is difficult for her to grasp, and this symbiosis is both my utopia and dysphoria.

As I complete a year of transitioning, I find it even more difficult to prioritise my empathy for her position. I place my comforts in spaces that understand and prioritise mine, be it my friends, my partner, or my workplace. I have created an ecosystem that values the symbiosis between the mind and the body, the ebbs and flows that govern its stability and vulnerability.

I can only hope, at this point in my life, that more resources are available to a parent like my mother, and they find the tools to teach them the ins and outs of a trans person’s mental health. I no longer look forward to a day when my mother calls me her daughter. Instead, I see into the further ends of the future when we both are older than we are now, and she feels the weight of my mental health. I wouldn’t expect empathy of a magnitude that I would ideally like, but perhaps an acknowledgment would go a long way in mending our ties, and establishing a healthy relationship between two adults.

[1] TERF stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists who think that transwomen are not ‘real’ women.

Cover Image: Photo by Олександр К on Unsplash