She left the group before I did, even though my partner joined before me.
A sanctuary for people like us, the group should have been somewhere we both felt safe. Somewhere we could light fires of friendship and extinguish our fear of the unknown.
People on the periphery of the transgender community were welcome in the group. Lovers, spouses, parents and friends joined hardened folk who had lived through the worst of times, when transgender people were struggling for basic rights in New Zealand.
Men, women and those who weren’t certain what they were dipped in and out of the group. Unsure whether they wanted to commit to further changes, they joined the collection of people of all ages, from various backgrounds for part of their ride. Some had been there since the group formed many years earlier. Others had only been members for a few months, not much longer than my partner and me.
I learned the terminology. Transgender versus transsexual. Gender dysphoria. Cis and trans. Cross-dressing. Gender identity versus sexuality. Genderqueer and intersex.
I learned we weren’t the only couple to stay together through transition, to go from hetero to lesbian.
The group was somewhere to discover society’s reactions before we jumped off the cliff into the sea of our post-transition world. It was a forum where we could be forewarned of danger, a place we could laugh about things that made us cry.
The group was a site where we could lobby for recognition and seek funding for youth services. It was a controlled interface with the media, a repository of facts and statistics.
The group was somewhere people could talk about how they were harassed in shopping malls. It was a place where through affirmation and comfort, we could show victims some positivity. We could remind them not everyone in the world was bad or mad.
It was somewhere we could talk about plus size shoes and the cost of binders.
The purpose of the group was to educate, communicate, translate and circulate. It was a place for furtherance, sustenance, deliverance and tolerance.
We met many people. Some were like us. Others weren’t.
We were introduced to women with pretty-pretty names, to make up for a paucity of beauty in their earlier lives. We drank beer with guys with unspent anger, with or without the help of testosterone treatment, guys who hid their softness inside them.
When darkness hit, the hardest of times, people from the group lit beacons and guided us to the other side.
We survived the worst.
I wanted to give something back.
Someone said, people often pass through the group. They take what they want and then disappear. They want to live their own lives. They want to forget what they were before.
That’s not me, I thought. I want to be here for others, to ease them through transition, as the group has helped us.
Back then it seemed I would never leave. We shared each other’s triumphs. We felt each other’s sadness. We encouraged romance, celebrated when friends successfully began relationships, commiserated when they failed. We ate together, shared our belongings. We talked for hours.
We anticipated prejudice. We empathised about the fragility of emotions. We asked about sex. We talked about bigotry. We strategised responses to society’s ignorance.
We met at cafés and parties, bumped into each other at supermarkets and hospital waiting rooms. We hugged. We shared. We laughed.
There were deaths in the group, some from old age, others by their own hand. We cried, held each other metaphorically and in flesh.
We were accepting, but occasionally wary. Sometimes I questioned what others were doing in the group. People posted photos that bordered on fetishistic. It was hard to reconcile their needs with ours. I don’t like to judge people, but that’s what I did. I measured them against a self-defined scale, and found them wanting.
We needed different things.
Some wanted the size and location of the trans community in N.Z. to be known, so services could be matched with needs. Others wanted to protect their privacy and blend into unseen spaces.
Some wanted their personal grief to be broadcast in public, the unfairness of their lives sympathised with and analysed. Others wanted to pick group members to pieces, break them apart over semantics.
I watched members lose themselves in fiery competitiveness. Who passed and who didn’t? Who had a shapelier backside, who had the hairier chin? Which plastic surgeon created the most beautiful result? Attractive pudenda were prized over self-actualisation and inner peace.
The longer we stayed, the more we discovered about the group’s covert history. There was talk of betrayal, embezzling funds, disappearance into the murky world of sex-work and gangs.
Sometimes it seemed people were searching for someone to blame in a culture of accusation and belittling.
My partner and I escaped to the penumbra of the searchlight, a light seeking those more worthy, more deserving of a place in the community.
People came and went.
The group was divided. I thought it had lost something. But perhaps that something was never there.
I wanted to leave because of the trolls. Under bridges, hidden in trees, barbed in comments and social media rage.
That’s the thing with any community. It’s made up of people. People are different.
I’ll never forget the support the group showed me. But I knew when it was time to leave.
When it comes to community, the group was like any other. The commonality of experience was muddied by the fact that we were all different people, all with our own agendas.
My partner left before I did.
She said, ‘It’s a thing where you go from one point to another and hope you don’t get lost in transition.’
I said nothing, but left because I couldn’t bear the in fighting, the criticism. The competitive ‘my hurt is worse than yours’ antagonism.
I’d wanted to give something back, but I never did.
I don’t think I’ll ever return, but hope I’ll recognise whenever someone needs that sort of support. I hope I’ll help them. Maybe I’ll recommend them to the group.
I’ll remember the intimacy of shared experience, the relief at knowing we weren’t alone.
I’ll want that person to know that there is a sense of community within the trans population, even though I no longer am an active member that participates in these meetings.
Nod Gosh lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, and completed a creative writing course at the Hagley Writers’ Institute. Nod’s flash fiction, short stories and poems have appeared in the New Zealand publications, JAAM, Landfall, Takahe, Headland, The Christchurch Press and Flash Frontier. Nod’s work also appears in TheGayUK, The Citron Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Firefly magazine, MiNDFOOD, Penduline Press and other international publications.
Falco Verholen is a Dutch ftm artist with a weak spot for the mysterious, otherworldly and animalistic. He loves telling stories through art, comics and video. Currently working on several game projects. Lover of indie games, nature, Murakami, internet comedy, seriousness, silliness and discovering / connecting art, stories and above all, people.