Marianne Dawson – Coming Out

“Mom, you didn’t do anything wrong as a parent.”

My mom was probably the first that knew—only because she was local, she was close by, and I could talk to [her]. She at first had a very difficult time. She wanted to know where she went wrong as a parent. I heard that and I told [her]: “Mom, you didn’t do anything wrong as a parent. You did everything right, because if you hadn’t have done everything right, I wouldn’t have been able to understand myself and come to this decision on my own, about how I’m going to identify.” She was able to talk with all of her siblings. They were all very supportive to her and said, “No it wasn’t you. This is just the decision that this person has made.” Some of it even went to the degree of being perceptive enough to understand about what my struggles might be—to be who I am. How difficult that must be. So my mom got a little bit of different light to it. Then she was very accepting of having another daughter, because I only have three sisters. [Laughs.]

That takes me to my sisters. I told them. I guess they were thinking that’s it’s like a passing hobby kind of thing. Three years later, I think they began to realize that I was quite serious. After that three-year break, [with] pretty much just phone calls, we met at Riverfront Park for the first time. I guess they’d had some time. One of the mistakes that I see other trans people do—whether it’s cross-dressing or transsexuality—is that [they take the attitude], “I’ve discovered who I am and now you’re going to accept me!” You can’t do that. You have to let everybody adjust—if they even do—at their own pace. You spent how many years trying to figure that out? About your coming out? How long is it going to take somebody who’s a loved one close to you? You have to give them that time and that space.

My oldest sister said that she really appreciated that I gave her the space and the latitude for her to get comfortable at her own pace, in her own time. We’re just tighter than we were before now. My two younger sisters, they’re heavily religious-based. I think they still have trouble, beside the fact that they miss their brother. I just tell them, “Your brother is still here. I can’t ex-out some 40 years of my life. I was born and raised, and I did what I did. That’s part of me.” Since they’re religious based, the two younger ones, I’m saying, “You know what a wine flask looks like?” “Yes.” “Okay. Are they all the same?” “No, they’re different.” “Okay. If I pour the same wine in each one of those, does that mean I make the wine different?” “No.” “Okay. There’s your brother.” [Laughs.] It took them a while. We’re communicating. We’re getting along, but they’re still fairly distant. But I’m not excluded from Christmas, and Thanksgiving, and things like I was before.

Then my dad. He’s on the other side of the United States. He got remarried. I thought he was just going to totally flip out. But I knew he had a couple of lesbians work for him once. He really liked them and went to the gay bar with them, so maybe he was open-minded enough to understand. I told him [about my decision to transition]. He was thinking it would be a shame to waste four years of college. He knew I was going to have a hard time trying to get a job over here. He knew I was going to have a hard time and my education [would] go to waste.

[My girlfriend] explained to me what it felt like to see her man go away and turn into a woman. I remember her comment, “Marianne’s taking my boyfriend away.” She thought it was like a relationship where we are as a couple, and [I] have gone outside of the relationship and had sex with someone. For her, it was like that. It was like her boyfriend was having intimate relationship with Marianne. More and more, she saw her boyfriend fading and saw Marianne coming to be. It was hard for her. I joined with her woman to woman at that point in time. And it really hurt. I have compassion for her. I imagined: if I had a man, who I’m looking up to as a man, and he wanted to turn into a girl, how would I feel? “Let me kill the bastard, you know?” [Laughs.]

I’ve had a lot of wives of cross-dressers and transsexuals that say, “How can you say that Marianne? Look where you’ve come from.” [Laughs.] [It’s] because I’m [thinking] about my current husband, you know? I’ve been nurturing relationships, like husband-wife relationships, where the husband is now a woman. I’m like, “What do you want to leave him for? There was something there to begin with, so you should stay with that person.” And then, I’m talking totally like they were, you know? But just to show that it’s a lot of impact.

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Sources: Interviews with Maureen Nickerson on 18 November 2006 and 9 December 2006, held at the Museum of Arts and Culture; Interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 16 February 2013.