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“This will kill any love they had for me … I’ll have to go back to being angry Bill! All the good things in my life – I’m going to lose them all! I’m so scared!”
Willow was in Dr. Estrada’s office for the required counseling and yet another set of hormone shots. Mother Gwen was there, but out in the waiting room. The doc had requested a one-on-one session with his teenage patient. They sat in his consultation room on opposite facing lounge chairs.
“I’m encouraged about your breakthrough with your family, Willow. And you now can experience the emotional release that a good cry can give you. These are both positive developments, genuine ones. It’s about time, too.”
The girl tilted her head at that last sentence. “What did you mean by that, Doc?”
“How do I say this,” muttered the counselor/physician. “You’ve been giving me perfect answers to my questions for the last few sessions. Too perfect. Like you got them out of a manual or off a website. Absolute textbook responses as if you were the ideal, complete transgender patient. Frankly, I've begun to doubt your sincerity.
“I do think you were truthful in our first few sessions, but I’m not sure about the ones since. The exception is today’s report - your joy in how your family is treating you, and how much peace you have. That has the ring of truth. But I’m wondering if, in our first meeting, I might have been fooled. You were so enthusiastic, and I took that as evidence that your story was factual.
“So I need to ask you a question. And I want to be able to know that your answer is genuine. I’m not perfect; I can’t always tell when a patient is deceiving me. But I can tell certain times when I absolutely feel the truth and sincerity of what I’m being told. That’s what I need you to do. Convince me that you are absolutely being real when you answer this …
“Did you first come to me purely because you feel you are female, a girl, or was there some ulterior reason? Say, wanting to get out from under your parent’s oppressive grounding and rules?”
Willow immediately opened her mouth to give her rehearsed answer, but Dr. Estrada held up his palm in a “STOP” gesture.
“Do not answer me right away. I’m going to step out for about ten minutes; use that time to figure out how you’re going to convince me. And if it’s not the truth, there’s no way I’ll be convinced. Willow, if you have lied previously, here’s your chance to set it straight without any penalty or condemnation from me. Choose well. I’ll be back in ten.” He stepped out of the room.
Willow’s mouth was dry, and the tightness in her throat came back. She reached for some tissues. Deceiving everyone with The Plan had become a huge psychological burden, and she felt the need to come clean.
If I do that, will everything fall apart? Will my family hate me, and the doctor reject me as a patient? Wait, he said no penalty. What does that mean? Keeping this secret – it’s been eating away at my soul. God, what do I do?
When Estrada returned, it was to a contrite Willow. “I’m – I’m sorry, sir. I was trying anything to get out from under my stepfather’s thumb. I wanted to be an emancipated minor, or bust up my folk’s marriage, or both. Saying I was transgender seemed like a perfect way to get those done. When it didn’t happen, I found myself trapped in my own lie.
“But I discovered something – I really, really like being a girl. I’ve started to wish I had been born one! All the good things I reported today – they are due to my transition. Even though I started this for the wrong reasons, I think I want this for all the right reasons now.”
Estrada’s gaze into Willow’s eyes was intense. “And you discovered this when?”
“Um, when I had my crying breakthrough.”
“So you were deceiving me and your parents for eight weeks, then less than 14 days ago you realized you were –“
“Deceiving myself,” Willow inserted. “I found out I really like these changes in my life. I don’t want to stop my transition.”
“Being a woman encompasses so much more than getting along with your family during your teenage years. If you stay this course you’ll be living public life as a female. Have you thought about that? Having to be aware of men, and their intentions towards you? Not walking alone in the dark? Physically being weaker than you would have been? And discrimination – in the job force, politically, and so many other ways. I doubt you’ve thought about all this in just 2 week’s time.”
“Well, I just did your thingie on the internet," Willow replied. "It sure made me think hard about a lot of those issues."
Dr. Estrada blinked twice in mild confusion. "My ... 'thingie?' What ..."
"It's like a big online test. You should know, you wrote it! Like a huge questionnaire; it was called "So You Think You Might-"
"So You Think You’re Transgendered?, a pre-transition self-evaluation for prospective transgender patients," finished Estrada. "A set of worksheets that aim to help people determine where they are on the trans spectrum. They also force a person to consider the serious changes involved in transition. Yes, I co-authored that with the psychiatric division of the UTMB* medical school. Willow, this has been on the internet for not yet 3 weeks. How did you find it?”
"A google search, DUH!" she laughed. "I was looking for information to see if I really am a girl in my soul, to prove to myself that this - being Willow - is really real. Then that popped up, with your name on it no less. It made me wonder why you didn't have me do it - that survey - before I started on hormones."
Estrada looked sheepish. "It wasn't ready yet. And when it was, just a month ago, you were already in transition, not preparing for it. Have you filled the forms out totally, including the essay questions?”
"Yes," Willow nodded. "And I submitted all of it online just 2 days ago. I haven't heard back from you guys as to my results, though."
“I can score you right now – I just have to run your submission through the program tool and read your essay answers!” Estrada opened the laptop computer he kept at his side table.
(*UTMB = University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX)
“Well, Willow. Your score correlation was 86%. Not in the 90’s like the most assuredly transgender psyches are, but pretty darn close.”
“So, that proves I’m a real trans girl, right?”
The doc waved his finger in a “wait a minute” gesture. “This is a brand new tool; it’s going to take years to validate it. However, it strongly suggests that you are truly a transgender woman. Your written responses to the essay questions impress me the most; they’re full of hope along with a healthy dose of doubt, like an authentic transgender woman would have.”
“Good. I love how my family and I are right now, especially Poppa and me. I don’t want to do anything to upset it.”
“Willow, what if you feel differently after your next disagreement with your stepfather? You’ll have conflict again eventually – every parent and child does.”
“Doc, I don’t think I’m going to change my mind. But if I do, stop my transition then. I don’t want you to stop it now, please.”
Estrada half-smiled. “Okay, Willow. You have indeed convinced me you’re telling the truth. And I will allow you to continue this therapy, with one condition.”
“You need to come clean with your parents; tell them what you told me. About your original deception when you announced yourself as trans.”
Willow’s face drained of color. “Oh … oh no. I … things are so good with me and my family. If I tell them … I might lose it all. Please don’t force me to do this! Not yet!”
“Willow, there is a truth about exposing a lie: the sooner, the less worse. Not ‘the sooner the better’; the sooner, the less worse. Telling the truth will hurt, and cause some damage – but the longer you wait, the bigger that damage will be.”
“What if they never found out? What if we keep this just our little secret?”
“Willow … I can almost guarantee that sooner or later they will find out. Most secrets come out into the light eventually. It’s always best if you confess it rather than them stumbling onto the truth later.” Dr. Estrada then noticed his patient looking quite different than usual. “Willow? Are you alright?”
The girl was shaking visibly, to where the tremors could be heard in every exhalation. Her eyes were wide open and wet, with tears about to be birthed from them. Panicked, they darted around the room and then met the doctor’s eyes again.
“Talk to me, young one,” said Estrada in a calm, low voice. “Let’s do the feelings exercise again. What emotion are you sensing most?”
“I … I don’t know! I don’t know what this is!”
“Then describe what your body is feeling; we’ll start there.”
“My heart is racing a thousand miles an hour! And I feel like the chair and the floor are going to collapse – I don’t have anything to hold on to!”
“Any tunnel vision?”
“What’s that? … Uhh, no, I don’t think so! God this is horrible!”
“Willow. You look like you’re terrified. Is that the emotion – fear?”
She buried her head in her hands and began to bawl, choking out some words in between sobs. “This will kill any love they had for me … I’ll have to go back to being angry Bill! All the good things in my life – I’m going to lose them all! I’m so scared!”
Dr. Estrada extended an open palm to the suffering teen. “Willow, give me your hand.” She weakly placed her trembling fingers in his. “I know your parents, and I doubt they will love you less. If you’d like, you can use your next counseling session a week from now to tell them both; that way, I can be here to support you.”
“Okay, Doc. Let’s do that, please.” She exhaled deeply and fanned her face. She gradually relaxed, eventually going nearly limp as she leaned back onto the chair.
“Whew! So that’s fear, huh? I really hate that one. How do I handle it in the future, when you aren’t around to help me?”
“First realize that it’s a feeling, and feelings pass. Then courageously face what you’re afraid of. Brave people feel scared all the time; they just don’t let it paralyze them. Remember this: when you’re walking through a Valley of Fear – keep walking.”
“Sounds like good advice. I’ve never dealt with all these emotions before.”
Dr. Estrada raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you remember being afraid before? Any time in your life?”
“You know, I think as Bill I took every uncomfortable feeling and made it into anger,” Willow contemplated. “Then I took it out on whatever or whoever was closest to me. Having to deal with feelings without just getting angry? It’s new, and it’s hard. But I think it’s better for me.”
“Your eyes are red. Everything OK?” queried Gwen to her child as they drove home. “You were in there for quite a while.”
Willow smiled and leaned across the passenger seat to hug her mother. “I love you, Momma. So much.”
“I can’t get enough of you saying that to me, daughter. I love you more than you’ll ever know.”
Willow was silent for a minute, then spoke again. “Momma? You know how – when we checked out at the doc today - they asked you and Poppa to be there for the next counseling session?”
“Yes. Next week is super busy for William but he’ll find a way to get there, I’m sure. What’s it about?”
“I was going to tell you and Poppa something, with the doc there to support me. But I don’t think I should wait; I need to talk to you two tonight, if possible.”
“Okay … are you sure you want to do this without Dr. Estrada?”
“Yeah. I’m walking through a valley, and I just need to keep walking.”
Gwen Eiken looked at the alarm clock. It was 12:33 AM. She sighed and went back to reading her book using the bedside table lamp as light.
“Hey. I’m back,” announced William quietly, walking into the bedroom.
“About time, buster. I was about to file a missing persons report. So … how are you feeling, what are you thinking?” said the wife, patting her hand on his side of the mattress as an invitation.
He took off his sneakers and slid onto the comforter beside Gwen. “You know, when Willow confessed all of that to us tonight – especially how she was trying to deceive us in the beginning – my overwhelming urge was to extend the grounding, tighten the restrictions, start calling her Bill again and get rid of all the female clothes and makeup and stuff. I realized I needed to cool off.”
“So you said you were going for a drive to clear your head - and stayed gone 3 hours. Where’d you drive to?”
“You went all the way to New Mexico?? Good Lord! Las Cruces is like, 40 miles away! Honey, you can’t do things like that without letting me know!”
“I know; I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. I just wasn’t emotionally prepared to hear this today. Afraid if I hung around I’d lose control of my mouth, and regret it later.”
“I felt betrayed too, honey. But you’ve always felt that Willow – Bill – was trying to scam us with this transgender business, right? Why were you so surprised when it turned out to be true?”
“Because in the last few weeks I had really bought in to it all – that Willow was real from the start. I’m angry that I got fooled. I’m disappointed in Willow. And probably most of all, I feared that I’d lost her.”
Gwen was surprised. “You feared you’d lost Willow?”
“Yes. I have to confess – I adore Willow. I love Bill, but come on, he was tough to handle in recent years. In Willow, I had a second daughter; and she’s been a pure joy, just as Angie is. I suddenly realized tonight: If Bill came back full time, I’d miss Willow terribly. It was all too much. So I went on a drive to sort things out. It took over eighty miles to do it, but I think I’m better now.”
“Well, relax. Our middle child has asked that she still be allowed to live as Willow. She wants to continue with hormone treatments too.”
“I still have worries, Gwen. How will she do in public, when she’s ‘read’ as a transsexual and ridiculed? When she faces the difficulty of being a female in today’s society? I think we’re going to need to allow her to have a little independence … and pray that she doesn’t get back into trouble or drugs like when she was Bill.”
Gwen began to fret. “We were deceived in the beginning; do you think she’s still fooling us now, just to get around the rules? Do you think she’s really Willow, or just pretending to be?”
William shrugged. “I sensed tonight she was being as honest as she’s ever been. But there’s no way to be sure until we see what she does with a little more freedom. Let’s discuss the details tomorrow; then we’ll present it to her.”
“Okay. And next time you get a wild hair to go to New Mexico, you better take me with you.”
“Found a little coffee spot in L.C. where they let you sit on the roof and look at the mountains. I’ll bet under a full moon it would be romantic.”
“Let me show you something else that’s romantic,” Gwen whispered as she slid off her negligee.
Willow’s stomach was doing flip-flops, and she found it hard to concentrate on today’s homeschool readings. She had stopped earlier to analyze these sensations, and she was pretty sure it was the emotion of fear again. Last night she had come clean with her folks, and Poppa had left in his car without saying goodbye; no reassuring hug, but no angry outburst either. Her Momma had told her to expect an “important talk” after supper today; until then, she had to wait and feel her feelings. Keep walking, she thought to herself. Keep walking.
William came home just as the evening meal was put on the table; the family had lighthearted small talk as they ate. Malachi had joked about his newest sister being a unicorn, due to her powder blue cotton top with a pink-and-blue sweater she had on. Even Willow laughed at that; it was a rare non-derogatory comment from Mal. As the meal finished, Angie and Mal were excused from the room. Willow sat across the table from her parents. William cleared his throat.
“Willow; your Momma and I have talked about your confessions from last night. We’ve made some decisions about you regarding rules, restrictions, and who you live your life as.”
The teenager felt a shiver intensifying inside her. It’s just a feeling; it will pass. Be brave. Keep walking.
“I’m sorry I left so suddenly last night, without saying anything to you. Let me reassure you, I still love you. So does your Momma. That love will always be there, okay? Take comfort in that.”
Willow felt her eyes get a little wet, and the shiver disappeared.
“However, both of us were disappointed in you. We finally had come to believe you; then to find that this started out as a ruse - it really hurt, Willow.”
“At the same time,” interjected Gwen, “we are proud of you for telling us the truth now. In recent years, you’ve never admitted to a lie unless we confronted you with overwhelming evidence. This shows us you’re growing up. Thank you for that, sweetie.”
“Now,” resumed her Poppa, “as to who you should live your life as, Bill or Willow. I know you are sure you want to be Willow. But you have a whole world of challenges if you continue to live as a girl. Anti-trans and anti-woman hate are tough to deal with. Some other women will not accept you as one of them. You can never bear children unless medical science takes a few amazing leaps soon. If you keep your penis, it may not work well; if you have sex-change surgery, your vagina may not work as well as a genetic female vagina. There’s no guarantee you’ll be able to … um … come. Orgasm. You know what that is, right?”
Willow rolled her eyes and smiled a goofy smile. “Duh! Of course, Poppa.”
William’s face was suddenly flushed; he glanced at his wife. “Passing to you, honey.”
Gwen rubbed his shoulder as she laughed. “Poor Poppa. Dads get so uptight discussing sex with their daughters. But those challenges he mentioned? They are real. You will have difficulties if you decided to become Bill again, but not as severe. The main issue would be taking your newfound maturity into your Bill persona; if you did, that might be your easiest route to a successful future.”
“Momma – are you saying you want me to stop being Willow?”
“No, honey. What we want is for you to live how you want. But to really know what you want, you need to experience life on the outside more. Interact with other people; run into problems and learn how to solve them. Then before you get past the point of no return with your body, you can choose whether you really want a woman’s life or not.”
“Hey!” Willow gasped with excitement. “Are you dropping my groundings and rules?”
“Not dropping. Loosening,” replied Gwen. “First, allowing you to go out and do things with Angie instead of one of us. Let’s see how you function as a sister duo. If that goes well, we’ll loosen a little more.”
The Poppa rejoined the conversation. “You still will be homeschooled for the immediate future, and expect us to demand spit or urine to test for drugs. That will be another temptation you’ll have to overcome – illicit substances. I worry about that the most, to be honest. You’ll need to avoid friends who use drugs, and hang around ones that don’t.”
“Maybe I should attend Narcotics Anonymous,” offered Willow.
William and Gwen glanced at each other in surprise. “You’d be open to doing that?” said the mother.
“Sure! Maybe I can make a friend or two there.” Like Bernard! she tittered internally. I’ll text him.
Willow and her older sister Angela were at the Thursday night North El Paso Narcotics Anonymous meeting. It was an “open” meeting, meaning non-addict friends were allowed to attend. People were gathering and sitting down in the chairs; it was less than 5 minutes until start time.
“Angie – does it look like I’m passing? Is anyone looking at me funny?” fretted Willow. She was dressed in her embroidered jeans with her mother's lilac blouse and a denim jacket.
“Girl, chill. You move like a natural lady now, and you’re so short no one suspects anything. That and your immaculate makeup job, courtesy of your awesome sister.”
Angie took in the appearance of the gathering group. “Yikes. Some of these people look pretty rough,” she whispered. “And then there are some normal people, like you’d see at any mall.”
“Everyone’s a former addict or trying to get clean. A mix of all types. What would you expect?” replied Willow. “Oh hey! I know that guy over there!” She started waving frantically at a tall young Latino man with short-but-thick brown hair. He noticed the waving and walked over to where the two girls were.
“Bernard!” Willow winked so only he could see. “Remember me? I used to be your best bud, Bill Ramos. My name is Willow now.”
“No way! Wow, you’re a girl? That is a definite surprise. I am definitely shocked. Definitely. It’s cool, though. Can I sit by you two?”
Willow rolled her eyes mentally. God, Bern. Could you be any worse an actor? Just be quiet and I’ll take it from here. “Hey, Angie – this is my old friend Bernard. I know him from Montclair High; he’s a senior there like you. We hung together when I went there.”
“Bernard … “ thought Angie. “Mom talked about a Bernard who did drugs with my brother Bill. I don’t think she’d approve of you hanging out with us. Willow, let’s go to the car please.”
“I’m sober and clean,” inserted Bernard. “For nearly a year now. I come to these meetings to keep that way. If Bill – or Willow – wanted to do drugs, I’d have to drop him – ah, her – as a friend. Staying abstinent is the most important thing in my life.”
Angie still looked wary. She stared at Bernard and was silent for a little bit. Then: “Okay. We can stay, and you can sit with us – but start acting sneaky and I’m gone, taking her with me.”
Willow raised an eyebrow as she turned her head to Bernard. “Abstinent? You're not allowed to have sex?” she whispered.
“Dudette, you got a lot to learn,” laughed Bern.
Yo Bern u there
Wow. Sounds funny, saying my girl name in text. I kind of like it tho.
How u like NA mtg?
Shocked. So many of my former drug customers there!
Yep. See that junk we were dealing was ruining a lotta lives.
And I didn’t think I needed to b there personally. But by the end, I realize I was abusing all the time I was dealing. Used 2 say I only did lortabs, and only once. But truth is I got CAUGHT only once.
You ought to continue doing NA. Gets u sober friendships, and forces u to be honest. Everyone there has lied 2 use drugs. They kno what BS sounds like. So it’s hard to fool them – they call u out on it. NA not just good 4 stayin clean, but 4 life in general.
Yeah living honestly is better. I been totally honest with folks since confessing 2 them the other nite.
Willow we R secretly texting on a phone u r not supposed 2 have.
Haha bruh u even curse like girl now
Come 2 next thurs NA mtg again; I’ll slip ur sister’s phone back 2u. Until then let’s not use it. Maybe allowed 2 have own phone if my rules loosen further.
Ok. Glad u came 2 mtg. Missed seeing u
Missed u 2. U best friend I could ever have.
Willow typed “love u” at the end of the last text, but deleted it before sending it.
To be continued tomorrow.
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