The body of a stranger

When I saw her a few days ago, sitting at her desk and looking pale and drawn, she who is usually so energetic and joyful, I asked: “What is the matter with you? Are you ill?”

She looked at me sadly, asked me to sit down and told me her story.

“I don’t feel well” – she said – and when I asked her about her symptoms, was she feverish, did she want me to get some paracetamol, she shook her head and said:

“It’s not so simple. I am depressed”. At this point I understood she needed to talk; most of all she needed someone to listen to her, and I sat back and listened. And she went on.

“It’s not about work; in fact my work is saving me I think. Still, I go to bed every night wishing I don’t have to get up again and I wake up every morning without the strength to get up. And yet I do, because coming to work is my motivation. The reasons for my being like this are strictly personal” – she added.

There we go again, I thought. Is she going to tell me she’s divorcing? I have briefly met her husband and they have always seemed happy, with their two children. After all, many people –especially women, I think – get depressed while going through the always painful experience of breaking up a home, a family. But no, she surprised me as she went on.

“It’s my daughter, ever since she was a child we knew she liked other girls, and this was made even more clear when she became a teenager” – I was quiet, just looking at her, because her pain seemed out of proportion – after all this is not a tragedy, not even an issue as it used to be! And she went on: “All through her teenage years we have tried to help her, accepting her choice…”

“But then” – I interrupted, “if you have accepted her sexual orientation, and if she’s happy, what is the matter?” – even in a conventional society such as ours, people’s mentalities have evolved and even more since homosexual marriage was approved by law, so again I saw no reason for her state. But she went on to explain.

“This is not about sexual orientation. Her problem goes deeper, because she feels like a man – in a woman’s body. She tells me she cannot feel like a woman, she is a man inside her head, she feels she is in a wrong body, in the body of a stranger; she hates her body in fact!”

Then I understood the reason for her pain. As a mother, nothing is more unbearable that seeing our children suffer. Whatever makes them suffer hurts us deeply as well. I remember feeling my boys’ heartaches as if they were my own, be it because of a lost love or for having failed an important exam. Or in Afonso’s case due to his injured knee, when he felt powerless in face of the fact that he would always have a weak knee until he was operated on…but this is nothing of the sort, this must be the sort of pain a mother feels incapable of soothing, because it must be so great, and so deep, and in a way so hopeless that one would not know what to do, how to act…my heart warmed to this unhappy mother, unable to help her daughter in her misery, in her need to escape the body she was born in but that turned out not to be the body of her choice…

She went on to tell me her daughter wants to undergo an operation to change her sex. She knows this is a complicated procedure but the alternative is too unbearable, says her mother. After all, her daughter, in her early twenties, has never had a romantic relationship. She has never even kissed or been kissed! How can one imagine someone going through their teens without that? Unthinkable, yet true! She knows this will be a lengthy, painful, complex process that will take a few years to be completed. There are only a handful of doctors who perform this surgery in Portugal, but there have been successful cases. But of course her daughter knows she has a few tough years ahead of her, and her family will be there to support her, for better or for worse, even if they know they will be “the talk of the town” – as much as mentalities have changed, this is still not so usual and people can be very cruel.

When she finished talking she looked as if a weight had been lifted off her chest. I suppose she needs to talk, to open her heart. I told her I now understood how a positive person like her was depressed, as I could see the ordeal their family was going through, but most of all I could understand her anguish at all the pain her daughter has been and will go through. If only, she said, if only one day she can feel happy inside her body, them it will all have been worthwhile…

It was time to go. I got up and sincerely thanked her for having told me her heart-rending story. She assured me she is being well treated for her depression, taking chemicals and seeing a psychiatrist, as she should. I know she will be cured of her depression in clinical terms; after all depression (as all mental illnesses), is just that, an illness like any other), but I’m afraid this pain she feels will go on inside her for a long time. Until the day when her child, now a daughter but then most probably a son, looks at her and says the time has finally come to feel well inside his body, to feel complete, to feel he can finally live the life his mind always yearned for. And then, even after all these drastic changes that will certainly need some adjustments, this mother will feel relieved, and will finally get back her long lost peace of mind, because in the end all she wants is to know her children are happy, fulfilled. And any other considerations are really nothing but details to a mother’s loving heart.







Summer love