All the girls in my family have one.
It seems to be a bit of a tradition with them at this point. They like to make a point to go shopping for Pandora charms for life events or when they're in a new place. They buy them for each other as gifts and share the meaning of each charm with one another, each one has it's own story. My sister's has gotten so crowded that sometimes I wonder if it's uncomfortable to wear! But still she does.
It wasn't until recently that I became a little jealous of that. It seems like such a vain thing to worry about, yet somewhere in me there was still the nagging feeling that my family didn't see me as female, even if they accept me and have learned to address me as such. It was probably all in my head, and I couldn't help the feeling that if I was feeling it, they could see it, and if they could see it then maybe that's why they weren't accepting me as a "real" woman.
My mother and I have birthdays that are 4 days apart, every year my family chooses a spot to meet close to that date to celebrate our birthdays together and can bring family from all around to celebrate with us. The last few years it has been at a restaurant in a small town that the ferry from the island that my parents live docks at. Our mainland family (myself included) and island family were brought together once more, about 16 of us in total! Not everyone was able to make it either, with my sister in the middle of Canada on a road trip and one of my close cousins unable to get away from his obligations in the south island but I was able to see my brother, another one of my close cousins, my aunt and uncle (and their adorable 7 year old daughter and 3 month old son) who have let me stay at their house for countless days while work has brought me out that way (and from the beginning to end of my transition, no less), my Canon Anglican Deacon Grandmother (don't be afraid! She's an ally!), once removed aunts and uncles and of course and my parents. There was even a couple who (I can't fully remember the relation) when they asked if I remembered them I was able to answer with, "yes, I remember you from when I was a little boy".
I still get nervous at these big family events. My family is surprisingly liberal for a group of church going cis-hetero-normative well respected members of society, but I do still feel the need to confine to their view of femininity. Which, really isn't all that bad. In the past all that's meant is that I help out with food prep, get the boys a beer every once in a while and help with the dishes after the meal. I found it intimidating at first but I think that my persistence in fitting that mold is part of what helped my family to realize I was serious about being seen as a woman. I also discovered that these were sacred places for the women of my family. A time and a place away from the noise that we could talk, laugh and ask each other the serious questions that we didn't want to bring up at the dinner table. I feel I've grown a lot closer to the women in my family because of it.
But yesterday was my day. It was my Mom's day too. With no prep or clean up at a restaurant we were free to just chat and drink margaritas in the unseasonably warm sun. I was still my reserved self but I did lose my composure a bit when it came time to exchange gifts. My gift for my Mom was rather lame, but it came from the heart. I have been living on a very strict budget that I am going to have to maintain until I am back on my feet and able to work again following my surgery later this year, but I was able to afford a card and a pound of my favorite coffee. I know my Mom loves her coffee but she usually drinks the kind of stuff that comes in a tin and weighs a kilogram. My little hipster heart can't take that. I did a flourish of calligraphy in her card that she loved. I don't think value mattered so much to her.
Her gift to me though almost made me emotional right there. She passed me over a "Pandora" bag and I immediately thought that couldn't actually be what it was. Sure enough, I opened the exquisite jewelery box that it came in and found a Pandora bracelet with two charms. After showing me how to put it one and take it off (it does require instruction!) she explained the charms to me. One was thick bead with butterflies cut into it. She told me that this was for my transformation and everything that I've gone through, that is seemed appropriate to give it to me on my birthday, the year I would be completing my physical journey in becoming a woman. The other is a silver stiletto, and that one is apparently just for being fabulous.
I was also very touched by the card given to me by my Aunt and Uncle who have treated me as their own (and I have taken to calling my "surrogate family". It was a beautiful fuchsia card with "Niece" written on it. I was also surprised to be the first one greeted by my gregarious and energetic 7-year old cousin who then quickly went on to say hi to everyone else (and then change wardrobe at least 3 times and perform a dance recital on the deck of the restaurant, so much wonderful energy in that kid). Maybe I was the first one in her eyesight but it was still nice to feel special for that moment.
After dinner and a lot more catching up it was time for the obligatory onslaught of cameras from each and every family for a variety of family photos. In recent years I had felt that my family had been avoiding these moments because... well, like they taught us in school - bring enough for everybody or don't bring any at all. I couldn't help but feel like in mid transition I was a bit of a strange sight for the ol' family album.
Yesterday was different. It was the same as I remembered from before I started my transition. Whether my presentation is now better or they've just gotten used to it I don't know - or care, really. They arranged us in all different manners. "Now you two, now just this family". Of course it was after "just the cousins" that came "just the women" and I started to drift off, not knowing what the reaction would be until my cousin called after me, "that's you, Mikah!"
At this point I don't even care that when my Dad tells old stories of me he still refers to past me as "he". At least he sees me as the person I now see myself as in the present. He'll get it. Eventually.
Even if I had to pay my own bill (this place is much, much above my normal budget for restaurants) I look at it as my Dad seeing me as financially responsible. Not bad considering that when I came out to him the first thing he told me was that I would never be able to find a job. If he's not worried about me then that's all I can ask for. I think over the past couple of years I have earned at least that much, even if I have lost the father/son relationship we once had. He still treats me with respect and still talks with me when he has the chance in his busy schedule, still gives me advice, but something feels much different in the way he talks to me - a certain caution that I hope goes away with time. If nothing else, I hope living with them again following surgery will at least give him enough time around me to feel comfortable again.
I had to leave at one point to go put money in my parking meter and my brother came along for the walk. I don't always get the time to see him and when I do it's so rare that we actually get any time to chat. So we had a great walk and got caught up, had a good casual chat - something I haven't always gotten with my family through all of this.
Still, even with all the good memories in tow if any one gesture will not be forgotten it is the bracelet. Something about that gift just sealed the deal for me. I know I shouldn't place such sentimental value on physical belongings or trinkets, but this one really meant something to me. It's not even the bracelet, it's something more. It's being accepted, it's being welcomed, it's being seen as a member of the family the way I want to be seen. I feel that part is truly invaluable. So I'm wearing it to my trans support group today. I'll probably wear it tomorrow. Hell, I'll probably wear it on any day that I don't see an immediate risk of it being damaged. I've even started to look online at the other charms available. Not for me, but to give as a gift. I feel like I'm a part of it, and I want to give back.
There's another lesson that comes along with all of this. My family has good taste. Bloody expensive taste, but still good. It's just another reason to work harder and get back on track so that I can show them that their kindness has helped me in ways they may never be fully able to comprehend. But I think they can see it in my smile.
Attached: Me and my brother. I think I'm less passable in this picture than the last x) but who cares, it was a great evening.