“Why are you crying, Joanne?” Joanne sobbed, “I’ve never been this happy.” The intake nurse’s eyes glossed over as they began to imagine the mistreatment that Joanne might have experienced at the last facility she was at. “You’re safe here, take deep breaths,” the nurse fought back their own tears as they assured Joanne that everything would be okay. “We have lots of other trans folk living here;” though Nurse Gabi said this with a smile, Jo let out one last big wail before trying to catch her breath.
While Joanne was crying, she was thinking of the night she was thrown out of her parents’ house when she was 15 years old. She thought about all the times she was called “faggot” or “he-she” during her adolescence. She thought about the times she had been called a monster; she remembered the pain of those words and the callousing of her soul.
Joanne had decided to live her life as a man in their early twenties. After two years of conformity, she met her late wife, Tabatha. Joanne believes they may have actually been in love; they bought a home, raised several dogs, and shared many benign memories. The two times that Tabatha allowed Joanne to cross-dress were the most joyous nights of her life, for a time. Tabatha ended it after Jo seemed “too happy” about “playing dress-up;” Jo will remember those words until her death day, “You’re not like.. a fag.. are you?” Jo stayed awake all night, crying in the shower after Tabatha had fallen asleep. Role-play was off the table altogether after that night.
Saying “I’m a woman” was unthinkable to Jo up until a few years prior. Tabatha had developed cervical cancer, the doctors gave her a year to live; she died in two. While watching Tabatha waste away, Jo fought the urge to come out to her, sleep was lost and weight was gained. At the end of the first year, the truth was revealed.
“Honey, you look so beautiful.” Jo was trying to butter up her sickly wife.
“I can tell you want to say something, spit it out.” Her sickly wife was still a viper.
Joanne smiled and got even more nervous; she took a deep breath and remembered that she had planned for this. All the preparation was in vain; Jo’s mind was lost in a haze of doubt. She never said this out loud, not even when alone. Tabatha was starting to lose her patience; realizing this, Joanne confessed.
“I’m a woman.” Her heart sank down to her taint and she got dizzy. Her ears were hot and her face got red.
“I’m sorry I asked you if you were a fag.”
Tabatha and Joanne spent that final year together getting to know one another. Tabatha taught Jo how to wear a bra and how to walk in heels. She helped Joanne work on her makeup and was the only person that knew about Joanne. After Tabatha’s passing, Joanne sold the house and moved to a nursing home. She had no children and didn’t want to live alone in the small house she and her dead wife shared for thirty years.
Florida was a fine state to live in; the weather was usually beautiful. After 3 months at Old Caledonia, Joanne came out as herself to her primary care provider.
“Okay, Mr. Santino. I’m gonna refer you to one of our therapists.” The guy didn’t even look away from his computer monitor.
Joanne’s fight-or-flight response kicked in; though she tried to rationalize the situation. She was hopeful that the therapist could help her realize her transition. Two agonizing dysphoria-wrought days later, Joanne had her appointment with the therapist.
“So tell me about this transgendering stuff? What’s that about?”
This therapist had clearly never met a transgender person in their entire life. He refused to call Joanne by her name and incessantly referred to her as “Mister Santino.” Joanne went back to her room that night and thought about Tabatha. The following week, Joanne went to the therapist; this time she intended to be brave.
“I am transgender and I want to be a woman.”
“Mr. Santino, can you tell me more about why you would feel that way?”
After some back and forth, the therapist decided to prescribe Joanna Chlorpromazine. This was explained to be an antipsychotic medication; Joanne reluctantly accepted. After three months, Joanne told the therapist she was fine and was taken of the medication. Dysphoria was still burning her to her core.
She tried telling one of the nurses; one she thought she could trust with a secret. She spoke to Daisy; she was a quiet and bug-eyed girl that nobody seemed to speak to or take a remote interest in. After striking up some idle banter, Joanne asked if she could share a secret. Daisy hesitantly agreed, seeming somewhat scared.
“I am transgender.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I’m a woman.”
“Mister, do you need to take your meds? Who’s your primary care provider?”
She stayed up that night, crying in bed. She awoke the next day and sulked around the complex; she fed the birds at the artificial lake, she tried cloud-gazing, and she tried eating. Nothing could take her mind away from the wish that someone could see her the way Tabatha once saw her, Joanne wanted her womanhood to be recognized and cherished. She went to the computer lab and asked for help getting on a web browser; after an hour of googling for anything trans-health-related, she found a website with a forum called Trans Later and she found a community with which she could identify. She asked for advice on how to transition at a retirement home that wouldn’t recognize her identity and a stranger on the internet recommended she explore her options at different retirement homes. She was given a link to a website for a “Queer-Inclusive Retirement Community;” on their homepage introduction video, they called the facility QIRC (pronounced like “quirk”). Joanne found the number and called to schedule a visit.
“Hi, thank you for calling QIRC. Would you be so kind as to tell me your name and pronouns?”
“Hi, my name is John. I want to be called Joanne. My pronouns are she and her.”
“Alright, Joanne. How can I help you?”
The building was small but there was a massive garden surrounding the perimeter. It was almost palatial. Joanne filled out some forms when she arrived at the building and then spoke to a nurse. For the first time, a complete stranger called her by her name. All the pain came flooding back with a subsequent tidal wave of relief.
Tears began to flow down her cheeks.