For the past 30 years, my mum – an artist and household name in New Zealand – has singlehandedly raised two impeccable children. My relationship with her was always complicated, but in 2016, I told her I was trans.
It marked an incredibly difficult period. She couldn’t understand what I was going through, and I couldn’t explain it to her. We haven’t spoken of that time for fear of hurting each other, but our relationship has been getting better.
We are in a good place, so I asked her if she would sit down with me to talk about what that period was like for her.
Fury: In hindsight, were there any signs that I was queer?
Belinda: No. Apart from that time you dressed up in drag at school. I just shrieked with laughter when I heard that because it was just pure Shakespeare. As a very conservative school they were not amused. They gave me such a hard time.
F: It’s so funny that you mention that because my favourite Shakespeare play was always Twelfth Night because they were all cross-dressing and falling in love with each other as different genders. It always gave me such a thrill.
F: What things did you struggle with when you were first processing the fact I wasn’t a woman?
B: Well I think I was bewildered, first of all, because you told me to read Jeffrey Eugenides’ book Middlesex. So I went and bought Middlesex and I read Middlesex. I didn’t really get it. I thought it was really weird. I didn’t understand why you told me to get it. Then you said “read it again”. I thought ‘Bloody hell, I just bought the book and read the book and now you’re saying “read it again”?’ So I gave it to the thrift store.
F: [Laughing] Do you want to know why I told you to buy the book?
F: I was just very anxious about telling you about my gender feelings and I wanted you to have some frame of reference. I knew it would be bewildering for you.
B: Ah, interesting. I didn’t get that’s what you were trying to do. Probably because the book was too extreme.
F: That makes sense. Did you struggle with anything else?
B: I found pronouns difficult. At the time I felt like, “pah”. Trans people expect the rest of the world to change their behaviour because of something that is going on with them.
F: And what changed for you?
B: Well I realised that it was such a small thing to do, and it appeared to be so important to them that I thought – you know what? That’s fine.
F: What got you to that point?
B: A year of therapy.
F: [Laughs] The correct response.
F: Were there any moments when you were processing my gender and transness where things just clicked?
B: I think I went along to the therapy sessions, you know, I cried a lot and talked a lot. Sometimes I got really angry in them. I think it was when the counsellor said “Well, you know, at the end of the day, from what I’m hearing, this is about whether or not you want your relationship with your child to continue. Because the potential to lose them is there.” That was kind of seminal.
F: Yeah, the stakes became real.
F: If you had a do-over, what would you have done differently?
B: No, that’s not the right question. Because I couldn’t have done anything differently. I was who I was and this was what it was. It couldn’t have been any different.
F: You mentioned before about your friend’s nephew being trans. You said that the way her family supports him makes you feel grateful. What do they do that makes you feel that way?
B: Oh, you know, they went and talked to his school. They asked if it was okay if he wore boys clothes. They are rooting for him.
F: And why does that make you feel grateful?
B: I feel relieved for that child.
[Belinda starts getting upset]
F: Is this conversation okay?
B: Yeah, it’s been okay. I mean, I found those old photographs today and you looked so sad in all of them. I remember that you slept all the time back then.
F: Yes. I was sleeping 12 hours a night with a 2-hour nap after school.
B: I know. I think that, you know, I was so busy. I didn’t realise. I was so busy bringing you guys up.
F: Also, you didn’t know.
B: I didn’t. I didn’t. Well, I mean, I kept a good eye on you. I think I was good at understanding mental health or just looking after your spirits, but I had no concept of this.
F: Neither did I.
B: I don’t think you did.
F: Absolutely not. Neither of us had words for what I was going through. It was just a hard time. We did the best we could. You did the best you could.
B: When did you realise? I mean, I think a lot of it happened when you moved to Melbourne.
F: Yes, it definitely started in Melbourne and breaking up with my partner at the time. It was like I was on this life track. It’s a life track that I had started multiple times: get a guy settle down, and then eventually buy a house and have children. But every time I’d get to a point and I would just feel like I couldn’t breathe. With him it was like: this is the perfect version of this life track. I really like this guy. He’s really beautiful. He loves me, we get along really well, but I’m still feeling this. I still feel I’m getting to a point where I feel suffocated. That’s when I realised there was something I need to do that I couldn’t do with him. It wasn’t a conscious realisation. It wasn’t a thought, it was a feeling; this needs to end. Obviously, that was where it started and I ended up here, but I didn’t know that at the time. I think that a lot of people when they think about trans people, they think that it’s a conscious decision. Absolutely not. It’s so emotional and bodily and inexplicable. For five years after breaking up, I just wandered around aimlessly, not knowing what the hell I was doing.
B: That description of not being able to breathe – I was in exactly that situation. When I was dating my first boyfriend he took me to a wedding and we had to find a motel to stay in. They gave us this little glass bottle of milk and showed us to our room. I walked straight through the room, put the bottle of milk on the table and went straight out the back door. I said we can’t stay here. I felt as if I couldn’t breathe. We went to the wedding and they had bottles of Fanta on the table. Then we went and visited some of his married friends and they showed us their new whiteware corner. I couldn’t breathe. I absolutely fled. He never forgave me. He took a long time to recover. He then got a new girlfriend called Lindy. [Laughs]
F: [Laughs] Okay, one last question.
F: Do you have any advice for parents of queer or trans kids?
B: “There’s lots of good information online” is probably the best advice to give. Get counselling. Also, it’s important to recognise that what is happening is not about you.
In the days since the call, I have thought about what it means to be loved. For most people, the expressions of love are the small, traditional ones; a present on your birthday, a call in the middle of the night, a verbalisation.
For my mum, love meant uprooting her conceptions of gender so that she could understand me better. She wanted me to feel safe with her, and she did the work to get herself there.
Fury is a disabled, non-binary creative based in Naarm/Melbourne. Their mother, Belinda, is a well renowned New Zealand-based artist. Belinda walked a fine line between encouraging Fury‘s many creative inclinations while discouraging any steps towards being an artist full-time. She wanted an easier life for them, but didn’t succeed in her valiant efforts. You can find Fury‘s work at furywrites.com and Belinda’s work at www.belindawilson.co.nz.