A text written for the 'Archiving Joy' project by Lu Williams about their trans great aunt, Joy. Book available here (free copies available)

Your Grandmother Sucks Cocks in Heaven (She's Non Binary Now)

 

My grandma only wore men’s clothes as long as I knew her. When she left the house - which was as infrequently as she could - she put on a long lumpy coat and a silk headscarf tied tight under the chin. You could still see her muddy trousers and sensible shoes (from a catalogue full of shiny pictures of tanned, teethy, milk fed WASPy Americans in slacks and V neck sweaters, on yachts and log cabins) poking out underneath. 

 

Clothing has no gender! my grandma’s ghost shouts at me. She’s wearing an aran jumper full of holes and she smells quite bad. She didn’t like to get undressed and wash. I think she slept in an aran jumper too. I’m not quite sure why my grandma, born in the early 20th century in County Sligo, is appearing to me as a ghostly non binary influencer. Maybe heaven changes people. 

 

I could be tempted, if I lacked immaculate analysis, to cast my grandma’s frequent disregard for others' emotions as a male trait. My mother often gestured to the idea that grandma would’ve been happier as a man. I'm inclined to agree with her, although our tactics vary. Sometimes I thought the same thing about boyhood, when I was a girl. I put this thought away - I pretended it was for feminism but really it was the perceived impossibility of that statement. I didn’t know any trans people, I just knew that my grandma only wore men’s clothes and that she was very unhappy. I think we once sat behind someone who might’ve been a transgender woman at the cinema, but my grandma just tutted that her hair was in the way. When I first encountered a trans person, I can’t say I carried myself with much more grace.

 

My grandma died before I came out as trans, before I even acknowledged there was more going on with me than mere homosexuality. That’s why I was quite surprised that she didn’t comment on my short haircut and baby moustache when her slightly translucent torso pushed through my wall in the middle of the night. To her credit, grandma never did that whole ‘aren’t you pretty you’ve put on weight what do you think you’re wearing do you have a boyfriend’ thing - more evidence for the prosecution. Sometimes she bought me clothes and they varied from hairshirt texture jumpers, old timey T-shirts I wished I kept and a pink gingham dress I could only describe as sissy-adjacent…

 

Excuse me! Said grandma, punching me in the arm. Are you listening to me? That was on me - I’d picked up the habit of syphoning out grandma’s voice. She’d had a tendency to tell cyclical stories, dominate a conversation, say things like I’d kick his arse, the bastard! about people who’d cut in front of her at the butchers. Mum thought this was macho, Dad thought it was autism. Eventually, it turned out to be dementia. Her stories got more surreal. At the nursing home, they put her in a frilly nighty. It looked so wrong. She cried when we visited and I realised I’d never seen her cry before.

 

I still wasn’t listening. I was scared to. I’d used her as a cheap anecdote, used her for this piece of writing. I showed a picture of her to a friend, asking desperately: 'Does my grandma have t boy swag?’ I imagined finding a stash of secret letters outlining feelings I too had felt - burning desires, confusions, secret perversities. Perhaps she went to a lesbian bar when she moved to London in the 50s and failed to find what she was looking for. Maybe she signed up for a newsletter in the 80s - you know the type you see in archives with stark graphic design and reclaimable language. It could be just one of the many things she gave up out of a sense of Catholic martyrdom. Why did I want that? A way to generate a lineage - a natural urge, I told myself, but was it for me or the gender doctor? Some way to prove I had the Trans Gene without getting my brain measured. Grandma punched me in the arm again. 

 

You can be whatever you want to be in heaven, says grandma, do you follow Jonathan Van Ness on insta? I notice that she (they? he? xie?) is wearing blue lipstick and that the holey aran jumper is actually a purposefully distressed gender neutral tunic by this independent queer designer I sometimes get targeted adverts for. Her hair is the same short blunt bob she used to cut in herself with kitchen scissors, but it looks a little more purposefully jagged now. It’s time to talk about Trans Joy! She said. It was the last thing I wanted to talk about. She gets to be joyful? While I’m miserable? Surely not.

 

She pulls up her sleeve to reveal a wobbly stick-and-poked testosterone symbol. I just got this done last week, she said, Jesus had a flash sale. She lets her sleeve fall down. How many months are you? She asked, then immediately said, I bet I can guess! I hid beneath my blankets. Six months? Six months! I’d been on T for over 2 years at this point. I popped my head back up and scowled. Oh, well, I suppose it affects everyone differently! I rather had a moustache already, what with the menopause! She stepped further into the room and floated cross legged in the air, wearing Doc Marten sandals. I’m 6 weeks only but I can very much feel it rearranging my molecules. I’m just soooo happy! Her head spun around on its axis like in The Exorcist. Only 6 weeks? At 6 weeks I hadn’t felt anything. At 2 years I often felt I didn’t feel enough. Whatever. She should really shave that neck beard. 

 

Well, I’m after leaving - have to make the gluten free soda bread for the queer Irish language workshop in the morning! It happens on a cloud! Grandma floated back through the wall. Wait! I cried. There was so much I wanted to ask her, I just didn’t know where to start. There was so much I wanted to tell her too, stuff I’d never even told myself. I wasn’t sure what would come out if I opened my mouth. But she was gone. I got back under the covers and dry-cried, for her, for all of us. But mostly for me.