At one FTM Brighton meeting many months ago, Fox (My Transsexual Summer) came along and spoke to us about his experience with the media, and how he was approached. He mentioned something about how weddings are such a big deal and that always stuck with me after the meeting; I didn’t really understand why weddings would be a significant event for trans men. But this summer changed everything.
The only family I’ve ever been close to are my mum’s sister’s two kids, few of the many cousins who actually live in the UK. Our ‘Westernised’ side as the rest of the family would call them – the only real reason I actually get along with them and make the effort. The rest of my cousins live in Pakistan, and are much older than me, so I’ve been to plenty of traditional Pakistani weddings when I was younger. Saying that, I am Asian so there is always a wedding to go to, someone who is somehow related to me, through an extensive vague bloodline; we’re always tying the knot and inviting hundreds. So Asian weddings are huge and a massive deal. It’s important to dress-up, look good, and represent your parents. When I was younger and had my frequent trips to Pakistan, I was told what to wear, pushed in front of cameras, and given money from the in-laws – you don’t have much say when you’re a kid, but that’s what I was used to.
As I’ve tussled through my teens, and fought with body image and identity issues, it was harder for me to represent something I didn’t really identify with at weddings. The clothes put on me became increasingly foreign, and the vague bloodlines were just not enough to accept I’d be dragged along to another function. My dad gave up the fight, he’s an anti-social guy and most of the people we watched get hitched were people he associated with my mum, and what with their divorce, he was happy to let that go. My mother, however, will always be a people-pleaser, eager to show off the latest Indian gold she picked up abroad, and present her lovely British Asian daughters, going to university and studying away from home, but still putting family first by attending the wedding. After many years of fighting she has finally accepted I will not be the lovely British Asian daughter she wants as her guest at whatever wedding she goes to. My sister has become the gem of the family and she does the job for both of us, looking good, acting polite and being a potential candidate for any single Pakistani boy introduced to her by a chatty unrelated aunt at the reception.
This summer, my cousin’s boyfriend of many years finally popped the question, we all saw it coming, and we were so happy for her when it did finally happen. In particular, her mother – my aunt. Along with my married cousin, she has a son, slightly older, but unmarried. This would have been a major problem in the family, but we’re all very aware that he is gay. So my aunt gave up on that one and focused on her daughter. Even though she got hitched to a gorah (white boy), she got hitched nonetheless, and my aunt was still prepared to carry out the loud Asian wedding tradition.
My cousin, her partner, and the in-laws all focused on a ‘white’ wedding; English reception and ceremony, and chose a beautiful quiet hotel in a village outside of London. I remember receiving my invite, and suddenly realised, I’m going to a wedding by myself, of my own accord, for the first time in my life. And I can wear whatever I want. I got excited and asked my sister what she was wearing – a lovely summery dress – and got even more excited at the prospect of wearing a shirt and tie in front of my family. Graduation was around the corner, so I had already been looking at suits, and I knew exactly how I wanted to look. It was the perfect opportunity, to show to my mum and dad that this is what I wear on formal occasions now, and they seemed to understand I’d be wearing shirts and trousers to my own and my sister’s graduation.
The big day came, 20th July. I must say, I did look devilishly handsome. And everyone seemed to agree, my cousins came up to me and were so surprised at how smart I looked, in brown brogues, navy chinos, a green and white striped shirt and a navy stripe tie. I was a little apprehensive because it was the first time I was wearing my binder in front of family too, but it blended with the shirt, and people just thought I had lost weight. I felt great.
My sister and I met up with our mum chatting to the in-laws to introduce ourselves. The mother-in-law’s face lit up and she exclaimed, “Oh these must be your children!” My sister and I blushed, as our mum spurred her on, making silly jokes, “Who are these two, I’ve never seen them before in my life…” (Grow up.) The mother-in-law got even more excited, “What a beautiful son and daughter you have,” and my heart stopped. I glanced at my mum immediately; she continued smiling, and said nothing. I smiled politely, chuckling nervously, and waited for a correction. But it never came. I adjusted my posture, and felt a wave of confidence come over me. I felt marvellous.
Later in the afternoon, after I heard some “him’s” and “he’s” being thrown around from the groom’s side, my mum approached me. “I hope you don’t mind, I’m letting people think you’re my son. I haven’t said corrected them, because they think you’re a boy!” All sorts of emotions came over me. Acceptance. Excitement. Fear. Confidence. I gathered myself and firmly said back to her, “Well you’ve got to get used to it,” and I marched off, a fantastic exit towards the open bar, and ordered myself a G&T. I felt amazing.
The only problem was that suddenly there were two people at this ceremony. There was Smash, a twin sister and cousin of the bride. A girl who half the people have watched grow up, rebel and mature into a very nice young lady. And then there was Sabah, an attractive young man, from the bride’s side, smartly dressed, politely spoken and a little merry. It was scary keeping up this charade; I was afraid of hearing two different pronouns in one conversation, or waiting to overhear my cousin correct her in-laws. I felt on edge most of the day, but this was helped by the feeling of knowing some people saw me as a boy. I could feel more myself. It was also very easy to spot who knew me as ‘she’ – everyone Asian – and who knew me as ‘he’ – everyone white.
The rest of the day went down well. Except for my sister falling over spectacularly in front of my mum after too much to drink, following a success in chatting up the barman. My mum had a stern talk with her in private, but I doubt my sister will remember that. I spent the evening talking with my cousins and their friends, having grown-up, mature conversation, paired with chilled drinks and cigarettes. (My mum and family don’t know I smoke, but my cousins respect this and came with me for cheeky fags behind parked cars, keeping on mum-patrol.) For the first time in my life, I felt accepted as family. This is how it should have felt, when I told my mum and dad. This is how they should have reacted, which is no different to before. Even though my cousins still saw me as ‘she’ it was still nice that some people with us might have seen me as ‘he’, and accepting the way I was dressed anyway was gratifying, letting me be there on her big day, as whoever I want to be. I felt emotional, and I did contemplate telling them about what the in-laws thought of me and how it was a very accurate supposition. Then I realised it was the G&T’s talking, and now is really not the best time. I’d probably end up sobbing and slurring, the worst way to steal someone’s wedding limelight.
As the day came to an end, there was talk about the ‘Asian’ wedding – a giant hoo-hah my aunt was going to put on for my cousin, to make up for the fact that she married a gorah she had an English reception. I’d usually run away from any Asian function, but after the triumph of the ‘white’ wedding, I was even more excited to do it all over again.
And I almost did. But like I said: this summer changed everything.