Conversations With Joseph
One Transwoman’s Experience
With Her Assigned Self
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Some of my trans friends aren’t going to like these conversations, nor will people who think I am belittling various mental health conditions. Some transfolk will think these conversations make me less trans, or not really trans, or perhaps they will think these historical records make me more gender fluid or genderqueer than trans. However, I am not gender fluid, gender queer, or anything else. I am a male-to-female transgender woman who just so happens to still be very connected to her assigned self. This is simply my story, my experience. I have no intentions of making fun of anyone with multiple personality disorders by writing (transcribing) these conversations. They are a part of my healing experience. Healing from what? Everything Joseph suffered to keep me safe before and after I came out.
You see we are connected, joined at the hip, so to speak. And what makes this all the more remarkable is that Joseph didn’t have a conscious thought I existed until we were 47 years old. Oh, he knew on some deep subconscious level, some soul level. He knew deep down and did his damndest to keep me safe, and as a result of my being there nested in the very center of his being, visible to those around us in the ways I expressed myself “effeminately” through him—he suffered terrible abuse and twisted, radical conversion attempts. Without trying to sound dramatic one could say Joseph was ravaged by those around him before he was fourteen. By the time he was eight he was dissociating on a daily basis. He survived horrific abuse because of me. Well, better said: Not because of me, but because of the limited, fear-based, perverted minds of those who tried to prevent my birth.
One could say that I am Joseph’s soul. He even calls me his, “Beloved.” This doesn’t mean he is the one presenting to the world. Joseph has stepped back. He has gracefully left center stage and trained the spotlight on me. However one wants to view our connection, the main thing to know is that it is real. It exists. And no, I do not want to be called, Joseph. I am NOT Joseph. I am Jennifer. This is MY life. Since coming out though, the roles have been reversed on some strange levels. Joseph is now living within me, not like a soul, but more like a spirit, a fragrance, an angel. He still protects me, not that I need it. He still wants me to be free and happy and safe and healthy—not that I need him in order to be those things. I choose to have him intimately involved in my life because I care for him and feel, in a certain sense, like I owe him that. And he would still lay down his life for me again and again if he could or needed to. He also knows this is my life. I am in the driver’s seat. And he wants me to shine.
He also knows I love him. And he adores me. Another way to describe our relationship is of brother and sister, Joseph being the older brother. I was the changeling unwanted and left at his door when he was a young man (of course I’ve been there since the beginning–let’s just go with the image as a way of understanding the dynamics between us). He tells me when he found me he vowed to take care of me, to protect me and to raise me in secret until I wanted and needed to step out into the light.
The main thing to understand is that these conversations are not “made up.” They are dialogs that have taken place in my head, and heart and body, and therapist’s office. They have taken place by the Wissahickon Creek in Fairmount Park, they have taken place while we were driving or shaving. They are real and describe real events and real feelings and real experiences.
And yes, they are my way of processing what has happened to me as a transgender woman. Regardless of whether you believe they actually took place or not, we ask you to read them with an open mind. It is our hope they will help the world understand the growing phenomena of the transgender individual. It is our hope one day soon being transgender won’t be considered a phenomena. It will be as normal, so to speak, and accepted, that no one bats an eyelash when a transgender person walks by. And even better perhaps someday the word “transgender” will be replaced with simply “male” or “female” or whatever gender one identifies with. We also hope these conversations will help younger trans kids identify and perhaps have new ways of putting into words their experiences, or maybe to frame them in an artistic context. It is also our hope to demonstrate that there is no one way to be trans. Everyone’s experiences are not only valid, but true for them. The trans-policing within the trans community needs to stop. And now, I give you the Conversations.
PS: Please forgive any goofy formatting. I am not very techie and can’t quite figure out how to get this all looking the way I want here on WordPress–the way it looks in the Word Document. Grrrr….
Conversation One: Driving Together
Jennifer: A couple months ago I found myself in a trance and while I was
there I went through the process of letting you go—of letting
you go back into the light.
Joseph (smiling): I remember.
Jennifer: It was a powerful experience for me.
Joseph (laughing): Me too.
Jennifer: You were so gracious; so encouraging. I had said I wanted to try my hand at
living without you. I wanted to drive the car of my life, so to speak.
Joseph: Yes. I believe the words you used at the time were: ‘It’s time I let you go.’
Jennifer (pausing): Yes. I think you’re right.
Joseph: It’s OK. It was time.
Jennifer: I know, and you were so kind about it all, like you are about everything. You were,
and always have been, a gentleman.
Joseph: Thank you. You are beloved to me.
Jennifer (Looking down, then back up): I know. I know I am. And I am so lucky.
Joseph: You were saying something else though.
Jennifer: Yes. During that trance I felt it was time for me to live independently of you, but I
didn’t do it out of a lack of gratitude or respect.
Joseph: I know. I know you Jennifer.
Jennifer (smiling): And when I saw you let go of my hand, like a proud parent turning away as their
child went off to college, you looked so proud.
Joseph: I was. I am.
Jennifer: So when you turned and dissolved into the light, I cried thinking you were finally
home and at peace after all you had gone through for me. You have suffered so
much for me, and I had this chance—I mean, I wanted to try to live on my own. I
remember you smiled and waved as you turned to go. You were happy to nudge
me out of the nest, weren’t you?
Joseph: I knew you needed space. I knew you wanted to fly solo, to take the wheel, to
soar; and I wanted you to feel free. I wanted you to be free, and if needing to let
go of my hand was what had to happen in order for you to be free, then I would
have run into that light except I think that wouldn’t have looked so graceful as
when I walked slowly into the light. Much more dramatic.
Jennifer (laughing): You left so willingly.
Joseph (standing up to bow): I am your servant.
Jennifer: You are so much more than that to me. You are my friend.
Joseph: I’m glad. I feel the same way. We’re friends, yes, and, I am also your servant.
Jennifer: When I watched you go into the light I felt so free, so full in my own womanhood.
I felt ready to take on the world and live fully and completely as a woman. And I
thought I needed you gone in order to do that. I thought I needed to strike out on
my own to be independent.
Jennifer: And I was wrong.
Joseph: How so?
Jennifer: I still need you [taking Joseph’s hand]. I still want you around.
[Joseph lays his hand on Jennifer’s.]
Jennifer: Will you come back from the light and stay awhile longer, maybe, even, forever?
Joseph: Jennifer, I stepped into the light because that was what you wanted and needed.
And after I took some time to embrace the light, the Source, to re-energize, so to
speak, I turned right around and came back.
Jennifer: What? Wait…I mean, I get that you’re here with me now, but I thought….I thought
you were just visiting.
Joseph: We’re all just visiting.
Jennifer: But I thought once you went into the light you couldn’t come back.
Joseph: We’re all in the light every moment, so when I went consciously into it—freely,
happily—knowing you were feeling strong and independent, I was happy, and in
truth, I never actually left you.
Jennifer: But where were you? I didn’t see you. I didn’t feel you near.
Joseph: Jennifer, you are not the only shapeshifter. I became the moon, the fireflies, the
cicadas, the praying mantis you saw after you got your date for surgery. I became
the autumn, the squirrels playing by your window. Jennifer, my beloved, I
became everything I thought might bring you comfort as you walked alone.
Jennifer: Wait, but then, did I? Did I actually walk alone if you were really still with me? I
mean, I am happy to hear this, and I guess I sort of knew in some way this was
the case….but did I actually live alone? Was I acting independently? Was I
driving the car?
Joseph: Yes. You were. You lived alone. I was never going to say another word to you or
openly ever reveal myself to you again unless you asked me to or wanted me to.
You were driving Jennifer. You were flying. I saw. I knew, and it was all you.
Jennifer: Do you forgive me?
Joseph: I’m the one who should ask for forgiveness. I guess you could say I tricked you.
Jennifer: You’ve always been tricky. You’ve always done whatever it takes for me to be
free. There is nothing to forgive.
Joseph: Same here. You didn’t do anything wrong.
Jennifer: Thank you.
Joseph: You’re welcome.
[There is a long pause. Both have tears in their eyes.]
Jennifer: So…you will….um…will you stay with me like you did before? I mean, I still want
to drive, but will you go with me? Will you sit next to me?
Joseph: Yes. I would love to.
Jennifer: I might crash.
Joseph: I’ll wear my seatbelt.
Jennifer: I might get lost.
Joseph: Then we’ll see unexpected things.
Jennifer: I might get tired and ask you to drive sometimes. Is that OK?
Joseph: Yes. And we only go where you want to go and how fast or how slowly and
Jennifer: You are my servant.
Joseph: Yes, and being a chauffeur is part of the job description.
Jennifer (laughing) Job description? When did you get that?
Joseph: When the light left you in a basket by my door, there was a little note that read
‘Job Description For Keeping Jennifer Safe.’
Jennifer: Really? And it really said, ‘chauffer?’
[Joseph reaches in his breast pocket and removes a small, folded piece of aging paper.]
[Joseph hands the note to Jennifer.]
[Jennifer takes the note and unfolds it.]
Jennifer (reading): “Job description for Keeping Jennifer Safe. Do anything and everything it takes to
keep this precious treasure safe from harm and living freely. Chauffer
[Jennifer folds the note and weeps and laughs all at once.]
Jennifer: It does say that! Oh Joseph, I love you. You really are my assigned self.
Joseph: Yes. I am. And thank you. I love you too.
[Jennifer hands the note back to Joseph.]
Joseph: Please, you keep it. It will help you if you should ever feel I am not around. Oh,
and there’s something else I should tell you about that note: It’s magic.
Jennifer: It feels like it.
Joseph: Good. Because it is.
Jennifer: What kind of magic is it? I mean, what does it do?
Joseph: Read the note again.
Jennifer (reading): “Job Description for Keeping Jennifer Safe. She picks. She decides. You support
her by making yourself invisible sometimes. It’s her life.”
[Jennifer stares at the note for several moments, weeping.]
Jennifer: I love you Joseph.
Joseph: Thank you. I love you too.
[Jennifer looks back down at the note.]
Jennifer: So it changes?
Joseph: Based on whatever you need or want in any given moment. You’re the boss.
There’s been enough Joseph time. It’s your life.
[Jennifer neatly folds the note and places it in her purse.]
Jennifer (standing): Let’s go somewhere.
Joseph: Whatever you say.
Jennifer: Let’s get something to eat.
Joseph: Let’s go then. Keys are always in the ignition. It’s all you.