was eight when my parents separated, and nine when they actually
divorced. That means that for a little more than a decade, I've
watched my mom get ready for dates. Sometimes, until I started
ninth grade, I'd even keep her company on Saturday afternoons,
while she'd take these long, luxurious bubble baths. I'd put the
lid down on the toilet and sit there, and we'd talk about school or
boys or the guy she was dating.
I stopped joining her in the bathroom in ninth grade for a lot of
reasons, but mostly because it had started to seem a little weird
to me to be hanging out with her when I was fourteen and she was
But she has always been pretty cool about bodies and sex, and for
all I know, she wouldn't mind my joining her in the bathroom even
now when I'm home from college. For better or worse--and usually
for better--my mom has always been very comfortable with subjects
that give most parents the shivers. A couple of days before my
fifteenth birthday, she took me to the gynecologist to get me
fitted for a diaphragm, and told me where in her bedroom she kept
the spermicidally lubricated condoms. (Of course, I already knew:
God, by then I even knew where she'd hidden a vibrator.)
I hadn't had sex yet, and my mom made it clear that she didn't want
me to in the foreseeable future. But she had a pretty good memory
of the hormonal chaos that hits a person in high school, and she
wanted to do all that she could for my sake to ensure that she
wouldn't become a grandmother any sooner than necessary.
When I think back on it, my parents' divorce was very civilized. At
least it has always seemed that way to me, though it's clear there
are things I don't know.
The way my mom tells it, I was in second or third grade when they
realized they just didn't love each other anymore the way they had
when they were first married. They'd worked together at the radio
station then, and they'd shared everything. My mom insists they
both came to the realization at about the same time that they
should separate: My mom was thirty-two and my dad was thirty-three,
and they figured they were still young enough to hook up with
someone who, in the long years ahead, could keep their motors
humming the way they were meant to.
Sometimes my dad hints that it wasn't quite so mutual. Most of the
time he toes their party line, but every so often I'll get the
impression that when he moved out, he was figuring they'd both
change their minds and reconcile in a couple of weeks. I think he
might have thought he was just being cool.
Once when he was visiting my mom, I overheard him telling her that
he knew her heart had never been into the counseling they went
through when I was eight.
Still, he was the one who got remarried.
Sometimes, when I was little, I'd help my mom pick out her jewelry
or clothing for a date.
"Wear the pearls," I might suggest.
"It's a clambake," she'd remind me.
"And they might scare the oysters."
One time she especially indulged me. I was eleven years old and
convinced there was no fashion statement more powerful than a kilt.
And so she wore a red-and-green Christmas kilt to a backyard
cookout, even though it was the middle of August and the air was
just plain sticky. That night my baby-sitter spent most of the time
standing in front of a fan, with her T-shirt rolled up like a
If I were to count, I'd guess my mom probably had five serious
boyfriends in the decade between my parents' divorce and the day
she met Dana. Dana had been in pre-surgical therapy for two years
by then and had probably endured close to fifty hours of
electrolysis. He'd been on hormone therapy for a good four or five
Unlike a lot of pre-op M2Fs, he wasn't trying to pass as a woman
yet, he hadn't begun his transition.
Of course, he didn't tell my mom any of this--not that he should
have. When they met, he was simply the professor for a film course
at the university that she was taking that summer as a lark, and
she was one of his students.
What was he supposed to do, say to the class, "Hi, I'm Dana, and
I've spent a good part of the last year with my upper lip deadened
Or, "Good evening, I'm your professor. I'm about to start
Or, if he wanted, for some reason, to be completely candid, "You
folks ever met a lesbian with a penis? Have now!"
He had no idea he was going to fall in love with my mom, even when
they started to date, and she had no idea she was going to fall in
love with him. It just happened.
Excerpted from TRANS-SISTER RADIO © Copyright 2002 by
Christopher Bohjalian. Reprinted with permission by Vintage, an
imprint of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.