I travelled back to home Bolton this weekend (09.07.21), and it's a big deal.
I've been fully out as trans just less than one year. I have only seen my mother twice and my father once in that time. My uncle, cousin and her twin boy and girl are coming up from down south to see me too. I was nervous, to say the least.
This is just my diary of the weekend, and I hope it resonates with some of you. Family can be difficult, and I know my experience isn't unique, but I feel like sharing this is necessary.
I feel weird being in my old room. I was so sad here sometimes. I can see marks in the wall where I literally punched it. My mum has papered over it (no need to overegg the metaphor there), and she calls it the “guest room” now. I’m a guest in my own memory.
Mum was digging out some old photos, and I look miserable in most of them. Even at weddings, no especially at weddings. I mean, who’s the bitch in the frock getting all the glory! Oh yeah, it’s my sister.
It wasn’t always bad here, but I did have to run away to be who I am. I know that “small-town boy” thing is a cliché, but it’s totally true. Bolton is a dead town if your interests include techno, contemporary art and wearing latex. (Not necessarily in that order)
It’s 01.45 am. The glow on the horizon from this window is Manchester. Only 15 miles away but a world of difference. I’ve only been back here 5 hours, and I’m looking at that perceived emerald city like I used to. I’d tune into Kiss 102 and listen to the city until I was old enough to get there at night. Going to Manchester wasn’t always the answer, but it allowed me to be Freda.
When I got here today, my dad was in bed. I took that a bit personally. He’s not seen me since Christmas; he could have stayed up a bit. I don’t know if he’s avoiding me or just tired. I’ll find out tomorrow, I suppose.
My mum acts like everything is ok no matter what. There could be a hurricane coming at the house, and she would close the curtains and say, “let’s deal with it later when we’ve all calmed down”. I wanted the hurricane so severely when I was young.
I should stop overthinking this. I’ve had wine.
I can’t sleep.
I woke up early because my eyes were all crusty and itchy, and my breathing was shallow. Then I realised the pillows my mum had put on the bed were feathers and I'm slightly allergic. So that wasn't the best start, but like everything about Bolton, I'm somewhat allergic.
My mums' first concern of the day was picking up a bag of compost from the local hardware place, Maher's. In my mind, I hear her say, 'I need some dirt from Mars', which causes the first laugh of the day. She needs me to do things like this for her because my dad can no longer drive due to a stroke he had two years ago. Anyroad, l wait outside Maher's for my mum and a burly lad in an England shirt brings out three bags of compost and says to me, 'where do you want this, love?'. 'In my boot, love. Where all the shit goes', I say. When my mum comes back to the car, l say, 'oh, he was cute', mainly to test her tolerance and because I'm an idiot. Mum said, 'football is going home'!
So when we got back to the house, my dad was up and shuffling around as he does. He's interested in the camera drone l bought. He won't say anything about me being trans or call me Freda. It doesn't even bother me. The fact he wants to learn to fly a remote control camera over next doors house is much more fun at that moment. He crashes it into the tree, and he shouts, 'mission abort, mission abort'.
Yeh, that's how l feel about coming to Bolton most of the time. My dad was in the RAF as an aerial photographer. I knew he would enjoy this, but he got all too technical for an 80 quid plastic toy off amazon. I don't know what 'triangulation of trajectory' is. I always feel like Bobby Hill in these moments (my dad was a salesman for Calor Gas and sold propane and propane accessories for a while). Anyway, I think he appreciates that I found something to break the ice, even if he won't say she/her or call me Freda yet.
I had to get out of the house before my cousin, and her children turn up. She knows all about my transition and is very supportive, but l haven't seen her for five years, and it will be the first time I've met her twin boy and girl, who is seven years old now. The main reason for getting out was to explore Bolton town centre. Somewhere I've not been for quite some time.
I went to one of my old haunts, The Olde Man and Scythe, one of the oldest pubs in England, going back to the 13th century. They used to hang traitors outside here during the Civil War. So I decided to sit outside there reading Majesty Magazine, sipping a gin and tonic in the Sun. Imagine living in a time when a culture war raged, and people were divided along binary political lines, and everyone was expected to take a side?
I've never felt more fully actualised as a person as when a drunken fool approaches me and says, 'Oh, you look nice, love. Can l steal a roly off you'? Yes, I'm truly validated as a woman now. This is it! No amount of psychological counselling can top this. As l lick the cigarette paper and make eye contact with this feckless tosspiece, I'm reminded of how precarious my situation is if he clocks me. Is he going to read me? No, he's too enthralled by my wide staring eyes, the silly sod.
My next stop was the Bolton Museum and Art Gallery. There is an Egyptian room which l love. So, I naturally took some photos to align myself with Queen Nefertiti and all my delusional fantasies of being some sort of mythical goddess.
The thing that interests me most about this is the cotton industry connection. In my artwork and performance staging, l take a lot of influence from the industrial revolution. The fact that Egyptian cotton was instrumental in that is something that creates a timeline we are all insignificant on.
It's both cosmic and visceral, esoteric and factual. Seeing those cotton spinning machines alongside the astrological ambitions of ancient kings is so centring to me. An absolute connection of Heaven and Earth. From the universe of stars to the factory floor, everything was built on immortality ambitions of industrialists and cotton in this town.
I had to come down a bit from that museum experience. Whoever is curating needs some sort of award. I had to get ready to meet my cousin, Sarah, who is just one month older than me. We have lead parallel lives. Her mother, my dad's sister, moved away down south when she met her husband. They live in Wiltshire, and she was educated in a way l wasn't. I've always had memorable moments with Sarah on the rare times we have spent together over the years. In some ways, she was the girl l wanted to be when l was young. I was never jealous of her or held any bitterness, but l remember wishing my parents would talk to me in the same way Sarah was. It just seemed to make more sense to me how her needs were met. It might be hindsight talking, but I genuinely wished all the gifts for Sarah were the gifts for me.
I was getting ready in my old bedroom and just trying to make myself look normal. Not some overdone drag race also-ran. I've got pretty good at doing a 'day look', but even my day look is still scraping on foundation like Polyfilla!
My mum came in saying, 'that dress makes you look fat.
This is just my mums' way of trying to be funny. She said my neck looked naked, and l wasn't sure what she meant. She went off to her bedroom and came out with a string of beads that looked like snooker balls on a rope. (yes, I exaggerate for comic effect). As she was hooking the necklace to the back of my neck, l was held in a moment of mother/daughter interaction that produced a tear from my eye that l just didn't want to show. Time stopped there at that moment like every time that didn't happen in the past happened then in one consolidated event of simple love, and I pretended to be more annoyed that I'd have to reapply my eyeliner.
So I drive with my mum and dad in the car to meet Sarah, the twins and my uncle at the restaurant in the West Pennine Moors of Bolton. It's been such a build-up this moment, and now there is no bottling out.
I'm here, I'm Freda, and they are just going to have to deal with it. I see my cousin rolling up in their 4x4 super posh child transporter, and the kids get out first and run up to me, and l don't know what to do when they say 'hello, aunty Freda'. I know they have been briefed; l know Sarah has told them to do this, but even, so those words feel like gold. Sarah says I look great and l bloody-well do, to be fair.
No one mentions or brings up my trans-ness, and while it's noted my dad is the odd one out in not calling me Freda, I notice the support is on my side. One of Sarah's children whispers to the other while looking at me. I say, 'are you two ok there' and they say, 'we like the drawing on your arm'. It's telling that the only thing they notice about me is the tattoo. I'm sure they have more to ask in time, and I'm so glad they have a mother who is relaxed and open enough to answer any questions they might have in future as they grow up. I'd like to think my presence and influence is a good one.
This wasn't the big deal I'd been building it up to be, but my mum continues to embarrass me with her ways. She bought Sarah and the kids a few gifts which were in the boot of my car. While she was giving out all these lovely things, she said to me, 'Freda, don't forget that bag of compost from mars, ill save some for you'. Thanks, mum. Bye-bye, Sarah. Please don't leave it so long next time.
I drove my parents home and said my goodbyes. My dad didn't say much, just 'be careful with the drone. If you fly too high, it will go out of control'.
I know, dad, l know.
Freda's come home.
Authored by Freda Wallace @Freda_Needles