When I was eight, my best friend was – well, let’s call him James. We went to junior school together and were very close. We went on holiday together at one point, and were more or less inseparable. In fact, I think he was probably the best friend I ever had during my school life. That’s possibly because it was the last friendship I had before gender started getting in the way. I’ve said before that I didn’t have any sense of being a boy as a young child – my hair was long, I sometimes wore dresses, and I’m sure both James and I were clear that this was a friendship between a boy and a girl. But at the same time, I don’t recall feeling that the fact I was a girl and he was a boy especially mattered: it was a minor detail.
And then when I was about ten, my parents moved away. And James and I kept in touch for a while by letter, and then, being kids, got distracted by other things and the letters tailed off. Probably nowadays it would be easier: kids probably keep up with old friends by social media. But this would have been somewhere around 1995 and we didn’t have social media.
Cut forward 20 years, and I went up to my dad’s last week. And he told me he’d had a phonecall from James’s mum. My family have a distinctive surname, and my dad’s in the clergy, so he’s not that hard to track down. She’d got in contact, saying James had looked for me online and on Facebook a couple of times, and not been able to find me. Which isn’t surprising, because my name’s changed.
I don’t have pre-transition friends. Literally, none. I am not in contact with anyone not related to me who knew me before I was out. That sounds like it was a deliberate decision but it wasn’t, really: I didn’t get on with the other kids at secondary school, so didn’t keep in touch and I came out pretty much as soon as I started uni. So I’ve never really had to deal with the whole pre-transition friendships issue.
I had a look for James on Facebook myself. His name is more common than mine, so there were a few to go through, but I recognised his face as soon as I saw it. If I’m honest, I was checking out how tolerant he might be. No sign of any romantic relationships on his behalf (straight or queer) but he’s worked for an arts charity, which I reckon is probably unlikely to go hand in hand with rampant homophobia and transphobia.
Yesterday I sent an email to James, saying hi. I imagine contacting old school friends is a bit weird at the best of times; it’s weirder when they knew you as a little girl, and you’re emailing them as a thirty year-old man. I tried to keep the mention of my transition brief and factual, and then went straight on to my education, and my career history, and my boyfriend. I suppose I was trying to make it clear that other things have happened in the last twenty years too. But all the same, it feels awkward.
I’m also a bit nervy about what – if any – response I get from him. I don’t want to deal with crass questions about transition, but it’s natural he would have some. Or do we sort of end up making polite conversation because we both feel a bit awkward about it? What do we even have to talk about anyway? I’ll see when – if- he responds, I suppose