Coming out to Granny – a personal memoire of the 1970s


coming out to granny

I long considered my grandmother proof that the secret to a long life is to be a cold hard bitch. So I judged her the greatest obstacle to sharing my truth with the world when I came out at seventeen. I did not otherwise regard the experience as of any real consequence, never suffering the slightest self-doubt over identity. But I suspected coming out to granny would prove a challenge. Indeed, I could not recall a single childhood discussion that did not end with, “What would people think?”

She and my grandfather lived apart for decades though in the same house. He emerged from his office and bedroom three times a day to watch television in the lounge. She only ever passed through that room. His meals arrived ahead of him. After he returned to his inner sanctum, she cleared his plates.

In 1976, I finished school, moved to Brisbane, and took a job with a newspaper. My parents separated soon after. While my mother and siblings headed south, my father lived somewhere on the outskirts of the city. He came into town occasionally and shouted sandwiches on my lunch break.

Transition

To my surprise, he remained unfazed when I began a transition unimaginable back home. I later realised his ego was responsible.

My father believed himself faultless. Any flaw in his children would reflect on him. Ergo, there could be nothing wrong with me. In fact, if I underwent hormone treatment, it must be perfectly normal. Pity the poor fathers whose sons did not.

I came out to my mother during a visit — no drama.

Then, I asked my father to tell his parents. He later passed on their wish that I do whatever made me happy. I always expected my worldly and well-read granddad to accept me. However, my grandmother lived her entire life obsessing over what other people thought. I anticipated histrionics. But then again, my maternal grandparents expressed no surprise at the announcement of my transition. So perhaps I was making a big deal of something no one really cared about.

Soon after, my grandmother wrote to say she was visiting Brisbane for a doctor’s appointment. Would I like to meet afterwards?

“I asked Dad to tell you what I’m doing,” I replied, “You’re not upset?”

“Of course not. We’re proud of you.”

We arranged to meet at Brunswick Street railway station, then a fancy shopping precinct.

I wore slacks at work. After much intransigence on both sides, my employer agreed that I could wear female office attire but not skirts or makeup. However, I was meeting my grandmother on a day off. I slipped into a dress, then brushed on mascara and lipstick and caught the bus from New Farm.

We caught sight of each other among the crowd of shoppers. We smiled and said hello. Our family did not kiss or hug. We said hello.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I’m well. You look nice. You’ve let your hair grow even longer. It looks fairer?”

“I bleached it.”

“Let’s look around here and then catch a train into the city.”

We passed a shop where I’d previously put a $10 deposit on a $50 skirt. I couldn’t really afford it. Of the $80 I earned each week, half went on rent. I showed Granny the skirt in the window — long, black and sunray pleated. I could only imagine how it would swish as I walked.

My grandmother ushered me inside, opened her purse, and told the sales assistant, “She’s got a lay-by we want to pick up.”

I could not believe how badly I previously misjudged her. Why did I ever worry about her reaction to my transition?

Alice from Coles Fabric Department

We caught a train into the city. Granny wanted fabric for a new dress.

“It’s a shame you don’t sew,” she told me.

“I do. I bought a Singer.”

“Well, let’s get you some patterns and fabric.”

Alice reigned over the Coles fabric department.

“This is Graham,” I said, embarrassed to introduce him by a female name. But Alice was Alice to friends, coworkers and also regular customers. He was flamboyant, outrageously gay, and adored. And he was Alice.

“Hi Darls,” he said to my gran, “Call me Alice.”

“Lovely to meet you, Alice,” she said while I looked for a button stand to hide behind.

Alice gushed — especially when he saw my grandmother choosing expensive fabrics.

“He’s like Mr Humphries in that show your grandfather watches,” she said, referencing the camp as tits star of Are You Being Served?

“How do you know? You don’t watch television.”

“I watch through the doorway behind your grandfather. He doesn’t see me.”

“Doesn’t he hear you laugh?”

“I don’t laugh.”

True that.

Coles Cafeteria was alongside the fabric department, so Alice joined us for lunch. As always, he put on a show, the Mr Humphries of Coles Cafeteria. Granny morphed into Mrs Slocombe.

“Oh, you are awful, Alice,” she protested playfully.

Jesus, I thought, she’ll start eulogising her pussy next.

And she’s laughing! Who the f___ is this woman and what’s she done with my grandmother?

Coming out to Granny, again

“I’ve never had so much fun,” the old girl said when Alice went back to work.

“He is a character,” I agreed.

“So when did you start dressing like this?”

“What?”

“When did you start dressing as a woman?”

“But Dad told you. You said you were proud of me.”

“He said you were doing very well at work, getting promoted and would soon be the youngest editor in the country.”

“Oh, Christ!”

“Well, it will be okay. Just don’t come home looking like that. What would people think?”

“Why didn’t you say something at the railway station? We’ve been together two hours and you haven’t said a word.”

“Well, I wouldn’t like to cause a scene and it’s your business really. But you can imagine the talk this would cause at home. They love to gossip, you know.”

We had a few more conversations during her remaining years. Always pleasant, but also always punctuated with polite suggestions that I not come home.

I did eventually became an editor after an exceptionally varied working life. However, I never ever spoke to my father again. I have no idea or interest in what became of him. Nor did his absence make my heart grow fonder (for him). Some of us do better creating our own families.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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