Sabrina is a tough old bird. She has to be. As a big, bold transwoman, she takes the lead in so many ways, from being chief engineer on a ship to being a father to her children, to being out and about across the country as herself.
It’s been a tough thirteen years since she emerged as a transsexual woman, getting fired from her dream job at a NASA contractor as a result. Her family had tolerated her actions as a crossdresser, where she not only created a local support group but also founded Southern Comfort Conference, still one of the largest trans conferences in the country, but this was different.
Suddenly doors slammed shut for Sabrina, her own families rejecting her choice and doing everything they could to separate her from her two beautiful children. They threw every block imaginable in her way, legal, logistical and emotional.
Since then, Sabrina has rebuilt her life from the bottom up. After striving to create one of the first aftercare facilities for transsexuals in the country, as documented in “Trinidad: The Movie,” she came back to Florida, regained her maritime licence and patiently worked her way up to the status and position of chief engineer, taking many blows in the process.
More than her life, she has rebuilt her family, starting with her children. Having them with her for summers, going on expansive voyages in “Marguerita,” an old Jeep fitted out with custom made sleeping bunks, and just being present as their father, she rebuilt her relationship with them in the face of continuing resistance from the families.
It took a decade of hard work to get to the point where she could achieve a simple goal, hosting everyone including her brother and the kids mom for a big, festive Sabrina made Christmas. Over the years, Sabrina stood fast, strong, stable and resilient while those around her came to terms with her choices, with her reality, and with her truth, while they came to the point where they could see that living authentically and without denial allowed Sabrina to bring her full heart & soul to all facets of her life.
Through all that time, there has been one constant. Sabrina’s mother, Anna, never turned away from her child and Sabrina never turned away from Anna. Keeping a promise to her late father to always watch out for Mom, Sabrina was there even as the fashionable and bright Anna started to slip into the fog of dementia.
Living only a few miles apart, Sabrina was the daily caretaker for Anna whenever she was home. Starting by bringing Anna along on all her jaunts, recently, that turned into sharing her own big bed with Anna, into being the one Anna let help her shower, taking care on the most intimate basis.
Dementia is a one way journey, though, and recently, after enduring Hurricane Matthew, it became clear to Sabrina that the system she created, including an in-home carer for when Sabrina was at sea, just wasn’t going to work anymore. Anna needed dedicated, full time help, and that meant a memory care facility.
The plan that was in place involved moving Anna 1300 miles north to a facility near her brother’s home in western New York.
Sabrina discussed it over the phone with her brother and sister-in-law. Her brother has been managing the fiances, trying to keep up with flying visits to Florida.
The call was tough. As much the care Anna needed grew, Sabrina had done everything in her power to give it to her, being as tough and tender as she needed to be. Taking Anna out of the lovely beachfront condo she created for her husband in retirement felt like an awesome disruption, removing her from a home built with love.
Was Sabrina giving up on the promise she made to take care of Anna, a promise that always involved keeping her close, so close that they went everywhere together, so close that the touch of skin on skin always comforted and reassured her mother as Anna lost the other touchstones in her life?
The discussion with her brother was technical, but his wife could hear the emotion in Sabrina’s voice as they talked about the potential move.
“I don’t think you understand,” she said to her husband.
“Sabrina went through a tough time when everyone turned on her. But through all that time, there was always Anna, standing by her side.
“Sabrina and Anna stood by each other for well over a decade after the rest of the family froze Sabrina out. Anna always saw Sabrina for who she was, a loving child and dedicated parent, someone strong and loving who was doing their best to support and extend family in the world.
“We turned away, but Anna stayed committed to Sabrina and Sabrina stayed committed to Anna, so letting her go, losing her presence has to be very emotional for Sabrina.”
It was in that moment that Sabrina lost it, starting to weep openly.
Finally, someone else, someone who had stood firm in the wall against her, acknowledged that she saw Sabrina as the woman she is, saw and spoke of the cost and the pain that their decade of resistance had cost Sabrina.
Someone opened their heart to Sabrina, no longer seeing her as a wilful man challenging their family, but rather as committed and dedicated to family even as that family had turned on her.
What made the change? Maybe it was spending time with Sabrina’s children over the years, hearing their stories and learning how much they were loved. Maybe it is the fact that now trans is much more out in the open, no longer something to be ashamed of and hidden away.
Whatever it was, it was the absolutely the result of over a decade of astoundingly tough work on Sabrina’s part, work that kept her big loving heart ahead of her rational brain and of her personal experience of pain and rejection.
In that moment, Sabrina felt seen, understood and valued, mirrored in a way that she had long felt she never would be.
And in that moment, Sabrina knew that even as she was losing part of her family, she was gaining another piece of her family back again. Instead of Anna being the only connection between siblings, with her loss being the end of the relationship, their shared love for Anna and the way each other loved her could bring them together again.
Sabrina wept. And in those tears flowed a decade of pain, bridged by an acknowledgement of love, of commitment, of value.
There were more tears as Sabrina packed Anna into the car, driving her north, staying in hotels to give a sense of moving to new places. They picked up Sabrina’s daughter for the last leg of the journey, keeping family together.
“You are always welcome here,” she was told when she entered her brother’s home and for the first time she felt it was true. Rather than just grudging toleration there was respect and love from a couple who had spent a long time hiding Sabrina’s choices from their own growing children.
Sabrina gave Anna a last shower in the hotel, making sure she was clean and sweet to meet her new gang, the friends she would make in her new home. So many things needed to be washed away, lost for the moment, but creating a clean slate to start new chapters with new relationships.
Sabrina wept when someone finally opened their heart to her, taking her not on some logical or political thesis but rather acknowledging her choices and deep, deep emotions as powerful evidence of a huge femme heart that beats inside a big trans body.
And isn’t touching skin to skin, heart to heart, what really makes a family?