I met a man today who had transitioned from female to male more than forty years ago. He was now sick, alone, and irritated. Every detail of his environment, every action of those around him was a thorn in his foot.
This was likely an attempt to control what he could. He could not control that he was physically and mentally unwell. Or perhaps what he could control of his health he had chosen not to, and to deal with the present situation, all he could do was be cantankerous.
Whenever I swayed the conversation to his well-being and offered advice about how to best take care of himself, he quickly forgot my words. He focused back on the same irritating details mentioned earlier: A lemon wedge delivered with his tea without request was to cost the facility thousands of dollars over time. This must be addressed, in his opinion. Repeated at least fifteen times.
I couldn’t bring myself to leave his company too soon, nor to chastise him too harshly.
To undergo a sex change in the ’80s (a tumultuous time of LGBTQ activism around issues like the visibility and treatment of HIV/AIDS, social equality, and more) must not have been easy. For him to feel as though he had to change himself to be himself must not have been easy, either. His face wore hardships he endured, in the soft and hard lines encompassing his eyes, and in his down-turned jowl.
Whatever the cause of his weight, something alerted me he had not had an easy life. To encounter it with him for a conversation was not as difficult as his life seemed to be.
So I listened. To the same complaints almost in a cadence. To him speak of what he could when he was truly speaking about what he could not. I made eye contact with him when it would have been easier to excuse myself. By the end of our time together, he managed a small smile and said, “I think I’ll shut up now. Please, no more lemons, though.”
Lauren Kronisch is a nutrition nerd by day, writer by night. With degrees in history and nutritional science, when she’s not counseling clients to eat a balanced diet, you’ll find her traveling the world’s mountaintops or chomping on dark chocolate while writing poetry, creative non-fiction, and nutrition articles.