by Stephanie Silver
Chapter 9 - Aunt Nan
Nanalyn Elkins, Jedidiah King's Aunt Nan, had a secret. No, she would never, ever cheat on her husband, Jack. Never. But before him, before Jack, there'd been someone else. And every now and then, when her husband was at work, or at another church meeting, and it was just her and the ticking of the grandfather clock at the foot of the stairs in the tiled entry way, she thought about that someone else, and wondered what things might have been like if she had agreed to marry him.
That's where her thoughts were as she watched the red convertible Mustang pull up in front of her house. She guessed it was Jed, her niece's only son. She didn't know for sure what kind of car he drove, but he had called about an hour earlier and said he was in town, and asked if it would it be okay to come over for a visit. Of course she said yes. After hanging up the phone she had gotten right to work on making Jed's favorite dish, chicken pot pie. It was almost finished and just needed a few more minutes in the oven to bake.
She busied herself for several more minutes making final preparations for a casual lunchtime feast. When she was done, and Jed still hadn't arrived or even knocked on the door, she started to wonder if it had been someone else in the convertible. Maybe it was time to go check.
With the sun's glare bouncing off of the windshield, putting the car's interior in relative shadow, she couldn't see very clearly who was driving. Whoever it was, it looked like they were just sitting there. She moved closer until she could see what appeared to be a young lady sitting at the wheel, watching her approach. The young woman bore a very strong resemblance to Jedidiah, which seemed like an awfully strange coincidence. And she literally had that look of a deer trapped in the headlights of an approaching car. Or was it more like an approaching freight train? Her hands were gripping the wheel tightly and her expression suggested terror mixed with an inability to move or speak. Nanalyn leaned in to the open window on the passenger side and asked, "Are you okay?"
The young woman looked at her, still wearing an expression that could only be described as terror, but said nothing. There were tears were in her eyes. It was suddenly obvious to her why there was such a strong resemblance to Jed. It was Jed. His hair was longer, and he was wearing a skirt with a cute, feminine-looking top, but his face still looked the same, only possibly a little softer. "Oh dear!" she whispered softly, more to herself than to him. No wonder he looked terrified. "Mind if I get in?" she asked.
Jedidiah shook his head as his lower lip started to quiver. In moments he was literally sobbing, his body shaking as he did. That's when Nanalyn noticed his breasts. Or maybe that was HER breasts now. Jed had obviously made some changes.
There are some things that medical science has never been able to fully explain. One of them is why kissing a scratch makes a four-year-old's finger feel better. Another one is why a well-timed hug can solve so many emotional and psychological problems. Mothers, and great aunts, seem to know instinctively when to apply the former as well as the latter. Without a word, she pulled her niece's child toward her for a very long and reassuring hug.
Another unexplained mystery of medical science is why chicken soup makes a person feel so much better. Aunt Nan didn't have chicken soup, but she had something that was just as good. Maybe better. Chicken pot pie. When the sobs had finally subsided enough that she dared to let go, Aunt Nan leaned back and said, "Want to come inside? I made you some chicken pot pie."
Jenna laughed and forced a smile. "Yes, that sounds wonderful." And then she started crying again, requiring her aunt to give her another reassuring hug. The sobbing started up again, and Aunt Nan held her until it was over.
"Come inside," she said, confident the worst of the tears were over.
* * * * *
For Jenna, the weirdest part was walking across the front yard and up the steps wearing a skirt. How often had she made that same trip as a boy in high school? Or maybe it was the final confirmation that she really had left her male life behind. And that there was no going back.
The house looked exactly the same. Fixed up in some spots, a little more worn in others. The clock was still there in the front hall, bonging reassuringly as a reminder that her aunt and uncle's home was a place of stability. An anchor in the storm of life's emotions. And cool - like a desert oasis. Jenna took a moment to look at the old pictures on the wall just inside the door. It was her family - people she knew and recognized.
There was even a picture of her as Jedidiah, just prior to leaving on his mission. Seeing it brought tears again to Jenna's eyes. Aunt Nan, watching from the doorway, quickly moved in to give another hug of reassurance. This time the crying didn't include the same tortured sobbing it had in the car, and Jenna was eventually able to whisper, "I'm sorry."
"Oh, you don't have anything to be sorry for," said Aunt Nan. "You just go ahead and cry all you want."
"Is Uncle J here?" asked Jenna a short time later as they made their way to Aunt Nan's kitchen in the back of the house.
"No, it's just you and me for now. We expect him around seven. Can you stay that long? I know he'll be thrilled to see you."
"You don't think he'll be mad?"
"Oh, no one's going to be mad at you. You're just fine. Now sit down and let me serve you some pie. You still eat pie don't you?"
"Yes," was Jenna's one word reply. She looked around the kitchen, recently remodeled with white and orange tile countertops - Tennessee Volunteers' colors. There was even a prominently placed vase filled with daisies on one counter - her aunt's favorite flower. "You redid your kitchen," she observed as her aunt place a warm bowl of food in front of her. "It looks nice."
"Thanks. I always wanted an orange and white kitchen. Jack finally got it for me." She watched her visitor eat for a moment before adding, "You don't want to know how much it cost us. Even worse was how long it took. We were eating from our food storage for over a month."
Jenna laughed. "Mmm, your pie's delicious. It always is. I think I missed this more than anything."
Nan noticed the moisture welling up again in her visitor's eyes. "I guess I need to know what name to call you now. Jed doesn't seem right anymore."
Jenna laughed again. "I go by Jenna. Jenna Kaye. I got it from my great grandma, Jeana Harley. I just changed the letters a little."
"It's very pretty."
Jenna paused a moment, and looked like she might be on the verge of another crying spell, but quickly recovered. "Plus it sounded a little like my old boy name, Jedidiah," she added, laughing softly. "That's almost getting to the point where it sounds like someone else, now."
Another thing mothers, and great aunts, just seem to know instinctively, is when to just listen. Aunt Nan nodded, sensing that if she just waited, the whole story would make its own way out.
And it did.
"So are you happy?" asked Aunt Nan as she finished cleaning off her tile counters.
Jenna took a moment to consider, but when she answered, it was with conviction, "Yes."
That was soon followed by, "So why do I keep crying?"
Aunt Nan took a moment to figure out how to answer, but once they were both comfortably settled back in the living room, she said, "You know how Jesus had to pass through Gethsemane and then be crucified, and as difficult as that was, it was for a good reason...? But that's probably not a good analogy because we don't want to go around comparing ourselves to the Savior, so... "
She thought some more. "You know how Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, and everything was so wonderful and peaceful? And yet they both knew they had to leave because in the garden they weren't progressing. Maybe your life is a lot like that. In order for you to get where you need to go, you first have to go through a very difficult time."
She then added some auntly wisdom about trying to make others happy and making ourselves miserable in the process and that made Jenna laugh. Her Aunt asked, "What's so funny?"
"It just reminds me of my friend's brother, Kelly, and how he has this wonderful, happy life, with a nice job and a nice house and a nice car and two-and-a-half kids and a picket fence and everything you're supposed to want in life, and yet he's completely miserable." She decided to leave out the part about him writing smutty stories. "And whenever I see him, I keep thinking that could have been me. That's the same life everyone wanted for me."
"Is this one any better?" asked her aunt very softly, sensing a pivotal moment in the discussion.
This time Jenna took less time to decide, but still answered with the same conviction. "Yes, I feel like my whole life up to now has been this big lie." She paused briefly to choke back a sob. "Something I've been doing for everyone else. For the first time I feel like I finally did something... I feel like I was finally true to myself."
She paused again, before asking, "Aunt Nan, if it feels like I'm doing the right thing, why does it make me feel so terrible?"
Even Aunt Nan didn't have an answer for that one. I guess sometimes there aren't answers.
I know medical science has an explanation for why we get sleepy after lunch. I read the explanation once but it was right after lunch, and I sorta dozed off about halfway through. Even if I had read all of it, I'm sure I couldn't even begin to repeat it here. So, add that to a heavy serving of emotions, and Jenna was soon fast asleep on Aunt Nan's living room couch. Covered, I might add, with a huge orange and white blanket with a great big letter T on it.
Nanalyn Elkins grew up in East Tennessee, so she'd always been a Volunteers fan. At one point, before she met Jenna's Uncle J, or just after, she was an assistant coach for the University of Tennessee's women's basketball team - the Lady Vols. That was back before anyone really kept track of win-loss records and before Tennessee turned into the perennial powerhouse they are today.
* * * * *
Uncle J spent most of his life not needing, or much less wanting, a cell phone. "I spend too much time on the phone as it is," he said. "Why would I want to carry one around with me?" Out of the office meant out of contact, as far as he was concerned, and that's the way he liked it. It gave him a chance to think and enjoy some much needed peace and quiet. But then cell phones started appearing just about everywhere and he finally decided that having one might not be such a bad idea. Just for emergencies, of course. And almost as quickly, he started to wonder how he ever managed to live without one.
While Jenna was asleep on the couch, Nan gave him a call, catching him just as he was leaving the clinic in Knoxville. Talking as he drove - yes, he used the handsfree mode on his phone - he knew something was going on when Nan told him Jed was there.
A career as a psychologist added to ten years as a stake president and five years before that as a bishop had prepared him to hear all kinds of personal troubles - things that would turn a normal man's hair prematurely gray - although Uncle J's gray hair probably had just as much to do with his age as it did with the stories he'd heard - and he knew he was going to hear one of those stories now. He asked if it was related to the incident fifteen years earlier and Nan said it was a little more serious than that. She told him how Jed had decided to change gender, and Uncle J asked how far along he was and if it was still reversible. While she didn't know the details of how far along Jed was, Aunt Nan guessed it was far enough that, "Going back isn't really an option for him at this point, Jack. If you ask me. I think we deal with what we've got and figure out how to go on from here."
"Is this my pretty new niece?" he bellowed as soon as he walked through the door and saw Jenna standing at the stove, stirring a pot of gravy on the stove. Jenna blushed and kept stirring.
Acting as if an introduction was needed, Nan replied, "Jack, this is Jenna Kaye, the newest member of our family. She's going to eat dinner with us tonight, and then probably go back to her own place to sleep. I told her she was welcome to stay the night, but she said she'd have to think about it."
Jenna continued to blush as Uncle J looked at her, verifying that, yeah, she'd really gone and changed gender. Dinner was a little awkward, at first, as they avoided the subject that was uppermost on everyone's mind. But finally Uncle J got around to that, and Jenna was almost relieved. As much as she dreaded it.
Telling her uncle her reasons for wanting to be a girl wasn't quite as terrifying or as difficult as she had feared. Maybe the worst of it had been earlier that afternoon with Aunt Nan, and now, with the experience of having already told someone her reasons, she was starting to feel more confident in that decision. Aunt Nan, of course, was completely supportive. She continually reminded her husband to call her Jenna, not Jed, and to use feminine pronouns like she and her instead of he and him. At any rate, other than a few tender moments where Aunt Nan was right there with a tissue, there wasn't nearly as much crying as there had been earlier.
* * * * *
Jenna ended up staying the night, and made up her mind that she would continue living with Katon after that. In the end, the reason she decided to stay the night was the very same reason she knew she had to go back to living with Katon - French toast.
Aunt Nan promised she would make Jenna some of her delicious French toast in the morning if she stayed, and Jenna figured that was a pretty good reason to stick around. But when she started thinking what the long-term effects of Aunt Nan's cooking might be on her waistline, she knew she it could only be for the one night.
Plus, her aunt and uncle were adamant that they had to tell her parents as soon as possible. Now that they knew, it wasn't the kind of thing they could keep secret. Her parents, you recall, were on a mission to Mongolia at the time. Fortunately, the Mormon church has a system for getting in contact quickly with their missionaries in emergencies, and so it was six o'clock the next morning when Elder and Sister King called to see what the emergency was.
It's unfortunate, really, that the major moments in Jed's life always seemed to happen when his parents were out of the country. Although, in this case, that might have been more by design than by accident. Knowing they were out of the country may have been what prompted Jed to begin gender transformation. In any case, they really weren't the inattentive, uncaring parents you might imagine. Far from it. They were actually quite the opposite - very loving and very concerned about their son's welfare.
With Jenna's permission, and to her great relief, Aunt Nan did most of the talking. She quickly assured the Kings that Jed was "fine" and that "he" was safe inside their home. She then had Jenna greet them. "Hi Mom. Hi Dad."
From there, she started explaining the emergency that had them worriedly making a long distance phone call from Mongolia to Mayville. "Jed's fine, but he's dealing with some very powerful gender issues right now," she told them. Of course that required her to explain that Jed now preferred to be called Jenna, after Jack's mother, and that he was interested in living the rest of his life as a female.
How do you respond to news like that? Jenna could almost hear the "whump" as the electrons bearing the news travelled half a world away to smack her parents in the chest. For a moment there was total silence. For a moment, she thought of changing her mind, telling them it had all been a big mistake, and that she would go back to being a boy, a normal boy, right away.
But that, she knew, would have been the real mistake. So she held her tongue. The news was out there. It was done. There'd be crying and lots of questions to make sure, but now it was done, and her life was her own. She was finally free.
Well, not quite free. There was one more rather major issue, but we'll get to that one in a moment. So, yes, after the silence, there were questions. Lots of them. There were even assurances that they would cut short their mission and be on the very next flight to Knoxville, but in the end everyone decided there really wasn't much they could do in Mayville, and so it was probably best to just stay where they were. And pray.
Meanwhile, there was that other issue I mentioned. While there are Mormons and non-Mormons, active Mormons and inactive Mormons, and even oxy-Mormons and quasi-Mormons, it's impossible, really, to be a transgendered Mormon. It doesn't fit in. Not at all. From the moment Jed tried on his first pair of panties, more or less, he was at odds with his religion. The only solution was excommunication.
Okay, it sounds worse than it is. Officially it's a disciplinary action. On the surface it sounds cruel and heartless, as if the church, on account of his sins, was planning to abandon Jed's soul to hell. But it's not exactly like that. Jed's parents and his uncle and his aunt all assured him it was an act of love and compassion. Something that needed to be done so that Jed, or Jenna, could progress without the heavy weight of being at odds with church teachings. In a sense, it was the only way he could repent, if ever that was something he wanted to do.
Okay, they also say that execution is the only way for a murderer to repent, too, so... I'm just sayin'.
Jenna, who was well-versed in Mormon doctrine, enough to serve as a missionary, understood the reasons and didn't question them. It was what was right. She only asked if it would be possible to have her membership records first transferred to Mayville so that they could take care of it there. Uncle J said that would not be a problem.
Excommunication requires a series of meetings, or councils, with the individual's church leaders, and is sort of like being on trial. Someone from the church is assigned to represent the church's views on the matter, while another church leader is actually assigned to represent the individual. And another church leader, usually the bishop or stake president, is assigned to act as a judge. I know. It sounds like there's no chance of getting a fair trial. But I keep telling you, it's not like that.
Uncle J, who had presided over several excommunications during his terms of church service offered to serve as Jenna's voice in the councils. As you can imagine, many individuals have no interest in attending their excommunication hearings, but Uncle J assured her it was in her best interest to be there. He explained that the purpose of excommunication was not to hurt her, but instead to give her a chance to start over without all the baggage and responsibility of church membership. "It's sometimes hard to see, especially when people don't show up for it, but it's really an act of love. That's why your aunt and I want you to be there."
Even if she didn't say anything.
Aunt Nan, who as a woman wasn't an official participant in the meetings, offered to be at her side the entire time. And she was.
So Jenna sat with her aunt without saying a word. The facts were laid out quickly and Uncle J stipulated that they would not be contested. He asked only that the church do its business quickly and with regard to the feelings of a "young woman" who was confused and scared and wanted only to live happily in the body in which she felt most comfortable. There were more tears all over the place, including some from the brethren assembled in the council, and then it was all over. Done.
As they were walking out of the last and final meeting, Uncle J asked Jenna how she felt. She thought a moment and said, "Relieved. Like a big weight has been taken off of my shoulders."
Being excommunicated doesn't mean Jenna could no longer go to church. In case you were wondering. It just means she was prohibited from giving prayers and from being an active participant in any of the discussions. Having always enjoyed quirky scriptures, she found that 1 Corinthians 14:34 seemed to describe her situation best: "Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak."
She figured that was the cost of getting her wish.