You can’t help who you fall in love with

By Gail Braznell

I was putting the dinner on when four figures marched past me.

They stopped at the mirror in the hallway and pushed combs through their gelled hair.

My sons Mark, Daniel and Ashley slicked their locks into place with an expert flick.

My youngest daughter Bobby, three stood beside them and did the same.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

Bobby was a bit of a tomboy and preferred her brothers’ dungarees to the pink dresses I put on her. I reasoned she’d grow out of it.

Then something happened to worry me.

Bobby started school but got into fights with the other children.

At home, her behaviour became stranger and stranger.

One evening, I saw a figure hiding behind the living room door.

I pulled it to and screamed.

Bobby’s shoulder length brown hair had chunks missing here and there.

I realised Bobby had taken a pair of scissors and cut her hair off.

I tried not to worry too much but Bobby’s behaviour eventually got her expelled from school.

A doctor diagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

They prescribed her heavy medication but I wasn’t convinced.

I reckoned I knew why Bobby acted up.

I brought Bobby home and sat her on the sofa.

‘Bobby,’ I said, ‘what do we need to do so that you will be a good little girl?’

She tugged at her pigtails and said: ‘I want to wear boys’ trousers and have my hair short like my brothers.’

I took Bobby to the barbers and said: ‘Short back and sides, please.’

Bobby grinned as the hairdresser set to work.

I felt a surge of hope.

If letting Bobby be a boy would make her happy, then so be it.

Afterwards, I took Bobby to Woolworths and bought her boys’ school trousers and shirts.

From then on, I introduced Bobby as my son. In a way, it was a relief.

He no longer acted up or lashed out at the children around him.

Some people thought it was weird and called me insane for indulging Bobby’s desires.

But I knew in my heart I had to support Bobby and those nearest to me agreed.

My friend Donna said: ‘You’d never know Bobby is a little girl. He’s such a tomboy.’

She babysat for me when I needed a break and the kids adored her.

They called her Aunty Donna and she was great with Bobby.

She left Bobby little notes on his pillow to let him know how much we all loved him.

It was very sweet.

Months passed and Bobby’s behaviour improved so much, he was allowed back to school.

Bobby was thrilled.

Later, he was referred to a specialist unit for support with gender identity disorder. The doctors ran tests and analysed his genes and hormones. They advised us to come back when Bobby began puberty to help him through the next phase.

When he was thirteen, Bobby started developing breasts. Lucky for him, he’d taken after me and was slim and flat chested.

It didn’t stop the bullies though.

Bobby was picked on and began lashing out at the kids at school.

He explained: ‘The kids call me a lesbian or a tranny.’

I couldn’t condone Bobby’s violent outbursts but it hurt me to hear the names he was being called.

Then one day, he came to me and said: ‘I’m bleeding.’

I knew exactly what he meant. I’d been preparing him for some time that his period would soon be starting.                

Now it had, doctors were able to give Bobby hormone injections to stop them and make him more masculine.

We moved home and I lost touch with Donna, but Bobby made lots of new friends.

As his confidence grew, something amazing happened.

Everyday there was a knock, knock, knock.

I’d open the front door and a group of girls would be giggling.

‘Is Bobby in?’ they’d ask.

I was pleased he was so popular but I warned him: ‘Bobby, you must be truthful to these girls. It would be unfair if you didn’t tell them about, well, you know.’

‘But Mum,’ he said, ‘I have already told them. They don’t care.’

I could believe it too.

Photography by Gail Braznell © Reflected Images

Bobby was tall with floppy brown hair, gorgeous brown eyes and a sensitive nature. He was a catch for any girl.

Years passed and Bobby enjoyed the new attention, moving from one girl to another.

Bobby trained as a barber and grew into a handsome, fun loving and successful young man.

He showed off about the girls who fancied him and I was happy to listen.

After one night out, Bobby told me: ‘You’ll never guess who I pulled earlier.’

I raised an eyebrow and waited.

‘Donna,’ he said.

‘You didn’t!’ I replied, laughing.

After we’d moved, Donna and I had drifted apart. I saw her from time to time in town and we’d stop to chat.

Next week, Bobby saw Donna again.

The third time, I said: ‘You’ll soon be a couple at this rate.’

He didn’t seem to mind.

Soon, Bobby wanted to chat.

He made me a cup of tea and we sat in the kitchen.

He said: ‘Donna and me are together now but she’s really worried.’

‘Worried about what?’ I replied.

‘People are telling her you’re going to freak out because she’s older than me,’ he replied.

I thought about it for a moment.

It was true that Donna was older.

She was 31 and Bobby was 19. But I also knew Donna was a kind, understanding woman who would take good care of my son.

‘Bring her round for dinner,’ I said.

Next week, Donna and Bobby came to my home in Woodhouse Close, Diglis, Worcester.

She stood sheepishly in the lounge.

I moved towards her, placed my hands on her shoulders and looked her in the eyes.

I said: ‘Donna, you were a part of this family for so long. I’m really happy for the two of you, so please stop worrying.’

We stared at each other then burst out laughing.

‘I’m so relieved’ she said, ‘I was scared you were going to be mad at me.’

I hugged her and Bobby winked at me.

From then on, Bobby stayed at Donna’s most nights, or they’d come to my house for dinner.

It wasn’t a surprise when Bobby said: ‘Mum, I’ve asked Donna to marry me and she said yes.’

‘That’s great,’ I said, ‘I’m so happy for you.’

Our friends and family gathered at a local pub and Bobby made a speech.

He took Donna’s hand and said: ‘I will love you until the stars fall from the sky or until the rivers all run dry. In other words, until I die.’

Bobby got down on one knee and presented Donna with a diamond ring.

She slipped it on and began to cry.

It was a special moment.

Afterwards, we danced all night.

But when it was time for the younger kids at the party to go home, Donna joked: ‘Shall I come and tuck you in too, Bobby?’

The crowd cheered and laughed.

It was a fabulous night and reminded me how far Bobby had come from being a troubled young girl, to a handsome, happy young man.

I feel blessed to have been able to support Bobby through the more difficult years.

Now, I know Donna will help him through the next chapter.

Bobby will continue with hormone treatment and will need several operations to complete his transformation into a man. It won’t be easy but I know he’s going to be fine.

I couldn’t be any more proud.

Photography by Gail Braznell © Reflected Images

Bobby Francis, 19, says: ‘When I first met Donna, things didn’t seem real. It was a bit overwhelming to have found the love of my life in my mum’s friend, but there are so many people who are going through what I am and don’t have any support at all.

‘I’ll need five operations but once they’re done, I will marry Donna. It will be a tough process but with my fiancé, mum, friends and family by my side, I know I will be OK.’

Article written by Gail Braznell and published in Take a Break.