Francis and I have known each other since I was doing my standard grades at school. At the time I was nearly failing English and she, a retired English teacher who knew I was struggling, offered to tutor me for a couple of weeks. After these weeks were over we kept in touch as we had realised we had similar tastes in novels. Since she lived less than two miles away I could walk down and spend a couple of hours drinking tea and discussing life and literature before heading home with little difficulty.
For three years of this friendship I avoided telling her that I was gay. I was certain that the differences in our experiences and age would mean that I would end up losing a friend who I
admired and whose company I enjoyed so much. So I avoided the topic and tried to ignore the fact that having been raised in a strongly religious family up north, her views on it were likely to be unfriendly. This continued until one day I told her that I had begun reading a book by E. M. Forster and she told me that one of his books had changed her life.
Francis had been brought up in the Highlands and had moved to study English at university. During her time there she had to read A Passage to India by Forster and she loved it. She thought the prose was beautiful, the characters were well crafted and that there was an understanding of the human heart she admired. So she decided to read everything he’d written.
A year after Forster’s death, his last novel was published. This novel was Maurice and, despite having been written almost 60 years earlier, it had never been published. The reason for this was simple. The novel was a gay romance which followed the titular Maurice’s relationships with Clive, which falls apart, and Alec, with whom he spends the rest of his life with. The novel’s happy ending for its characters had meant that Forster had seen the novel as unpublishable and not worth the scandal it would bring.
After much deliberation and with hesitation, Francis decided to read it despite her aversion to its contents. What her feelings were during reading it I do not know as we have never discussed it. However, she told me that after having finished it she came to the conclusion that “no one who could write about love so beautifully or so accurately could be going to hell for experiencing that love.”
This realisation brought about a change in her opinions on homosexuality and on the values she’d learned as a child. Since then, Francis has bought and lost multiple copies of Maurice that were gifted to students who she felt would be comforted by them and attended Pride, which settled her into the belief that everyone should attend Pride once in their lives.
While Francis’s views on the LGBT+ community are not wholly consistent with more modern conceptions of sexuality and gender, her genuine desire to accept members of the community and push for a more general acceptance up north is comforting. For me, despite my original fears of coming out to her, Francis stands as an example of who I would wish to be in the future. Perhaps not someone fully up to date on everything but someone with the compassion and desire to learn despite how age and upbringing might affect that.
Doreen has known me since I was a confused and miserable teenager. Doreen is the grandmother of one of my closest friends, Leonie. Visits to her house always included a dinner with Doreen. When it came to coming out to people about being transgender, Doreen was one of the people who I expected to take the longest to make any change or acknowledge the change.
As Leonie lives up in the Highlands of Scotland, it was many months after my coming out that I actually had to face Doreen and tell her. However, when I finally visited her again I found that Leonie had already sat her down and explained to her what my coming out meant and how important it was to me that people accepted the changes that came with it.
This meant that Doreen had been given time to adjust to my new name and pronouns and adjust she did. Doreen has yet to call me by the wrong name when I am present and her misgendering of me has been contained to failures to remember that she can no longer refer to Leonie and me as girls when calling us for dinner.
Her one failure in the use of my pronouns was quickly followed up the next day with the gift of a jar of homemade jam and the announcement that she liked to give all the fine young men visiting the house a jar to take home with them. While I am certain that this ritual was entirely invented for my own benefit, her determination to apologise for the mistake means that it remains one of my favourite interactions with her.
Furthermore, Doreen’s desire to support me through my transition extends beyond simply using the correct the language. Many transgender people mark their first Christmas after coming out as one in which their presents are overly inclined to the traditional conceptions of their gender. However my own parents refusal to acknowledge my transition meant that my presents that year were geared toward my assigned gender at birth.
Having mentioned the distress this lack of support caused me, the pair of them stepped up and every year since I have received an overtly masculine gift from Doreen, ranging from boxers to men’s toiletries, as a substitute. Not only this, but I have been given an open invitation to their own family Christmas should spending it with my family become too much, and an offer of a lift to Doreen’s house at any time if I need an accepting space.
While I have never needed to use either of these offers, the simple existence of a completely accepting space in the Highlands has helped me cope with misgendering and deadnaming, both of which I have to endure when home.
Doreen’s understanding of being transgender is limited. I doubt she fully understands the importance of using the correct pronouns and name for me.
For her it is simple. I am her granddaughter’s friend and she likes me and therefore if she is told that not using the correct name and pronouns would cause me distress she will not do that.
This of course has led to many entertaining misunderstandings, perhaps most memorable her repeated references to any make up I wear as drag make up even if it is something as simple as concealer or foundation.
Despite their lack of understanding, Doreen’s support during my transition, and Francis’s stubborn belief that there was nothing wrong with me for being gay, has been invaluable as a young person growing up in the Highlands. Their existence proves to me that the older generations can change their ways and that the Highlands, despite their reputation, have pockets of acceptance within them.
Illustration: Hannah Robinson