Sometimes you meet a certain kind of woman who makes you wonder: ‘How does she…
Emma Batchelor’s memoir Now That I See You is a story of moments. Of pulse-swelling highs and deep, silent lows.
Of disclosures and distances and ultimately, of hope, love and belonging—so perhaps it’s not surprising that it has been named the winner of The Vogel Award, one of Australia’s most prestigious literary awards for unpublished manuscripts.
“I am deeply honoured to receive this recognition,” says Emma. “I hope it can be a platform for me to discuss the themes of my book more broadly as well as provide me with opportunities to grow as a writer and author. I have already been overwhelmed by the kind and loving support I have received.”
Chronicling Emma’s relationship with her partner Jesse across eight years, in the form of journal entries and emails, Now That I See You builds to the moment in late 2018 that Jesse disclosed to Emma that she is transgender.
It’s a moment of truth that Emma meets with acceptance and love, but one that nonetheless rocks her reality.
“After she made that disclosure, I think I was in shock for about a week,” reflects Emma. “As that settled between us, we were able to give shape and language to what our feelings were.”
While Emma was fully supportive of Jesse’s transition and immediately dove into educating herself on how to best support her partner, she was still faced with the reality of adjusting to a same-sex relationship.
“I hadn’t been consciously attracted to women before and I didn’t know as Jesse transitioned if we could stay together. I knew that I still loved her just the same and it didn’t change the way I felt about her, but I didn’t know if we could be together romantically.”
As the founder of Canberra’s Leiden Magazine, Emma is a familiar face on Canberra’s arts and fashion events scene. But wanting to respect Jesse’s wish for privacy and secrecy during her transition, and unable to access her normal support networks, Emma withdrew into herself.
In late 2019, Jesse moved out of the home they bought together to focus on her transition.
“She wasn’t in a place to be a partner in a relationship because she had so much of her own to focus on,” says Emma. “I became depressed…I lost sight of the things that were mine, like my writing. I just felt very hollow. I was a bit of a shell, really.”
The timing of Jesse and Emma’s separation in late 2019 was, in hindsight, serendipitous as the world soon plunged into COVID-19 lockdown. As Emma withdrew into solitude, so did the world.
“At that point, people stopped looking for me because nobody was doing anything,” she laughs, adding that the quiet of lockdown allowed her to come to terms with her new reality.
Emma spent the first seven months of 2020 living alone, working from home as the pandemic dominated headlines, finding solace in writing what would eventually become Now That I See You.
“At first I started just writing for me,” she says. “After a while, I thought, ‘No, this is really a thing and I think it’s good,’ so I began drafting something for an external audience.”
Emma and Jesse didn’t speak during these seven months, and Emma became increasingly panicked about going out, terrified that she would run into Jesse and be overcome with emotion. She began limiting her time away from home to a few hours during the week.
Then, on the “one day” Emma decided to go into the office of the NGO she works for in late 2020, there was Jesse.
“We ran into each other outside Koko Black,” says Emma. “And we did cry, but it wasn’t a scene like I had been catastrophising.”
Returning to Emma’s office, Emma and Jesse “talked for hours”, ultimately deciding they were happier together than apart. Since then, they’ve been consciously working together through the events of the past few years, as well as settling into their life as two women.
Emma writes of these difficult moments with an engrossing mixture of tender prose and plain speech, her matter-of-fact recounting of events juxtaposed with her emotive inner monologue.
As Emma puts it, she wanted the writing to feel “intimate”, as if the reader were “trespassing” on her thoughts.
It took Emma less than a year to write a complete manuscript, collating her paper journal entries with emails between herself and Jesse, as well as recollections of important moments.
As for what she would say to people whose partner has just disclosed a desire to transition, Emma puts kindness firmly at the heart of it all.
“It’s a really difficult, complicated situation, and that’s okay. I know I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a certain way and to give a certain type of support. But it’s important to know that you and your experience are valid too.”
“You need to look after yourself and make sure you have access to the support you need to be able to support your partner. People change and the nature of your relationship might change but that doesn’t mean that you love them any less. Love changes too.”
Emma will be speaking at a special in-conversation event at Harry Hartog ANU on 12 May to celebrate her win.
See Eventbrite for more information.