How Much Have I Changed in Four Years?

In the early days when I was still questioning and trying to figure myself out, my wife would tell me that by living as a woman, I was a different person.  I retorted that I was not different; I was the same person presenting in a different package.  We were both wrong.

Many of the traits that make up my personality continue to be present.  The intangibles—my ethics, sense of morality, kindness, sense of humor, sense of direction, empathy—are largely unchanged.  These are qualities that were once cherished by my wife and help define who I am.  Transition did not take them away from me.  I am still all of those things, hence I am the same person at my core.  Historically, I have always described myself in these ways because I had great difficulty accepting my physical appearance.  I recognized I was a special person by what was inside, not the nerdy, lanky frame that housed those traits.

From my wife’s perspective, she saw changes that resulted in less attractive things.  Beyond the loss of the sexual aspect of our relationship (she is not attracted to women), she also saw me as a more emotional, less stable person.  When we met, she appreciated my ability to perform in more stereotypical male ways:  Make decisions, treat her like a princess, offer unwavering support without thought to my self-care.  As time went on and I learned more about what I needed for myself, I pulled back in some of these areas.  Sex became less frequent because I did want to initiate as much.  I was more interested in balanced decision-making because I felt I was forced to make most of the decisions without help.  While I continued to treat her and surprise her, I began to want more treats, too.  And while I always offered her support, I began to make attempts to figure out what I needed to do for myself to improve my personal happiness.  Transition bore out from the last point.

Before I began questioning, I was in a depression I did not admit to being in at the time.  We were having trouble in or marriage, and I was without a job for over a year.  When I finally took the time to start analyzing how things had gone off the rails, I began to realize that maybe I was not living my life authentically for myself.  I was living it for the family, for my wife, for others.  I largely ignored me, which was unhealthy.  I looked at those qualities that made me Me, and I also considered things I had not allowed myself to experience.  Many of the missing pieces were feminine in nature, and I began to consider that maybe something was fundamentally wrong with me.  Maybe, even though I was living the dream of a wife and a growing family, that my dreams lie elsewhere.  To get there, though, I had to find and nurture myself.

My transition has shown me that the Me I was looking for, that I was missing, was not the person my wife married.  I still hold to the idea that my core qualities are largely still intact—if not enhanced.  I continue to be empathetic and loving, kind and moral, friendly and awesome.  I can still treat, surprise, support, and love with all of my heart.  But I cannot ignore the physical changes my wife has experienced through the years.  Hormones and facial surgery have dramatically changed my body.  My hair style has changed; my skin has softened.  My voice has been trained to be higher on the average, and I talk with my hands with greater frequency.  I have breasts that nearly fill a B cup.  I am markedly femme.  Indeed, this is not the person my wife married.

What does exists is something neither wife nor myself saw four years ago:  an authentically happy woman.  How did I get there?  I struggled mightily.  I fought my inner demons.  I endured my wife’s pain.  I found myself.  I had to ask myself the basic question:  What do I want?  Then, I had to honestly answer that question for myself, not for anyone else.  Navigating suicidal ideation, threats of divorce, and extreme financial hardships, I used therapy, support groups, and a newfound confidence in myself to overcome frequent challenges.  I have learned that self-care is more important than I ever realized.  Had I not taken the time to improve myself and take active steps to escape my depressive state, I may not be alive today.  My children and my wife would be likely be forever damaged.

In many ways, I am the same person I was when I was younger, but in many other ways I am not.  Yes, I am still emotional, caring, and full of love.  I am not male, depressed, or fully other-serving.  What is left is a more well-rounded, stable person with a more confident head on her shoulders.  This person is a good mother, a top of her class worker, and a solid friend.  She’s not perfect, and there are things she is working on, but that is the important point:  She is actively working on them!

I encourage everyone to ask themselves, “What do I want?”  Granted, most of the population will not answer that they need to live in a gender different from what they were assigned at birth, but for me, that is exactly where I needed to start.  From that foundation, I know that I want to be the best mother I can be for my children, the best friend I can be to those I care about, and the best human I can be to help others.  And, of course, I cannot forget that I need to be the best me I can be, which requires continued focus on self-care.

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A Turn for the Better

The financial struggles the family have been facing have been mitigated. Yes, we still have a significant hole from which we need to emerge. However, things are beginning to look up for once.

For those few that follow me, you may remember from my last post that my wife’s family had offered a loan with several strings attached. Ultimately, I rejected that offer. My decision brought some dissension from my wife and accusations that I was trying to keep us together, but her argument was baseless. In fact, I am working to make myself strong, which by extension, helps the family. While turning down the loan was difficult, a long-time member of my transgender support group I have attended for years offered an effectively no-strings-attached loan. In combination with a significant tax refund (due to my financial planning), the family suddenly had about what it required to float us through the beginning of my new job. After months of penny-pinching, now we could take a breath and pinch dimes instead. The rent can be paid on time.

Speaking of jobs, I resigned from the retail job I held for just over the last 3 1/2 years because I officially began said new job as a government employee. The new position comes with a major pay increase compared to my retail supervisor position and includes a detailed benefits package. Provided I stay in this sector, I could theoretically comfortably retire from here in the distant future (scary thought!). Part of me will miss my retail job—mainly the people interactions. Team Members and regular Guests were sad to see me leave on my last day. One of my Team Members even made me a cupcake cake, which she then hand-decorated! My new position is still very much people-based, though. Unlike retail, however, I will have the ability to change people’s lives in meaningful ways. Truly, the job is a good fit for my personality.

I am now in the fourth week of a 6-month training course. For the first time in years, I enjoy going to work. I feel valued for my opinions and questions; other students/employees approach me for help. Most everyone in my class is smart, engaging, and fun, which leads to a positive work environment. Further, this job has set break schedules and runs fairly standard office hours with paid holidays. The upshot for me: I get to come home and spend time with my children at dinner and before they go to bed, and the stresses of working busy weekends is a thing of the past.

This change is clearly positive. My work-life balance is normalizing for the first time in years. My commute is manageable. I am happier. The money and benefits this position provides and the expected increases in the future have the ability to put me in a position for not just short-term stability but long-term, too. Further, now that I have been entered into the “system,” I have flexibility for growth in whatever direction I want to go.

For my wife, this change to our dynamic is unsettling. She is happy that I have a more stable job. However, I now make more money than she does, will be providing benefits for the family, and have potential stability in my future. While for any other couple this all would be stellar news, as someone who wants out of the house, she feels all of these positives for me are a negative for her. Her effectively part-time job is not enough to support herself and the children (even half-time). My retail job put me in that same position; my government job might be a way out for me. As such, she has fears she will end up on the street. I do not believe that will be her end result, but I do know she will need to take action to improve her standing. That will be easier said than done given her history of depression. I will emotionally support her as much as she will allow, but ultimately, with a separation imminent, the decisions will ultimately be hers.

I have worked very hard to get to where I am today. Four years ago, I was depressed and unemployed. I was on the verge of coming out to my wife as questioning. Three years ago, I had just begun hormones and was going through one of the most tumultuous times of my life. Two years ago, I was officially changing my name & gender with the courts. Now, I am at a place where no one knows me any other way than Gabrielle. As I look to my future, I begin to see a way out of debt, which in turn, leads to further opportunities.

My focus this year has been on self-care and hopefulness. So far, so good. Things are looking up. People see the positive shift in my demeanor. I feel happier. Acquiring this job is most decidedly a turning point for me.

In Search of Financial and Emotional Stability

My wife wants out.  That is not news.  However, we can barely afford a cup of coffee, let alone be financially independent of one another—especially with two children to protect.  There is good news on that front, though, but how we get from here to there is a big question mark.

For the last 3 1/2 years, our family has been effectively running on two part-time jobs.  While my wife is in her dream career, she does not make enough money.  I work retail.  Scheduling and the fact that I barely make $1 more as a supervisor than a cashier means I am underpaid and have a less than full-time workload.  With two children and no money for daycare, we have been able to craft our schedules so that the children are always with a parent (when not in school).  However, the arrangement has never been ideal for either of us and does not generate the money required to float a family of four.

For years, the family has operated on a negative cash flow.  We were able to do this because when my mom died, I became a beneficiary of a life insurance policy, stock options, and a 401(k).  That gave us six figures in the bank account and the opportunity to move to a safer neighborhood.  We had our second child and guaranteed our older child would be able to attend the top-rated public school in the district.  I was able to stretch that money for years, but now it has run out, and the family is crisis mode.  Bills are past due; rent is frequently late; our credit cards are maxed and closed.  At the same time, we do not qualify for many government assistance benefits because we are in that gray zone:  We make too much to be poor, but we are too poor to pay all of our expenses.

While all of this happening, the quality of life in our home has deteriorated.  The children do not get to do as much as they used to (things cost money we don’t have!).  We stand in food lines to acquire donated food our kids do not necessarily want to eat.  Stress levels are high; nerves are frayed.  My wife wants out of the house more than ever.  She is unhappy.  Not that she exactly knows what she wants, but she knows it is not me.  Still, without financial stability, leaving really is not an option right now.  If we can’t keep one house afloat, how are we going to finance two separate households?

There is some hope, though.  Early in the year, she received a significant raise.  Now, I am on the verge of acquiring a government job that would be full-time and double my current salary.  I have a tentative job offer pending background checks (which I have no reason to fail), so paid training should start in late May.  That means I should see a paycheck in June that could start taking us to a place that is not underwater.  This is all great news, except for the fact that getting from here to June will require some magic.  We are lucky to have three figures in the bank account these days.  Filling the gas tank is an exercise in fear.

Family Pressure

Lately, my wife’s family has been applying pressure.  They offered to extend us a loan that would get our bills current and float us until the tide changes.  However, the deal comes with significant strings.

First, the loan would be formalized legally, binding both my wife and I to repay the loan.  While that seems kosher on the surface, I believe that puts me at great risk.  The family would never forgive my half of the loan but, of course, may be willing to look the other way when it comes to my wife at some point in the future.  They are upset with me because my transition has caused my wife such pain.  Being legally bound to a family that seemingly despises me seem like a bad idea.

The second condition:  My wife would need to set up her own personal bank account.  While community property laws and martial conduct exceptions could allow me to claim a portion of any money held in a private account while she continues to access joint funds, I really do not want to have go down that road during a divorce proceeding.  Our relationship was built on honesty, but her family is encouraging her—actually requiring her—to keep funds for herself that would not necessarily benefit the family as a whole.  This way, they can funnel her money while keeping me from directly being benefited by it.  This stipulation is an end around to hurt me and help her with no deference to how our family fares in the end.

The third condition of any loan from her family would require us to begin actively separating ourselves from one another.  Now, while separate accounts and divorce proceedings are very likely in our future, I object to her family using financial leverage to dictate how and when we choose to dissolve the marriage.  If they want to help the four of us get out of a financial emergency, then we thank the family for the help.  However, this entire deal is odious and offensive to me.  It legally binds me to being indebted to a family that no longer wants anything to do with me and provides them power over my decisions.  At the same time, my wife may be afforded waivers and leniency where I will never see any.  The whole deal is unbalanced, manipulative, and unreasonable.

In response, I have tabled the family’s questionable offer.  Instead, I am looking at all ways that I might be able to raise funds to bridge the gap between now and June.  To that end, a friend of mine has offered a no-strings-attached loan, that while not covering all of our projected needs, at least gets us current on bills and keeps the lights on.  No signing on a dotted line.  No power grab.  My friend’s offer comes because she cares about my well-being and that of the family, not because she has a secret agenda at play.  I thank her for her help.  We are still projected to be short, but at least this is a start.  I continue to find other ways to make this work out without having to succumb to the family’s loan.

Beyond the Marriage

My wife has told me she thinks I have rejected the offer because I am trying to keep us together.  While there may have been a time that would have been true, she could not be further from the truth.  In an ideal world, she would stay with me, realizing that I am still largely the same person she fell in love with all those years ago.  She would see that I have a lot to offer—love, support, even romance if she wanted it.  She actively worries about what life will be like without me.  At the same time, she still wants out.  I have my own worries and fear about life beyond the marriage.  However, I have already taken the step of grieving our union at least once.  I have cried, screamed, and fought against my heart telling me to stay.  Her continued pulling away from me has made it easier (again, easier not easy) to pull away from her.  The more she makes individual decisions, keeps gifted money to herself, does not communicate the basics of what is going on in her life, and hides emotions & feelings, the more I do not want to be with her, either.  I was raised to live openly and honestly, to share feelings even when they are uncomfortable, to talk things over in times of need and celebrate in times of victory.  But there is little joy here.  Romance is non-existent.  Hugs are few and far between.  What is there to hold on to?  What is there to save and keep together if one or both of us is no longer invested?

For quite awhile, she has been pulling away from me, and I have not stood in her way, as much as it hurts me to watch happen.  However, I am not sitting on the sidelines trying to keep us together as she conjectures.  My focus this year has been to improve myself both personally and socially.  To that end, I have found this new job.  I am sharing my story a little more actively in an effort to possibly advocate more in the future.  I am working to keep emotionally balanced despite the stress and drama that surrounds me.  While still providing plenty of attention and love to the children, I am also taking more time for myself.  I am making more friends and going out a little more often (on the cheap, of course!).  I think about the future—my future and the future of the kids.

The upcoming job will first and foremost help stabilize the family’s financial problems.  Its secondary purpose will be to establish my individual financial stability in the long run.  I hope to achieve this goal without need for her family’s interference.  We will separate when it is appropriate for us on our own (hopefully, amicable) terms.  If her family wants to help her then, by all means, I would expect that from them.  That is what family does.  However, if I can not be in debt to them, then more power to me.

Beyond the money, I have interest in moving on.  For the first time in years, my libido is non-zero.  I have interest in not only making more friends, but even possibly in dating.  I want someone who loves me for me, not for what I used to be.  I want to realize that maybe I am more beautiful than I think, that being transgender is not a romantic death sentence, and that the fact that I have children could actually be an endearing quality instead a deal breaker.  I have feared that being 40, trans, and a mother of two could get in my way.  That might not be the case after all.  My personality and my kindness are features.  If I embrace the compliments I regularly receive, my sense of self will be improved, which in turn makes me more marketable.  Gender confirmation surgery would not be bad, either.

There is a long way to go to get there.  First, what is left of our family comes first.  I will do everything in my power to protect the children and myself from harm.  I will find things to sell.  I will drive Uber.  I will work multiple jobs with little sleep.  I will not be played, and I am certainly not trying to figure out how to keep my wife and I together.  That ship has sadly sailed.  As Morgan Freeman said in The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”  I choose to hope, to dream, and to live.  Time to inspire myself in the same way I have inspired others.  Now, to figure out how to safely get to June and beyond…

Can I Be Proud to Be Transgender?

In the last week, I have both met Sarah McBride and read her memoir Tomorrow Will Be Different. I have laughed, cried (a lot), and have taken some time to ask myself two questions with which she has challenged me: Can I be proud to be trans, and what is my favorite part of being transgender?

Last Friday, I attended what may have been my first-ever book signing. A friend invited me to the event to see Sarah McBride talk about her freshly-published first memoir. Sarah is National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, was the first openly transgender person to intern at the White House, and was the first transgender person to speak at a major national political convention. Additionally, she has been a trans advocate in her home state of Delaware fighting for marriage and gender equality.

In her short speech at the Democratic National Convention (2016), she introduced herself as “a proud transgender American.” She also likes to ask people, “What is your favorite part of being transgender?” The ideas of being proud to be trans or having a favorite part of being transgender are difficult for me to grasp. Yes, I have attended Pride events the last two years, and I am beginning to find my advocate voice, but would I go so far as to say I am proud to be trans?

I have faced so many challenges in the transition process: the effective loss of my marriage, contemplation of suicide, isolation by my brother, the gazes and comments from unsettled cisgender people. I battle health insurance companies, others who question my hormone therapy, and even myself. The last 3 1/2 years (and really more than that) have been a real struggle. The effort to be find my authentic self has been exhausting and mentally taxing. Prior to facial feminization surgery (FFS), I routinely cried at my reflection in the mirror. Prior to vocal therapy, I feared my voice—even though it could have passed for androgynous—was a clear signal, at least to me, that I did not sound feminine. My main focus of 2017 was focusing on correcting those issues. The notion of pride was furthest from my mind. “Passing” and being comfortable with myself was much more of a concern.

I made significant progress last year in the face and voice departments, and as a result, I became much more comfortable with how I presented myself to the world. As much as I desire to “pass” in the world, I am more concerned with being authentic—representing myself in the most honest ways possible to myself and the world. To that end, I do not necessarily hide the fact that I am transgender, but not until I considered Sarah’s position did I really start to think that I could be proud of that status.

Being transgender does not define me; it is only a piece of who I am. When asked by the New York Times to introduce myself at the beginning of my audio recording for my “Conception” video, I introduced myself as a 40-year-old woman, mother of two. I did not specifically introduce myself as transgender. I intentionally shied away from that point, even though that was a primary reason I had been selected to take part in the series. Even the final 4 minutes, 40 second cut never uses the words trans or transgender. Why did I shy away from using those words? Because I do not want to be summarily defined that way. I fear that in today’s society that if I am simply seen as trans, all of my other special qualities may be overshadowed by that one fact by the cis-majority world.

However, this stance stands in my opposition of my desire to advocate for the transgender community. I have found my authentic self. Despite the challenges, I live that reality every single day with a freedom I have not felt in quite a long time. It’s beautiful and terrifying all at the same time. I could be happy raising my two children to be the best people they can be, who love both of their mothers. That alone would fill my heart. But as proud of a mother as I am, would that be enough to fill the whole of me? What about being fully proud of myself? Can I stand in front of a crowd and say that I am a proud transgender American? Can I stand up and advocate for a community that I have become attached to and invested in? Am I willing to risk my relative anonymity for the greater good as Sarah McBride has done?

My desire to help others is immense, but I can only do some much from the privacy of my own home (or a blog that is barely read). I have accepted myself. I am happy to be me. I can stand up in front of a crowd and say that I am doing the best I can. I can speak to a group and announce I am transgender and tell my story. I did that just six months after going full-time. I can now tell people that I am proud of myself, of who I am and what I can do in the future. And to that end, maybe I can come to terms that I am proud to be transgender because that is a part of who I am, and it need not wholly define me if I do not let myself or others do so.

As far as Sarah’s question, “What is my favorite part of being transgender?” By finding myself, I have been able to truly live my life authentically. What does that mean exactly?

I believe that whether a person is transgender or cisgender, that goal of a person’s life should be to live as authentically as possible. No fronts, no games, no living for others. Transitioning has shown me that I was I was effectively living a lie. I believed for years that I was a male with some female traits. I was different, and that was OK, no matter how much the bullies tried to tell me otherwise. Giving myself permission to dress as female characters at Halloween was socially acceptable despite being outside the norm. I could help plan a wedding with my bride-to-be and walk down the aisle at my wedding and guests would see that as original. I could be emotional and wear those emotions on my shoulder without being judged, because that just made me special and unique, right? But what about my secret desires to actually be the bride, be the mother in labor, be the princess everyday not just Halloween? I suppressed those needs. I hid them from the world. I hid them from myself. Now, those barriers are removed. I can admit to myself, to everyone, that I always wanted those things. I can move through the world as be the woman I never allowed myself to be because of this or that reason. I am free to be me in all of my magic.

So what is my favorite part of being transgender? The ability to be me without restriction, with total authenticity. I have a much deeper understanding of who I am and what I can accomplish. This a feeling that I think many cisgender people may never truly realize because they are not required to dig down into their souls to identify their own internal truths. Transition is painful, but it is eye-opening and ultimately rewarding.

So while I have only briefly met Sarah McBride and given her a hug, I must thank her for sharing her story and making me think more about myself. Can I be proud to be transgender? Can I view transition in a positive, rewarding light instead of casting it as a dark, tumultuous time in my life? That answer to both of those questions might quite possibly be “yes,” and acknowledging that may lead to a new drive to move forward in a new, fulfilling direction in my life.

How I Ended Up in The New York Times

The year began with some exciting news:  I was featured in a six-part New York Times video series which centered on unique and transformative ways people have come into motherhood.  I have written in the past about my connections with motherhood, including my story of coming out to my children, my need for a maternal title, and the eventual granting of the title of Mom.  My kids are the center of my world.  I would not be alive today without their love and support.  However, I never thought being a mother would put me in the national spotlight.

Last summer, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to be put in contact with a video producer from The New York Times who seeking motherhood stories.  While I was not sure I wanted the exposure, I figured there would be no harm in at least talking to her to see what kind of stories she as producing.  One afternoon, I took the kids to lunch and then let them play while I called New York.  During the one hour phone conversation, the producer explained a little about the series and wanted to hear a little about my story.  In typical fashion, I rambled on about my transition and my children.  I told stories about the day I told my wife I was questioning, opened up about the depression I had gone through, and how I was proud to be a mother of two amazing, beautiful children.  While more than 13,000 people had submitted pitches to be included in the series, I was not one of them, nor was that the goal of this phone call.  I was not trying to sell myself.  I was simply talking about myself, and she hung on every word.  At the end of the hour, I finally got around to asking questions I had for her about the kinds of stories she was seeking.  I was aware she wanted a transgender mother, so I asked her what kind of person she envisioned for that story.  Her answer?  “You.”  I nearly dropped the phone.  She understood my hesitation, but she told me that she would really like me to be a part of the series, and if I was interested, I should get back to her.

I talked it over with my wife.  She was hesitant for all the right reasons.  What would this do to our family?  What kind of exposure could this bring us?  What would I say about her in my piece?  But after the producer shared a couple of the stories she had already been working on with us, there was no question that I had to be a part of this series.  The stories were beautiful and special, and even my wife said that I could not not turn the opportunity down.  So, I called New York again and agreed.

Just two weeks later, the producer booked a recording studio and flew across the country to meet me.  Over the course of 2 1/2 hours, I sat in a chair with a microphone inches from my face and told my story of motherhood.  A surreal experience to say the least, she let me talk and talk, occasionally asking me leading questions to have me open up more and more.  Once my recording was done, that was it.  She would edit it down my audio to less than five minutes, and then she would then send it to an animator to interpret my story.

In January, I received another unexpected call from New York.  Surprise!  All six parts were ready and they were going to press ahead of schedule.  All six animations were released simultaneously, with one video featured each week.  Mine was featured in the third week.

I was incredibly nervous.  I did not see my edited video until it was released to the public.  But there it was live on the New York Times’s site:  My animated story complete with my edited voice-over.  My motherhood story was out there to the world.  My inner circle responded positively.  In a tweet promoting my story, the producer even called me “perhaps the bravest women I’ve ever met.”  Wow!  As expected, the trolls came out, too.  Don’t read the comments, they say.  But how could I not?  Still, despite the negativity, I am happy I put my story out there, and I am proud to be part of a very special series.

The best thing about being a part of this project was the ability to tell my motherhood story.  I have been asked to tell my transition story a few times (most notably to a group in 2016), but this was the first time someone wanted to hear my motherhood story.  That was significant to me.  Being recognized as a mother among these other women helped validate my status as a mother in the greater world.  I love being called Mom by my kids.  I refer to myself as a stage mom.  But outside of my inner circle, I find that some people have trouble connecting the dots.  Recently, I was talking to my son’s principal, and he introduced me to a colleague.  “This is Gabrielle.”  Then he paused for a notable amount of time before calling me my son’s parent.  I really wanted to reintroduce myself as my son’s mom, but I resisted.  Still, I felt slighted.  With this video, I am out and proud as a transgender mother.

I do not necessarily embrace my trans status.  I identify as a woman, not necessarily a trans woman.  However, I do feel I need to advocate a bit for the trans community, and this was a nice way of telling a part of my story without necessarily revealing all of the details of me.  Sometimes I have trouble seeing how special my story is seen to some people.  The fact that I am transgender puts me in a single-digit percentage of the general population.  Transgender people also exist on a wide spectrum:  from non-binary to genderqueer to everywhere in between.  I find myself on one extreme of that line:  very femme.  In addition, I am a parent.  Not all trans women identify as a mother.  Some keep their masculine parental title, others go with a compromise or blended title, still others simply have their children call them by their first name.  Me?  I strongly identify as Mom, and it was of great importance to me that I share a maternal title with my wife.  That makes me a minority of a minority of a minority:  an ultra-femme trans woman who strongly identifies as a mother.  The only thing that would make me more special would be if I was a person of color, but I am not that cool.  Still, with all of the combinations out there, maybe my story is more unique than I think.  Maybe my story is important.  Maybe I am worthy of telling my story to The New York Times.

Then again, maybe there are others like me out there who have not had their stories told.  Maybe telling my story can serve as an inspiration to others.  Maybe telling my story shines more light on the stories of other transgender people, moms and otherwise, and continues (or starts) a conversation.  Maybe this helps me embrace my trans status a little more.  If I have helped or inspired even one person, then telling part of my story has served a greater purpose, and for that, I can be thankful.

So, that’s the story of how I ended up in being part of a New York Times video series—the most public thing I have done to date.  I hope you enjoy.  If you watch my story, I highly recommend you take the time to watch the other five incredible stories.  They are incredibly special.

New York Times “Conception” Series Landing Page:  nytimes.com/conception
My story:  https://www.nytimes.com/video/well/family/100000005335167/conception-becoming-mom.html
My story on YouTube:  https://youtu.be/NmZsw3ba0bM
My story on Vimeo:  https://vimeo.com/251691789

Looking Ahead After Holiday Depression

After 2 years of being full-time and a one foot in front of the other approach, I am still battling depression. The holidays didn’t help. In the new year, something needs to change.

In the first few weeks of the year, I found myself in a period of immense depression. In my State of Me: 2 Years Full Time post, I said that I was “spiraling into a dark place where I am isolated and lonely.” Unfortunately, I continued to tumble down that rabbit hole. I continued to talk to my therapist. I have reached out to friends. Some of them remind me how inspiring I have been to them. A few have reached out and told me I can call them any time. Still, as I wrote in State of Me, “the depressive feelings that could potentially lead to [suicide] are ever-present.” Why? Because the love of my life wants nothing to do with me, and I simply cannot shake her from my heart even though she shows every sign that she respects me less and less.

I tried my hardest to get into the Christmas spirit this year. I listened to Christmas songs at every turn. I decorated the Christmas tree as brightly as I ever have. As tradition has it, the children stayed up to help decorate the tree once the lights were on. My wife baked a ton of cookies. There was even a neighborhood Secret Santa. But no matter how much I tried to ignore the problems and the sadness, there was no joy in any of it.

Buying a present for my wife was hard. In the past, I have showered her with amazing gifts. Since beginning transition, those presents have not been as grand, but I continued to try to gift well. I still tried. I did not want to try this year. In the end, I gifted her some Disney earrings, which as usual, were a great gift for her. I think she wore one of those pairs every day from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day. In return, I received some earrings from Claire’s and a new skirt for work, which does not really fit my body shape. While we do not have lots of money to be buying presents, I kind of feel like she did not put a lot of effort into my gifts because her heart was not in it.

Christmas Day was awkward. There was no verve to get up and wake the kids to see what Santa had brought. Even Santa’s gifts were a family miracle. We received a last-minute donation of food & toys the week days before Christmas. Both children received brand new, assembled bicycles and assortment of smaller, cool toys. The adults received a food basket with an entire turkey and a bunch of canned food. I was incredibly grateful and humbled that we received such a blessing that truly save Christmas.

After the children opened presents, my father showed up for about an hour. In that time, he showed me pre-transition pictures of myself (at my heaviest weight, no less) and commented on my weight and hair length in the pictures. He then spent about 30 minutes talking to my wife about theology. While they both have progressive Christian philosophies, they are different enough to make for a strange conversation—and one I had very little interest in.

Once he left, we then proceeded to a hotel to visit my wife’s dad, stepmom, and their friends. For the second year in a row, we had Christmas dinner in a hotel room with people I barely know. These low-key gatherings are so much different from the Christmases I grew up with. We went home with overtired children and an underwhelming set of gatherings.

I was looking forward to the neighbors’ Secret Santa exchange a few days after Christmas, but even that was a sour point. I did not have a lot of time to shop with my busy schedule, so my wife helped me shop for gifts while I worked. That part worked out well (except for her telling people she did not know what to get my gift recipient). The person who drew my name really knew nothing about me. He arrived three hours late to the party, and then when I finally got my gift, I opened up a bottle of alcohol. For anyone else in that room, that would have been an OK hurried gift. However, I am not a big drinker. Anyone that even remotely knows me realizes I am only a social drinker at best. I am the last person to buy a 1/5 of anything—especially when the idea of the gift exchange was to give thoughtful gifts under $20. While I had fun at the party, I was very disappointed. The whole situation did not provide a silver lining to my downer of a Christmas.

After the holidays, I put out what amounted to cry for help to Facebook. While I acknowledged some of the positives that occurred this year (mainly FFS—despite the infection—and mostly successful vocal training), I also made mention how much this year has felt like an “unmitigated disaster.” Why? Because my support system is so weak. Yes, there are people I rely on and people who step into help me, but I can only rely on those people so much. I am not good at asking for help as it is, let alone going back to the well to people that have already assisted me. I do not want to be manipulative or overly-needy. I received a few nice responses to my post, but there was notable exception: my wife.

I know she has read the Facebook post because she reacted to one of the comments, but she did not mention it, comment on it, or reference it in any way to me. The same night I posted that message, I came home from work and had to endure her talking to her “friend” on the phone for nearly an hour. Rarely does she talk to him while I am around. This felt highly disrespectful. She knows how I feel about him. However, what does she care? She has her fantasy boyfriend, and I am a glorified babysitter and paycheck earner. This, even after I made the breakfast she requested earlier that morning.

She is tired with dealing with me and my emotions, even though I never complained when I helped her through her issues at the beginning of our relationship. I was there through every twist and turn. I drove her to group therapy meetings. I made sure she filled her prescriptions. For 12+ years, I have been there for her. Now that I need the help and support, I am apparently too much for her. I am not worth the effort. The romance is gone. The attraction is gone. If we did not have the kids, I might be subjugated to roommate status. Maybe we should set up a chore wheel.

Admittedly, that’s my anger coming through, but it is hard not to feel the way I do. No matter what I do, I am still the one taking care of the finances, making things work as best as possible for us as a family. ‘Family’: That word has taken on a weird context lately. There has to be a more appropriate word than that to describe what we have going here. Because families love each other, do anything for each other, respect one another. That’s not happening here, and it repeatedly breaks my heart. My heart is so shattered that is difficult for me to put one foot in front of the other. I have been plodding along, but I am tired of going it alone. I am tired of bearing all of the stress of trying. Trying to love. Trying to feel good about myself. Trying to be a good worker. Trying to be a good mother. I can’t bear it alone.

On New Year’s Day, we sat down and talked for about an hour while the kids played in a park. During that conversation, she admitted to pulling away from me. She also said that she was upset because she felt she was having to do everything by herself—the same complaint I have had. Clearly, we are at an impasse if we both feel we are doing “everything” without the other’s help. This is a broken family (or whatever we are), and how we keep sane without continuing to upset each other is a Herculean task.

When I officially reached my 2-year full-time anniversary, I made it a point for myself to celebrate even in some small way. I did not make a big deal about it. I was kind of curious to see if my wife was going to acknowledge it in any way. It was even written on the large family calendar in the living room. For her, it was a work day, which meant I was responsible for the kids. Before we picked her up at the end of the night, I put on my tiara (which my daughter loved) and went to the grocery store to buy myself a Boston cream pie. When we picked her up, she asked, “Were you wearing that all day?” I answered, “No, but why might I be wearing my tiara today?” She paused, then responded, “Oh, is that today?” quietly adding, “Happy Non-Birthday.” Later, I shared cake and Martinelli’s with her after the kids went to bed, but honestly, had I not chosen to celebrate this milestone myself, it probably would have gone unnoticed and uncelebrated.

I am trying so hard to propel myself forward and keep up the one foot in front of the other approach I’ve been plodding along since I started my transition, but after 3+ years of grinding through life, I am so tired. I am tired if feeling like I am working towards a goal that I cannot define. Don’t get me wrong: That goal has nothing to do with transition. I am living the authentic me, and that’s a huge thing. I just don’t have vision for the rest of my life.

Despite the incessant pressures I faced in 2017, I was able to accomplish my face and voice goals. In my best effort to move forward, I feel I need to set some goals for 2018. While the odds of me getting GRS in the upcoming year are slim, I need to accelerate that process. To that end, I have a friend helping me create a GoFundMe page to crowdfund for the surgeon’s required deposit and to start needed electrolysis. As I get that long-term ball rolling, in the short-term, I need to learn to live for myself. I need to dream again. I have to find a way to separate myself from my wife without further injuring my heart. To that end, financial security is a must for myself and my children. I seek new, better paying employment. I also must solve the housing dilemma. Depression or not, I must find a way through, to keep my will strong and positive, or I may not make it through 2018.

Womanhood Without Girlhood

Transitioning in my mid-life means that I have still have time to experience womanhood to its fullest, but a piece of me will always be missing:  my girlhood.

My mom was the most influential person in my life.  She was my hero, my protector, my teacher, and my confidant.  As a single mother, I was her world.  As an only child, she was mine.  We had a very close relationship, and she did her best to raise her quirky, highly intelligent child the best she could.  We had deep conversations about everything.  She knew (nearly) everything about me (as any good mother should about their child).  Had she been alive when I began transitioning, she would have been unfazed, probably said something snarky along the lines of, “Finally!”, and then asked what she could do to help and support me through the trying times of transition.

Assigned male at birth, I was raised as a boy.  Unlike some other transgender stories, I did not question that identity.  I did not know when I was 3 that I was trans, but early in life, I knew I was not like the other kids.  I was bullied early in school mainly for my appearance and my know-it-all attitude.  I played with the girls instead of mocking them.  I enjoyed making Valentine’s Day cards for the class with my first crush.  Yes, I still did traditionally boy things:  I played baseball & basketball (both poorly).  I watched porn at a friend’s house when that friend found a tape in his parents’ bedroom.  I played video games instead of playing with dolls.

It was not until high school when I made some first forays into even thinking about traditionally girl things, but at the time, I misinterpreted those feelings.  In retrospect, I did not want to marry Mariah Carey; I was actually jealous of her fairy tale wedding.  I was not Latina, but I was jealous of those that celebrated quinceañeras.  I wanted to know why society deemed it acceptable for women to wear dresses & skirts but not for men.  Why couldn’t I wear one?  Why was it that I had to ask girls to dances instead of them asking me?

My mom understood me in a way that others did not, and I think she saw things in me that took me decades to truly realize.  She did not pressure me to go to school dances because I was uncomfortable asking girls to go with me.  I wanted to be asked.  She did not get terribly angry when she learned that I had been sleeping in some of her discarded slips one year.  She was sure to celebrate my Sweet 16 by taking me for a memorable day in San Francisco, although she never called it that to my face.  She offered to pierce my ears in high school, but I regrettably declined.  She did not look at me askew when she learned I started wearing dresses at Halloween.  She did not question when I asked her to walk me down the aisle at my wedding.  All along, she never said anything, but I am confident she knew the truth about me, even when I did not.

There is one time I can remember when she cracked that silence.  She was present when I admitted to my wife that I had cheated on her with her best friend.  In the ensuing fight where my wife slung painful verbal punches in my direction, my wife accused me of being more of a girl than her.  I expected Mom to defend me against that accusation, but instead Mom asked me something like, “Yeah.  What about that?”  I was dumbfounded and had no real response.  I think I knew it was true, but it was the first time I had really heard it spoken aloud, and it was compounded by my mom’s confirmation.  Even then, I suppressed my identity—even to myself.  I had accepted myself as a feminine man.  I was raised in a way where that was acceptable.

I did not allow myself to explore the idea that maybe I was more than a feminine man for many years.  In high school, a friend of mine once called me a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.  I laughed it off at the time, but the phrase always stayed with me in the back of my mind.  If I had only known then what I know to be true now, my life would be incredibly different.

I am jealous of young trans people who realize and take action at young ages, because they will get to have life experiences I will never get to know.  I watch Jazz Jennings on her TLC reality show I Am Jazz.  She knew when she was a small child.  Her parents were accepting and placed her on puberty blockers.  While she leads a public lifestyle, she is also going through her teenage years as a woman.  She is experiencing a girlhood, complete with its awkwardness of dating, friends, and learning who she is and her place in the world.  These are experiences I will never be able to recreate.

Some trans people describe transition as a second puberty.  I am learning that there is truth in that phrase.  On the surface, there are physical changes:  breast growth, skin softening, hair growth slowing.  It is strange to be experiencing drastic changes to my appearance this late in life.  The emotional changes are distinct as well.  I am more emotional and once again learning my place in the world.  The difference here is that I have an established life, and much of it was lived in the wrong gender.  I am learning womanhood without ever experiencing girlhood, and that puts me at an emotional disadvantage.  And without my mother (who died several years ago), I do not have an active parent to guide me on this journey.

I do not want a second puberty.  I want to turn back time and properly redo my first puberty.  I want to transition from girlhood to womanhood with a proper Sweet 16 party.  I want to re-imagine my wedding and the perfect dress.  I want to learn to date, to have lifelong girlfriends I still talk to from childhood, and to play with dolls and tea sets.  I want my mother to teach me what it was like when she was growing up as a girl to prepare me for my life.  I would gladly give up the male privilege to be a girl from the beginning.  Here, take it.  I want to experience the awkwardness of a menstrual cycle, the joy (or terror) of learning I am pregnant, and the pain & satisfaction of labor.  Sadly, even if I had been assigned female at birth, my biology prevents much of what I want.

Instead, I find my self transitioning in my mid-life, not in my early years.  I need to learn how to be the woman I want to be without ever being the girl I was not able to live as.  I have to re-learn dating (not that I ever really learned it well).  I need to learn to protect myself and be aware of my surroundings.  To my great sadness, I have to give up the notion that I will ever be pregnant or bear a child.  (I might be able to get to a point where I could breastfeed, but do I really want to do that if it is not for my own child’s benefit?)  I have had to learn what is like to take on the role of Mom instead of one of a father—without really planning for it.

I am learning on the fly, and I am primarily learning it solo.  My wife has helped along the way, but she is not my mother, and at some point, she will not even be my wife.  She is also more manly than I in many respects.  She is a cisgender female, and while she had the girlhood experiences I did not, it is one thing to hear the stories and a completely different thing to experience them.  I will never get to experience them.

People may ask, “Why would you want to go through puberty?  My teenage years as a girl were terrible!”  Granted, there are negative experiences:  Peer pressure, horny boys, monthly bleeding, society’s inferiority complex.  For me, it does not matter.  I am a woman.  I should have been a girl.  I’ll take the bad with the good if it meant I could live  a complete female life.

That said, I would miss the few things my male life has provided me:  my children.  At least I get to be a mother, even if it is in a non-traditional way.  But I will always wonder what kind of girl I would have been if I had been given the chance.  One thing I do know:  Mom would have been supporting me the whole way as her daughter.