State of Me: 2 Years Full-Time

Next month will mark 2 years since I began living authentically full-time. I look back on how I have somehow made it it this far and how I feel today.

Transition & Dysphoria

Two years ago, I began living full-time as my authentic self. The decision to do so capped a year-and-a-half of torturous questioning, anxiety, and uncertainty. Since then, I have become much more comfortable with my identity and how I present to the world. Now four months removed from facial feminization surgery, I am less dysphoric when it comes to my daily appearance. I can actually see the femininity in my face for which I had longed. I have moved from crying at the mere reflection of my face to more acceptance.

However, dysphoria continues to rear its head at times. There is still the matter of some anatomy that needs to be addressed. More than 2 1/2 years of hormone therapy has encouraged the natural growth of my breasts but only recently have I been able to get my estrogen levels to a point where feminization can be well promoted. I hope to move to estrogen injections soon, as I fear the effectiveness of my sublingual method may have reached its maximum potential. I really want to avoid a breast augmentation surgery, but my breasts are not where I need them to be. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t need DDs to be happy, but an A or low B cup just does not help me connect to my femininity as well as say, a C cup would.

For years, I have been tucking my bits away, but that only alleviates the dysphoria so much. As time goes on, I am more and more sure that I will have bottom surgery. My sexual desire has actually begun to increase a bit. That may be a result of discontinuing my androgen blocker a few months ago. With my body acclimated on a high estrogen dose, I have trained my body to block testosterone with estrogen and natural progesterone alone, thereby avoiding some of the negative side effects of spironolactone. That’s a beautiful thing. The rise of sexual desire is a two-edged sword, as relations with my wife are a non-starter. I actually embarrassed myself a few weeks ago when I half-jokingly threw myself on the bed in her direction. Part of me wants to explore sexuality in this improved body, but part of me holds back. The next chapter in my life will include sorting out the types of relationships I want, and my approach to romance and sex needs redefinition.

While desire is part of the equation, I must reiterate that eroticism is not the central focus of my transition. Romance and relationships must be addressed as a part of life, and now that I am not questioning transition, I must look at putting the rest of my life in order, and that includes things like sexual orientation, dating, and the state of my marriage.

Marriage

Followers of this blog are well aware that I continue to be married with two children. My wife and I live in the same house, and we even awkwardly share the same bed. Our marriage was in trouble before I began questioning my identity; my transition put the nail in the coffin. Letting go of my marriage has been one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced, and it was made exponentially more difficult when coupled with my transition. I continue to love my wife, and if the decision were solely mine, we would find a way to save our relationship and repair our marriage. Of course, that is not how the world works. It takes two to tango, as they say, and my tango partner no longer wants to dance with me. She is attracted to men, and I am not a man. She is not attracted to me. Therefore, our marriage has an expiration date some time in the future. However, we are financially bound to each other, and therefore, we stay together for now.

She is still sorting out her future, but I believe if she had her way and had the financial means to do so, she would leave the house and file for divorce. She wants to be independent and free. She wants to live the rest of her life without having to rely on me. And while she has stated that she foresees being a cat lady for the rest of her life, I do not believe she would stay single long. She has a lot to offer—even if depression and low self-esteem prevent her from consistently seeing those positive qualities in herself.

While we were good for each other and probably could have been happily married long into our lives, the deck was unknowingly stacked against us.

My Wife’s Future

Even before she met me, my wife had a friend, who she has never met and has only communicated by email, phone, and texts. He was always problematic and was the source of many fights between my wife and myself. He is a tortured soul and has had his share of drama, much but not all of which has been self-induced. He has been a confidant to my wife for 20 years, but he also routinely denigrates her. Many times, she has attempted to cut off communication with him only to return like a battered spouse with nowhere else to turn. Their close connection was a reason why my wife hesitated to marry me in the first place. Later, she had a secret emotional affair with him, which I discovered at a time when I had access to my wife’s email and texts. Even to this day, even after swearing him off as a toxic relationship, she longs for his touch, his presence, and his manliness. She loves him more than she loves me, even if they never actually get together. They talk when I am at work. They text with each other late into the night. It is like an affair that never ended.

At this point, I am tired of complaining about him. The relationship truly is toxic. Yes, there are times she can go to him to vent about our relationship as her best friend, but there is more to that, and while my wife does not speak about it, it is clear as the light of day—and it always has been. If she were to go down that road after she and I split, I fear it would be truly disastrous not only for her but for our children as well. He is a negative influence more than a positive one. He has hurt her for decades, and he will continue to do so again. But if we are to truly divorce, it will not be my place to stand in her way of making terrible decisions unless they directly affect my children. So if she decides to explore a possible relationship with him (even though he lives across the country), that will be her decision. I will be immensely distraught and fearful that she will not find what she is looking for there, other than some possible temporary sexual relief. Their relationship has been built on lies and promises that are easily made given the distance. If they end up in the same room together, it will not be the fantasy they may have each built up for each other during those late night texts or in their dreams.

Beyond this guy, my wife has interest in looking more locally. We once had a falling out because I discovered she had created a dating profile. I am confident there are people in her church community she may have at least a fleeting interest in. Her friends and family encourage her to leave me and move on, and she is sexually repressed. All signs point to her getting more ready to find someone sooner rather than later. She may be scared to take the first real step, though. Or maybe she has already, and she just has not told me. Whatever the case, she has made it clear that I am not a part of her romantic future, and I am trying not to stand in her way, as painful as that is to do.

Beyond romantic or strictly sexual possibilities, she has a lot of other things to put in order. She is seeking a second job to pay more of our bills. She is sorting out her primary career objectives. She is working on self-care and actively dealing with her depression. Sometimes she asks for my help; other times she bottles it up and goes it alone. I do all I can to be as supportive as I ever was, but it is up to her how much she wants to lean on me for help as long as I am here.

My Future

I was not an angel in our marriage either. As much as I hate her “friend” and all of the trouble and chaos he has caused, I am not without my indiscretions. While she had an emotional affair, I turned an emotional affair (with her best female friend at the time) into a physical one when I got her friend to take a trip to visit us for a week. A month after the trip, I felt so guilty that I confessed to my wife what I had done, and while we ended up staying together in the marriage, she never truly forgave me for it. That indiscretion will always be regrettable to me, but unlike her affair, I cut off communication with her friend. I deleted email, lost phone numbers, the works. I worked hard to rebuild what we had, to be a parent to our son (and later our unplanned daughter), and to be an equal partner in the marriage.

But as I said, the deck was stacked against us. Six years into the marriage and almost nine years after we had met, I began reevaluating who I was at my core because I had fallen into a depression. My mom had died. The romance was fading from our marriage. Sex was infrequent. I was out of work for over a year. Things were very bad. As I looked ahead to my future, I did not see a doting husband with the white picket fence and a stable family. I saw the soft core of me, the potential woman inside, and I began a self-discovery journey that lead me to one of the best and worst decisions of my life: the need to transition. While I found myself and my authenticity, I destroyed any possibility that the marriage would survive. I have never been faced with such a challenge, a conundrum of epic proportions. After exhaustive introspection and therapy, I came to the conclusion that I could not live happily, married or single, unless I could live as the true me, and that meant living as a woman. Now two years full-time, I am a happier, better, more well-rounded person.

Even though signs existed, she was effectively blindsided when I told her I was having “gender issues,” as I put it to her at the time. She did not know how to react, and we fought for a year-and-a-half at the very minimum, all the while trying (and not always succeeding) to shield the kids from the pain and the anger. As a family, we have all come a long way in accepting me for me, but no amount of healing can rectify the sheer amount of damage that my transition caused her.

Much like her, my career is a big question mark. After dedicating almost 7 years to an industry I thought was my childhood dream job, I am not longer interested or dedicated to following that path. I would like to work with people to help others, possibly with a non-profit, but those jobs tend not to pay well or are difficult to acquire. I need a career that will allow me to simultaneously work, parent, and pay expenses. I need financial stability.

Romantically, I would be lying if I said I did not still love my wife. I do. But I have grieved my marriage once already, and I am trying not to allow myself to get caught up in the fact that “things will work out.” I have had some limited dating experiences in the last year, but I honestly do not know what I want or if I am ready. As I said earlier, my desire to be loved is mounting. My need for adult human interaction is eating at me.

Lack of Friendship

That adult human interaction need not be in a physical or romantic form. While that would be possibly welcome, I really find that I need more friends. My recent six-day hospital stay yielded exactly one friend visit, and after I came home, friends only visited after I asked for help on Facebook. I feel like I fished for friends to come see me instead of them genuinely worrying about me and actively checking in with me.

A large amount of my current friends are in the trans community. I met many at my support group. Unfortunately, I am unable to attend that group as much as I have in the past due to scheduling conflicts. Even then, many times I find that my situation is different from many of those that attend the group. They tend to not relate to where I am in my transition, the difficulties my transition brought to my family, or even acknowledge that I am feeling particularly down on any given night. My other friends all have drama going on in their lives, which leaves little room for me. Combine that with my working closing retail shifts until midnight or later 3-4 nights per week and it is easy to see that no one really has time for me, or I do not have time for them. I feel very isolated and cutoff from the world, and that has contributed to my recent slip into a depressive state.

Depression

Depression is not a stranger in my world, but for the majority of my life, I have always helped others through their battles without admitting that I was subject to depression myself. I have been the supportive voice on the other end of a potential suicide call. My wife credits me with being the main reason she sought help with her clinical depression, something she battles to this day but in a much more controlled way. I have known multiple people who have taken their own lives, and I have seen the impact those decisions have caused. I never thought I would be one to have to deal with depression. I was wrong.

Depression and isolation led me to my affair. I needed that connection I was not getting from home (partially caused by my wife’s postpartum depression), and I regrettably found it elsewhere. Depression triggered the self-evaluation that set off my transition. The constant fighting and feelings of hate that I routinely received from my wife in the first year of transition spiraled me further down the black hole to the point where I seriously considered suicide for the first time in my life. I credit my children with saving me from that end. While I felt my wife and extended family and friends could live on without me in the world, I could not imagine that irreparable and life-changing damage I would be inflicting on my children.

Today, I have made incredible strides to figure out my identity and relieve some of that dysphoria, but I am once again spiraling into a dark place where I am isolated and lonely. I feel cut off from the world, and it is becoming a dangerous place to exist. Combined with extreme financial struggles and stress from fear of the unknown, I am lost. In a recent therapy session, I admitted to some of this depression. I do not yet know the resolution, and I seek help figuring it out. I do not have many close friends or family, and that seriously hampers my ability to reach out. I can only ask so much of my wife.

Suicide

I should take moment here to address suicide. I have mentioned it in the past, and I again mentioned it above. There have been moments in my life where I have considered taking my own life. I never seriously considered it when I was younger. I faced some challenging, seemingly impossible moments during my school years. For example in college, I lied to my parents for almost two years about how well I was doing in school. Unable to right the ship, I was academically disqualified from my university at one point. As a result, I had to come clean to my parents, left my mom’s house to live with my dad (a very regrettable decision), and was without work or school. Suicide was briefly considered but only cursorily. I was able to work through my issues and turn my life around.

After my revealing my affair, my wife moved out of the house for a week and forcibly took my son away from me. She was moments away from filing for separation in a lawyer’s office. I felt like I had lost everything meaningful in my life and that everyone around me would be better off without me. Taking my life seemed easier than trying to fix my reality. Keeping my family together became more important than the loneliness and separation anxiety I experienced. I endured my wife’s constant reminders of what I had done. I even worked through another near divorce after I found about her emotional affair. I worked harder than I ever had before to take care of my wife and my child.

The closest I ever came to actually doing something was after I had come out as questioning to my wife. The daily anger and emotional powder keg that was our house—especially in that first year—is indescribable. I captured some of that in those moments in the early days of this blog. We were already having problems in our marriage when I began questioning my identity. After I revealed what I as going through, I became persona non grata. The one person I come to rely on was lost to me. She wanted nothing to do with me. Without a welcoming home and under the threat of losing the entirety of immediate family, I felt like I had nothing left to live for. There were times I stood in my kitchen and held a large chef’s knife in my hand contemplating what I could do with it. While I never actually put the knife to my wrist, the thoughts were never far away from me. I believe the only thing that stopped me from actually attempting harm was the love I had for my children. They truly saved me. I could not imagine what they would have to go through if I took my life. The irreparable damage would send ripples through their entire lives, more than the damage any transition would cause. Even though I did not have the title of ‘mother’ yet (nor did the kids have a real idea what I was going through), I still had strong motherly ties to my children, and I could not in good faith take myself out of that equation. I needed to stay alive and figure out how to handle my possible transition for the greater good of what was left of my family and deal with those repercussions instead of them having to deal with the consequences of finding my bloody body on the floor one morning.

Now three years after coming out as questioning and almost two years living full-time, my wife and I are in a better place. Still, we are not whole. We live under the same roof, but we are not together. Yes, we lean on each other for help sometimes, but because of the wounds caused by the deep-seeded trauma of my transition, we cannot support each other as much as we once could. There is separation, division, distance. Help is unintentionally given at arm’s length because while we need each other to function, we both look for way to live our lives individually. That leaves me to reach out to the few friends I have acquired, and that is a challenge because they are largely unavailable.

In the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, a teenage girl named Hannah blames others for her suicide. In audiotapes she left behind, she points fingers at both those who did her great physical and emotional harm, as well as the people who sat on the sidelines and did nothing while she was bullied, ridiculed, or simply ignored. While there are issues with blaming others for self-inflicted harm, I can empathize with her isolation and her complaints that those who knew her best were not there or took no interest in her. Feeling alone and powerless is a crippling feeling. The stresses in my life and the directionless movement in my career and family coupled with my lack of a stable set of friends to confide places me in a situation where I could be prone to do what Hannah did.

To calm some nerves of anyone reading this, please know I am not at that point yet. I am not in my kitchen staring at a chef’s knife or looking to jump into the ocean. However, the depressive feelings that could potentially lead to that type of end are ever-present, but unlike other times in my life, I am actively acknowledging them to myself and others, including my therapist and my wife. My children still need me. I still need them.

My Family

As I have inferred throughout this piece, my children are my world. With the impeding loss of my marriage, my focus is on them. I work hard to make sure our family does not go entirely underwater. I fought hard to have them call me ‘Mom,’ which helps validate my identity. Motherhood is an essential part of my being. I will be eternally distraught by the fact I am unable to bear children, so the best I can do is be the best mother I can be to the children I already have. They sustain me, even when they are frustrating me. My daughter’s hugs melt my heart. “I love you, Mom” is the best sentence I hear everyday.

It took a long time for my wife to allow me to take a motherly title, and it was one of the biggest sacrifices she could could have ever made for me. Even eight months since my official title change, she admits that she is not comfortable with it. I understand it will take time. I thank her for continuing to refer to me as Mom.

Even though my parents divorced when I was 2, I was raised with a strong focus on family. My mom was my biggest influence. She made sure we spent time with the only great grandma that lived during my lifetime. On my dad’s side, I attended huge gatherings of family at the holidays in a tiny apartment. With the death of my grandfather, those big holidays ceased to be. With the death of mother, that side of the family is a distant memory. I am effectively left with my father, who lives hours away, and my stepbrother, who does not talk to me because he does not how to deal with my transition. My family is effectively reduced to my four walls, and even that is falling apart.

I would do nearly anything for my wife, even to this day. Even after we eventually split are no longer living together, we will be in each other lives, as we co-parent our children. There will always be feelings of love, at least on my side. I still cry when I think of our past and the uncertainty of our future. The NBC show This Is Us makes me cry almost every week because of how it plays on my ideas of family. The highs and lows of family life are well-written, and I can empathize and sympathize with many of the struggles and celebrations those television families go through.

My family means so much to me, and the thought of breaking that family apart is heartbreaking. I really had to weigh that against the need to transition. In the end, I determined that I could not be an active and contributing family member if I was not the authentic me, so I risked the most important and solid piece of my world. To date, I still exist in the house, but there are palpable challenges which I may never be able to overcome. That hurts to think about.

When I move on, I will need to meet someone who will respect the fact that I am an active mother of two, with an ex who will need to be considered to an extent. Life just does not get easier.

I tell my children every day and every night that I love them. I wish I cold tell my wife that, but it would likely fall on deaf ears, or at the minimum, make her feel uncomfortable, so I don’t. I endure on my own, communicating when I need to. I internalize my feelings, my need for adult human interaction, and my emerging sexual feelings. I do not like hiding these things, but it seems necessary given the current climate of the house. Even so, my family is incredibly important to me. I am a mother. I am a wife (for now). I do my best in both roles.

A Look Ahead

Times are difficult right now. Finances are stretched thin. Hope sometimes feels fleeting. I know I made the right decision to transition. I do not really know where it will take me. I am sad. I am depressed. But there is still love in my heart for my children, my family, and myself. I do my best to remain hopeful in these dark, challenging times. I am thankful for those that listen and who care about my well-being. My authentic self is shaken and falling apart, but I keep it together with hugs from my children and friends who reach out.

Two years ago, I told the world who I really was at my core. Today, I do the same. I continue to tell my story. Thank you for listening.

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Hugs & Human Interaction Wanted

After a more than two-month roller coaster ride following facial feminization surgery, my physical woes seem to resolving, but my heart is in need of attention.  Many people support me and my journey, but I am still lonely.  I need hugs.

Physically, I am improving.  I have finally taken my last antibiotic.  My infection seems to be cleared.  My eye issue has resolved to the point where I can drive and work.  I can even see my jawline healing and revealing the promise of curves where there was once squareness.  In another four months, I should see the final fruits of the initial surgery.  My face will continue to heal and feminize until then.

However, over the last couple of months, my mood has been declining.  At one point, my wife was worried enough to tell me that my energy was similar to that just before I came out as questioning.  She is worried about me, and I have been in my head a lot trying to figure it out.

I have not been down because of the setbacks with my surgery.  Yes, it was disappointing to have to have a second surgery, but ultimately it was needed.  What was more disappointing to me how few visitors I had while I was in the hospital.  While I was extremely thankful my wife and children visited me each day in the hospital (which was about an hour drive from home causing its own strain on the family), I was sorely lacking human interaction.  Only one person other than my wife and kids visited me during my six-day hospital stay.  The hugs from my children were the only real comforting touch I had each day.

Once home, a few friends and family stepped up and offered food and company after I asked for help online, but most of support has come from Facebook messages and comments.  That’s nice and all, but it is not the same as sitting down and spending time with someone.  The best part of every day continue to be the snuggles, hugs, and kisses I receive from my children.  I love them without limits.  However, that’s about all the love and affection I get in any given day.

My wife has been supportive as she can be, but hugs and kisses are not something we share a lot of anymore.  Our relationship has changed so much.  When once we shared “I love you”s and kisses, those are now primarily reserved for the kids.  Parting sweet words have devolved to waves goodbye and talks of what’s next on the family calendar.

She occasionally tells me that she loves me, but it comes off hollow.  What part of me does she actually love?  Does she just say that to appease me in a time of personal sadness?  Is there still love in her heart, but she does not want to act on it?  She hides so many of her problems from me, I cannot help.  When I offer, she tells me I can’t because I am the source of the problem.  We have been going at this for over three years.  The near daily anger rages have been replaced by silent pain, invisible illness that is shielded from most friends and family.

When I married her, I always wanted us to have an honest, open relationship, where we would share everything and help each other in times of need.  Instead, there have been massive secrets kept (and revealed) over the years, some of which we both still keep for fear of a fight or hurt feelings.  Over the last three years, I have worked hard to be a better person, to love myself more, and find my happiness in the shadow of a giant gray marriage cloud.  I have worked harder at this than anything else in my life, and I know in my heart of hearts that I am more improved than I was when I met my wife.  That is not enough for her, though, because I now come in a female package.  Once again, coming to the realization that I will never be enough for her breaks my heart on a continuous basis.  She wants a divorce and says that I am the reason she cries herself to sleep most nights.  She is still living in the hurt and holding on to the pain from three years ago.  There are times I feel she stays out of an obligation to the children and to a pre-transition promise she made to my mother before she died to always take care of me.  How am I supposed to overcome those obstacles?  I could make myself into a multi-million dollar success story, an advocate for those in need, and be super mom to my children, and it still would never be enough for her to get past the fact that she married me.

I sometimes forget that I am in a losing situation.  Family trips to the fair or the science museum, joint appearances at school events, dinners out with extended family allow me to buy into the dream that we could still be a happy, functioning family.  That illusion is a trap.  It keeps me from moving forward with my life.  It keeps me from making long-term decisions about my future.  I continually need to re-learn that no matter how good things may feel in the moment or how much she helps me with my medical issues, there is a dark side to this life we lead.

The least simple thing I am re-learning?  That no matter how available I make myself, no matter how much I change for the better, no matter how good of a mother I am or caring and loving I can be, I still cause my wife as much pain as I did when I came out to her over three years ago.  That saddens me to no end, especially when I framed in the terms of the children.  When we work together, we are a loving family.  Despite being poor, we give our children as much as we can so that they do not suffer.  On the surface, we are doing well.  We are maintaining.  We are still together.  The truth is, we are scared.  We do not know what comes next.

Early in my transition, my wife pulled away from me physically because she is no longer attracted to me.  We have not had sex in 2 1/2 years.  We sleep in the same bed, but a body pillow separates us.  Hugs are rare.  Kisses even rarer.  I can’t remember the last time we walked hand-in-hand together.  There are no more date nights, trips to the movies, or anniversaries.  We have no reason to hire a babysitter so that the two of us can go out together.  I miss these basic loving interactions.  I feel incomplete without them.

There have been two women that have shown some interest in me since I went full-time.  To have someone interested in me was both uplifting and awkward—especially since I am still married.  When the first woman showed interest, I put up huge emotional walls that were nearly impossible for her to scale because I was not really ready for any kind of relationship.  Combined with her own stresses that complicated her life, there was just too much drama, and we were not meant to be more than friends.  The second woman broke down my walls a little more.  We even went on at least one date, but ultimately, that did not really work out for various reasons.  I am not even sure I am ready to consider dating anyone other than my wife.  Maybe it would be good for me.  Maybe it would divide us even more.  I really don’t know.

What I do know is that I am incredibly lonely, and it is leading to an emotional state bordering on depression.  My sex drive has actually increased a little bit recently as I become more comfortable with being the authentic me, but I do not have an outlet for that other than myself—and I am still dysphoric enough to not really want to play with myself that much.  My wife is not an option.  Dating is not really an option.  I really don’t have an option.

For me, though, sex is just a minor piece to the bigger desire.  It is simply boils down to basic human interaction.  I need hugs and kisses from people older than 7 years old.  I need to be wanted and loved, to be supported in more ways than a Facebook comment can communicate.  I need friends who will visit me in the hospital or at home.  I need to be held and told things are going to be OK.  I want someone to be interested in me for more than just my courage, my parenting skills, or my ability to work.  I really want to have someone interested in me for me and who wants to spend time with me.  I need a partner who will encourage me and share intimate embraces and touch on a daily basis.

I have worked so hard to love and value myself again.  I have embraced my journey and my identity.  But I am still a hopeless romantic, and without someone to love and to love me back, I feel empty.  I am lonely.

Support comes in many forms.  I am thankful for those that keep me in their thoughts and encourage me to be the authentic me.  I am thankful for those that understand that we are poor and provide financial support.  Emotional support is the most difficult to come by, especially when it is not easily available at home.  Combined with stress, this has all put me into am emotional funk.

There is a healing power in touch that I am sorely lacking.  Few people other than my children touch me these days.  That touch need not be sexual, it just needs to be meaningful and from the heart—willfully given and full of love, empathy, and feeling.

Hugs wanted.  Love needed.

 

A Rare, Post-FFS Infection!

One week ago, I wrote about my facial feminization surgery (FFS). I thought after almost 5 weeks, I was on the road to recovery. This week showed me that the road was anything but straight, as I write from my hospital room.

In the last post, I mentioned that I was having more swelling on one side of my jaw than the other. Last week, that swelling suddenly became large, firm, and sometimes painful. I contacted my surgeon’s office, and they suggested I come in for an urgent appointment the next day. Maybe just a possible fluid build-up, they conjectured. The team would drain it, and I could move on.

Unfortunately, when they looked at it last Friday, they determined that there wasn’t really fluid there. Something else was wrong. They suggested I come back at my next scheduled follow-up appointment on Wednesday so that the surgeon himself could take a look. So, for five days, I continued life. I pushed through worked. I spent time with the kids. I started taking ibuprofen to help with the swelling and bouts of stinging pain that would occasional strike me. There was clearly problem. My jaw line began to turn red. My neck puffed up.

On Tuesday, I went to see my primary care physician on a previously scheduled visit to talk about routine lab results. She was very concerned about my jaw and neck, and she preemptively prescribed me two antibiotics as a just in case. The next day, I finally was able to see my surgeon. He took one look at me and decided we needed to aspirate the infection. A few minutes and a few needles later, and he had pulled a vial of pus out of my face. I felt a little better from the immediate release of tension, but plenty of firmness still remained. He sent that culture to the lab for testing. In the meantime, he wanted me to start the antibiotics my PCP prescribed and return two days later to evaluate progress.

On Friday, I went to work an opening 4-hour shift at work, and then I headed to San Francisco with my family to the follow-up appointment. The infection had shifted slightly towards my throat and was certainly no smaller than it had been two days prior. He aspirated again, and then sat quietly for a couple of minutes in the procedure room. He then came to the conclusion that I needed to be admitted, and that we would need to go back into surgery to clean out the infection. After discussing it with my wife, we agreed to walk across the street to the hospital for direct and immediate admission to start broad spectrum IV antibiotics and to prepare for surgery the next morning.

On Saturday, the surgery lasted about 30-45 minutes, paling in comparison to the nearly 7 1/2-hour initial surgery. Within hours, I was out of recovery and back in my room, now equipped with a drain attached to my face Then, it became a waiting game. We waited for the results of the cultures from last Wednesday to come back. We waited to see what kind of output the drain would produce. The whole thing was supposed to take a day or two. It did not. The labs took forever to determine that I was being afflicted by two different bacteria, and they needed to determine the best antibiotic to combat those bacteria narrowly.

Further, a strange complication arose: I was experiencing double vision. How was that possible, since the infection and surgery only concentrated on my jaw and neck? So now I had consultations with ophthalmology, complete with eye tests. They initially concluded the issue was a congenital palsy, indicating that this was something I always had and that surgery may have just triggered it. I thought they were nuts, as I have had excellent vision all of my life. The simpler answer, as we know from Occam’s Razor is usually the correct answer, was that something happened during surgery, as the vision problems did not start until after I came back from surgery.

There was talk of me going home with the drain in my face. There was talk of me going home with the vision problem and returning in a few weeks to the ophthalmologist’s clinic to treat my new eye condition. I complained. Luckily for me, the drain situation took care of itself. Output reduced to the point where it was determined it could come out before I left the hospital. On the crazy eye issue, my surgical team asked the ophthalmology department to see me again with an attending physician to see if a better explanation and treatment could be found.

All in all, between the surgery, recovery, drain issues, and eye issues (let alone my poor, bloated right arm from several days of continuous IV), I am still in the hospital after five full days. Barring a sudden change for the worse, I should be going home tomorrow without a drain, with the proper antibiotics, and a recovering eyeball.

This infection came out of nowhere. Most post-op infections occur in the first week or two. Mine waited 4 1/2 weeks to manifest. Quite rare. I am happy we took the steps to properly treat it, but pressing the pause button on my life has been very difficult. I lost work. I lost time with the kids (although, they did visit me everyday in the hospital). I was not able to contribute to the family’s greater good from my hospital bed. That took an emotional toll on me this week, as it did on the family. My son has been sick. My wife has been stressed running the house solo and worrying about me. It has been tough on everyone.

Those that do not understand why I had FFS in the first place may think that I made a bad decision, especially since it led to this infection. Those people do not get why I had the initial surgery in the first place. This week, it was easy to ask myself, “Why am I here right now?” Those thoughts made me cry. What makes it right is remembering why I had the initial surgery: to address my dysphoria, to make right what I felt was wrong. FFS is more than a cosmetic procedure. It is life affirming. Unfortunately for me, I had to deal with a severe infection that landed me a second surgery and what looks to be six days in the hospital. However, that does not mean I regret going through this process because ultimately, I had to do it. It was a need, not a want. It was a good decision.

I look forward to going home and finalizing my recovery from both surgeries. I relish jumping back in to my mom role and kissing the kids good night, watching TV with my wife, petting my cat who has not seen me in a week. Work has been stressful, but I need to be there, too. It is time to un-pause, press play once again, and move forward with life with my improved, non-infected feminized face.

Although, I will miss the awesome view of the Golden Gate Bridge outside my hospital room window—even if my blurred vision makes it look like it has four towers instead of two. Recovery continues.

My Facial Feminization Surgery Experience in Brief

Over five weeks ago, I had the first major surgery of my lifetime: Facial Feminization Surgery (FFS). The recovery process has been trying, but I am happy I did it.

In the grand scheme of things, the surgery itself and the hospital stay were not incredibly remarkable—other than the spectacular view of San Francisco from my private room. Even though I had never personally had major surgery or been a patient for a hospital stay, I was not especially nervous going into surgery. In recovery, even though I was super groggy and in some pain, I apparently corrected my father misgendering me while talking to the nurse. When I got to my room, I panicked a little after I vomited twice, which was a result of the anesthesia, ans so I asked my wife to stay overnight in my room with me. My young children were well prepped for what to expect when they saw me, and they seemed to handle the whole experience well. I am thankful for most everyone who took care of me for the approximately 30 hours I spent at the hospital.

The first few days at home were not too bad. I tried not to be a troublesome patient to my wife and kids. I tried to sleep. I kept to my liquid diet. I took my pain meds. When I had to go to the surgeon’s office five days post-op, I was embarrassed to be out in public with a big bruise on my overly swollen jaw, a nose splint, and a Frankenstein incision at my hairline. A week later at my next appointment, I was less nervous, as my bruising and swelling were reducing. I put make-up on for the first time. I started trying to get myself back into the world more.

After three weeks, I returned to work, where everyone was anxious to see what I looked like. Many saw the subtle changes; others didn’t think there had been a big change. Why? Well, full healing takes about six months. They were expecting something more dramatic. Over time, they will hopefully see more changes as I heal more.

The recovery process has been stressful. First, I did not want to leave my house. Then, I tried to get into back into routine, but that was easier said than done. It is hard to pick up routine when I have to explain to everyone what I went through and how it is not the final result yet. Even five weeks post-op, I am not at 100% energy, and last week, I suffered a setback which caused one side of my jaw to significantly swell up again. I’m in the process of dealing with that now, but I am a little scared how the situation will resolve. I get more information on that in the morning with my next doctor’s appointment.

The adjustment at home is difficult to read. My children have handled it well. Even though my face is swollen and healing, my daughter still calls me beautiful and a princess. Now that I am getting more sensation back in the tip of my nose, we can nuzzle each other once again, which is a thing with us. My son, being 7, is preoccupied with himself, so I have not really got much reaction from him. At least it hasn’t been negative. My wife keeps things to herself. She was a great nurse and helped me with everything I needed in the first few weeks, but it was clearly a position she did not want to have to fulfill. She aided me because she knew it was a procedure I needed for myself, and she feels obligated to take care of me, even though she wants little to do with me in the long run. She has been stuck between a rock and a hard place since I began this journey, and she does not know how to extricate herself without the entire family hurting. Neither do I.

Adding to the stress has been the fact that we are losing Medi-Cal at the end of this month. (I apparently got my surgery just in time!) That means we have to buy into the health care exchanges with money we really don’t have. The timing couldn’t be worse considering the setback I am having with my swelling. We are having to switch primary doctors, do cost-benefit analyses, read benefit summaries… and do it all on an accelerated schedule. Tack on on all the other personal stuff we have going on, and the whole thing is incredibly overwhelming. I am not sure how I am remaining sane, let alone her.

I am happy that I got FFS. The results are not all there yet, and I have to deal with this strange additional swelling, but parts of my face are showing positive signs. My nose is smaller. My brow bones looks great. The hairline where they shaved is growing back. The non-inflamed side of my jaw is healing well and providing me a preview of what is to come. There are great positives, and my improved face will be worth it in the long run. The dysphoria I experience looking into a mirror should be reduced over time—and that was the whole point. Now, it’s mainly a wait-and-see.

Finding My Happiness Again

In the quest to find my authentic self, there has been been an additional goal: to find my happiness. Now 3 years into my transition, I am proud to have found my womanhood, my motherhood, and once again found my heart—all of which contribute to my happiness.

When I began questioning my gender, I was more depressed than I had ever been in my life (even though I was not admitting it to myself). I had realized parts of my life’s dream. I had found and married the love of my life. I was the parent of two beautiful children. Something was missing, though. I was missing.

Growing up, I was full of emotions, empathy, and love. While my family was fractured due to my parents’ divorce when I was two, my sense of family was strong. On my mom’s side, I had… well, my mom, who was the most important person in my life. As she raised me the best she could, she encouraged me to be accepting and respectful of all people. She frequently expressed how much she loved me and how she would go to the ends of the Earth to make sure I was safe and healthy. On my dad’s side, there was a large stereotypical Sicilian family headed by a grandfather. Holidays were always fun and loud, with 30 or more people crammed into a 2-bedroom apartment and a dinner table that extended into the living room. Teasing, joking, and brutal honesty were the name of the game, but all comments were heartfelt and full of love. Influenced from both sides, I developed a strong sense of family. By extension, I treated friends as if they were family and gave most people the benefit of the doubt.

I was an emotional child. I cried at movies. I was super sensitive to having my heart broken. I was easily taken advantage of as the nerdy, outcast kid. I had very few romantic relationships, and even then, many bordered on the friend zone. Still, I was happy being me—or so I thought. College brought a different set of friends but also increased personal hardships. My family broke apart further as the older set passed away. My mom and I suffered a rift when I suddenly moved out of the house after being disqualified from school. Eventually, I was on my own without a degree or a sense of purpose.

I eventually started turning my life around in my own time, but I effectively wasted 10 years before doing any real work on myself. I found some happiness when I met the woman who would eventually be my wife. She accepted me for who I was at the time. She found my nerdiness endearing, my loyalty infectious, and my commitment to love irresistible. She had strong connections to family, as well. We were seemingly a good pair. That pair resulted in the births of two amazing children. I thought my life was turning around. The dreams I had as a child were being realized. I should have been realizing happiness, too.

But there was a hidden, unrealized dream.

The dream of being a woman was one that I feel was suppressed for most of my life. I did not know when I was 3. I did not know in school, the 10 years I wasted, or even after I started my own family. I did not realize it until three years ago. In hindsight, there were signs. I missed them. What was really missing, though, was a love for myself. I had all of this love for my family, my friends, my children, my wife… but not for me. The individuality I expressed as a child was muddled. The emotions I once wore on my sleeve were now hiding behind emotional walls. When my mom died, I thought it would be the most horrific moment of my life because we were so close to each other. I barely cried. I remained stoic, as I had with every other death I experienced in my lifetime. That was not right. That was not the real me. I was lost and did not know it.

When I finally turned the focus on myself, I began to see these things. I missed the emotional, loving person I was as a child. I also came to see that unrealized dream I had not even known was there. Transition made sense. Identifying as a woman made sense. My head and my heart read woman—emotional, sensitive, loving, empathetic—the same as my child self. My jealousy of my wife and her pregnancies made sense. My desire to want everything a bride wanted at my wedding made sense. The emotional ties to my children were more motherly than fatherly in my mind. This is who I was supposed to be all along.

Transition has opened my eyes to my true self. Living as the authentic me has brought out the woman, the mother, the person I was meant to be. I am full of love and emotion that I am free to express and not wall off to the world. I am not depressed because of who I am or what I represent. I am a woman. I am a mother. I am loving, accepting, and wanting more. I am happier. I am me.

Of course, life challenges still exist. Financial, career, and relationship problems are squarely in my purview and need addressing. But I am once again on the path to dreaming, for that is what I truly am: a dreamer.

Dreaming of Recaptured Wedding Bliss

The dreamer in me appreciates the idealism, joy, and love I witnessed at the wedding I attended yesterday.  I cannot help but think back to my own wedding nearly nine years ago, and how I want to recapture the love of that day.

I have vivid memories of the intricate details of my wedding on a warm August day that began with my wife and I going to a Toys R Us for the express purpose of buying a whiffle ball & bat for pictures.  I had mani/pedis and my hair done with the bridal party, and I even waxed my eyebrows for the first time.  I remember being at the park, and spying on our friends & family, as we ran five minutes late for the ceremony and my bride got ready in another room.  I walked down the aisle with my mom, because even though our wedding occurred pre-transition, I still wanted to walk down the aisle like a bride.  I even had my own music.  During the ceremony, our unity candle would not light because of the wind (we had contingency ceremony text for that possibility), and the laying on of hands we added to our ceremony was a special touch.  I was given keys to my wife’s aunt’s house in Florida in case we wanted to use the house on the honeymoon—you know, the one my wife did not know we were taking until we were at the airport later in the week.  Our cake was lopsided; our song was “At Last.”  We took pictures of the bridal party on a baseball diamond with the whiffle ball and bat we had purchased in the morning.  And as we traveled home after a long party, I remember our truck breaking down on the freeway, and us awkwardly opening gifts as we waited for the tow truck to arrive.  The details are clear in my partially photographic mind.  The day was truly special.  A framed picture from that day still hangs prominently in our living room.

We were truly in love.  My wife and I vowed to be newlyweds for five years after our wedding.  We were going to beat the odds and not fall out of love no matter the challenges.  We would hold on to everything we held dear about each other.

The thought was nice.

About a year after our wedding, the newlywed bliss ended around the time my wife became pregnant with our first child.  She had an incredibly difficult pregnancy complete with neverending morning sickness and dehydration.  During labor, she had a tear that needed emergency fixing.  Breastfeeding was a problem, as the baby did not want to consistently latch.  The stresses built up, as did our debt.  Reality set in, and the challenges really started to hit us.  The repercussions of those challenges and how we dealt with them are still felt in small parts today.  A second child, careers shifts, and now my transition, and we are on the brink of disaster as a married couple.  Neither of us wear our wedding rings anymore.

While we are in a wildly different place than we were nine years ago, some things do not change.  The idealistic love I have—that I yearn so deeply for—still fills my heart.  I still love and want to be loved as wholeheartedly as I loved and was loved on my wedding day.  Watching our friends get married yesterday made me both ecstatic and sad.  I am so incredibly happy for the them.  One half of the couple told me she was have the most amazing day of her life, and I was happy with her.  Then, I watched the couple dance, kiss, and gaze into each other’s eyes, just as I did with my wife on our wedding day.  That pureness—that joy—cannot be replicated.  I cannot express how much I miss those moments and wish they could be mine again.

Yesterday when I left for work, my wife told me that she loved me.  I had not heard those words from her in a long time, and they immediately made me smile, even if she could not see my reaction.  I do not know why she said it in that moment.  I did not ask her.  I can only presume she meant it honestly and to make me feel good.  I miss the days when that was a regular thing.  A kiss before we separated.  An “I love you” out the door.  An “I missed you” when we reconnected.  Now, we don’t even dance together at our friends’ wedding.  There used to be days when we would dance in the living room without any music.

Love exists between us.  It will never fully erase itself, but it will never be like it was on our wedding day.  I am a woman now, and that is not what she married.  I do not know how to move on.  I want to find the love of that day all over again.  I want another chance to be newlyweds for five years.  Instead, I do not even know if we will celebrate our anniversary in any meaningful way.

I hold on to the past; I must love in the future.  Someday, I want to reconnect with that wedding bliss—that total and complete joy—and to do it in a wedding dress.  Since that will not come in a re-commitment ceremony, I must find a way to open myself up to another.  I have so much love still to give.  I hope there is someone out there willing to receive my love and offer their undying love in return.

Congratulations to my friends.  I am truly happy for the two of you—even if I am simultaneously jealous of what you have right now.

Finding, Losing, and Re-finding My Own Independence

As we celebrate Brexit 1776, I look back at how transition has forced me to begin re-finding my own independence that I once had and gave away.

For a vast majority of my life, I have been very independent (for better or worse).  As an only child raised by a working single mom, I was thrown into adult situations early in life, and I trusted to be on my own for hours each day.  By second grade, I was a latchkey kid.  I wore a key on a cord around my neck.  The school bus would drop me off a block-and-a-half away from my house.  I would walk home and let myself in.  At some point, my mom would call (with a coded ring in the landline days) to ensure I made it home safely while she continued to work.  At that age, independence was short-lived.  When mom came home, she took control.

My mom gave me latitude to make my own choices under her watchful eye.  I did not really test those limits to great extent.  Like any teen, I was challenged when I did something stupid.  I believe there were a a few things I got away with that she may have known about but never questioned because I was allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.  Still, she kept careful tabs on me, and “no” was a frequent answer, so while I thought I might have been free to do what I wanted, I really was never as free as I would have liked.  I asked permission for almost everything.  I was a dutiful, non-wild child.

Going off to college was the first time I really had total independence over my actions and choices.  My academics suffered, as did my life.  I made several negative choices that affected me for a long time.  At one point, I effectively put my life on hold for a year.  The better part of my 20s was spent trying to right the ship I had self-sabotaged.  However, while I was struggling to advance my life, I had complete control.  I planned well; it was the execution of those plans that lacked a bit.  Still, I was independent and free.  By the end of my 20s, I was finally making better choices and overcoming the obstacles I had put in my own way.  During that time, I met the woman who become my wife.

Married life brought changes—and co-dependency.  The two of us were very independent people before we met each other, but we intertwined out lives so much that we became to heavily rely on each other.  She is clinically depressed, and when I became depressed myself a few years ago, that co-dependency caused many problems, even though I denied such a situation existed at the time.  I eventually became so depressed that I began to evaluate how I got to that point.  That self-evaluation is when the idea that I might be transgender began to make a lot of sense.

I have been transitioning three years now, and with that, I have found out a few things.  By finding the authentic me, I have gained back much of the control over my body that I had denied myself for a lifetime.  I am so much more comfortable in my body as it changes into what it always should have been, and when I complete facial feminization surgery next month, I will be that much closer.  GRS, which is likely several years away, will hopefully finalize that piece of the puzzle.  As independent as I thought I had always been, I was not really free of myself until I began transition.  It was like being released from a prison I never really knew I was in.

However, the co-dependency of my marriage remains.  I love my wife with all of my heart.  I do not want to lose her.  The circumstances of our situation, though, do not benefit either of us (or our children) in the long-run.  Ultimately, we cannot sustain this relationship, and the longer we remain together, the less independent either of us will end up.  To be the best versions of ourselves, we must separate.  I cry about that inevitability.  It is what stops me from seriously dating others.  Separation would allow or more freedom for the both of us.  I envy those who have transitioned with partners that remained by their sides and were able to maintain that love for each other.  My story will not end that way, and that is understandable.  I cannot make her stay if she is not attracted to me.  Still, the logistics of separating are daunting.  We are both scared.  Transition has scarred us both, and those wounds may not heal for quite sometime.  At least I get the benefit of freeing my body and my personality, but we both end up in an unfulfilling relationship.

Transition has brought me new independence.  My body and my mind are free.  I am able to be the authentic me, and that is truly liberating.  On the flip side, transition unofficially put the nail in the coffin of my marriage, which was once a bedrock of my life.  I dreamed of being married, starting a family, and living the rest of my life in love.  Had I not felt the need to transition, maybe I could have had all of those things on the surface.  The problem is that I would not have loved myself, and that, in and of itself, is a wasted life.  Transition has taught me to love and appreciate myself as much as I love and appreciate others.  That is a huge win.  It comes with a the huge loss of shattering the rest of my dreams (and hers).

My 20s were largely wasted because of newfound independence.  My 30s were about building a loving family while voluntarily ceding that freedom.  My 40s will be about regaining that independence, learning to love myself, and attempting to redefine the family dynamics as my transition winds down.  I found myself.  Now, I need to re-learn how to live by myself (and my children).