Seeking Life Balance While Feeling Overwhelmed During Transition

For over two years, I have been transitioning, while attempting to balance a broken family, a social circle, and a work schedule. My calendar is filled with dates and times. My head is full of emotions and feelings. My heart and the world around me suffer. Finding that balance is illusive.

I am terribly overwhelmed, and I internalize most of that suffering. There are multiple reasons for I keep things to myself. First and foremost, I really hate burdening others with my issues. That could be a contributing factor as to why I did not transition earlier. Why share my internal struggles, especially when they are fringe ideas with which people are uncomfortable? I have stubborn tendencies, and combined with an above average to genius brain (my mother had me tested), I can generally reason myself out of most problems. The ability to think on my feet and problem solve generally serves me well, but going alone also carries the risk of isolating myself.

Gender identity issues are not truly solvable problems, but those that transition do there best to make things as right as possible for themselves. Unfortunately, that journey is a very lonely and isolating one. At best, the transgender population of the United States is approximately 1% of all citizens. What that means is that it can be difficult to find others that are going through the same thing you are, that have have the same emotional conflicts and physical dysphoria. Even with the LGBT civil rights gains of the last decade, the topic is still on the taboo and misunderstood side. For these reasons, it was incredibly important that I connected with a support group early on in my transition.

Broken Family

Because of the pain my transition caused at home, my wife has not been a person I have been able to freely talk with about what goes on inside my head. My heart breaks admitting that fact, as she is one of the three most important people in my life along with my two children. We have known each other for the last 11 years. She knows me better than anyone, yet we as a couple are broken. Our marriage is all but legally dissolved. Yet, we are still highly dependent on each other and continue to live together. The living situation creates an awkward dual-sided relationship. On the hand, we recognize we need autonomy and freedom from one another. We need friends and time out of the house that is individual time (without the children). At the same time, our schedule is so complex and busy, we heavily rely on each other to take make sure the kids needs at met, the house needs are met, and that nothing slips through the cracks. Sometimes, this situation becomes untenable and results in disagreements and fights. Sometimes, this leads to a rebuilt friendship. It is kind of like being in a marriage without the make-up sex being an option.

Family is important to me. It always has been, and the strain my transition has put on my family situation has been one of the most difficult prices I have had to pay for finding the authentic me. They have made sacrifices on my behalf and have learned to adjust as my journey continues. We continue to try to work together to resolve our differences, look to the future, and relieve the pain and stress. That is a slow process. While life around the house has become more “normalized,” plenty of pent up emotions and attitudes prevail. My continued fight to be called Mom is an elephant in the room. Her desire to get out of the house more often is a point of concern. And what of our future? Hoe long do we stay together in the same house? How long until we formally separate? What does that even look like?

Unfortunately, many our fights are a result of that bottled emotion. As I said before, I have trouble talking with her about what is going on with me because I know it makes her uncomfortable and has the potential to poke at the scabs on the healing wounds. I have trouble celebrating my breast growth, compliments I receive, and my ability to schedule surgery consults. I have great difficulty sharing issues related to sex & relationships and what I am learning about myself in the process.
For example, how do I share that someone flirted or might be interested in me? How do I share that I shut down an advance from a stranger at work? How do I talk about issues related to masturbation and how dysphoric that makes me feel? How can I bring up the idea that I am now likely a full A cup and that makes me feel good, when she didn’t want me to be a woman in the first place? How can I talk about GRS when the thought scares the hell out of her? There are times I feel like I have to self-censor my thoughts or opinions to avoid an argument or cause more pain, but in the instances I do not and we attempt to have a discussion, the rawness that exists under the surface can lead to name-calling, further hurt feelings, and in many cases, the feeling that I been verbally attacked. In a similar fashion, she tends not to share her thoughts and feelings until they boil over and she breaks, which leads to a similar result. Neither approach is healthy, but we fall into that same pattern, and we are having trouble breaking out of old habits, which results in our continued fractured relationship. To our credit, we have more good days than not, but I would not be writing this entry if bad days like this today did not exist.

I believe that because we bottle information and feelings, we tend to misunderstand each other and where the other person is coming from. There are times that that she nails it. Most notably, she made me cry a few weeks ago when she was able to describe exactly why being called Mom was so important to me (even though she is not ready for the kids to call me Mom). Where she misses the mark is how selfish she thinks I am. I am not one to think that the world revolves around me. My mom got that out of me years ago.

I am a very giving person. I always have been. My wife has reaped the benefits of my heart and generosity. However, transition is a very personal journey, and to the outsider, it can come off as very selfish because transition is literally all about the person’s identity. I have taken more time for myself in the last 2+ years than I probably have taken for myself since my childhood, and that resulted in a fundamental shift to our already failing marriage. I have been accused of not thinking about her and her schedule. She thinks that my friends are more important than my family. She may even think I’m dating. I don’t really know what she thinks entirely, but I do know there are many assumptions about what and when I do it. I believe she feels I disrespect her by going out more than her, but that is simply not the case. I am just trying to branch out and live for me, while continuing to balance the home life in whatever complicated form that is taking. I do my best to respect her time and her limited activities, but sometimes I feel like she punishes me for attempting to build outside friendships. I feel completely misunderstood sometimes, and I don’t know how to clarify without getting into an unreasonable discussion or argument. I wish I could talk as freely with my wife as I can with my friends, but the pain and misunderstandings that dog our relationship prevent that freedom. I wish it wasn’t so, that is a function of our dysfunction.

Friends

What have I really done? I sought out my support group, and I began building a small social circle. These are friends and peers with which I can talk freely, without judgement or fear of repercussion—something I cannot necessarily do at home. They listen to my story, and I listen to theirs. We mutually benefit from the time together, and then, many of us socialize after the meeting over food or drink to build those friendships. These people celebrate what I cannot necessarily celebrate at home. They listen to my stories of woe when something has gone wrong or I am depressed. I can talk about hormones, surgeries, my desire to give birth to a child all without fear of misunderstanding. Because we are all generally going through similar things, I also have the unique ability to help my friends with their issues and celebrate their successes.

The time I spend with my friends, generally once a week, is valuable time to me because it gets me out of the house, sometimes in a situation which is outside my comfort zone. My friends both support and challenge me. I am not always sure my wife understands how important this time is to me, for I fear she mainly sees it as play time, not as therapeutic. Honestly, it’s both, and I believe I am becoming more well-rounded because of the experiences and open discussions I have with them.

My wife does not have a lot of friends, so there is a sense of jealousy and unfairness that translates into feelings of resentment towards me for going out. She used to say that I did not give her time to go out on her own, and I argued that was not my place to grant permission or to schedule her time away. Instead, I began taking opportunities to go out when a rare hole in our complex schedule existed. I made the effort, and I believe she has interpreted that behavior to mean I do not care about her and her well-being, which could not be farther from the case. One of the challenges I have had to face in the wake of the breakdown of our marriage is to find ways of balancing the family calendar with my need to socialize and become less isolated. It is a difficult juggling game, and one I am apparently failing at, since I have recently been accused of going out too much.

Work-Life Balance

Part of what makes the schedule so complicated is our work schedules. She work in a church 3 days a week. I work retail 5 days per week, usually in the evenings. My off days are her work days, and vice versa. Mix in school drop offs and pick ups; Little League practices, games, and events I have to attend as a board member; her work meetings sprinkled throughout the month; Cub Scouts; and other random things that come up, and we are swamped.

Going to work drains a lot out of me, mainly since I close my store 4-5 nights a week. Frequently, I have to say good night to the kids around 3 or 4 because I have to work until 11, 12, 1 at night. Combine with the fact that I am a nightowl, and suddenly, sleep flies out the window. Her work is emotionally draining, too.

Balancing our schedules and appointments are something every parent does, and I think we do it well. Where we fail, or at least where I fail, is finding the proper balance between work, friends, and family. Throw in relationship problems, transition, two children, and a fair amount of resentment, and you have a recipe for overwhelmed and tired person. There is so much to do and no time to do it. Unfortunately, I try to keep all of the balls in the air all the time, which results in me doing a lot of things OK but not necessarily well. Plus, I’m not always the best juggler. I am prone to mistakes, so balls get dropped, and I tend to take that personally. The emotionalism of my life is daunting (of course, the estrogen does not help that fact). Sometimes I am on top of things, Other times I feel like a failure. I rely on my optimism and my focus to improve every aspect of myself, but it is so tiring. I wish I could talk to my wife about it all, but it just comes off as self-pity, and she usually turns that into a discussion about how much her life sucks, making me feel worse.

I am doing the best I can with the cards I have. I am not a perfect person, but I am trying to be better. Transition is selfish, but it is necessary. My heart aches for the pain that I have caused, and I put intense pressure on myself to keep everyone I love close and informed. I need the support of my friends and my family, but when information is limited and egos are easily bruised, support is not always available.

I am meant to be a woman. I am meant to be a mother. I am meant to be a supportive partner and friend to whomever honors me to be a part of their lives. I need help to get there. I need my wife, even if she does not stay my wife. I need my children to remind me of the joy and love in the world. I need to be understood and heard. I also need to be understanding and a good listener. I am so overwhelmed and tired, but I will not stop until I am successful in these endeavors and find a proper balance.

I try. I dream. I hope.

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Why I Am Afraid After the Election

On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 8, I picked up my son from school and we went to the grocery store. In addition to some things I were asked to pick up, I also bought four bottles of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider in anticipation of celebrating an historic win for the first female president.  On our way back to our minivan, I was asked by a woman sitting in her car if I had voted.  I responded that I had not yet but that I would before the polls closed.  My children (being the not shy social butterflies that they are) immediately for into a conversation with the woman.  She was enamored with them (she’s not the first), and she said that they were the reason why she votes.  Her comments were inspiring, honest, and authentic.  As a society and as parents, we want to leave the world a better place for our children than we received it.

I wore my white dress to the polls in solidarity.  While I vote in every election (not just presidential ones), this one was significant for me.  This was the first time as a legally recognized woman that I was voting for president–and I was voting for a woman.  Historic.

As I returned home and began to watch the election results stream in over the next few hours, my mood changed from nervous excitement to nervous tension to defeat to fear for the future.  What was I going to tell my children in the morning?  How was I going to explain that a bully—a man full of of hate, racism, and sexism (among other things)—was selected to be our next president.  And what was going to happen to my family and to myself?

Because my family is on the poorer side, the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)—and specifically, the expansion of Medicare—allowed us to insure ourselves and our children at zero cost to us.  This translated to a $500+/month savings and allowed our children to begin seeing a dentist and myself to start my transition. Medi-Cal is an essential tool in allowing me to access a therapist, hormones, and seek surgeries.  I cannot even imagine where I would be without the PPACA.  But now, in the wake of a shocking election result, I am now faced with a president-elect who seeks to “repeal and replace” my health care.

To my children’s credit, they handled the results fairly well.  I still don’t know what to truly expect on January 20.  However, I already feel fear for how they may have to defend me in the future.  The rhetoric of this election and its result have allowed fringe groups and radical opinions to be de facto accepted in some areas of our country.  When I transitioned, I gave up straight white male privilege to be a lesbian transgender woman.  By doing so, I have put myself in a position of minority and vulnerability.  Such a move comes with a large asterisk:  I do live in California and in the San Francisco Bay Area, which means I live in a bit of a protected bubble when it comes to transphobia and misogyny, but it still exists.  When I first started presenting as a woman at my son’s elementary school, he had to deal with questions from other kids about who I was and how I presented.  The 6-year-old was put in an awkward position, and I am proud to say we guided him through that difficult stage.  Now, it seems to a non-issue among the kids.  But with a fundamental shift in the politics of the nation and the “hidden Trump vote,” it is hard to say how much transphobia will read its head and how that will directly affect me and my children.

I have felt a small shift at work.  I have been full-time 10 months, and I was extremely nervous the first day I came to work as my authentic self.  While there was overwhelming support, there were guests (and their children) who would occasionally misgender me—sometimes intentionally.  The incidents were few and far between, and there really have been no incidents to my knowledge in the last 6 months.  However just after the election, I have begun to encounter more people misgendering me.  There was one particular weekend where I had three incidents, and since I am already highly dysphoric these days regarding my voice and face, they challenged me not to fall into a depressive state.  Luckily, I have team members who defend me when I am not around.  That helps.

Since the marriage equality decision came down from the Supreme Court, there has been a cultural shift to focus on transgender rights.  This mainly is a function of the fact the “T” is the redheaded stepchild of the LGBT acronym.  Why?  LGB are sexual orientations; T is an identity.  Even the Human Right Coalition (HRC) took heat for placing transgender rights on the back burner in order to push through marriage equality.  With trans people fighting for gender equality and the simple right to pee in peace in public accommodations, we now face a divided Supreme Court, a maniac in the White House, and Republican Congress.  There is great fear that transgender community wil not only see progress stalled but even rolled back.  The additional potential loss of the PPACA adds the additional fear that not only will the trans community not be granted equal protection but may also lose health care protections.  The trans community is being urged to update passports ahead of the transition of power, as rules may change making it more difficult to change name and gender on the most essential of identification documents.  I have a friend who moved up some of her transition consult dates because of the uncertainty ahead.

For me, I am in the awkward position of beginning the surgery consults and planning ahead for facial feminization surgery (FFS) and gender reassignment surgery (GRS).  These types of procedures have long wait lists and complicated red tape.  Any changes to health care could seriously impact my plans and heighten my dysphoria.  In short, my quality of life is directly affected by what happens in the next few months.  Living in uncertainty is scary.  I am grateful that I live in California.  I am grateful that I have support.  But even though I have all of these things going for me, I am still fearful that any of it can be taken away from me at anytime.  When I think of trans people in less protected areas than I, I am saddened.  In North Carolina, HB2 prevents trans people from using the bathroom of the gender they identify with.  In “red” states, what there?  I can’t imagine living outside this state, let alone traveling.  What happens if I go to Walt Disney World, New York City, Washington DC?  What happens if I go to the Midwest?  I should not have to worry about traveling the country.  People should not have to live in fear.

Unlike some others, I do not challenge the results of the election.  I do not favor “faithless electors” or even necessarily those that cast a protest vote (although, those votes may have made a difference).  I am saddened that nearly 50% of those eligible to vote did not exercise that option.  Turnout was actually lower than the in the previous presidential election.  Americans have shown their ambivalence, and now we must live with the results.  With the new political landscape, I fear for a significant shift to the right, and that is not a shift that benefits me or my community.  Giving up my straight white male privilege means this shift will directly affect me and my family.  My wife is fearful for my safety.  We both worry about what negativity will be shared on the playground.  For now, we cannot assume what will happen; we can only move forward and hope for the best.  I only speak from the trans-perspective.  Other groups are fearful, too.  Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, women, refugees:  They all have reason to keep an eye on Washington and what happens next.

I try to remain optimistic.  I try to remain hopeful.  But for the first time following an election, I am fearful.  As the woman in the grocery store parking lot, my job as a mother is to protect my children from the hate and rhetoric.  My job as trans person is to advocate for my community.  My job for myself is to continue to reach for the dream of being and living as my authentic self.  I am doing the best I can in a changing political climate.  I resolve to continue being the best person I can be—full of love, dreams, and hope.