Am I Ready to Move On? Thoughts on Relationships Following a Family Vacation

I recently came back from a  one-week vacation with my wife and children in Washington State visiting family and friends.  This trip highlighted some feelings that I have been suppressing, and I find myself a little lost and scared.  My notions of love and friendship are being challenged.

Followers of this space may remember that I have been transitioning while married.  I have written many posts on how utterly difficult and gut-wrenching those experiences have been.  Since coming out to the world and living full-time (now over a year!), I have been incredibly happier, and my wife and I have largely moved on from the abrasive rhetoric and constant tension.  However, there is an elephant in the room that we are not addressing:  We still live together.

Late in 2015, a few months before I came out to my children and the world, I wrote about how I had grieved my marriage.  I recently re-read that post, and a large part of what I said there remains true today.  At the time, I recognized the need for us to both move on with our lives.  After trying for so long to hold on to her, I finally gave up and made attempts to let her go.  Over the last year, we have come along way actively rebuilding our friendship.  We continue to make each other laugh.  We share moments.  We co-parent and are generally on the same page on how to do that together.  We are a good team.

Her romantic feelings for me are unchanged.  I am a woman.  She needs a man.  It is as simple as that.  The fact that she no longer loves me that way saddens me so deeply even today.  When considering my feelings for her, I thought I had mourned our marriage and let her go.  Recent events are showing me that I have more work to do in that department.  I still love her, so when she tells me that she is feeling lonely, that breaks my heart because I am still here.  My heart is unchanged; it remains large and welcoming, but no matter what I do or what I say, it will never be enough for her.

I have tried moving on.  A friend of mine was interested in me last year.  Even though she had a rule against dating people in their first year living full-time, I was apparently different.  She actively flirted with me, but I put up large emotional walls.  I was nervous, scared, and out of my element.  I had never dated before.  I had already paid dearly for an affair years ago.  Was I ready for this?  Would I regret it?  We never went on an official date, even though there was a little under the shirt touching.  Still, I was not ready; we were not compatible; and nothing really came of it.  The end result was that my walls had been chipped away at, and I really began thinking about what dating and relationships might look like in the future.

Recently, a new woman began showing interest in me, and I was much more adept at picking up the signals, which is new for me.  This time, I did not put up as many walls and allowed myself to experience more.  I am trying so hard not to live in my head and overthink situations.  I applied that openness strategy to this new interest, which led to me pushing my boundaries further than I have in a long time.  We went out on at least one date.  I learned a little more about this body I am reforming and more about what kinds of things I seek in a potential partner.  Before things got overly serious, this woman and I had a heart-to-heart and came to the decision that we should remain friends before we crossed a line of which neither of us were ready to go over right now.

Having people interested in me is not a regular occurrence.  I certainly was not expecting potential dates during my first full-time year, nor was I expecting to see anyone while I was still technically married.  But as long as my wife continues to not be interested in me, I feel it is something I should explore when and if the opportunity arises.  I just do not know if I am ready for that step, and there is much to consider.  Most notably, I have my children to protect.  I cannot bring a random person into their lives that will influence their development unless I can be sure that person is safe, trustworthy, and a positive force in all of our lives.  That sounds great, but I also realize it is a tall order considering the barriers that face me moving forward.  I am nearly 40, transgender, poor, with two children.  No matter how sparkling my personality and big my heart, those are long odds to overcome.  I am concerned that I may end up single the rest of my life simply because of the baggage I bring to the table.

I cannot deny that as much as I need to move on and how much I have separated from her, I still love my wife.  I cannot shake that feeling.  She is the one I chose to be my life partner.  Transition had no effect on how I feel about her.  On our trip to Washington, the two of us took a night away from the kids to go to a movie—something we have not done in a very long time.  We saw “La La Land” (now famously, not the Best Picture of the year), a film that features an imperfect love story.  The last 20 minutes made me cry as I watched the resolution of the protagonists’ relationship both in reality and in the fantasy epilogue.  I could see the parallels to my life, and I looked back to the obvious game-changing moment of my life.  What would our marriage be if not for my transition?  Could we have had a Hollywood ending?

Those thoughts are all for naught, though, because now that I am on this path, I have removed any chance of a romantic reconciliation.  I can love her.  I can continue to be the best partner I can possibly be.  But it is a futile effort.  No matter what I do from here on out, it will never be enough to win her back.

Near the end of our vacation, I accidentally discovered that my wife had set up a dating profile.  Even though I qualified my questions by stating I was not judging her, she became defensive when I inquired about when and why she had taken that step.  She immediately told me that it was none of my business.  I was deeply hurt on many levels by both the revelation and response.  This was the second time this year that she had kept something big secret from me, which makes me speculate about what else might be happening that she does not want me to know.  Further, I while I had been out on at least one date, I was open about the fact that I was going out with someone who was interested in me.  I endured teasing and awkward insinuations about what I may or may have not done on my time out of the house.  I have kept those details to myself, but I have offered on multiple occasions to share if she really wants to know.  I have been protective of her feelings, but I have been willing to talk about it.  Never have I come back with, “It’s none of your business.”

She has every right to seek a date if she feels that is the next step for her.  I really am not judging her about it, despite what she may think.  I am shocked by the fact that she feels ready enough to put up a dating profile.  Even after getting my feet wet this year, I am not sure I am ready for that step.  Her doing so reiterates the fact that she has moved on from me, and no matter how many times I realize that she is looking beyond me, I will always feel that deep loss.  When she does start dating, there is no denying I will be incredibly jealous.  How can I not be?  I want the best for her.  That has not changed, but coming to terms with the fact that I am not that magical one for her is devastating.  We have been together 11 1/2 years and have two beautiful children. We know each other so well.   We have moments that we can only appreciate, experiences we will never repeat with another.  She defends me when people stare or say something negative about me.  I continue to encourage her to reach for the career she had dreamt of all of her life.   She cares.  I care.  But still… that missing piece haunts.

I am a woman who needs to perform the seemingly impossible:  Maintain a friendship with the love of my life for the sake of my children, while allowing her to move on and simultaneously finding a way to open my damaged heart to another.  I have so much love to give.  It is who I am, and it always has been.  I wish she was still open to receiving it, but I understand her challenge.  I am not what she needs, and while I feel like a failure for not meeting those needs, I must find a way to move on.  Yes, I grieved my marriage, but I had no idea how much I would be reminded how much the emotional waves of loss would come back like a boomerang over and over again.

Where does that put me now?  My transition moves forward.  Good things are happening on that front, and that makes me happier.  Dating is on my mind (for both of us), and that makes me nervous and anxious.  I try to keep a balance in my life between the elation and the depression.  Some days are better than others.

I am a dreamer and an optimist.  Sometimes, staying in that mindset obscures me from reality.  It makes me vulnerable to wishful thinking and continued heartbreak.   I accept that those qualities have been part of the authentic me.  They are aspects of my personality my wife may have even fallen in love with when she met me.  I would not change that part of me.

If only it were enough…

One Year Full-Time

Last month marked one year since I began living full-time as a woman.  This has been the most liberating year of my life.  I am in a much different place than I was this time last year.  While much has changed, some things remain in flux.

Last year, my life was tense.  I walked on eggshells with my wife.  My children were adjusting to having an Amma instead of a Dada.  Housing was a big question mark.  Finances were an even bigger concern.  I came out to the world in a two-week whirlwind that changed the course of my life.  At the time, I could not predict what would happen even a month ahead.

Today, life is more predictable.  Finances and housing are still critical concerns, but life seems a little more stable now that my wife & I have been rebuilding our friendship.  I press on with my transition.  Facial feminization surgery and vocal therapy are imminent.  Even the idea of consulting for GRS is beginning to rattle in my mind.

While 2016 was an emotional drain, many significant things happened to me.  I legally changed my name & gender.  I celebrated Mother’s Day for the first time.  I publicly told my story for the first time to a large group.  I attended my first Pride Weekend.  I have been flirted with, catcalled, complimented, and asked out on dates.  So many new experiences!

I experienced many struggles getting to this point, but the last year has been one of clarity.  Living everyday as the woman I choose to be—the authentic me I should have always been—has made me a more well-rounded person.  I am markedly happier, confident, and engaged.  No longer do I fear the unknown; I look ahead to the possibilities, even as resources become scarce.  I am an improved mother, wife, and friend.

That is not to say the negative left me alone.  Disagreements have continued over my parental title.  My brother has been effectively ignoring me because he disagrees with what I am doing with my life.  A rash of people misgendered me—most notably family members at Christmastime.  Money problems continue to necessitate relying on insurance decisions to ensure procedures and hormones are covered by insurance.

A friend of mine warned me when I went full-time that I was in for a tough year.  In her observation, people in the first year tend to have struggles as they adapt to a new life and new experiences.  Even the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), who publishes the gold standard for transition-related medical care, requires that people live one year full-time in their new gender prior to being approved for reassignment surgery to ensure patients are mentally ready for a permanent change.  This nervous “newbie” mentality is the reason she does not tend to date transgender people in their first year.  In my case, I had done much of the hard mental work before decided I needed to go full-time, and I believe that has made the last year much easier than it may be for others in their first year.  By the first six weeks, I was feeling pretty good about myself and the decision to go full-time.  A year later, I have not looked back.  I was clearly meant to be a woman.

Much gratitude goes to my family for its continuing support.  My wife, who has struggled mightily with these changes since I first came out as questioning, has remained by my side and her ever increasing support for me has been critical to my success thus far.  We still have much to work on, and we are still on a path for separation, but the love we have for one another endures at least in some form, even if those forms are not romantic in nature.  My children do not question the fact that they have two mothers.  My first grade son is not embarrassed when I chaperone a class field trip.  My daughter is still my snugglebunny.

My closest friends continue to celebrate in my triumphs and listen in my down times.  They have helped guide me and encourage me, even when I cannot attend social events due to my crazy work schedule.  They meet me at 2 AM to talk at length, if needed.  My neighbors (with my wife) planned a Princess Party for me to celebrate my full-time anniversary date.  The party was small in nature, but it included people from overlapping sections of my life.  It was a reminder that not only am I accepted in different social circles, but I have made an impact on others while simultaneously improving myself.  Members of my support group validate this notion, as I have become a sort of mentor to newer members of the group who value my input and stories.

The best thing I could have ever done for myself was to transition.  This year has shown me that I need not wallow in my depression.  While life may throw us constant challenges, those trials are not impossible to overcome.  With dedicated action, confidence, and support, even something as difficult as finding the real me and then living that life daily is achievable and rewarding.  Hopefully, I can serve as an example to others as to what is possible, whether that be transitioning or motivating someone else to take action for themselves in another area of their life.

Love & Family at Christmastime Through the Years

Growing up, I have had a long and varied history when it comes to Christmas.  From big celebrations to quiet dinners and everything in between, one theme has always been constant:  Love and family.  This year, as my world continues to change in the shadow of my transition, I approach a Christmas unlike any other, as the instability of my family and the resolve of my heart balance on a razor-thin wire.

My parents divorced when I was two, and so my earliest Christmas memories frequently involve waking up on Christmas morning to a wide range of presents that my single mom (and Santa) had placed under and around our tree.  Not that I appreciated it as a young child, but my mom tried so hard to make each of my Christmases special.  She overcompensated and spent money she did not really have to make my holiday special because we were by ourselves.  One of my earliest Christmas memories was waking up in our small cottage to a living room full of gifts, all for little old 5-year-old me.  A Big Wheel was my big gift that year.  What I did not realize at the time was that she was not just showering me with gifts because I was her only child.  She did that to make my Christmas memorable at a time when we had very little to celebrate.  This demonstration was likely her way of trying to show me how much she loved me despite a lack of resources.

My mom and I were incredibly close.  So, when she went to New York by herself for Christmas when I was 8-years-old, I was crushed.  I stayed at a friend’s house for 2 weeks, and it was like being in a whole new world.  The first night I stayed at his house, were supposed to sleep in bunk beds in my friend’s room, but I cried because I missed my mom.  We relocated to the living room, where I was given the couch, and my friend slept on the living room floor.  This calmed me because the living room had a large bay window.  Every night, I would stare out the window in to the night and look at the stars.  I would think about how my mom was looking at the same stars in New York, and we were somehow connected that way.  In this way, I was with my mom for Christmas.  To this day, I still wish upon stars when I am separated from close friends and family and blow kisses into the night sky hoping they will travel through the stars to those I am separated from.

On another Christmas when I was about 9, we traveled to my mom’s sister’s house in a remote Northern California town near Mt. Shasta.  I always enjoyed spending time with my cousins.  However, that Christmas, Santa left me a note saying my presents were waiting for me at home.  Also, both my mom and I were gifted with an ugly illness which forced us home and drugged out on a half codeine-half cough syrup prescription watching rented movies while laying miserably in my mom’s bed.  In mutual agony, we made the best of a bad situation, and I still remember the post-Christmas movie marathon to this day.

My dad was not entirely absent.  He lived about 20 miles away, and in later years, I began to spend the first half of my winter breaks with him.  That side of my family was a stark contrast to the relatively isolated world of my mom and I.  My father was adopted into an Italian family, and like any Italian family, holidays were an event.  Christmas was no different.  They were loud, boisterous, crowded… and fun.  My grandma and grandpa hosted about 20 family members each year, and we all crowded in to a tiny kitchen and living room in their apartment.  The family would play seemingly neverending games of 31, my unfiltered aunts & uncles would comment on my appearance and my life, and my half-brother (who lived with my dad and whom I have always just referred to as my brother) would tease me like any older brother would.  We would gorge on a huge spread of home cooked food.  Typical Italian Christmas.

What ties the two sides of my family together were love and family.  With my mom, we had an extremely tight-knit bond full of love and respect.  For 18 years, she was my world until I went off to college.  She celebrated me in times of achievement; she cried with me in times of great sadness.  And while that seems like par for the course for a mother, she brought intangibles tot he table that are too extensive for me to get into here.  Suffice to say, she shaped my early experience like no other.  She was my immediate family.  With my dad, I had the extended family.  We did not share the same emotional bond that I had with mom, but he showed me the importance of family in the greater sense.  The experiences I had—especially at the holidays—could not have been more diametrically opposed, but together, they helped me balance the importance of love and family.

In my later years, the world shifted.  I have lost my mom.  My dad has moved several hours away.  I no longer have any living grandparents, and the days of the loud Italian Christmases faded when grandpa passed away.  Despite the fracturing and loss of my family, the ideas I have revolving around love and family have continued to be important to me.  I have had many a sad Christmas, especially in my early to mid 20s, when I did not have a lot of direction in my life and I was struggling with school.  However, when I met the person who would become my wife, my connection with love and family found a new home with her.

As a romantic and with our nearly instant connection, I loved my wife with all of my heart.  Our first Christmas together came just two months after our first date.  That year, I have memories of taking her to see The Nutcracker after an epic night of finals, and going to a performance Cirque du Soleil on a cold December night in San Francisco.  We spent that Christmas apart, but early on, her family embraced me as a member of their family.  By the following Christmas, I once again had a large table to sit at my wife’s mom & stepdad’s house.  On her dad’s side, her aunt would later conspire with me to arrange a surprise honeymoon which involved crashing at her house in Florida, even though she had never physically met me prior to our wedding.  Later that year, we spent that Christmas in Florida with both of my wife’s aunts.

My wife and I began to build our own Christmas traditions.  Up until last year, we made it a point to make crêpes each Christmas for breakfast.  We always select and decorate our tree as a family.  We frequently take a holiday photo together.  And when our daughter was born just days before Christmas, we were lucky enough to wake up as a family of four on Christmas morning instead of being stuck in a hospital.  I have a really cute photo of my 2-day old daughter sleeping in a stocking that I will always remember.

My wife and I have been together for 11 years.  We have had many a Christmas where we have had to travel to sick family members. We have traveled to other family members’ dinners.  We have had quiet Christmases at home.  What ties them altogether is the love we have shared for each other and the fact that no matter the hardships, we have been together as family.  With my transition, the last two Christmases have been the most challenging of them all.  Two years ago, there was plenty of raw anger still present in the house.  Last year, I was on the verge of coming out to the world as transgender.  In fact, I came out to my kids just shy of the new year.  In spite of the polarized emotions of the last two Christmases, we held it together as a family, and we continued to celebrate with most of our traditions and provided the children with the best experiences we can provide.  Much like my mom did, I want the best for my children, and while we have to get creative to make it work, I want my children’s Christmas experiences to be as positive as possible while hiding the problems in the background.

This year, I do not know what to expect.  As Christmas approaches this year, my heart and mind are strained.  My wife and I have come a long way in rebuilding our friendship and our overall relationship, but huge questions still loom over us.  Just this week, we had a discussion on the uncertainty that faces us.  On one hand, we need freedom and space from each other.  On the other, we are still family, and at least for me, there will always be love in my heart for her.  I told her I loved her in a birthday card I wrote for her this week.  Even if and when we go our separate ways, that is not a feeling I can just ignore.  She will always be a part of my heart, and she will always be family.  We continue treating this holiday like any other (except for the complication of Christmas falling on a Sunday this year).  We will continue the tradition of buying and decorating a tree together.  We will celebrate our daughter’s birthday ahead of and separate from Christmas.  We will exchange thoughtful gifts.  Sadly, crêpes probably won’t happen.  (I was sad when that tradition was broken.)

My Christmases past has been wildly uneven, but love and family continue to be central themes in my life, even in the face of uncertainty.  I do my best as a mother to provide a memorable Christmas for my children.  I do my best as a wife (as long as I am one) to celebrate as much as I my partner is emotionally accepting of my love.  For myself, I must remind myself that even though I have changed many things about my life, there are some things that remain the same.  I am still a loving person with a big heart.  I am still worthy of both giving and receiving love and warmth.  In good Christmases and bad, those have always been there.  As a child, my mom was a shining example of these traits, and even in trying times, she did her best.  She taught me well.  Even as my family situation becomes more fluid and my heart’s resolve is challenged, my core beliefs of the importance of love and family remain, and I will do my best to enjoy this Christmas season, even if I do cry every now and then.

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.

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.

Amma vs. Mama: The Importance of a Parental Title

When I first came out to my children that I was transgender, it was one of the most significant and difficult conversations of my life.  How do you explain to a then 5-year-old and a 3-year-old that the person they have called Dada all their lives needs to be a woman?  As I explained in my post describing that experience, at the time I told my children, my wife and I were locked in a bitter debate over what they would call me once I told them and starting presenting as a woman.  I wanted to take on a maternal title; my wife was adamantly opposed.  After about two days of complicated and awkward grammar such as, “Dada told you to clean up.  She told you 5 minutes ago!”, a change needed to be made.  Dada was just not going to work for me.

Parental titles are used by children as a sign of respect and authority.  Rarely will one find a child that uses actual names when referring to their parents.  Parental titles are a reserved, special social construct, and the titles we use have great sentimental value and personal meanings to all that use them.  They are so significant, in fact, that even the religious frequently refer to God as the Father who art in heaven.  Not to be outdone, we lovingly call our most precious living resource Mother Earth.  There may be no greater title given by humans than that given to a parent.  Therefore, having children and having them call us by a parental title is significant and endearing.  However, parental titles are something that much of the world takes for granted:
Man with child = Father.
Woman with child = Mother

Simple.  Straightforward, right?  Not so much.

Same-gender couples with children go through the parental title debate.  A child with two moms or two dads is not uncommon, especially where I live.  However, what is the child of this “non-traditional” household supposed to call each of their parents?  Are they both Mama or Dad, and when called, do two parents respond simultaneously?  Or are they nuanced, one being Mama and the other one Mom.  Or do we use actual names or even initials?  There are many ways to solve the issue, and many same-gendered families solve it without issue.

Similar solutions exist for transgender parents.  In these cases, the transitioning partner may keep their old title or easily come to agreement with their co-parent about how to handle things.  Options exists.  For starters, the trans parent could simply retain their old title.  This would be a situation where, for example, a transwoman continues to be called Dad even after transition and presenting female.  Another way to go is for the trans parent to take a title which matches their new gender.  This would be a situation where, for example, a transwoman moves from Daddy to Mommy.  The third solution is for the trans parent to assume a new creative title.  For example, in the TV series Transparent, the lead character Maura takes on the title of Moppa, an amalgamation of Momma and Poppa.

In my home, no simple solution exists.

Why?  Well, pretty simple reason, really.  I was not always female.  Therefore, in my wife’s eyes, I am not qualified to be called a mother.  She acknowledges that having the children call me by a masculine parental title would be awkward for all—especially in a public atmosphere.  At the same time, she believes she is the one and only mother our children will ever have.  “You will never be their mother!” she has decried on multiple occasions.  For her, the title of Mama (and all its forms) are sacred, and she is nearly intractable in her position.  Her suggestion:  I should take on the creative title Amma, which was as close to Mama as she was going to allow.

I was never fully comfortable with Amma.  Yes, it rhymes.  Yes, it close.  But, no, it is not a traditional title that women with children in the world are called.  The random person on the street will refer to me as a mom.  What does Amma mean?  Still, after two days of confused speech after coming out to the kids, I needed something other than Dada, so I begrudgingly adopted the moniker Amma, and that is what the children have called me for the last 8+ months.

Trans people come in many forms, and not all of them fit the binary male-female roles to which much of the world is accustomed.  Gender non-conforming, gender fluid, androgynous, and others fit somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum.  These types of people may be more liberal when it comes to adopting or selecting a parental title, which eases the burden.  Unfortunately, I am not one those people.  While I love my GNC and queer trans friends, I do not personally identify that way.  I am a femme transwoman on the end of the gender spectrum.  In that sense, my identity aligns more with a stereotypical ciswoman’s gender role.  Along with that comes an even further extreme tie to the notion of specifics of womanhood, including maternal desires to carry and deliver a baby naturally from my own body, breastfeed it, and raise it like any other mother would.  I have mentioned this before, and it sets me apart from a majority of other transwomen I have met.  I will forever be scarred by the fact that medical science is not advanced enough to allow me to enjoy (or suffer) through those experiences.  However, it does not change how I feel about them or myself.  As a result of these feelings and unmet desires, I have a real need to be called a mother by my existing children, even though I did not actually push them from my body.

I presume ciswomen that adopt children due to infertility and non-biological lesbian mothers go through similar struggles.  However, in each of these cases, society and their partners happily accept and refer to these people as mothers in one form or another.  Why not me?  The simple answer seems to be that my wife does not want to associated as a lesbian.  To be fair, she is not.  While technically, she is now legally part of a same gender marriage (since I am legally female), her orientation did not change as a result.  She is a straight ciswoman.  She wants to be with a man.  She also has those strong ties to motherhood that cannot be ignored, nor should they be.  I never sought to co-opt or usurp her authority or title.  She will always be the mother of our children.  However, I feel I have the right to ask to share that title given my gender identity and the role I both feel and will be perceived by the world to have.  I deserve a maternal title like any other woman with a child.

The continued use of Amma also inadvertently puts the children in the middle of the debate between my wife and myself.  Our now 6-year-old son knows of both my desire to be called a mother and how upset my wife is by that.  Ultimately, I want him to have the choice what to call me.  On now two occasions, he has expressed—of his own volition—his desire to call me by a maternal title other than Amma.  Most recently (and why this topic is germane to my life right now), he intentionally called me Mom while sitting directly in front of my wife.  This happened just minutes before we were to take him to school on Monday, and neither of us corrected him or asked him why he chose to do that in the moment.  While walking to our minivan, I walked with our 3-year-old daughter, while she followed behind with our son.  Just moments out of the parking lot of our apartment complex, our son said that he wanted to call me Mom because it would make me feel better.  This moment of rare empathy was lost, however, when he also mentioned that my wife had told him on the walk to the minivan that it upset her when he called me Mom.  This caused an explosive reaction from my wife I have not seen in awhile, and she left the van and walked half a block home, while I continued to take our son to school.  When I returned home, she did not really want to talk to me, but in our brief conversation, she reiterated many of the things she had said on this topic before, most notably, that I will never be their mother.  For me, that stopped all conversation, as I took it as a personal attack and insult.  Later in the day, I received both a rare kiss and hug (separately), but they came without comment.  I do not know if they came as apology for the outburst and comments, or if they were simply because she needed a hug.  All I know is that I have been in an emotional funk for days now.

To be clear, I have never told my son that he should call me anything other than Amma.  However, we have had discussions about how others may perceive me in the world.  Very often, a stranger on the street will refer to me with a maternal parental title.  In the past, my son (and even daughter) have been quick to point out that I am not their mother. “That’s my Amma.  She’s transgender.”  We have talked about how uncomfortable that makes me feel, and that essentially outing me is not respectful.  I have told them that people in the world may call me their mother and that they do not have to correct that person, nor is it likely I will correct that person either.  The children and I have established that they now have two mothers, it’s just they call me Amma and my wife Mama.  It is only natural, though, that they would want to call me something else.  They don’t know any other Ammas in the world.  It sets me apart, and not necessarily in a good way.  The 6-year-old understands that and empathizes with my feelings.  That is actually quite sweet and endearing. I am not sure my wife sees it that way.

A reasonable discussion needs to be had with my wife on the topic, but I do not know really where to start that conversation.  I do not want to offend.  I do not want to anger her.  However, placing the children in the middle of this battle is not healthy, and we need to address it.  At the same time, I do not want to poke the bear.  This is a sensitive subject, and I need to be sure we have a level conversation about it.  This talk needs to happen soon.  I am not sure I can easily get through this episode without addressing what happened and how everyone is reacting to the situation.  This is not one to sweep under the rug like it did not happen, especially since it is likely to rear its head again in the future without warning.

Parental titles are incredibly important within families and our societies.  They help define us at our core.  If anyone ever wrote a story about me, along with my name, age, and location, they would also likely include that I was a mother of two beautiful children.  I would not be an Amma of two, right?  The reality of my life is that I not only identify as a mother, but I am one, even though my children did not come from my non-existent womb.  I want—no, need—to be recognized as such both by the world and my family.

There is great importance on how this turns out.  My life and my children’s lives will be forever shaped by how we resolve this debate, but until then, they are unfortunately caught in the middle.

A Wedding, a Reception, an Act of Kindness, and a Moment of Inspiration

For the last few months, I’ve been on the down side of life. This summer has been difficult for me, and I have expressed that on multiple occasions. However, this past weekend provided a brief respite from the doldrums, and I would be remiss if I did not share the moments that made me happy, at least for a little while.

On Saturday, I watched two friends get married in a beautiful ceremony. As an added bonus, I was honored to be the happy couple’s photographer. Photography is an interest of mine, and I actually have a decent eye for it. If the industry was not crowded and highly competitive, I might be interested in my own business. But consider the financial shakiness of my family, trying to go self-employed seems highly risky. So when I get asked to take photos here and there, it feels nice. For this wedding, I was only asked to take a family picture at the end of the ceremony, but really… I couldn’t do that—especially since I was actually credited as the photographer in the program.  So, I took pictures all day, and I enjoyed doing it.

The wedding and cake reception were filled with joy, love, and amazing music.  One groom surprised his new husband with a surprise appearance by a champion a cappella group after the ceremony.  Both sides had lots of family present.  Being surrounded by that much happiness—especially from people I care about—could not help have an effect on my mood and lift my spirits a bit.

At the cake reception, I was also able to talk to a friend, herself also transgender, who I was able to vent to a bit about what was going on in my life.  She gave me a comment I still remember:  “You walk like yourself.”  I needed a little explanation.  She said, “You are Gabrielle.  You walk like Gabrielle.”  When unpacked like that, I understood a little more about how I am perceived and how I should perceive myself.  I am wrapped up in how I present to the world and myself, which is why I am so focused on vocal therapy and facial feminization procedures.  I believe they will help my mental state, as they will help me to “pass.”  What my friend was pointing out with her statement is that I have come a long way already.  Even without vocal and facial surgeries, I already am living as the authentic me.  It is an important point that I gloss over, but in reflection, I am now 8 months full-time, 18 months HRT, and I have been transitioning over two years now.  My name and gender have changed.  My life is forever altered.  But I have found the authentic me, and it manifests itself in organic ways, such as how I walk and how I act on a daily basis.  Vocal therapy and facial surgery will aid my presentation, but even without, I am still me, and I am comfortable with the changes I have made thus far which make me, well… me.

Once we took a drive to drop off the children with visiting grandparents, my wife and I returned to the formal reception.  Despite wearing heels all day long, I took to the dance floor like I may never have before, which is something highly significant in my life.  As a child, I was a nervous wallflower at dances and later clubs.  I was afraid of making a fool out of myself (or my partner) on the dance floor.  I got teased enough in school for being a nerd and an outcast, so why add fuel to the fire?  But on this night, I got out of my head for a little while and decided to just have a good time.  I danced and sang and danced some more.  I did things in heels I did not think I could ever do (jump, kick, spin).  I was not held back by the self-conscious doubts that plagued me in the past.  I genuinely had fun all night long!

Later that night, despite foot & leg pain from wearing those heels all day, I stayed up late into the night celebrating a neighbor’s birthday.  While I was there, I brought up a few of the things that have been bothering me about life, including how my court date and birthday were largely not celebrated at home.  In a very sweet gesture, I was cut a slice of cheesecake with lit candles, and in the middle of the night, the small group of neighbors all sang “Happy Birthday” to me, which was the first time that song had been sung to me by anyone other than a family member since my name change.  It was a super touching moment, and I cannot thank my neighbors enough for this amazing act of kindness.

The next day at work, I was stopped by a random guest if I had a “moment.”  The next words out of her mouth both touched and surprised me.  She told me that I was an inspiration to her 9-year-old daughter, who was not with her at the time, but who had seen me several times at the store.  They have always known she is transgender, and I told her that it was wonderful to hear a trans youth was being so supported.  Also, if she ever wanted to introduce her daughter to me, she was welcome to do so.  As a retail supervisor, I am exposed to all manner of people, and I am always subject to random comments both in my face and behind my back.  When asked for a “moment,” I never know if I am in for a complaint or someone telling me that I am “brave” for transitioning.  While being called out as transgender by this woman admittedly dinged my ego a bit (that whole not passing thing), it was quickly washed away by the fact that I was being called an inspirational figure and effectively, a role model for a trans youth I have never met.  How jaw-dropping is that?

Receiving this compliment took me back to June when I was asked to tell my transition story publicly for the first time.  In addition to sharing my story, I also served as an advocate for the transgender community.  I did so again by participating in Trans March at SF Pride.  Transition is a very personal thing, and every trans person experiences it differently.  I have fallen prey to getting wrapped up in my own personal struggles, but this moment in the store reminds me that, much like my friend at the cake reception tried to remind me, I have come along way.in my transition.  I have solved many problems, resolved many internal conflicts, and I am now living my life as authentically as I know how.  Doing so means that I can speak on behalf of the community.  Living my daily life means I can serve as a silent inspiration for others who are questioning or transitioning.  Being me is important not only to myself but to others.  By living my life authentically as an out trans person, I am actually serving a greater good.

Often I get down on myself because the weight of the world seems to be on my shoulders, but this weekend woke me up a little.  I can be me, and that me can enjoy herself.  I have a lot on my mind, but that does not mean I should not get out of my head every once in a while and have some fun.  That helps.  I thank my family, friends, and even the strangers whose world collides with mine for reminding me of the greater parts of my life.  I still have much difficult work to do on my transition.  I still need to find greater support among friends and family to keep me sane and on track.  However, these events show me I am doing well and others are noticing.  I am important, loved, and admired.  I need to remember that, so that I can inspire myself like I inspire a 9-year-old.