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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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.

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.

My FFS Dilemma: So Close, But So Far Away

Today, I had a conversation with the patient coordinator for the world’s foremost facial feminization surgeon in the world (who is actually local to me!). Last week, I had sent an e-mail to their office introducing myself. In the message, I said that I was seeking a consult for FFS and that I was covered by Medi-Cal. I was under the impression that the doctor did not take insurance, but I wanted to confirm. What was the harm in asking, right?

To my surprise, I actually received a response saying that they were interesting in talking to me. A glimmer of hope! After a few attempts to contact the office, I finally reached the patient coordinator by phone today. She took some information from me, and actually tentatively scheduled a consult for me in December. Yay, me! $365 non-refundable for the consult, she said. Then I asked about insurance, and the bubble burst.

The doctor will contract with insurance provided pre-authorization is approved, but he does not contract with Medi-Cal. I was given the option to finance my surgery through a health credit card or a personal loan, both of which I am sure would carry significant interest. I am already financially strapped. How do I pay for a $30K-$50K surgery with interest? I told them I would think about things. She said she would give me until Monday to decide if I wanted to schedule the consult for the date agreed to. So now what?

The idea that I could have a consult in December for a surgery in January or February is an amazing, dream come true. The fact that I even have a consult date at a particular date and time, if I accept, is incredible and makes this seem attainable. And… it is all with the most skilled FFS surgeon in the world. It sounds so perfect. In reality though, without an angel to finance me, the dream seems out of reach. I have not yet formally rejected the consult, but I have real trouble justifying going to the consult if I cannot follow-up with an actually surgery.

What if I go to the consult and walk away with amazing digital images of how beautiful I could be given the surgery. It would be kind of like looking at pictures of Hawaii without actually ever seeing it firsthand. Could that further my depression or cause me to make impulsive decisions that would affect the financial well-being of myself and my family? We are poor as it is. How can I justify adding to that debt for this?

My face is a sore point for me. I can still see the remaining masculine features in my face that need to go away for me to look like other women. If I see them, others can see them, too. FFS is more than a cosmetic procedure. It can have a profound effect on how I am perceived by the world and how well I am accepted. this truly is a quality of life issue; it is not simply cosmetic. This is why I am so stressed by this dilemma. I feel like I need to “fix” my face (at least parts of it). I need a skilled surgeon to do that for me, and I need that doctor to take my insurance.

There are other doctors that may take insurance (and even Medi-Cal), but how frustrating is it to have be this close to working with the protégé to the surgeon who actually wrote the book on this procedure? I have until Monday to sleep on it, but I don’t see how my situation will change by then unless some miracle comes my way.

I am losing control. So many things feel like they are out of hands, and I there is not really any assistance out there for me. It is these kinds of bubble bursts that prevent me from getting too happy and excited anymore. I continue to dream, but the dreams are darker or more unattainable. I don’t like those kinds of dreams. I miss looking at the bright side of life and the silver linings. When do the breaks start going my way again? What do I need to do make my dreams a reality?

Any miracle workers out there?

I Am Falling Apart, and No One Seems to Notice

I have been told that this blog is sad.  True, much of the time I have the urge to write it is because there is something on my mind that I need to share.  Tonight, it’s not much different.  Why?  Well, I have difficulty finding a reason to celebrate, even though my transition is going well.

I am have been on HRT 18 months.  Next week will mark 8 months full-time.  I legally changed my name and gender 3 months ago.  I have come along way since I started my transition, and to accomplish these major milestones has been incredible.   Reflecting on those achievements should make me ecstatic, but still I find myself crying on this Labor Day holiday, sitting alone in my living room, with no one to talk to while my children sleep.  The weight of the world seems to be resting on my shoulders.  My resolve, which typically is quite strong, is failing.  I would cry out for help, but I don’t know what I can get help with.  So I write, hoping to at least make myself feel a little better by converting thoughts to words.

As the summer winds down, I realize that the season has actually been quite a difficult one for me.  I work as a retail supervisor, so that in and of itself has raised my stress level.  Now that kids are back to school, I am hoping crowds will simmer down until at least the Halloween rush, but still… I certainly do not get paid enough for what I do.  I put out fires and solve problems all day long, 5 days a week, but that does not give me adequate time to troubleshoot my own issues.  At the same time, I am also actively looking for a new job that pays me more than what I make, which adds to my to do list.

Working in the daily scrutiny of the public eye does not help my mood.  I am already at odds with myself over my voice and face, both of which I feel are too masculine and prevent me from “passing” everyday.  With thousands of eyeballs on me, I feel like I am constantly being judged.  While those that speak up are generally flattering (a month’s worth of compliments on the dress I wear to work has been nice), the negative moments linger in my head.  Just today, I had a woman ask, “Your name is Gabrielle? (seemingly pronounced correctly)  That’s my son’s name.”  In my head, I thought, “No, it’s not.”  Not two minutes later, I was called “sir” by another guest, despite my lace overlay red dress, make up, and earrings.  It is soooo frustrating, and why my mind is so focused on vocal therapy and the possibility of facial feminization surgery (FFS).  I cannot continue to endure these types of moments.  It won’t matter how long I have been on HRT or full-time if I cannot pass, because each “he” and “sir” I hear grinds me down that much more each time I hear them.

But even getting vocal therapy and FFS is turning into a chore that I just do not have time for.  I finally have an appointment for vocal therapy, but I have to wait an agonizing 3+ months before my first appointment.  Both my therapist and my wife believe I should get a consult for FFS.  That is a relief to some extent, but in the other hand, now I am searching for a skilled plastic surgeon who also accepts Medi-Cal.  That’s no small feat, and the longer it takes, the longer until I get the consult I desperately need.  I am open to suggestions if you know of doctors that meet this criteria.

My health is further affected by my emotional eating, which has caused me to regain 40 of the 90 pounds I lost last year.  I have also had a low-grade headache for the last month.  I do not know if that is related to a hormone imbalance or the fact that I am just a big stress ball these days.  I am checking the hormone situation very soon, though, so hopefully I can solve this problem, too, because I am tired of hurting.

That’s a powerful statement:  I am tired of hurting.  My head, my arms, my brain.  They all hurt.  My heart hurts from what seems to be isolation from my friends and family.  I feel like my body just cannot handle the 15 things I am asking it to juggle.  But much of what I am dealing with cannot be easily delegated or helped by others.  My wife cannot find me a job or a surgeon.  Money will not fall out of a tree.  Even though I have solved so much, there seems to be an infinite number of other things I have to control, and I am just wearing thin.  I am overworked, lacking sleep, and always “on.”

Tonight, after a long day at work and after my wife rushed off to the neighbor’s apartment to have a fun time, I collapsed on my bed and began to cry.  Non-specific reasons, really.  Maybe it was a co-worker’s news of a possible pregnancy which made me think how much I wish I was making a call to an advice nurse on how to manage my nausea (because I would take her place in an instant if it was medically possible).  Maybe it was the nonstop guest issues I have had to deal with all holiday weekend.  Maybe it was being misgendered.  Maybe it was the fact that I was left alone with my thoughts.  Maybe… maybe it is just too much for me to handle.

What compounds my issues is that my friends have seemingly faded away.  My transgender support group is now populated with many new or questioning people, which is great, but at the same time leaves me lacking for a people in a similar situation as myself.  I have turned into more of a mentor to help others.  There are fewer who share my issues which are related to more complex transition issues.  My trans friends are in their own worlds these days, and I find I do not talk to them as much.  I am feeling out of touch with my community, and now I am beginning to feel out of touch with myself because I cannot triage all of the problems at the same time.  I need help and advice, and I do not where to turn.  I am falling apart, and no one seems to notice.

Throughout my life, with very few exceptions, I have been strong and resolved when challenges face me.  I take things one step at at time, and solve my issues one at a time, usually with little help.  I became much better asking for assistance and seeking guidance, and that approach served me well at the beginning of my transition.  This time around, I just feel like I am left on my own to figure it out and there is no guidance to be had.  My issues are for me to solve by myself, for better or worse, and this time—this time—I am not sure how well it will turn out.  I am trying to stay afloat, but it is awfully hard and isolating walking through this barren desert.  I need an oasis.  I need a vacation and maybe a little help from my friends.