Finding My Happiness Again

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

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

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

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

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

But there was a hidden, unrealized dream.

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

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

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

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

Dreaming of Recaptured Wedding Bliss

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

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

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

The thought was nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Still Hurts After Three Years of Transition

I am deeply empathetic.  I also love deeply.  It is the hopeless romantic inside me that has always been there no matter my gender.  However, the ability to love wholeheartedly comes with a price.

Today marks three years since I began my transition—three years since I told my wife I was having “gender issues.”  I am a much more complete and happier person that I was at the start of this journey.  I am a better parent.  I am a better friend.  I wish I could be a better partner.

I have written extensively in this space about my relationship with my wife.  We have moved from an extremely hostile and adversarial place to one of mutual friendship and effective co-mothers.  We continue to live together and raise our children, mainly bound by necessity, as neither of us have the financial support to live on our own.  We no longer fight about my transition, and she supports me even when I talk of life-altering surgeries.  I continue to support her efforts to advance in her career path.  While we are not perfect, we have always done fairly well supporting each other.  We make a good pair, but ultimately, we are doomed for failure.

As recently as two weeks ago, she reiterated her desire for a divorce.  She is not happy being with me because I cannot provide for her needs.  Primarily, that comes down to the fact that she is not attracted to women, and by extension, me.  She did not marry a woman; she is not a lesbian.  She would rather be alone than in a sexless marriage.  As much as it hurts to think about, her reasoning is sound.  If she is not attracted to me, how can I be a good partner for her?

Further, she states she is not able to fulfill all of my needs.  That is a little harder for me to accept because I am not really sure what my needs are these days.  We have been together over 11 years and married almost nine years.  Despite all of the major changes and tumultuous times, I still love her.  I love her deeply and with all of my heart.  Can she fulfill all of my needs?  I do not know.

There are so many things that remind me of what we had.  Music, movies, memories.  Our children.  I reminisce about our happier times (we did have them!).  I miss the shared jokes, the intimacy, the cuddling.  I miss the “I love you”s, the hugs, the shared dreaming.  I always contended that despite my transition, I was essentially the same person.  My ability to love, empathize, and support remained unchanged.  These are the parts of me she truly loved.  I was never that physically attractive as a man.  My main selling points were what was beneath the surface:  intelligence and heart.  Estrogen has not taken those things away.  I am still smart and full of love.  I think that is what makes the concept of divorce so challenging to me.  I believe I have a lot to offer—the same things I offered at the beginning.

What has changed is my physical appearance and how I present to the world.  Those are not minor things.  I understand that.  I just wish that love was enough.  I wish I was enough for her.

I cry when I think of the special moments we have shared.  I cry when I watch characters in TV and movies resolve the challenges in the relationships to come together again.  I frequently draw parallels between fictional stories and my own.  That makes me sad because I love my wife, my children, and my marriage.  The problem is that I feel myself shifting back into a mindset where I think I might be able to attain the impossible:  Keeping my marriage.  That is a dangerous realm to live in, though, because as long as she does not want me, it does not matter how much I want to stay.  Marriage and relationships take two, and without both of us invested, there is no relationship.

In those moments I snap back to reality, I think about the possibility of dating.  Part of me is anxious to meet someone who will accept me as a woman and be attracted to me for all parts of me.  At the same time, I am reluctant to dip my toe in that pool because I cannot fully detach myself from the memories.  I just love and care too much.  That would be an attractive quality for anyone—or so I thought.

If I cannot overcome resolve this stagnant situation and stop looking into the mirror of the past, life will move on without me, and I will be unprepared for the future.  My wife is only about a year from a major career move, which could include a location move.  Our finances our stretched super thin.  We will be forced to make big decisions sooner than later regarding our futures, and as much as I would like that future to be shared, I must get my head out of the clouds and prepare for a separated life.  It makes me cry just thinking about that, though.

I love my wife.  I love my children.  I love my family.  I wish love was enough.

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…

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.

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.

Pride, Community, and Me

Over the last few weeks, I have been feeling a lot of pride lately.  I have so many compliments on my clothing, my makeup, and my courage, I am a little overwhelmed.  Today marks 6 months since I went full-time, and that time has flown by in my mind.  However, in reflection, I have come a long way in the last 6 months, especially when it comes to feeling a part of the community.

When I went full-time in January, I was nervous about how I would be perceived in the world.  How much people would accept my transition?  How the public I interact with on a daily basis treat me?  How would my kids adapt?  At the time, it was all very personal.  HB2 and other bathroom bills were the hot topic, and I did have to pay attention to transgender issues in the news, but honestly, I had to look out for myself.  I needed to experience firsthand how my day-to-day world would change.  Except for a few incidents, I have been showered with support, and even my living situation with my wife has vastly improved.

A friend of mine told me that she never dates anyone in the first year of transition mainly because people in the first year of transition go through all sorts of changes, wildness, and moodiness while that person figures things out, which makes it hard to date those people. While I can see that possibility, it is a blanket statement, and I have found that I have not really fit that mold.  I have been so reasoned and methodical in every transition decision that the last 6 months have not been full of turmoil.  I have felt great, and it is the other parts of my life (like work) that can bring me down.  Because of this relative calmness in my life, and the reduction of fighting in my house, I have been able to begin focusing on my presence in the transgender community at large.

This June, I attended my first Pride celebration.  Last year, I was on the fence about going, but my head was a much different place.  The Supreme Court decision granting marriage equality had just come down, marking it a significant year… but I did not go.  I found it more important to figure myself out than to celebrate a notion of pride that I could not really feel, for I felt I was still too much of a noob to really walk in the community.  I later regretted not going, which meant I was not missing out this year.

On Friday night of Pride weekend, I attended SF Trans March.  I went with a friend of mine, who herself just came out to the world.  I received great information from group tabling (including some things about insurance coverage), listened to politicians get booed off the stage, met up with friends, and experience my community.  I never felt out of place.  I was welcomed by both friends and strangers.  I was not questioned.  I did not feel I needed to fit in or act a certain way.  I was there because I belonged.  And then… the march began.  For an hour and a half, my friend and I marched around 2 miles through San Francisco.  All along the route, supporters of trans rights cheered in support.  Within our community, there were activist chants, free hugs, multicultural contingents, and those protesting police treatment against transgender people.  The struggle of the trans community could be seen and felt in real terms, not just media reports and stories.  These were real trans people on the streets, telling their stories, fighting for equality and visibility, and I was one of them.  I was proud to be walking with my community.  I was proud.

Two days later on Sunday, I returned to San Francisco for the  parade and big celebration at Civic Center.  In a complete coincidence, I met up with a former co-worker on the BART platform, who himself had just come out as gay to the world this year.  He was on his way to Pride for the first time and was meeting up with friends in the City.  And, while all of that waiting around meant I effectively missed all of the parade, it was another opportunity to branch out and meet new people.  So, a lesbian couple, my gay friend, and my trans self spent the day together at the celebration.  And just like it was supposed to be, it was nothing.  While the vibe was entirely different from the activist & protest nature of Trans March, I was a member of a larger community supporting each other, and again, it was my community.  I felt loved & included, and I felt wonderful.  The four of us eventually headed down Market and walked to the Castro District, where we got a drink at a gay bar (another new experience for me) and dinner.

I ended up going home by myself so I could spend a little more time in the Castro.  I stopped at the standing memorial that honors victims of violence against LGBT people, which stood much larger in the wake of the recent attacks at Pulse in Orlando.  I stopped to reflect that while the weekend was largely about celebrating LGBT pride, one needed to also acknowledge the harsh reality of the world we live in.  The Orlando victims need to be honored, and as a member of the community I am so proud to be a part of, it my obligation to acknowledge the challenges and hate that the community faces, and to offset that with expressions of love and warmth.  We are a community that beats with one pulse.  We are strong and united.  We includes me.

The last image I have of the City was looking up at the massive rainbow flag that flies above the Castro each and every day as I walked down into the MUNI Metro station to begin my trip home.  As the iconic symbol proudly and majestically waved in the wind, my heart was once again reminded of the pride the weekend was all about.  This is my community.  These are my people.  I was reminded of the friends in my life and the new friends & strangers I met over the weekend.  Such a friendly bunch of people.  No judgments.  Full acceptance. Welcoming.  Peace.  Equality.  Love.  Pride.

This was an important weekend for me.  I am so happy I went to both Trans March and the big event, as well as to dinner and a few drinks with people I both knew and were new to me.  I am thankful that my wife let me spend the better part of two weekend days in the City to live these experiences.  As a result, I have a better sense of the communities I am a part of as a transgender individual, and I now have a better idea of why I really am proud to be LGBT.