Celebrating a Milestone Birthday on Vacation in the Face of Uncertainty

I turned the Big 4-0.  I’m not happy about that, but I am a happier person overall since transitioning.  While on a family vacation, I am reminded that while my family supports me, there is a limit and a continued uneasiness that lies under the surface of that support.

In October 2015, I wrote a piece about how I was grieving my marriage.  At the time, I had just determined that I needed to live the rest of my life as a woman, and I went full-time three months later.  In order for me to take that giant step, I had to resolve that my relationship with my wife was effectively over without any kind of reconciliation.  I realized I needed to give up on the idea of staying together if I was going to be able to become my authentic self.

Since then, I have taken some steps to become more independent and separated from the person with which I still awkwardly share a bed.  I allowed myself to be be wooed (to varying levels) by two different women.  I tried not to be angry when my wife reconnected once again with her best friend of 20 years who has always been a toxic influence on her life.  I have tried to create a little distance knowing that we are not meant to be together in the long-term.  However, neither of us rush out to file divorce papers.

Since I went full-time, my wife’s level of support of me has been exponentially stronger.  She had defended me in public and in private.  She has encouraged me to pursue surgeries (one of which is only 2 months away!).  She has allowed me to embrace the title of Mom with the children.  When I wrote that entry about grieving my marriage, these are things I never thought I would be writing about today.  In the last 1 1/2 years, we have taken huge strides in repairing our friendship.  In my opinion, we make a great team, even if she does not find me attractive anymore.  This growth and new bonding has made me question whether or not we could survive together as a non-sexual couple buoyed by mutual love and respect.  I have allowed myself to fall back into a comfortable place I once felt when things were better between us.  By doing so, I am fooling myself.  Things simply cannot be that way, and that reminder was soundly presented to me this evening.

I am on vacation with my family in Orlando.  We are here 10 days to primarily visit family in the area.  We are also taking the time to visit the magical Walt Disney World and to celebrate my 40th birthday.  That was not always the plan, though.  Back in January, my wife’s aunts began planning a trip out here for February that only involved my wife and children–not me–all without asking me.  It was very rushed and felt secretive, and ultimately I felt like my children were going to be taken away from me involuntarily for a week.  The thought of that crushed me.  Because of some technical issues with the booking of flights, the trip was postponed to June, and alternatively the family travelled to Washington State to see my wife’s father.  To avoid conflict, I was invited on both trips, so I would not be forcibly separated from the children.

Washington went fairly well.  Her father and stepmother frequently travel to our area, so they are well-acquainted with me at this point.  The Floridians, however, took a defensive position when I transitioned and staunchly supported my wife.  They influenced her to move to the East Coast.  They nearly cut off communication to me.  While they have seen pictures and followed my transition on Facebook, they are still uneasy about my presence, and so I naturally bring tension to the current situation by no real fault of my own.  In addition to two aunts, my wife’s grandmother lives out here, and—as Murphy’s Law would have it no other way—she shares my birthday.  Grandma is in her 80s; her health is poor.  This may be the last time my children get to spend time with her.  However, she is old school and completely against my transition.

I came out to Florida fully willing to share my birthday, to show respect and extend an olive branch in an uneasy situation.  The plan:  My birthday would be celebrated at a breakfast, while her birthday would be celebrated at a dinner later that night.  My wife chose to keep my breakfast closed to just me, herself, and our children.  Dinner was to be an all-family affair.  The night before it was to all happen, the plans changed.  Grandma was now requesting only my wife’s presence without myself or the children.  This behavior upset me greatly, as I felt the move was a premeditated, disingenuous act.  My wife decided to agree, and after all of my day was done, our immediate family was separated, while my wife and her family could talk about me while I was unable to speak for myself.

It’s not that I do not trust my wife to defend and support me, but at the same time, this was the first time in a long time that I felt that support fade away.  She chose to allow me to be excluded in a situation where we could have presented a united front demonstrating that we have been working well together.  Instead, my wife did not see that opportunity.  While she felt I had a right to be upset by the changes, she chose to walk out that door and wish me “Happy Birthday” while leaving me alone to babysit our children in our hotel room.  When she returned, she could not understand why I had been stressed and upset while she was gone.

The conversation that resulted was a tough one.  She reminded me that she still wanted a divorce.  She complimented me in the sense that she felt we make a great co-parenting team and that she wants me to be nearby when she eventually is offered a job in the future (probably over a year away).  However, that is as far as she would go.  The tone was different than the cooperative and friendly tone I had started to which I had become accustomed.  She was redrawing the same lines she had drawn before:  a future divorce due to unhappiness with me and our situation.  Her taking the kids when she moves.  Following this talk, I fear an ultimatum and a child custody fight in our future.  that is something I certainly want to avoid.  Our children mean to the world to each of us individually.  The keep us safe and alive.  They are a reason to live and a reason to love.  From my prospective, my children are why I did not attempt suicide when I was in my darkest moments.  My attachment and love for them was why my fight to be called Mom was so important to me.  It is why I am on this vacation instead of allowing my children to travel 3,000 miles away without me.  It’s not that I do not trust my wife to take care of them.  It is that they are an essential part of me.  She feels similarly.  She reiterated tonight that she would die without her children.  If we are not to stay together, then there will be some extremely difficult negotiations ahead at some unpredictable time.

Part of what made this conversation difficult was because I care too much for someone that ultimately does not want to be my partner.  I thought I had grieved our marriage.  I thought I had moved on, but I have not.  I have misinterpreted her increased friendship and support as symbols of love—a love that simply is not there for me anymore.  I have allowed myself to slip and become dependent on this relationship again.  However, doing so will set me up for failure and increased personal pain.  I feel I need to grieve some more, separate some more.  How can I when my love is still there?  I can suppress those feelings but then I am the one being disingenuous.

An uncertain future faces me.  The decisions and events of the next year or two will determine the fate of my life, my wife’s life, and the lives of our children.  My 40th birthday was filled with Disney magic (and even some Universal enjoyment), but I will always yearn for the magic my wife and I once had.  It is so difficult to let go.  I thought I cleanly broke that dependency a year ago.  I was sorely mistaken, and now I do not know what to do about it.

This vacation will go on, and I will continue to be my authentic self in front of the family.  I hope they will begin to accept me a little more, but I am also not hear to twist arms.   I am not holding out hope that Grandma will see the light, but I am not going to alter my being for them.  I will continue to love on my children and respond to “Mom.”  I will wear a cute dress, which is my definitive style.  I will be me.  Thankfully, I have not been asked to act differently around the family.  We shall see how this goes.

The hamster wheel in my head will turning, though, as I start my 40s in an uneasy place.  I grieved, but it was incomplete.  I slipped and became complacent.  I will need to grieve again and ask myself another time:  If not this marriage, what do I want?

Officially, Mom!

I have been full-time nearly 1 1/2 years.  Since coming out to my children, they have called me Amma.  That parental title was never enough for me.  Now, I am Mom, and I could not be more elated.

When I came out to my children just before I came out, my wife and I fought extensively over my parental title.  I had a strong pull to take a maternal title; she was having none of it.  I wrote extensively about how important parental title is to an identity (specifically my own), and for a long time, I was forced to accept a compromise title:  Amma.  It was the closest title to a maternal title she would allow, and it is all my children have called me for awhile.   Each time I heard that name, it never felt quite right, and when the kids recently started morphing her title from Mama to Mom, I began to feel physical pain, as that was the title to which I truly felt connected.

Recently, I asked my son why he was beginning to call Mama “Mom” more often.  He said he was trying it out even thought he knew I wanted to be called Mom.  My daughter, also in the car at the time, immediately wanted to call me Mom, and started in with “I love you, Mom!”  My heart fluttered, but I was immediately worried what the end result of that interaction would be.  What would happen when she tried to call me Mom in front of my wife?  So, I told my daughter, “If you want to call me Mom, you really need to talk to Mama about that first.”  Then, I braced for impact and a potential angry e-mail or fight.

A few days later, the entire family dropped off my wife at work as we usually do.  The children told my wife that they loved her, then my daughter turned to me and said, “I love you, Mom!  Mama?  Can I call Amma ‘Mom’?”  Here we go, I thought.  After a momentary pause, my wife did not flash any anger.  No impulsive reactions.  She simply said, “Yes.”  For the next twenty minutes, I was shocked by what had just transpired.  Did that just happen?  I was somewhere between crying, joy, and disbelief.  When I got home, I texted my wife:  “Did you just give the children permission to call me Mom?”  She responded that she had indeed done that.  She also revealed that for the past few weeks, she had been working with the kids behind my back to slowly transition into that new title for me.  It was intended to be a Mother’s Day gift, but the beans were spilled a little early.  And then, I breathed a sigh of relief as a new dawn began, and I was able to allow my daughter to freely tell me, “I love, you, Mom!”

While my daughter immediately transitioned into that title, my son took a little longer.  However, it only took him a couple of weeks to drop the Amma moniker, and now it;s all Mom for me.  There have been bumps and corrections (my wife is trying not to respond to “Mom” as she used to), and now we are beginning to settle into the roles of Mama & Mom on a regular basis.

Last year, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day, and it was a little tense and awkward.  This year, we more comfortably shared the holiday.  My wife even promised she would “win” Mother’s Day—and she did.  The family bought me a Pandora-inspired charm bracelet with five charms that totally suit me and my personality, including one that is a heart with the word “Mom” on one side.

I credit my wife with doing a lot of work to get to this point.  For a long time, she maintained that I would never be our children’s mother.  Now, she is trying very hard to show that she can share that title with me and that we can co-exist in this role.  I know that making this change is not comfortable for her, but I cannot thank her enough for making the effort and acknowledging how important this particular parental title means to me.

My son even brought home two Mothers Day art projects he made at school, one for Mama and one for Mom.  While it meant he had double the work than the rest of his classmates, he was super excited to share them with us.  So much love!

Being able to freely express myself as a mother and to be called Mom by my children and the world is the best gift I could have received.  This move helps validate immensely important pieces my identity and my womanhood.  I feel more complete, and the love of my children will never waiver.  I feel like a mom.  Now, my children can officially call me one.

The Paradoxical Roller Coaster of Wait

Over the last two months, I have felt like life has been moving quickly and slowly simultaneously.  I feel like I am racing towards a goal, and yet the wait is eternal.  I am both in control and not—at least emotionally.  A perfect storm of emotions is weighing heavily on my soul, but I cannot always identify what is causing the waves.  It’s like riding an out of control roller coaster.

After many two consults and some insurance wrangling, I was approved for facial feminization surgery (FFS) and now have an August date with a plastic surgeon.  I am nervously excited about this development.  Looking at my face each day is like flipping a coin.  Some days, I feel cute.  I see the authentic me with beautiful eyes, cheeks, and wavy hair that falls in front of my face.  Other days, I cannot help but focus on the squarish jaw line, the facial hair I still must shave and color-correct out with make-up everyday, and the nose.  OMG, the big nose.  I can appreciate the positive qualities of my face, but I focus so much on the remaining masculine features, it frustrates me and affects my mood.  I am not looking for a whole new face, but I am anxious to put it in the hands of a skilled plastic surgeon.  However, I have never had major surgery before.  I have never had to lie in a hospital bed attached to IVs while in pain, hoping for company, and eating bad Jell-O.  The idea of recovery is a scary one, but any fears I have regarding the logistics of surgery and recovery are easily eclipsed by my need for FFS, and thus I am excited.  Still, August seems so far away…

I have also begun the process of seeking consults for gender reassignment surgery (GRS).  Now 2 1/2 years into transition and over one year full-time, I am beginning to struggle with the anatomy between my legs.  For awhile, the idea of GRS has been a fleeting faraway thought—something I may or may not do in the future—but the need to make that change is becoming more relevant in my mind.  I am tired of tucking on a daily basis.  I am nervous on the rare occasions my young children share a public bathroom stall with me, as I fear I may need to answer uncomfortable questions.  And while I continue to be attracted to women, I cannot help imagine what penile penetration would feel like from the receiving end.  These thoughts are in my head more often than not these days.  With the added political pressure that my insurance could be jeopardized by a potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the time is ripe for me to begin seeking GRS.

My anatomy is not the sole focus plaguing my transition.  My voice has long been a sore point for me, no matter how much friends and family say I talk closer to an average woman these days.  For the last few months, I have been working with a vocal therapist who specifically works with me to train my voice to stay in the average feminine range.  She has confirmed that I do not actually have far to go; I just need to practice more to keep consistent.  Each of these appointments is affirming that I can one day full present as a woman without the need for extensive additional surgeries.  Woo hoo!

As I wait for FFS, move the needle on GRS, retrain my voice, and re-evaluate my hormone regimen (I keep my care team busy!), other things keep me both excited and on edge.  This year has been a roller coaster year, and I am only about a third of the way through it!

Work has been troublesome lately.  In the last few months, a new supervisor was hired into my equivalent position.  While we need the help, rumor had it that his starting pay was significantly higher than others at the same level.  This caused me great concern, as I already feel undervalued in my role.  After bringing my concerns up to management, an adjustment was made for me, but for the first time since I began working there, I feel like I am being low-balled and lied to.  The actions they took were not sufficient, and I now have to look at other options.  With all of my medical needs, I am fearful of changing jobs, but I also know that I cannot remain in an environment that is becoming more toxic.

Then there is the mater of dating.  I mentioned in my last post that I had begun thinking about dating and what relationships might be like since my wife has shown no indication she is reconsidering staying with me.  Recent experiences have opened my eyes to the difficulty I will face pursuing any relationship.  I feel an internal pressure to have more experiences and to test my limits.  I feel external pressure to push those limits a little faster and farther than I might be ready for.  And then there is the uncertainty of how actively dating others would affect that fragile balance my wife and I have formed.  My body and mind are being pulled in multiple directions, and I am alone to sort it all out for myself.  I have very few people to offer guidance in this department.  Is this what a 14-year-old girl would be going through if she had no one to talk to about her sexual feelings?  How would I know?

I feel focused and lost at the same time.  On the medical side, I have plans and a timeline.  The logistics of physical transition are taking shape.  On the emotional side, I am without direction and a destination.  The uncertainty, combined with the sheer quantity of things I juggle in the air on a daily basis, is overwhelming and stressful, and I cannot always identify which thing is causing that discomfort on any given day.

The twist and turns of this emotional roller coaster are unpredictable.  The track directly in front of me is visible, but I have no idea what is around the next curve.  Is it a corkscrew to upset my equilibrium?  A dark tunnel to cry in?  Am I about to drop uncontrollably 250 feet screaming the whole way?  I don’t know.  It’s all so complex.  The months feel like they are going quickly, but I do not feel like I am resolving enough to be happy and get all of the things off my plate that I need to deal with.  August really is not that far away, but it still feels like an eternity.  I love roller coasters, but this one is rough.  Everything and nothing is in my control.  Lots of highs.  Lots of lows.  Lots of twists and turns.  All just to hurry up and wait.  Such a paradox!  Such is life—an authentic life.

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…

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?