In Search of Financial and Emotional Stability

My wife wants out.  That is not news.  However, we can barely afford a cup of coffee, let alone be financially independent of one another—especially with two children to protect.  There is good news on that front, though, but how we get from here to there is a big question mark.

For the last 3 1/2 years, our family has been effectively running on two part-time jobs.  While my wife is in her dream career, she does not make enough money.  I work retail.  Scheduling and the fact that I barely make $1 more as a supervisor than a cashier means I am underpaid and have a less than full-time workload.  With two children and no money for daycare, we have been able to craft our schedules so that the children are always with a parent (when not in school).  However, the arrangement has never been ideal for either of us and does not generate the money required to float a family of four.

For years, the family has operated on a negative cash flow.  We were able to do this because when my mom died, I became a beneficiary of a life insurance policy, stock options, and a 401(k).  That gave us six figures in the bank account and the opportunity to move to a safer neighborhood.  We had our second child and guaranteed our older child would be able to attend the top-rated public school in the district.  I was able to stretch that money for years, but now it has run out, and the family is crisis mode.  Bills are past due; rent is frequently late; our credit cards are maxed and closed.  At the same time, we do not qualify for many government assistance benefits because we are in that gray zone:  We make too much to be poor, but we are too poor to pay all of our expenses.

While all of this happening, the quality of life in our home has deteriorated.  The children do not get to do as much as they used to (things cost money we don’t have!).  We stand in food lines to acquire donated food our kids do not necessarily want to eat.  Stress levels are high; nerves are frayed.  My wife wants out of the house more than ever.  She is unhappy.  Not that she exactly knows what she wants, but she knows it is not me.  Still, without financial stability, leaving really is not an option right now.  If we can’t keep one house afloat, how are we going to finance two separate households?

There is some hope, though.  Early in the year, she received a significant raise.  Now, I am on the verge of acquiring a government job that would be full-time and double my current salary.  I have a tentative job offer pending background checks (which I have no reason to fail), so paid training should start in late May.  That means I should see a paycheck in June that could start taking us to a place that is not underwater.  This is all great news, except for the fact that getting from here to June will require some magic.  We are lucky to have three figures in the bank account these days.  Filling the gas tank is an exercise in fear.

Family Pressure

Lately, my wife’s family has been applying pressure.  They offered to extend us a loan that would get our bills current and float us until the tide changes.  However, the deal comes with significant strings.

First, the loan would be formalized legally, binding both my wife and I to repay the loan.  While that seems kosher on the surface, I believe that puts me at great risk.  The family would never forgive my half of the loan but, of course, may be willing to look the other way when it comes to my wife at some point in the future.  They are upset with me because my transition has caused my wife such pain.  Being legally bound to a family that seemingly despises me seem like a bad idea.

The second condition:  My wife would need to set up her own personal bank account.  While community property laws and martial conduct exceptions could allow me to claim a portion of any money held in a private account while she continues to access joint funds, I really do not want to have go down that road during a divorce proceeding.  Our relationship was built on honesty, but her family is encouraging her—actually requiring her—to keep funds for herself that would not necessarily benefit the family as a whole.  This way, they can funnel her money while keeping me from directly being benefited by it.  This stipulation is an end around to hurt me and help her with no deference to how our family fares in the end.

The third condition of any loan from her family would require us to begin actively separating ourselves from one another.  Now, while separate accounts and divorce proceedings are very likely in our future, I object to her family using financial leverage to dictate how and when we choose to dissolve the marriage.  If they want to help the four of us get out of a financial emergency, then we thank the family for the help.  However, this entire deal is odious and offensive to me.  It legally binds me to being indebted to a family that no longer wants anything to do with me and provides them power over my decisions.  At the same time, my wife may be afforded waivers and leniency where I will never see any.  The whole deal is unbalanced, manipulative, and unreasonable.

In response, I have tabled the family’s questionable offer.  Instead, I am looking at all ways that I might be able to raise funds to bridge the gap between now and June.  To that end, a friend of mine has offered a no-strings-attached loan, that while not covering all of our projected needs, at least gets us current on bills and keeps the lights on.  No signing on a dotted line.  No power grab.  My friend’s offer comes because she cares about my well-being and that of the family, not because she has a secret agenda at play.  I thank her for her help.  We are still projected to be short, but at least this is a start.  I continue to find other ways to make this work out without having to succumb to the family’s loan.

Beyond the Marriage

My wife has told me she thinks I have rejected the offer because I am trying to keep us together.  While there may have been a time that would have been true, she could not be further from the truth.  In an ideal world, she would stay with me, realizing that I am still largely the same person she fell in love with all those years ago.  She would see that I have a lot to offer—love, support, even romance if she wanted it.  She actively worries about what life will be like without me.  At the same time, she still wants out.  I have my own worries and fear about life beyond the marriage.  However, I have already taken the step of grieving our union at least once.  I have cried, screamed, and fought against my heart telling me to stay.  Her continued pulling away from me has made it easier (again, easier not easy) to pull away from her.  The more she makes individual decisions, keeps gifted money to herself, does not communicate the basics of what is going on in her life, and hides emotions & feelings, the more I do not want to be with her, either.  I was raised to live openly and honestly, to share feelings even when they are uncomfortable, to talk things over in times of need and celebrate in times of victory.  But there is little joy here.  Romance is non-existent.  Hugs are few and far between.  What is there to hold on to?  What is there to save and keep together if one or both of us is no longer invested?

For quite awhile, she has been pulling away from me, and I have not stood in her way, as much as it hurts me to watch happen.  However, I am not sitting on the sidelines trying to keep us together as she conjectures.  My focus this year has been to improve myself both personally and socially.  To that end, I have found this new job.  I am sharing my story a little more actively in an effort to possibly advocate more in the future.  I am working to keep emotionally balanced despite the stress and drama that surrounds me.  While still providing plenty of attention and love to the children, I am also taking more time for myself.  I am making more friends and going out a little more often (on the cheap, of course!).  I think about the future—my future and the future of the kids.

The upcoming job will first and foremost help stabilize the family’s financial problems.  Its secondary purpose will be to establish my individual financial stability in the long run.  I hope to achieve this goal without need for her family’s interference.  We will separate when it is appropriate for us on our own (hopefully, amicable) terms.  If her family wants to help her then, by all means, I would expect that from them.  That is what family does.  However, if I can not be in debt to them, then more power to me.

Beyond the money, I have interest in moving on.  For the first time in years, my libido is non-zero.  I have interest in not only making more friends, but even possibly in dating.  I want someone who loves me for me, not for what I used to be.  I want to realize that maybe I am more beautiful than I think, that being transgender is not a romantic death sentence, and that the fact that I have children could actually be an endearing quality instead a deal breaker.  I have feared that being 40, trans, and a mother of two could get in my way.  That might not be the case after all.  My personality and my kindness are features.  If I embrace the compliments I regularly receive, my sense of self will be improved, which in turn makes me more marketable.  Gender confirmation surgery would not be bad, either.

There is a long way to go to get there.  First, what is left of our family comes first.  I will do everything in my power to protect the children and myself from harm.  I will find things to sell.  I will drive Uber.  I will work multiple jobs with little sleep.  I will not be played, and I am certainly not trying to figure out how to keep my wife and I together.  That ship has sadly sailed.  As Morgan Freeman said in The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”  I choose to hope, to dream, and to live.  Time to inspire myself in the same way I have inspired others.  Now, to figure out how to safely get to June and beyond…

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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.

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.  They 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?

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…