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…

One Year Full-Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love & Family at Christmastime Through the Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeking Life Balance While Feeling Overwhelmed During Transition

For over two years, I have been transitioning, while attempting to balance a broken family, a social circle, and a work schedule. My calendar is filled with dates and times. My head is full of emotions and feelings. My heart and the world around me suffer. Finding that balance is illusive.

I am terribly overwhelmed, and I internalize most of that suffering. There are multiple reasons for I keep things to myself. First and foremost, I really hate burdening others with my issues. That could be a contributing factor as to why I did not transition earlier. Why share my internal struggles, especially when they are fringe ideas with which people are uncomfortable? I have stubborn tendencies, and combined with an above average to genius brain (my mother had me tested), I can generally reason myself out of most problems. The ability to think on my feet and problem solve generally serves me well, but going alone also carries the risk of isolating myself.

Gender identity issues are not truly solvable problems, but those that transition do there best to make things as right as possible for themselves. Unfortunately, that journey is a very lonely and isolating one. At best, the transgender population of the United States is approximately 1% of all citizens. What that means is that it can be difficult to find others that are going through the same thing you are, that have have the same emotional conflicts and physical dysphoria. Even with the LGBT civil rights gains of the last decade, the topic is still on the taboo and misunderstood side. For these reasons, it was incredibly important that I connected with a support group early on in my transition.

Broken Family

Because of the pain my transition caused at home, my wife has not been a person I have been able to freely talk with about what goes on inside my head. My heart breaks admitting that fact, as she is one of the three most important people in my life along with my two children. We have known each other for the last 11 years. She knows me better than anyone, yet we as a couple are broken. Our marriage is all but legally dissolved. Yet, we are still highly dependent on each other and continue to live together. The living situation creates an awkward dual-sided relationship. On the hand, we recognize we need autonomy and freedom from one another. We need friends and time out of the house that is individual time (without the children). At the same time, our schedule is so complex and busy, we heavily rely on each other to take make sure the kids needs at met, the house needs are met, and that nothing slips through the cracks. Sometimes, this situation becomes untenable and results in disagreements and fights. Sometimes, this leads to a rebuilt friendship. It is kind of like being in a marriage without the make-up sex being an option.

Family is important to me. It always has been, and the strain my transition has put on my family situation has been one of the most difficult prices I have had to pay for finding the authentic me. They have made sacrifices on my behalf and have learned to adjust as my journey continues. We continue to try to work together to resolve our differences, look to the future, and relieve the pain and stress. That is a slow process. While life around the house has become more “normalized,” plenty of pent up emotions and attitudes prevail. My continued fight to be called Mom is an elephant in the room. Her desire to get out of the house more often is a point of concern. And what of our future? Hoe long do we stay together in the same house? How long until we formally separate? What does that even look like?

Unfortunately, many our fights are a result of that bottled emotion. As I said before, I have trouble talking with her about what is going on with me because I know it makes her uncomfortable and has the potential to poke at the scabs on the healing wounds. I have trouble celebrating my breast growth, compliments I receive, and my ability to schedule surgery consults. I have great difficulty sharing issues related to sex & relationships and what I am learning about myself in the process.
For example, how do I share that someone flirted or might be interested in me? How do I share that I shut down an advance from a stranger at work? How do I talk about issues related to masturbation and how dysphoric that makes me feel? How can I bring up the idea that I am now likely a full A cup and that makes me feel good, when she didn’t want me to be a woman in the first place? How can I talk about GRS when the thought scares the hell out of her? There are times I feel like I have to self-censor my thoughts or opinions to avoid an argument or cause more pain, but in the instances I do not and we attempt to have a discussion, the rawness that exists under the surface can lead to name-calling, further hurt feelings, and in many cases, the feeling that I been verbally attacked. In a similar fashion, she tends not to share her thoughts and feelings until they boil over and she breaks, which leads to a similar result. Neither approach is healthy, but we fall into that same pattern, and we are having trouble breaking out of old habits, which results in our continued fractured relationship. To our credit, we have more good days than not, but I would not be writing this entry if bad days like this today did not exist.

I believe that because we bottle information and feelings, we tend to misunderstand each other and where the other person is coming from. There are times that that she nails it. Most notably, she made me cry a few weeks ago when she was able to describe exactly why being called Mom was so important to me (even though she is not ready for the kids to call me Mom). Where she misses the mark is how selfish she thinks I am. I am not one to think that the world revolves around me. My mom got that out of me years ago.

I am a very giving person. I always have been. My wife has reaped the benefits of my heart and generosity. However, transition is a very personal journey, and to the outsider, it can come off as very selfish because transition is literally all about the person’s identity. I have taken more time for myself in the last 2+ years than I probably have taken for myself since my childhood, and that resulted in a fundamental shift to our already failing marriage. I have been accused of not thinking about her and her schedule. She thinks that my friends are more important than my family. She may even think I’m dating. I don’t really know what she thinks entirely, but I do know there are many assumptions about what and when I do it. I believe she feels I disrespect her by going out more than her, but that is simply not the case. I am just trying to branch out and live for me, while continuing to balance the home life in whatever complicated form that is taking. I do my best to respect her time and her limited activities, but sometimes I feel like she punishes me for attempting to build outside friendships. I feel completely misunderstood sometimes, and I don’t know how to clarify without getting into an unreasonable discussion or argument. I wish I could talk as freely with my wife as I can with my friends, but the pain and misunderstandings that dog our relationship prevent that freedom. I wish it wasn’t so, that is a function of our dysfunction.

Friends

What have I really done? I sought out my support group, and I began building a small social circle. These are friends and peers with which I can talk freely, without judgement or fear of repercussion—something I cannot necessarily do at home. They listen to my story, and I listen to theirs. We mutually benefit from the time together, and then, many of us socialize after the meeting over food or drink to build those friendships. These people celebrate what I cannot necessarily celebrate at home. They listen to my stories of woe when something has gone wrong or I am depressed. I can talk about hormones, surgeries, my desire to give birth to a child all without fear of misunderstanding. Because we are all generally going through similar things, I also have the unique ability to help my friends with their issues and celebrate their successes.

The time I spend with my friends, generally once a week, is valuable time to me because it gets me out of the house, sometimes in a situation which is outside my comfort zone. My friends both support and challenge me. I am not always sure my wife understands how important this time is to me, for I fear she mainly sees it as play time, not as therapeutic. Honestly, it’s both, and I believe I am becoming more well-rounded because of the experiences and open discussions I have with them.

My wife does not have a lot of friends, so there is a sense of jealousy and unfairness that translates into feelings of resentment towards me for going out. She used to say that I did not give her time to go out on her own, and I argued that was not my place to grant permission or to schedule her time away. Instead, I began taking opportunities to go out when a rare hole in our complex schedule existed. I made the effort, and I believe she has interpreted that behavior to mean I do not care about her and her well-being, which could not be farther from the case. One of the challenges I have had to face in the wake of the breakdown of our marriage is to find ways of balancing the family calendar with my need to socialize and become less isolated. It is a difficult juggling game, and one I am apparently failing at, since I have recently been accused of going out too much.

Work-Life Balance

Part of what makes the schedule so complicated is our work schedules. She work in a church 3 days a week. I work retail 5 days per week, usually in the evenings. My off days are her work days, and vice versa. Mix in school drop offs and pick ups; Little League practices, games, and events I have to attend as a board member; her work meetings sprinkled throughout the month; Cub Scouts; and other random things that come up, and we are swamped.

Going to work drains a lot out of me, mainly since I close my store 4-5 nights a week. Frequently, I have to say good night to the kids around 3 or 4 because I have to work until 11, 12, 1 at night. Combine with the fact that I am a nightowl, and suddenly, sleep flies out the window. Her work is emotionally draining, too.

Balancing our schedules and appointments are something every parent does, and I think we do it well. Where we fail, or at least where I fail, is finding the proper balance between work, friends, and family. Throw in relationship problems, transition, two children, and a fair amount of resentment, and you have a recipe for overwhelmed and tired person. There is so much to do and no time to do it. Unfortunately, I try to keep all of the balls in the air all the time, which results in me doing a lot of things OK but not necessarily well. Plus, I’m not always the best juggler. I am prone to mistakes, so balls get dropped, and I tend to take that personally. The emotionalism of my life is daunting (of course, the estrogen does not help that fact). Sometimes I am on top of things, Other times I feel like a failure. I rely on my optimism and my focus to improve every aspect of myself, but it is so tiring. I wish I could talk to my wife about it all, but it just comes off as self-pity, and she usually turns that into a discussion about how much her life sucks, making me feel worse.

I am doing the best I can with the cards I have. I am not a perfect person, but I am trying to be better. Transition is selfish, but it is necessary. My heart aches for the pain that I have caused, and I put intense pressure on myself to keep everyone I love close and informed. I need the support of my friends and my family, but when information is limited and egos are easily bruised, support is not always available.

I am meant to be a woman. I am meant to be a mother. I am meant to be a supportive partner and friend to whomever honors me to be a part of their lives. I need help to get there. I need my wife, even if she does not stay my wife. I need my children to remind me of the joy and love in the world. I need to be understood and heard. I also need to be understanding and a good listener. I am so overwhelmed and tired, but I will not stop until I am successful in these endeavors and find a proper balance.

I try. I dream. I hope.