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.

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I Am Falling Apart, and No One Seems to Notice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps: Vocal Therapy(!) and Facial Surgery(?)

In my last post, I talked about some of the celebrations that should have happened, but did not:  my court date, my birthday, telling my story publicly for the first time.  It has been a busy summer, even though it does not really feel like it.  The sadness I have felt over the lack of celebration has been looming over me, especially as my wife helps plan two weddings and, a few weeks ago, a neighbor’s birthday.  Combined with the continuing dysphoria surrounding my face & voice and my family’s financial struggles, I have not been in the best of moods lately.  I am tired, lonely, and isolated.  But, as I said in my last post, I do trod on.

I finally received some good news this week.  My insurance has approved me (without a fight!) to begin specialized vocal therapy, so that I can begin to properly address my voice and work to make it sound more feminine.  That should be a great relief to me, but the excitement was muted by the fact that my first appointment will not be until December due to scheduling availability!  I will have to wait for this about as long as I had to wait for my court date to come, and that was tiring.  Hopefully, a cancellation will move me up the wait list.

On the face front, I am flummoxed.  I am beginning to struggle mightily when it comes to how my face looks.  I really long to restart electrolysis that I suspended in June due to financial stresses.  That means I have to shave every day and then work hard to conceal that shadow that remains.  It is exhausting.  I love make-up, but I would like to be able to walk out the door without it every once in awhile if I am in a hurry.  Doing so now would just make me look awkward.  Also, for the first time, I have really started to take some time to look at the potential for surgery.

Since the beginning of my transition over two years ago, I have put off the notion of surgeries.  I had soooooooo much other stuff to work through that the idea of any surgery was put out of my mind, as I deal with the here-and-now.  But as time passes and I settle into my life as woman, I begin to think about the future.  My facial dysphoria has put the idea of facial feminization surgery (FFS) as an attainable way to correct the masculine features of my face.  To that end, for the first time, I have begun to ask questions of friends, analyzed my face to project the kinds of work I need (and luckily don’t need), and even gone so far as to begin researching potential surgeons.  The latter may be a bit premature, but at the same time, I know consults and surgeries have long wait lists, and it could be to my advantage to start the ball rolling now.  However, I really want to resume and finish electrolysis.  FFS does not seem smart unless I have finished what I can do without it.  So many questions, and no money to do it.  The thoughts weigh me down and compound my frustration with myself.

And of course, opening the door to surgery discussions, cracks open the idea of potential gender reconstruction surgery (GRS) down the road.  I am not quite ready to start that process, but I definitely lean in that direction.  But as I have done all along, I try not to jump ahead too much.  One step at a time.  I don’t really consider GRS right now because there are more pressing needs.  I don’t really consider breast augmentation because my breasts are still growing, even if at a slower rate than I would like.  But FFS seems attainable with the right surgeon and the right timeline.  It is something I need to bring up to my family, too, and I really have no idea how to begin to introduce that topic.  Surgery is a big deal and a big step.  It requires doctor’s visits, consults, the procedure, and the post-op aftercare.  How much support can my family provide if I take this step?

I am markedly happier as a woman.  Now 7 1/2 months full-time, I am still secure this is how I was meant to live my life.  But until a few things change, I continue to be insecure of how I present to the world.  That change will not happen on its own, and I continue to look for ways to make those changes happen.  I just wish I had more of a support system behind me to encourage me on my journey. Maybe then, someone would celebrate me and my accomplishments.