Friday, December 30, 2011

Anniversary of Coming Out

At this very time exactly one year ago tonight I came out to my ex-wife in a mutually tearful exchange that lasted over 3 hours. We'd been laying in bed next to one another, not touching, not speaking, not sleeping, both of us looking up at the ceiling and knowing it was coming. I just hung up the phone with my ex after a tearful reminiscence on this anniversary of sorts. It's a necessary pain for both us to fight through, and it will get easier, but not tonight.

Yesterday, I was sharing these feelings with Ahoova, my electrologist, who also doubles as my second therapist.  Ahoova reminded me of how far I've come in this past year.  In a few weeks I will have been having electrolysis for a full year.  So, she has really seen all of the changes over time, and with all humility, I have to agree my transition thus far has been an amazing experience, and even though I am nowhere near done, I am so grateful for how far I've come.  Ahoova reminded me, also, that had I been married this past year there's no possible way I would have made anywhere near the progress I've made.  Of course, she's right, and I appreciated her reminding me to consider all sides of the situation.  Other bittersweet anniversaries will continue to pass by and there will be more nights like this, but it is me, the real me, who confronts them and lives through them, carrying on - alone - but with as much integrity, honesty, and self-awareness as I can possibly muster.

I'm sure many of you have lived through similar things.  Perhaps someone out there has just come out to his or her partner or spouse, or is struggling to build up the courage to do so.  I have no magic words to make things instantly safe and easy, but I can tell you that you are not alone.  There are many friends and future friends here online who understand, who bring their own special gifts and experiences with them, and many who are willing, even enthusiastically so, to listen, to interact, and to support you.  Thank you to so many of you who have done exactly that for me over the past year.  I hope I can come close to following the examples you have so graciously demonstrated to me.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The First Year of My Life

A year ago today I formally began the process of my gender transition by stepping foot into my therapist's office for the first time and discussing my gender identity issues.  It's been a year of incredible contrasts:  merciless loss and pain at times, and the most beautiful experience of finding myself and showing the world who I really am.  I'm 42 years-old now, but in many ways this year has been the first year of my life.

Thinking back to this time last year is bittersweet.  I had a family, a home, in-laws, a Christmas list of last minute items to track down.  This year I don't really feel like I have any of that.  My family, my wife and child, are gone now.  They live in their own house about twenty minutes away from me.  I see them, but it's different -- very different.  My connection with the rest of my family, what few members remain, is mostly a function of periodic Facebook posts, jokes forwarded in e-mail, and the random phone call.  A couple of my family members are part of the LGBT community; so, I feel like we have an extra connection that at least prevents my transition from totally scaring them away.  Others in my family are very homophobic.  Others still are extreme right wing fanatics - a group that tends not to embrace people like me and who frequently say things that are downright repulsive to me.  Then again, my very existence is probably repulsive to them; so, I guess we're even.

Then, there is my mother, who started this year off by demonstrating acceptance of me which later revealed itself to be something else; however, she was trying, and I have to give her credit for that.  She refers to me as her daughter now, calls me by the name I chose and no longer by the name she chose for me over four decades a go, but echoes of bitterness and anger come across in her voice when she talks about saying goodbye to her son, the son I replaced -- the son I took away.  She sees us as two distinct people.  Our personalities, levels of sociability, confidence, and just how we interact with the world are drastically different.  Our appearances are different, we dress differently, we use different restrooms, and we go by different names.  We share a common history, but little else beyond that.  I'm not sure that I can trust my own interpretation of how she feels about me.  So, I'm left feeling somewhat orphaned in the world.  The one family connection that remains solid-feeling to me is the one with my daughter.  Thank God for her.

This time last year I saw my therapist, Dr. Erin Swenson, for the first time and began down this road.  In January I started facial electrolysis.  Today my face is smooth and shaving is a thing of the past.  At the end of February I separated from my wife.  Today I live with a roommate and I am divorced from the person who shared a decade of my life.  In April I started HRT.  Today I look much more feminine, and have respectable breast development.  In August I changed my name, and today the old name and identity feels like a distant dream.  In September I began presenting full-time in my gender, and now it feels very much like it's always been that way.  November I got my first legal ID with a proper female gender marker on it, thanks to a letter from my endocrinologist confirming my gender transition legally and thanks to changes in the U.S. State Department last year as a result of the Obama administration.  Now, I sit here, in my rented room where the only hints of Christmas are a couple of bags of unwrapped presents and couple of Christmas cards to take with me on my trip to Florida later this week.  This time last year I had a fairly typical family.  Today, my family life is anything but typical; yet, I have friends, really good friends with whom I share feelings and hopes and dreams, friends with whom I cry during the difficult times, and with whom embraces and happy words are exchanged during the joyous times.  Today I have friends who have become my surrogate family.  The wonderful thing about this is that the friends I have today know the real me.

As I look back on a full year of change, I am grateful for the miracle of it all.  This time last year the idea of getting through all of this that I have so far seemed the stuff of pure fantasy.  I am sad for the loss and the pain my transition has caused.  Yet, I feel very blessed to wake up each day with the desire to wake up each day.  I am grateful to be alive and to simply be myself.  It sounds like such an easy thing, to be one's self, but for many people like the person I once was, it's almost unthinkable to let the world see who we are.  No wonder we were locked in prisons of depression for so long.  How amazing it is to be free.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Price of Transition

People talk about how expensive a gender transition is.  For those of us born anatomically male, we have dozens or even hundreds of hours of electrolysis to afford.  There's therapists and doctors to pay for, and conceivably there are hormones and blood tests for the rest of our lives.  If we are employed and employed well enough to afford these essentials of our transitions along with building a new wardrobe from scratch, very few of us have insurance that helps out with any of these expenses, and even fewer still have insurance coverage for breast, facial, or genital surgeries.  As costs to insurance companies go, considering the relatively small number of us there are, these are minimal expenses when averaged out.  For us as individuals, saving tens of thousands of dollars to cover our own healthcare needs that are being ignored by insurance providers as a whole ranges anywhere from daunting to overwhelming to impossible.  Yet, for as great as all these costs are, these are not our biggest expenses.  Yesterday was the day I finally signed the check for the biggest cost of my transition by accepting my divorce as an absolute fact.  No, my divorce has not happened yet, not legally at least.  However, it will happen.  My divorce will be final next Tuesday.  I have just made myself accept this.

I've been so busy in the months between separating from Lynn until now.  I have been inescapably locked into the very urgent business of fixing myself.  The damage to me of living four decades as someone who wasn't me, and the physical scarring of male hormones upon the frame that carried my female soul and mind -- these damages take time and much effort to begin to undo.  Some of the damage cannot be undone, and must be worked around or tolerated, but I do what I can.  I was wrapped up in this, so very completely wrapped up that I did not take time to believe that my marriage would not somehow magically fix itself.  She loved me, and I loved her.  No one cheated on anyone.  No one had a drug or gambling problem.  We both worked together for the household and for our family.  Everyone did their part; so, how could it not just self-heal?  Silly, and yes, my therapist would call this "magical thinking" which can be a sign of a break with reality.  The truth is it was more of a rejection of reality, or in grief theory terms, I was in the denial stage of the grieving process.  More honestly, I was vacillating repeatedly between denial, anger, bargaining and depression.

Today, I'm in the depression stage.  I know this because I cry way too much and far too easily.  Occasionally, I sleep for long periods and yet at other times I cannot sleep no matter how tired I may be.  I lay down in my empty bed and I cry.  I drive past a restaurant where Lynn and I used to meet for lunch, and I'm tearful.  I sit at my computer at work, trying to focus and be productive, and my eyes well with tears.  Yesterday, Lynn and I attended a parenting class that's a divorce prerequisite here in Georgia.  It was a good class, although it's message was very simple and unsurprising:  don't bash your ex and always work together to put your love for your kids above your hatred for your ex.  However, as valid as its message was, they still presume you hate your ex.  I don't, and I think Lynn has gotten to the point of no longer hating me.  One day, I think we could be friends again.  We cannot be more, I know. We cannot be what we were.  I have the memories and emotions of the person she married, and the heart of the man who asked her to marry him over a decade ago, but I am not that same person.  I am not that man anymore.

Lynn and I met for lunch after the class and talked.  Although she knows I still love her, she also knows we both are really wanting the same thing in our futures.  "I'm attracted to men.  I want a man in my life," Lynn said when I asked yet again if she was still wanting or needing this divorce.  I nodded in understanding and agreeement, fighting back tears for the umpteenth time that day.  I had cried numerous times in the courtroom where our class had been held, and now tears were once again defiling my make-up -- this time in a busy cafeteria-style restaurant at lunch time.  I tried to hide my tears, not out of shame or embarrassment, but out of not wanting to make Lynn feel guilty.  I failed pretty miserably, but I continued my efforts.

Obviously, I knew that Lynn was still attracted to men, and that she wanted a man in her life again eventually, probably sooner than later.  By definition, I do not fit the mold of what she needs.  Yet, somehow, with so many people around me seeming to navigate their ways through this craziness to find successfully transitioning marriages on the other side of a gender change, I just thought we would somehow be one of these surprise success stories.  Our marriage was, after all, very good and strong and resilient in all other aspects.  Even though we'd been apart for months, had already filed all the paperwork, and were only awaiting a judge to come and sign off on everything, our divorce was not real for me.  I had not accepted the absolute reality that our marriage was truly and irreversibly over.  Charmed as so many other aspects of my life have been, and as much as I love Lynn, I have been secretly expecting a "Hail Mary".  After sitting through this parenting class for divorcing parents, and talking openly with Lynn at lunch after, I am finally realizing that a last minute save is just simply not in the cards.  And so I'm standing here now - at the threshold between depression and acceptance.  I can see I don't want to stay in the place where I've been stuck so long, denying the reality of my divorce.  I can see that the people who have made it into the acceptance room are not crying all the time, their souls are not in agony.  I know that's where I want to be, and I'm finding the will to get there.  I'm just not quite there yet -- but I will be.

The money for all the treatments, as huge as that is to me and most like me, is not the real cost of my transition.  This is the real cost of my transition - the family I had, the relationships I built.  Losing them is a price I have no choice but to pay now as I can not choose to be someone other than myself now that who I am is so clear.

"Are you okay?" Lynn asks as we get up to leave the restaurant, reminding me of my therapist, Erin, asking the very same question so many months ago.

"No, I'm not.  But I will be.  I know I will," I answer as honestly as I possibly can.  We pay our bill, and we walk toward the exit sign and the threshold that leads us out to the next chapters of each of our lives.