Archives for category: Partners in Progress

ImageIt all starts with a plain, white ribbed sleeveless undershirt (this prevents chafing). Then there is a binder. It is made of cotton and spandex and is pulled taught with Velcro on one side (breast tissue is flattened, destroyed). The next layer is a white short-sleeved undershirt (there are a dozen in the laundry each week). A polo or button-down shirt comes next (loose, oversized) and this is usually topped by a sweater, vest, or light jacket (often at least one size too large). In colder weather, a heavier jacket becomes the last of many layers. This is how my husband gets dressed in the morning.

It is painful to watch. It is more painful to hear him try to breathe after a long day of binding (forget walking up hill–he wheezes like a long-time asthma sufferer). He struggles with his appearance in the mirror and checks himself from side to side, front, back, back, front again, and side to side. He asks whether I can see any breast tissue. “Do I look like I have tits?” (This question is asked repeatedly throughout the day.) No. No, honey, you don’t. He appears dubious, but it is true. The average person would never know. They would never know that he was born female and those that do know, assume he is post-operative. His breast tissue is, luckily, virtually non-existent. But to my husband? These breasts are monstrous.

Layering has been a necessary part of his routine for as long as he can remember. Layering makes him safe for public consumption. This heavy-duty binder is a fairly new addition (ordered from a company overseas early last summer) but it was preceded by Underworks undershirts and before that, the dreaded sports bra.

I ache for him every time he dresses to go out. He is self-conscious and filled with doubt. He worries about passing, he worries about his safety. I worry for his frame of mind. After 50 years of living in the wrong body, he is *thisclose* to comfort. *Thisclose* to having an outward appearance that matches the guy he is on the inside. But *thisclose* is still $6000 away.

Liam has insurance through the graduate school he attends full-time, but his school has not yet joined in on the ever-growing bandwagon to cover sexual reassignment surgery (or gender affirmation surgery, as I like to call it. It’s a GAS, GAS, GAS.) While the AMA considers SRS to be medically necessary for those who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, private health insurance companies still consider this surgery to be elective. As the sole provider for our family (and a freelancer to boot), I am unable to front the funds for my husband’s surgery. We just don’t have it. So I do what I do best: I get creative and I problem-solve.

In this case, I designed a t-shirt and started a month-long fundraising campaign to reach our $6000 goal. At this point we are halfway through the campaign and we’ve raised just over $600. Clearly we have a long way to go. However, both of us are amazed at the outpouring of support; and not just from our friends as we have had orders from perfect strangers who have shared the link to our site. The campaign page tells us that over 150 people have shared the link on their Facebook pages and we’ve had over 500 visits to the booster site. If that actually translates into sales, then we will cover all of the surgical expenses (we will still need to cover travel expenses as we are nowhere near the doctors who excel at, and specialize in, top surgery for female-to-male transsexuals) and Liam will be able to start a new fund as part of his non-profit organization, GRASP (Gender Revisioning and Sexuality Pathways), to help fund surgery for other trans* patients in need, as well.

The t-shirt simply says “Radical Love.” It encompasses everything about what Liam believes, teaches, and preaches. He is a huge proponent of radical love and justice–about meeting people where they are and loving and accepting them no matter what. He embodies a true spirit of radical love for others even as he cannot love and accept his own physical form yet. He cannot yet meet his own body where it is. He cannot continue to allow his own physique to betray him.

I will continue to be his biggest supporter. I have witnessed, first-hand, the miracle that is top surgery. I have seen a few hours under the knife transform a loved one’s state of mind. I have seen friends blossom into the person they were meant to be all along. I have seen them shed the binders and walk freely in the world, unencumbered by duct tape and bandages. I want this for the man I love: to be the man he was meant to be in the body he was meant to have. Unbound and whole.

 

tumblr_m4hnevXrah1qa70eyo1_500Less than two hours ago, the Supreme Court of the United States released their decision that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. They have also struck down Prop 8, which means that same sex marriages in California will now be recognized on both a state and federal level. As someone who has participated for two years in peaceful actions for the We Do Campaign sponsored by the Campaign for Southern Equality, I should be jumping up and down and shedding tears of joy, right? Except, I’m not.

 

For one thing, I live in the State of North Carolina. In May of 2012, the citizens of our state stuck a lovely little addendum onto our constitution called Amendment One. Amendment One denies any union between same sex couples. Our beautiful wedding ceremony in 2011 was just that, a ceremony. It remains as the single best day of my life and I feel married in the eyes of God, my church, and my family and friends. But I still check the “single” box on all forms put in front of me. While “wedded,” we are not actually “married.”

 

But, you say, you have a “husband,” your spouse is male and you are female, so why can’t you get married? Right. My spouse identifies as male, presents as male, lives as male…but that North Carolina driver’s license? It says otherwise.

 

Today I feel very much othered. We are no longer a lesbian couple. We are not recognized as a heterosexual couple either. We drift in this purgatory; this space between one and the other, happy for both, belonging to neither. I want to be legally married to my husband. What I want more is for his major medical insurance to cover the sexual reassignment surgery he must have in order to change his birth certificate. What I want is an alignment with others who get this feeling of not belonging. What I want is so much broader than the marriage equality we’ve been fighting for these last two years.

 

Just a few years ago, we would have been holding hands in solidarity with our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters. We would be crying tears of joy and embracing each other in celebration. Am I ungrateful for this decision? Of course not. But I stand as an ally and no longer as a lesbian looking for equal rights. Like it or not, my situation is different. It has changed. I am a queer woman in a queer relationship, and queer rights? Not quite on board yet. Queer is odd. Queer is uncomfortable for people. I’m not lesbian but I’m not straight. I’m queer and I’m trying to get used to it.

 

We have made a pact that even when Liam’s gender marker has changed, we will not get married until all can. But I feel as though the country is moving faster than we are. What happens when everyone in this country can get legally married but us? If we get married as a same sex couple, we are not being authentic to my husband’s gender. Additionally, what happens to that marriage when his gender marker changes? Is it declared null and void? Do we marry again as a heterosexual couple? Where are the folks in the gay and lesbian community who will stand up for the trans* couples and say, “hey, it’s all good. We’ll wait for YOU, now!”

 

Oh, I see them…they are all celebrating their good fortune. It’s okay, we’ll just wait here and hope they don’t forget us.

blowing-smokeThis past summer my husband and I attended a conference aimed at people in transition who were involved in the Faith community. Often, people will bring their spouses along for moral support and this was the second time we had attended this conference together. Because I, too, am involved in trans activism, we decided to divide and conquer the various workshop offerings; Liam (my husband) attended “Being and Becoming Men, ” for instance, while I went off to “Being and Becoming Women”. One of the offerings that I could not pass up was a “Partners in Progress” discussion. I have found that there is a dearth of information for those of us who are partners of people in active transition (or even partnered with those considering transition) and I was excited to hook up with like-minded individuals who might also be seeking discourse around our partners’ journeys. It was with excitement, anticipation, and a spring in my step that I entered the well-lit conference room on that late August afternoon.

There were two panelists, both women, seated at the front of the room. I took my place on the second row and noticed two men seated along the wall. It quickly became obvious that the women on the panel were partnered with these two trans men, and as I looked around the room I saw that most of the attendees were accompanied by their partners in varying stages of transition. Liam was off doing his own thing and I was doing mine and I didn’t give the dynamic another thought until someone asked the panelists if they had any difficulties with their partners’ transitions.

The response was astounding. They went on and on about what a “gift” they had been given to accompany their partners on this journey. They were thrilled. They were “blessed.” They were happy just to be support persons for their husbands.

They were full of shit.

And I called them on it.

I’m all about being honest and let me tell you something, this journey is not all wine and roses. Now, I wasn’t saying anything that I wouldn’t have said if Liam had been sitting right next to me, but I honestly felt that the response would have been somewhat different if their partners were not sitting in the same room.

It is not that easy. I love my husband. I do. And this is not a question of “Me thinks thou dost protest too much.” I find that I love my husband more every single day. But transition? Sometimes it just sucks. I celebrate every single milestone, I thrill to see the changes happening, I love to be part of giving him his shots of testosterone and accompanying him to the doctor’s office, and I couldn’t be happier knowing that he is finally beginning to be at peace with himself and comfortable in his skin. But really, it is hard sometimes and anyone who tells you otherwise is just blowing smoke up your ass.

I struggle with identity issues: am I still lesbian? Can I claim that? How do I wrap my head around “bisexual” when I’m not attracted to bio-males? Straight? I don’t want to live stealth, I’m too much of an LGBTQ activist. I struggle with all of the changes Liam is experiencing: I have the equivalent of two boys in puberty in my house…who can say that’s easy? I struggle with feminist issues I never knew I had: typical female roles that I’ve always taken on without issue in my lesbian relationships suddenly become fraught with political overtones when you are the female in a heteronormative (and I hate that word but when you are seen by the world at large as a male/female couple then heteronormative it is) relationship; my whole identity seems caught up in “wife” and “mother” and those words taste bad in my mouth like copper-tinted blood on my tongue. I struggle with staying the same while he grows and changes and has a whole new “him” to look forward to.

There are so many issues that come up. Some sneak up and bite me in the ass when I least expect them to. Some hit me full in the face with gale-force winds and I am knocked senseless by the enormity of my reactions. Some are lurking around dark corners and slide into my dreams at night so that when I wake in the morning I am dazed by a new uneasiness that lays upon me like a pall.

I could not get those women to admit, in front of their husbands, that they had any problems whatsoever. I felt angry with them for not affirming my insistence that we, as partners, have our own lives and should find our own voices. I am more than a sidekick to my superhero husband. I am finding my way in a world that has no real place for us; we are not even a counterculture, a subculture, a culture clash. I feel certain that they shared some of the same issues and concerns and I wish that, as visible partners, they had felt comfortable enough to express themselves honestly so that attendees (particularly the partners of people in very early transition) would feel vindicated rather than ashamed of their feelings. My hope is that next year I’ll be sitting on that panel and you can bet that I’ll balance their rainbows and glitter and unicorns with a little dose of well-meaning frankness. I want partners to be able to say, “yes, this is hard” and “oh my god, this sucks,” and “thank you for getting it” because sometimes that’s just what I need. Someone who gets it and lets me love my husband with all that I am but be frustrated at times, as well. In the end, I don’t want to be led by the blind, I want some signs that let me know what lies ahead. While the road may be bumpy at times, I’m still along for the ride.