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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.

ImageIn my late twenties and early thirties I was somewhat of an asshat a big shot. I was all about appearances. I had a great job as a consulting art director in a big city, I had a beautiful house, a hot red sports car, and I only wore designer clothes. I chaired meetings and sat on judges’ panels for awards shows. I worried constantly about what others thought of me. I imagine the general consensus was not particularly favorable.

As the years have gone on, I’ve discovered that there is so much more to life than material possessions and outward appearances. I’ve tailored my job so that I work odd hours from home, leaving me wide open to do volunteer work at church, my son’s school, and various neighborhood organizations that I consider to be worthwhile. I am involved in political activism and social justice works. I am a member of several terrific organizations working toward change in our society. I sing in the choir and serve on several church committees. I also get to take time off to spend with family and have discovered that is the most important thing I can do.

A few weeks ago I was having an identity crisis of sorts. I was overloaded with laundry and cleaning and trying to figure out what to make for dinner yet again and I wound up throwing a pretty fabulous pity party for one. It seemed to me that I had been reduced to “wife” and “mother” and that’s all there was. I took stock of my daily routine and it suddenly felt so humdrum to me. The gym, the freelance work, the chores, the shuttle bus I run for my son’s activities, the endless grocery shopping and meal preparation…. I felt that Liam had this exciting life filled with grad school and speaking engagements and preaching and his transition. Everything in his life seemed to be about what might be, what could be—and everything in mine seemed to scream “this is what you have to look forward to for the next 20 years.” I felt lost and without purpose and ridiculously sorry for myself.

As so often happens when I mope about and wallow in my own mudhole of self-pity, I began to get bitch slapped upside the head with messages from the divine Creator. We attended a funeral for a friend’s mother that weekend and one of the pastors quoted a line from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?” She talked of Helen’s love of even the most banal. She truly appreciated everything she was given at that time. I began to feel ashamed of my fretting and fussing.

Then today our pastor delivered a sermon about redefining who you are based upon the fact that, in light of our present (and future) economy, the American Dream is crumbling around our ankles. He spoke of letting go of that which we once held dear—all the possessions and stuff that used to mean so much to us—and embracing other ways of being in the world that are more meaningful. He talked of home and feeding and caring for one another. He talked of being present in ways that are about doing rather than acquiring. He talked of my life (just to me, of course!) just as it is now and made me feel grateful and joyful that I have been blessed with an abundance of gifts. Glorious non-tangible gifts that speak to my heart and nourish my soul.

We have a lovely house, it’s cluttered and warm and comfortable and in need of repairs that we’ll get to when we have time. I have a really good steady job that barely pays the bills and affords me lots of time to be there for my son when he most needs me during these formative years. I get to meet and work with amazing people in my call to ministry and my call to action, and I get to feed my family and stretch my imagination and budget every time I put dinner on the table.

I am not in physical transition like Liam, but I do feel that I am in somewhat of a spiritual transition. I don’t care much about what others think except that I do want to honor what is appropriate and good in the world. I’m done with trying to be perfect, I’d rather just be growing. I will never be rich or thin or particularly beautiful but our needs are met and I’m starting to make friends with my curves and my steel gray hair. I imagine I’ll still have times of self-doubt and a moment or two of “Bitter? Party of one!” but I’m learning, I think, to find grace in the mundane. I’m learning to realize life while I live it.