Archives for posts with tag: FTM

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.


couple_300-300x200This past weekend my husband and I found ourselves with three childless days while our son backpacked in the North Carolina mountains. We planned meals out, caught up on Netflix movies, slept in on Saturday and Sunday, and spent lots (and lots) of alone time. It was truly glorious.

On Friday night, after dropping our child off with his scout troop (no hugs from mom lest he be embarrassed in front of the other guys), we met friends for dinner at a favorite local Asian fusion place. Liam wore a sweater vest over a button-down shirt and jeans. I wore a white blouse, loose over skinny black corduroys, with a huge paisley scarf draped around my shoulders to guard against the early Spring chill. We arrived early and, after determining that our friends were not yet there, stood outside as other patrons arrived in droves.

It seems that Friday night turns this usually quiet restaurant into a real hotspot for the middle-aged heterosexual set. Couple after couple in their 50s and 60s arrived by SUV, Volvo, and Mercedes. As I stood there, I realized that we fit right in. Liam and I, in our late 40s (very late 40s), with our graying (okay, mine’s pewter) hair and our laugh lines and crow’s feet, looked just like everyone else.

The scene reminded me of a similar one that played out a month or so earlier. On our way to a transgender law workshop in South Carolina, we stopped to grab a quick bite to eat at Wendy’s. As we were leaving I said to Liam, “Honey, do you notice that no one ever stares at us anymore? We look just like any average, middle-aged couple.” His response was “Middle-aged??? Wait…AVERAGE???”

And here we were again, sharing a meal with a lovely couple from our church that we hadn’t, until that evening, had a chance to socialize with outside of committee meetings and potlucks in the fellowship hall. A straight couple with three older children, we relied on them for parenting advice, good conversation, and insight into our congregation and into Li’s grad school experience, where the wife held a job working for the dean of students.

Whenever the waitress came by she called Liam and our friend “sir.” His wife and I were always “Ma’am.” Liam referred to me as his wife and they joked about good marriages being based on agreeing with whatever their spouses said. I looked around the room and was, again, struck by the fact that no one gave us a second glance. Liam, after eight months on testosterone, no longer looked out of place, different, “other.” We didn’t register as a lesbian couple anymore and I began to feel guilty. I felt that somehow I had betrayed all of my years in the lesbian community, my activism for LGBTQ rights, and my own coming out at age 19 with Liam (then Lisa and my first female-bodied partner).

Liam and I agreed before his physical transition that we would never live stealth, meaning we would never try to blend into the heterosexual “normative” and we would always be open and honest about his trans status. However, I didn’t see myself jumping up and breaking into a mournful rendition of Chris Williamson’s “Sweet Woman,” or wandering from table to table to be certain that everyone knew of Li’s “transsexual medical history.” I kept my mouth shut and we continued to (ahem) bask in the passing.

It is true that we celebrate every time Li gets “sir’d” instead of “ma’am’d.” Out in public, he is viewed as male 99.9% of the time now and that suits him just fine. I still struggle with being seen as the average, middle-aged wife of this average, middle-aged guy. I liked standing out and bucking the system and making people question their assumptions about what lesbians look like. But…I’m married to a trans guy. I’m not in a lesbian relationship. I’m the average middle-aged wife of a not-so-average middle-aged guy. I understand that this will happen more and more often. This is what Liam wanted: to be seen as a man. I get that and I am thrilled for him. I suppose I will be more comfortable with these roles as time goes on and I imagine that sooner or later it will just be commonplace. In the meantime we will content ourselves with continuing trans and LGBTQ activism and being out and visible in our community and our daily interactions. Do strangers at our local Asian fusion place have to know that my husband started life as a girl? Absolutely not. But for the sake of authenticity, others do.

Middle-aged? Yes. Average? Not on your life.

WonderWomanV5This is not my first time at the transition rodeo. My ex, who shall remain nameless as he lives stealth (meaning he is not out regarding his transition but rather lives as a biological male in a heterosexual relationship), began transition from female to male just a few months into our barely two year relationship. When Liam decided to transition, after a year or so of our reunion (we first dated in college nearly 30 years ago), I began to joke that my superpower was turning my girlfriends into men.

One needs a sense of humor about these things.

I didn’t intentionally date FTMs. In fact, when my ex and I got together it was the result of a personal ad on Yahoo: women looking for women. And Liam was still Lisa when we reunited; as far to the left of butch as possible but still female-identifying at the time.

It would be horribly egotistical of me to think that I was somehow responsible for the transition of two of my partners. However, I wasn’t surprised at either and I welcomed, embraced, and encouraged their journeys to live their authentic selves. I remember when I first met my ex, I noticed a distinct male energy about him even before he first hinted at not feeling at home in his body. We did all the research together and I came into this relationship prepared with a wealth of knowledge about transition. Liam and I talked fairly quickly about his ideas of being third gender and walking between worlds and that eventually led to a long process of discernment that has culminated in the decision to become what he terms “a new man.”

So of course I am often asked why I don’t just date men. Men who are born men. My friend Roxy recently said, “Though the gender identity of males born as males and males born as females is the same, their expression and the life that informs that identity are not.” And therein lies the difference. Males born as females have lived a life similar to my own—their experience forms an outlook on life that mirrors that in which I live. While I am not uncomfortable with biological males, I am much more comfortable with males born as females. I appreciate that, at least in the two instances I have first-hand knowledge of, they lived as lesbians and have had a somewhat (more so in Liam’s experience than in my ex’s) second- or third-wave feminist point of view (without all the gucky stuff that goes along with first-wave feminism but Liam has already addressed that here so I’ll move on).

After my ex and I broke up he told me that he felt we were meant to be together in order to lead each other home. He is at home in his body and my acceptance and support helped make that possible. He has a new life and a new love and I couldn’t be happier for both of them. I was lead back to Liam and I can’t imagine being with anyone else. Ever.

While I still struggle with my own identity (because I somehow feel I need a label), I am comfortable being the wife of a new man. No matter his gender expression, I am comfortable primarily because he is who he always has been and really, I have loved him all along. Superpower notwithstanding.

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.