Archives for posts with tag: transgender

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.

2gyc5d3There has been a groundswell of controversy surrounding the elective cosmetic procedure, labiaplasty. For those of you who might be living under a rock, labiaplasty is a “beautification” process designed to surgically alter a woman’s labia—sometimes for health reasons (I’ve seen blog comments made by women who claim to have suffered yeast infections from labial hyperplasia) but more often to appear, what, non-threatening? In researching this post, I even came across an article offering instruction for suggesting labiaplasty to a spouse (oh, no you didn’t!).

So I recently read this article on Jezebel (they might be pro-woman but their authors need to refrain from using the word “retarded” when what they mean is “stupid,” ‘cause that’s just dumb), that thoroughly denounces the practice of labiaplasty and all who undertake it. My first reaction, of course, was “of course!” In my “up with women” frame of mind, I immediately thought “death to the natural vulva (not vagina, the writer needs an anatomy lesson to go along with a lesson in politically-correct terminology) haters!” I couldn’t imagine anyone knifing into their genitals for any reason.

And then I remembered my husband. And my friends. And let’s get back to that in a minute, shall we?

In my ongoing effort not to respond from a knee-jerk point of view, I sat on my hands for a minute. I thought about body modification in general. My nose is pierced and I have one tattoo with a couple more planned. My rock star preacher husband has several tattoos and several more planned. He is also working on stretching his lobes with a kit I bought him for Christmas (that titanium will look great with a double-breasted, pin-striped suit behind the pulpit on Sundays). Most of my friends are inked and pierced and although I don’t know of any with a doughnut implanted in their foreheads, I wouldn’t be that surprised. So there’s that. We willingly distort our own flesh in an attempt at being both unique and *othered* but at the same time, fitting in with those like us.

And I thought about my ongoing quest to diet in an epic attempt to make my curves more palatable in a size 2 society. I can’t remember the last time I either wasn’t actively dieting, thinking about dieting, or planning a new diet. How is labiaplasty any different? Fewer people (I hope) see your special place, but we are all wont to be “the same as” whether we like to admit it or not. I want my stomach to be flat, you want your “wings” to be a little less flappy. So who am I to judge?

Let’s get back to that genital mutilation thing. In the worlds I travel in, going under the knife, while often prohibitively expensive, is not that uncommon. Few among my friends and loved ones in the trans* community wouldn’t trade in their genitals on a new set, an improved set, in their minds. Who would be the first to cast a stone in their direction? Certainly not me. If I had an extra $20,000 lying around I’d be making my husband’s appointment tomorrow.

So I’m not going to be one of those that jumps on the anti-labiaplasty bandwagon. There are plenty of others who can get riled up for this cause and there are plenty of other causes for me to get riled up for. I’m okay with my own hooha. It’s not perfect, but it only matters to the one who matters (me). (Now you are all sitting there wondering what it looks like, right?) In the meantime, perhaps someone can figure out an excess labia donation program for my many transwomen friends who would trade places under the knife any time.

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.

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.

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.