Archives for posts with tag: transwife

Page001The South doesn’t have the best reputation for being liberal or accepting. My own state of North Carolina has become somewhat of a police state and bills are being passed on a near daily basis that restrict our rights. Unless you are a white upper-class male you can’t vote and unless you live somewhere not North Carolina, you can’t get a safe abortion. But you can carry a concealed weapon into a bar. So that’s something (says the pacifist with the Quaker upbringing).

In the midst of all of this frustration with my home state, Liam and I traveled deeper into the south last Friday afternoon for the most unlikely of events: Camp GB. Through the Campaign for Southern Equality’s We Do Campaign, Li and I got involved with a rather ragtag group of renegades called the Gender Benders. They are a rapidly growing non-profit organization consisting of trans* and genderqueer folks—mostly young folks—who offer each other support, education, and resources for mental health and physical transition, to name but two. We have been blessed to attend a couple of legal workshops and Liam was invited to present his work on spiritual reconciliation, which was received with so much positivity that we carried a glow in our hearts for weeks. Out of that opportunity rose a discussion about a day-long retreat. That discussion turned into the possibility of a weekend retreat and Camp GB was born.

It was born five weeks ago, to be precise and it was built on a prayer and a spitball. There was dust in the coffers and no time to plan but these hard workers made it happen. My hat (you know, that straw fedora with the black band?) is off to the two original members/leaders and their respective partners. They embarked on a mad Internet fundraiser and in no time had all that they needed and then some to house and feed every single member that wished to join us, free of charge. In the end, the attendance, at its high point, was likely around 30 (the overall membership is into the 200s, but distance/jobs/short notice made it difficult for some). At Sunday’s family/friends meeting we saw numbers well into the 40s, but more about that later.

So there we were, two old fogies lugging our bags up the porch steps on a Friday evening. The air was thick with the humidity that would stick to us like Saran Wrap for the remainder of the weekend and the porch was already full of beautiful young people in all states of glorious gender non-conformity. I will admit that I was full of trepidation and experienced the first of several moments of self-consciousness. I would estimate that the average age of this group falls around 22 or 23, maybe even younger. We are twice that and then some. I was acutely aware of my silver hair and Li’s face well-lined with character. The camp was held at Ivy Acres in Piedmont, South Carolina, and is an RV Campground for those 45 and older. I imagined that the campers thought we were wayward old folk, heading up to the office to check in. I could hear the creaking in my joints.

Yet, as they welcome every single person they encounter, so too did they welcome us. They welcomed us as allies, as compatriots, as their pastor (by the end of the weekend, Liam was being introduced as such) and his wife, as friends and confidantes. I felt an overwhelming motherly love toward each of these incredibly brave souls. These are my heroes. Each of them–where they are now and where they have been and where they are heading. Some of them I had met, briefly, during one of the previous workshops or meetings; some of them I had seen only on Facebook. By the end of the weekend, I felt as though I had formed the first groping tendrils of bonds that will last a lifetime.

I’m not going to recap the schedule, but I will refer you here, should you wish to learn more. Suffice it to say that our time was jam-packed with a wide variety of offerings. We had meditation sessions and breakout groups and a Spirit Walk (which, sadly, I slept through as I had hit a wall of emotional overload and came away with a particularly nasty headache) and meetings to learn more coping skills (who knew that my own husband could still teach me a thing or two about getting through panic and anxiety?). I had the wonderfully good fortune to co-facilitate a partners and allies group, which I expect will lead to more support of my own ministry. And the food! Oh, the food. Dancing! Birthday cake! Team building exercises filled with laughter and camaraderie!

I could go on and on about what an amazing time was had by all, but what I really want to say is this: these people really are the bravest human beings on the planet. They are the intrepid explorers of the road far less traveled. They are, by turns, exuberant and introspective. Many are fledglings, just shaking their tentative wings in preparation for flight. Several are confidently pointing the way, having gone before and beaten back the underbrush. My own husband is early in his physical transition and it seems that testosterone becomes the great equalizer—at times I felt surrounded by pre-teen boys ranging in age from 20-50. I know that he felt a true kinship with these young men and women and those that blow my mind by being able to see their own fluid place on the gender spectrum that is neither one nor the other.

At the close of the weekend, we wrapped with a family and friends meeting that was facilitated by a local family therapist, Landa Basham. We had gone for a tour of the extensive and beautiful grounds and came back to see the porch, living room, and front yard filled with parents, friends, siblings, partners, and children. All of them there to offer various levels of support. I really had managed to hold my tears all weekend (unusual for me as I am a crier, but I think the constant laughter kept my weeping at bay), but I admit to misting up then. Growing up as “other” I never had this kind of support system, and I know my husband would have benefitted from a group like the GenderBenders. Their mantra has become “You are not alone,” and I felt that so keenly in that moment. While some family members were still expressing doubt and hesitancy and insistence upon using birth names and pronouns, some were not there at all.  Yet the overwhelming message was clear: no one was going through this stuff alone. Each of these pioneers has each other. A whole group of caring individuals that love each other unconditionally and accept each other where they are and where they’ve been and where they are heading.

I realize that this sense of magic will wear off quickly. We return to the real world and instantly we are confronted with life and all of its discrimination. I already see members, who just spent a weekend wrapped in the loving arms of acceptance and encouragement, struggling against self-doubt, self-hatred, deep depression, and even suicidal impulses. As a much older woman who has been there (yes, I have been there), I want to take each of these children (to me they are children, my children) and shake them by the shoulders. I want to tell them to look around at each other and remember that they have all that they need to succeed right here. They are part of the luckiest group in the world; a group that holds each other up and lets the light shine through the cracks and into the deepest, most hurt part of their souls. “You are not alone.” And, when they are ever in doubt that their lives will never be more than they are right now, they should look to these two old veterans and be reassured: it really, really does get better.

In the meantime, to my dear Gender Benders: I love you. I am grateful for each of you. You, you are my heroes.

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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.

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.