Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Family Ties

Ah the sweet taste of exclusion. I had almost allowed myself to forget. That’s a dangerous tendency often born of complacency in the wake of a successful transition.

This weekend marks the first time I have been officially excluded from a family gathering. Family from all over the country traveled to my town to celebrate a wedding. They all received invitations. I received a personal note telling me, in gracious terms, why I was not invited.

It stings.

I have declined to attend some recent family events, mostly because I was worried about stealing focus from the events’ intended honorees (with a family spread across the country, my coming out was a remote activity, so my re-appearance was bound to cause a stir of some kind). But in those cases at least I was invited, and my schedule as much as my intent would have prevented me from attending regardless. This is the first time a formal barrier was erected explicitly to keep me out.

It’s a jarring disconnect from my everyday life. I’m not accustomed to living as a second-class citizen. My friends don’t treat me like one. Nor do my neighbors. Nor the parents of our kids’ friends. Nor their school. Nor my co-workers. None of these people seem ashamed to be associated with me.

And that gets at the heart of what hurts in this case. In places where I’ve been given a chance, I thrive. People go out of their way to let me know how much they value me. Some of them know my history. Some of them don’t. Once the awkwardness of transition subsided, it really hasn’t mattered.

But in my family it’s another story. In that case people still go out of their way to let me know, in various ways, that they’re ashamed of me. The fact that I have changed from a suicidally depressed wreck, into a happy and successful person is ignored. The fact that the former was a straight man, and the latter a queer woman seems too much of an impediment to overcome.

I realize now I’ve been living in a bit of a bubble. I don’t get mis-gendered in public any longer. I no longer worry about going to places I would have previously avoided out of shame or fear. I live in an area of the country which is abnormally LGBT-friendly. As a result, I’m unaccustomed to being singled out as “different” let alone unwelcome.

Things have changed for me over the past year. I’m no longer living the life of a shame-filled trans person newly hatched from my closet. Now I’m living my life as Diana. Period. The fact that I’m married to another woman is a problem I’ll let the bigots to seethe over. I simply enjoy the love of my spouse and our children. I enjoy my friends, my work, and am finally rekindling old hobbies that fulfill me creatively. I’ve got a pretty good life going… finally! And knowing how close I came to ending it all… well it colors the whole world brighter, and makes me appreciate life all the more.

I’m not sure my life has room for family members who seem, intentionally or not, to view me as the miserable, wretched creature I felt myself to be while in the closet. That’s not me. And I don’t play along with that role any more.

What’s more, I’m not willing to associate with anyone, no matter how closely we might be related, if they expect me to assume a second-class role. I’m not ashamed of who I am. In fact, now that I truly know who I am, I have come to believe I’m a pretty cool person.

Unlike most others, I had to walk through hell just to become myself. I threw open the doors to my darkest fears and most shameful secrets… and then I broadcast them to the whole world. I offered my heart on a platter to anyone who wanted to take a stab – and believe me, I felt every dagger. Then I rebuilt myself from the bloody remains, showing the world who I had been inside all along, with no promise that anyone other than myself would accept the person I finally became. The experience nearly killed me. But I finally made it through.

My family may not understand that journey. They’re sure as hell not proud of me for it. But that really doesn’t matter. I’ve got a dignity they can’t touch. I’ve got love in my life their blood can’t match.

Sometimes, unbeknownst those who would exclude, they’re not really keeping others out. They’re keeping themselves in. Which side of the line sounds like freedom?


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For those of you following this blog you might have noticed a gradual decline in posting frequency. The odd thing is, I really haven’t noticed it much. Which is to say, I haven’t missed it. Which is also to say, I don’t see this posting desert of a blog changing any time soon.

I speculated about ending Salad Bingo about a month ago. I’ve decided that’s not what I’m going to do. Every now and then I’m sure I’ll have a trans related essay pop out of my keyboard, and I’d hate to lack for a place to post it. So the blog will remain. But the posting will be – at least for the moment – on an extended hiatus.

But before I head off into the business of getting on with my life, I suppose a bit of a retrospective and some closing thoughts would be proper.

I started Salad Bingo a little over a year ago, but it feels like a lifetime ago. At that time I was looking forward to the beginning of my Real Life Experience, under the WPATH Standards of Care and the experience of coming out in my workplace. I had previously completed a couple of years of therapy in preparation for that point, but I was hardly “cured” yet.  I was still full of so much fear, doubt, and shame.

I was constantly battling expectations of total failure. With every step forward, I half expected to lose everything. But I had come to accept that standing still was no solution. Only the feeling of progress toward an authentic life held the demons of suicidal depression at bay. And so I rode the roller-coaster of emotion that came with each necessary but terrifying step. A lot of those emotions were the basis of my earlier posts here, but some were so intense I didn’t even try to give them words.

As the year progressed I broke down walls, coming out to friends and family alike. In the process a number of dormant relationships were rekindled rather than broken. And while I envied the support many others received from their parents, few others had a partner as consistently supportive of their transition as Ellen was for me. In the process our relationship – and our family – has grown stronger and closer than ever before. Over the same period of time my frosty relationship with my parents gradually warmed as well.

Coming out at work was a huge challenge for me – emotionally, professionally, and potentially financially. But I’d favorably compare the support and professionalism with which the matter was handled by my company to anyone’s. It went from the main issue dominating my life into normal and routine within a shockingly short period of time. The support of my colleagues and management never wavered a single time.

And so I reached a point this past spring where it became apparent to me that I had begun to experience life on the gentle downward slope of a successful transition. For the first time in my life the life I was living felt like it “fit.” The overwhelming sense of wrongness and gender dysphoria, which had once been so strong it almost killed me, had retreated to a couple of isolated areas which are well on their way to being corrected (e.g. “the surgery,” which is being planned in private rather than blogged about in public).

The main challenges I see looking ahead are no longer specifically transsexual challenges –  they’re human challenges. I have some serious catching up to do in learning to live a healthy and fulfilling life as a mom, spouse, sister, daughter, professional and friend. But I finally feel like I’m properly equipped for the task. As I confront these things I am finding the greatest insight and camaraderie by reading and interacting with non-trans people  – most often but not exclusively other women. In saying this I mean no disrespect to the trans community. In fact some of the friends I hope to keep with me moving forward in life come from that same community. But it won’t be our transsexual past that holds us together going forward so much as our shared humanity, finally unleashed from its transsexual prison.

In short, I have experienced a lot, shared a lot, and learned a lot in the preceding year. If my words have helped anyone else with their own struggles, I’m very pleased. I’m grateful to those who read my words, and especially those who took the opportunity to comment or e-mail as a result. Having people to interact with as I’ve gone through this challenging time has helped me quite a lot.

So that’s all for now. I may post again on occasion, but I’ll set no expectations around frequency. I’m not deleting anything. The old posts will remain. I’m still writing quite a lot, but not about the topic of this blog, so it won’t be posted here. If anyone feels the need to reach me, the e-mail address in the right side bar is your best bet.

As the saying goes, this is not adieu but au revoir.

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Today is our 19th wedding anniversary. It’s been a wild ride from the start. All marriages have their challenges,  but I don’t know of many which have survived as many as ours.

We started dating in the summer of 1989, but our real relationship was actually born months later when we attempted to break up. Both of us had announced to friends that we were going to end the relationship. We walked into a room to have “the talk.” It was the first truly honest conversation we’d ever had. During the course of it we discovered that, far from wanting to break up, we wanted to date this cool new person we had just now met for the first time. Friends who had expected and even wished for the breakup were baffled, and so were we. But from that moment on nothing was going to keep us apart.

Though they’re likely to deny it today, both of our families were against us getting married. They said we were too young – we were only 22 at the time. But there were plenty of other objections. E was still in college, while also working as a line cook in a restaurant. I had just graduated college, working for barely more than minimum wage while trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. My family was devoutly Catholic, and E was protestant. We had no money in the bank and a mountain of college debts. We were living together – against our parents wishes – in the first floor of a dilapidated old house we wistfully recall as “the house of plague.”

But we had decided, patiently but persistently, that we belonged together. The more anyone else objected or tried to keep us apart, the more fiercely we clung to each other. When we decided to marry it was almost a defiant gesture aimed at all of those who didn’t want to take our relationship seriously.

Our lives had already become effectively married well before the wedding. E was the first person to ever accept me completely. She was the first person I ever came out to, even when I hardly knew what to call the thing I was coming out as. There was no secret about my life I couldn’t share with her, nor in hers she couldn’t share with me. She accepted my weirdness, as I accepted hers. Rather than trying to “fix” one another we accepted each other as we were. Since other people would only recognize the depth of our relationship if we had a ceremony and legal certificate, we did the wedding thing (only after, it should be noted, my parents flipped out when they discovered our plans to elope).

Because we married so young we we’ve seen each other change and grow SO much over time. We’ve been there through each others highs and lows. We’ve shared amazing joys and gut-wrenching sorrows. Sometimes we’ve felt like the perfect couple. Other times each of us has wondered whether we even belong together. The rises and falls are roller-coaster wild and unpredictable but, so far, every time it seems like we’re heading over a cliff we get to the bottom and chug right back up again.

My gender transition presented a new and formidable set of challenges for us.  The emotional stress of transition pulls apart lives and marriages like almost nothing else, and we were not spared any of it. It has caused us to question our relationship about as fundamentally as anyone possibly can. And yet, gradually, we came through it together feeling closer than before.

However, as was the case early in our relationship, there are once again many people who want to break us apart. The notion that we’ve been together for 19 years, have three children together, and insist we want to stay together hasn’t prevented friends and family from repeatedly advising divorce. And that’s just the people who actually know us.

Now that we’re presenting as a same-sex couple there are fresh hordes of people who want laws passed against marriages like ours. Because I’m transsexual there are also some, including those from the church I was raised in, who want to declare our marriage annulled because I’m obviously insane, and so is anyone who would choose to stay with me. Still others want to consider our marriage invalidated because they don’t believe any marriage which survives gender transition can possibly be a “real” marriage on both sides of the divide.

I wonder if all the skeptics and doubters have any clue how strong a relationship can be.  It’s not that it’s easy. Marriage takes work. But ours has been battered and tossed a lot more than most, so we at least have a pretty good idea about what can’t bring it down.

We used to believe it was our honesty that kept us together, but looking back that’s really not true. We’ve lost and regained our ability to communicate honestly many times, just as we’ve lost and rediscovered our friendship more than once. The marriage persevered through it all.

I think the real thing keeping us together through every challenge is that nameless thing we discovered all those years ago when we first tried to break up. Whenever we seriously ponder ending our relationship it just doesn’t make any sense. I don’t just mean it would make us sad, though surely that is true. But also it literally makes no sense. We fit. Out of all the people in the world we somehow found each other. The odds against it were staggering. The challenges were there from the start, but so was an amazing sense of belonging that we don’t experience with anyone else.

Just as there are no perfect people, there are no perfect marriages. Ultimately there are just marriages that work, and those which don’t. Ours is a marriage that just works, and the explanations are beside the point. We belong together and we are together and those two things don’t come together every time a couple says “I do.” But it did for us and I treasure it.

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I’m heading out in a moment to see my sister, nephew & nieces. The weather for the trip looks good. The health of both families looks good.

The mood of the kids before a 6 hour road-trip is about as expected. It’s going to be a challenge to keep them from each others’ throats for that long a period in a confined space. My plan for combating this consists of snacks and movies. God forbid I have to resort to the, “I’ll pull this car over!” gambit.

I’m a little anxious over seeing everyone. The last time they saw me was around June of 2009. A lot has changed since then, for both of us.

Anyway it’s a short trip. And in the modern age one is hardly ever truly disconnected from the Internet and its associated communities. I’ll  be away, but maybe sort of around as well. I wish everyone a good weekend all the same.

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A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. – Hannibal Lector, survey enthusiast.

So this evening was something a little different. I participated in a focus group for a national study on parenting. My particular focus group was trying to get some GLBT representation into the study. And my personal presence was there to try to make sure the T in that equation wasn’t yet again a “silent T.”

There are those who believe GLB people have almost nothing in common with T people. I think the fact that we get beat up (sometimes only metaphorically) by the same people gives at least some indication that we’re facing some similar challenges. Parenting is definitely an area where I find a lot in common with GLB folks.

It was really only an LBT focus group, based on the survey teams’ inability to find male volunteers for the group. By my unofficial count there were 6 L’s, 1 B, and myself present. A bunch of women talking for an hour and a half about their families and kids and parenting.

I came away very impressed with the strength, resilience, and adaptability of our families. Unless the focus group was atypical, the closeness of GLBT families seems stronger than the norm. Unconditional love and acceptance coupled with a defiant resilience could be used to describe all of the families represented in the group. These are families forged in adversity but who refuse to let that fact define them. Proud while aware of their vulnerabilities. And, despite continual social castigation from some sectors, not remotely apologetic for their existence. Good company to be counted among, in my book.

We had a single mother, a couple of divorcees with children from previous relationships, multi-racial adoptions, anonymous sperm donors… really the diversity represented was pretty wide. But we had quite a lot in common.  Many times one parent would offer something, and another would pick up on it and expand while all around the table everyone else knowingly nodded their familiarity. Other times we admired and complimented unique solutions some of the parents had devised to commonly felt problems.

This was a good but strange experience for me. I was brought up in such a different kind of family. We didn’t have the closeness or the unconditional love. We were not allowed to appear different from other families around us. E and I have been consciously raising our kids in a very different way, but without much of a model to go by. Tonight felt like affirmation that we’re on the right track and not alone. (For the record, I think E was already pretty confident about this.)

The downside to my participation in the focus group was that I missed my son’s big history presentation tonight.  I really wanted to be there, but E tells me she took plenty of pictures. Oh the irony. Let me skip out on an actual parenting experience to talk about parenting, if you don’t mind. Yes, I do suck, now that you ask.

But you know, this is real parenting. Not the ideal kind you think you’ll be when you’re awaiting your first child. It’s all about trade offs, and trying to give them everything they need while accepting that you have your own needs. And sometimes it’s realizing you won’t be able to be two places at once. And that your relationship with your kids should withstand such things if it’s got a strong enough foundation. If you’re doing it right they’ll feel your love even without your physical presence. Learning to feel like a good parent at such moments may be a bit tougher.

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And now for some family news.

I’m planning to visit my sister next week. It will be the first time we’ve seen one another in two years. Quite a lot has happened in the past two years so that should prove interesting all on its own.

We’ve had an interesting relationship over the course of our lives. She was born two days shy of being exactly five years my junior. Throughout our childhoods everyone insisted we looked so alike we could be twins, except for the age difference. She remembers me as the “nice brother,” in contrast to our mutual older brother, her childhood arch-enemy within the family. As we grew older she had a lot more in common with me than she ever found with the older brother, which lead to a closer relationship between us.

One of the things that has been difficult for her about my transition is that it challenged her notion that we had ever been truly close. She used to think we were, but now she sees that wasn’t true. And she’s right. I couldn’t be truly close to someone without exposing my gender “issues,” and our relationship never really lent itself to that kind of leap of faith.

She’s the baby of the family, accustomed to being the spoiled center of attention. You listen to sisters like that. You talk about their lives and their problems. If you ever start to mention your own problems you discover how quickly they turn the conversation back to themselves without even realizing they’ve done it. That’s charming when they’re little. Often exasperrating when they’ve grown up. But it has also proven extremely awkward when it came to my transition. There was no denying that this was big news that deserved attention, but she had little ability to communicate with me on such a basis. As a result, despite her often stated intention, we haven’t spoken much about it. And at times that has been a bit of a barrier between us.

She was the very first family member I came out to. I had hoped at the time, and still hope now, that we can become closer. I could really use a sister who was more to me than a Christmas card and occasional phone call. But quite often she felt uncomfortable standing up for me when my parents were in the midst of denial.  She has a very hard time standing up to our mother, and so when my mother was at her coldest toward me some of that bled into our interactions. At that time she said some pretty hurtful things to me which are hard to forget. But I’m going to try. If transition teaches one lesson louder and clearer than any other it’s a lesson about second chances and the opportunity to change.

Besides our kids get along wonderfully.  I’ve missed the ability to get my kids together with their cousins. This is also an opportunity for that. Her youngest just turned three years old, and has never known me as anything other than Aunt Diana, though so far we’ve only spoken on the phone. The other kids have never seen me as their aunt before, but they’ve been calling me that on the phone for the past year. That should be a fun reunion in its own sake.

Anyway, the trip will be a short one. She doesn’t live that far away (in Neenah, Wisconsin – oddly and coincidentally a former destination spot for gender reassignment surgery, performed by the now retired Dr. Eugene Schrang). If the weather doesn’t cooperate (always a possibility in the Upper Midwest this time of year) we’ll probably put it off a couple more weeks and try again. But I think this trip means too much to me to put off much longer.

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The Middle Child

There are many things in life that shape the person you become. Those of us who transition become acutely aware about the enormous role gender plays in our lives toward that end. For a while it seems to us like gender is (to quote Homer Simpson out of context) “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

But as we move through our transition we move past this monochromatic view of our lives. It’s not helpful to focus upon gender as the explanation for everything. Sure, heading into transition we often feel like living examples of how badly gender issues can screw up a life all by themselves. But our lives are so much more than only gender. And these other things need attention for all the same reasons they need attention in the lives of everyone, trans and non-trans alike.

One huge factor in shaping who we become is our relationship with our parents. My own parental relationship has varied from strained to almost non-existent over the course of my life, but it feels like we’ve recently made some progress which gives me hope. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I might do or say to break down the barriers between us. And that mental exercise is telling me a lot about how we came to our strained relationship in the first place.

I appear to have a textbook case of Middle Child Syndrome. This syndrome seems so interwoven with my trans issues when it comes to relating to my parents that it’s hard to focus on either one in isolation of the other. But I’m beginning to think that when I came out as transsexual to them I had it backward. I should have started working with my parents on the middle child stuff before I hit them with the trans stuff. I think it could have explained a lot all by itself, and could have lead quite naturally into explaining that “oh, by the way I’m also transsexual.”

I say this because Middle Child Syndrome seems perfectly designed to be amplified ten-fold if the child in question is transsexual. If that’s not readily apparent, allow me to illustrate  symptom by symptom:

Lack of Belonging
The middle child may not feel a sense of belonging to the family in the same way as other children. He/she struggles to be close to the family because of feeling ignored and ‘unwanted’. Sometimes, the middle child also feels sandwiched between the other siblings. It is important as a parent, to not let such feelings overcome their middle child.

I felt this keenly, but it wasn’t simply about being ignored.  I was absolutely certain that I would NOT be wanted if they ever found out about my secret gender struggles. I felt like an impostor, undeserving of belonging to a family which I was sure would cast me out if they knew who I really was.

Low Self-Esteem
Since a middle child feels that he/she is basically unwanted, he/she may have a very low self-esteem. There is nothing worse than to feel not needed and it can badly affect even an adult. For a child, it has a serious bearing on his/her overall development. Such a child will continue to suffer from a lack of self-belief on growing up. A middle child’s confidence may be shaky due to the feeling of being overlooked upon, by his/her parents.

Due to the gender struggles my self-esteem was already chronically low from about the time I became aware that something was “wrong” with me. Then, as the description above notes, add in all the feelings of being unwanted that come so naturally to middle children.

My older brother loved sports, excelled in school, and could never seem to do wrong in my parents eyes. My younger sister was the adorable charmer who seemed born for the stage, to the delight of our music teacher mother. I was constantly pushed to be more like my brother while being eaten up with envy about the life being lived by my sister. And I felt equally bad about myself looking in either direction.

It is, usually, seen that a child suffering from middle child syndrome is not too extrovert or social. There is a tendency among such children to become loners in life. They feel like an outsider in the family and therefore, become a recluse in other areas of life as well. Such a child believes in spending time with him/her self rather than others, because he/she feels uncared for. And so, he/she tries to create a world of his/her own and lean on his/her own self for support.

If a transsexual ever describes their life prior to transition without using a form of the word “lonely” they’ll be the first. Loneliness is built into the closet of every transsexual. We feel like we don’t belong anywhere, because we know we’re not really the person other people believe us to be. This makes us lonely in every crowd. Which leads to reclusiveness. Which was already my tendency owing to my birth order alone.

A curious side note to this is that I was always motivated to befriend others I perceived as fellow outsiders. As my sister likes to joke, my friends were all “freaks and geeks.” And you know, I think my life is actually richer for that. Still, it did no favors for my relationship with my rather conventional parents.

No Sense Of Direction
The children suffering from middle child syndrome also lack a sense of direction. There is certain disillusionment among them and they struggle to find the real direction of their life. They are not comfortable confiding in their parents, not even in their brothers or sisters. This is not to say that all middle children turn out to be failures in their life. Only those suffering from this syndrome have a tendency to lack any direction in life.

I remember talking to my friends during my high school and college years about where we all expected to be in ten or twenty years. And I remember that I couldn’t imagine it. I mean I literally could not do it. I tried to project myself into the future along any number of potential paths and I kept drawing blanks. I didn’t tell anyone about this. I followed the in-the-closet code and made stuff up to carry my part of the conversation. But it really did disturb me that I literally couldn’t imagine my own future.

Now some of this is surely due to the fact that I kept trying to imagine myself as a happy well-adjusted man, cured of all those silly thoughts about being a girl. My brain could never leap that divide because those “silly thoughts” happened to be hard-wired into my brain in a way these projected male futures were not.

But the other part has nothing to do with gender. It was just the kind of aimlessness you see in a lot of middle children. Nothing grabbed me as a direction in life. In contrast my older brother focused like a laser-beam on becoming a doctor from the seventh grade on, and never wavered from the path. My sister veered wildly in her own direction, but always with passion and conviction in the moment. In both cases my parents played large roles assisting the other two, while I felt like I dare not ask for the same because of…

Trust Issues
A middle child, on feeling ignored and un-loved, may have trust issues. As a child, we first learn to trust and completely rely on our parents, but a middle child fails to do that and consequentially, faces such issues. Such a child has difficulty in opening up and confiding in anyone. However, not every child suffering from middle child syndrome has a distrusting attitude. Sometimes, such a child is pining to trust and lean on someone.

Good lord, does that above section describe me. All of it. Even the parts that contradict, because my coping with the issue changes over time. Sometimes I keep everyone at a distance for fear I’ll be burned and betrayed yet again. Other times I have put my trust in others almost recklessly, because I need to feel like I have someone to trust in my life.

But I have never felt like my parents were among the people I could trust. And some of that is surely based upon my inability to confide in them about my lifelong gender confusion. In my mind my parents were there to judge and to shame. I saved my trust in unconditional love for my relationship with my dog. And I’m not joking.

Lest I give the wrong impression in all of this, I’ve moved past the finger pointing “It’s all my parents fault!” stage. I don’t think my parents intended or even realized that they fell into a classic parenting pattern for alienating middle children. And I’m absolutely positive that they had no idea that a transsexual child might be super-vulnerable to this stuff while remaining completely undetected.

Regardless, I have the worst relationship with my parents of either of my siblings by far. These days some of this is based upon my coming out, but most of it is not. And I really don’t want to continue like this for the rest of our lives.

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