Sticks and Stones May Break Some Bones, but Words Can Break Your Heart

Yesterday I sat on the couch, in the living room of my future Mother-In-Law, whom I call by her first name but for the sake of this blog I refer to her simply as “Mom.” This has become an every Sunday ritual since December, when Laine moved his mother out of his home and into an independent living facility. (When you read that, don’t think Nursing Home, because it is NOT. This place is like the Ritz Carlton of independent living. They cook full meals for you, clean your apartment, there are social outings, game and movie nights, special events, they chauffeur you to the store, doctor’s appointments, Starbucks, etc. If I met the age requirement I would sign up for this place, no joke!) Every Sunday we visit mom, take her to lunch and make sure she has a minor stock of groceries in the pantry. (If I told you the weekly list you wouldn’t believe it, lets just say in the case of an apocalypse, she will be able to survive quite a long time on bread and jelly.)

A lot of people reading here might know that Laine is the primary caretaker for his mom, but I am fairly certain only a small few of you fully “get it” so let me start by explaining this part of the story. When Laine’s dad passed away, he made Laine promise to always take care of mom, and Laine has upheld that promise because Dad’s wishes mean everything to Laine. Initially that meant mom lived in Laine’s home and was underfoot 24/7. This arrangement was not ideal for a multitude of reasons, but it worked for a period of time. When Laine made key changes in his life last year, the decision to move mom into her own space was one of those necessary changes. This lightened some of the load on Laine and allowed him to return to HIS life for the most part.

From my personal point of view, I can’t imagine how 9 years of cohabitating allowed for any functioning. Within weeks of being together, mom was calling Laine at 12:15 at night, at quite the inopportune moment, asking WHY his car was not in the driveway. Please keep in mind here I am talking about fall of 2014, NOT 1979…Laine was 51 at the time! Along with incidents like this, Sunday morning happens once every 7 days, like clockwork.   And like clockwork I see the effects…

The alarm goes off at 8am, and it begins…. coffee, shower, get dressed, and hope to goodness Laine picks up the phone to make the call before it rings at exactly 9:15 when mom wakes up from her morning nap (don’t ask.) The call always consists of the same (what time will you be here?) (It’s the same every week, approx. 11am) a brief grocery list (also the same every week) and her restaurant request for lunch (which varies between three options.) Then we continue to ready ourselves, and the kids, and get out the door by 10am, Laine stressing the entire process. His whole self is shut down and unrecognizable, except I have come to recognize him on these days, it’s his Sunday mood and I know and accept this now.

We arrive by 11, and if we are even a few minutes late the phone is ringing and will continue to do so until it is answered. (Where are you?) This only stresses Laine out more.

We pick mom up, head to lunch, accomplish groceries or errands and return to her apartment. Here we have time to pass, as mom gets slightly huffy if we leave early, although she typically entertains herself on her iPad while we pretend to watch whatever she has put on the TV.

Yesterday the two youngest children were with us. They were playing on the floor in front of us and Laine and I were sitting on the couch. I’m uncertain HOW the conversation started but I tuned in immediately when I heard mom using “Joyce” and “girl” while talking to the 5 year old. The child was using Laine, he and boy appropriately. Mom was arguing with the child!

Mom has been difficult on this topic since day one. As I addressed in another post, Laine has told her multiple times that he is man. Mom pushes back with “I gave birth to a girl” and refuses to address him as Laine. Even with all the children utilizing proper pronouns and name, mom won’t cave. Now here she is arguing with our 5 year old about it. REALLY??!?!?!! The kid gets it. The kid isn’t caving, and fortunately knows and understands as much as possible for a child her age.

Listening to this exchange, which we ended by signaling to the child she is correct and to let it go for now, gave me two things to think about. The first one being I cannot WAIT for the day we are in public and Laine has definitive facial hair (which is beginning to grow in areas already btw!!!) and mom introduces him as her daughter (which she likes to do.) The individual on the other end of this conversation is going to think mom is certifiably nuts!

My other thought came about as I listened to mom’s words while I sat on that couch. I watched Laine and the affects they had on him (which I bet he might try to deny, but I can read him, and I caught them.) Laine is a 52-year-old man. He is a grown adult, he has a successful career, he has a fiancé, we have kids, and we have a solid life. When mom sat there (this time and any other time in the past) and repeatedly stated, “SHE is a GIRL” “HER name is JOYCE” “You are NOT a man” “I DON’T have a son, I have a daughter” those words affected Laine. A 52 YEAR OLD ADULT, cut down at the knees by his mother, someone who should unconditionally love him…now imagine the impact of those words on a 15 year old youth, who can’t walk out of mom’s apartment and put her words aside for another week. A youth who is going through the same transition Laine is going though, the ups and downs, the emotional impact and sometimes struggle, the transition that requires support from others…and they have no choice but to repeatedly hear those words from their parent, meanwhile knowing how THEY feel and WHO they ARE! It frustrates and angers me to watch the impact these interactions have on Laine, someone I want to protect and whom I love so deeply. It breaks my heart to think about the impact an interaction similar to this must have on a youth.

This journey is emotional enough as it is. Parents, guardians, family should not be the ones making it any more difficult. I understand that they might not always understand, but they need to at least be cognizant of their words and the impact they can have. If they don’t understand, they should seek to change that, ask questions, join a support group, talk to the individual with an open mind and just for a minute put themselves aside. We are constantly telling the individual in transition “It is not always about you…” but those of us not on the journey need to remember it sure as hell is not always about us either! A mother’s words have the ability to push their child too far into that dark space. A father who refuses to recognize his daughter for who she is because she was labeled male at birth, has the ability to literally kill her with his words.

No wonder the homelessness and suicide rates are so high among the LGBTQ youth. If a woman, who relies solely on her adult child as her primary caregiver, can speak to that adult child in the way mom speaks to Laine, I can’t even imagine the interaction between an unsupportive mother and an underage youth. I can squeeze Laine’s hand and comfort him to remind him I am right there beside him and that mom’s words are unimportant and don’t change who he is. I can remind him that he doesn’t need her approval to be WHO he is because he is 52, grown, and she has NO grasp on his life. What I can’t do is make the words and the pain they cause go away.   I can only do my best to counteract them, and then we’ll start all over again next week, because he promised Dad he would.

I can’t hug every individual who has had to face the damaging words from a family member and remind them that they do matter. I can’t give them each a space to be WHO they truly are, although I wish I had that ability and capacity. For anyone who might read this and is dealing with those words of non-acceptance, please know you DO matter. YOU are perfect as whomever you are, however you identify. You are loved and you are YOU whatever that looks like. Please don’t doubt yourself. I have heard the words from the outside and I watch the impact, and if they hurt to watch from out here, I can’t even imagine what they feel like in there.

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Different Paths….Similar Stories

I feel that when I come here to write, it should be focused on some major event, deep thoughts or a really good “guess what happened today” story. However those things don’t happen daily and the fact is, our lives are really no different than yours. We are two adults raising 4 children and creating a life together. We have work, volunteering, pets, ups, downs, a wedding to plan, bills to pay and at some point we eat and sleep. The fact that we have to take an extra 5 minutes out of every Thursday morning to give Laine a shot of testosterone, is only a very minor factor in a world full of normal chaos.

That being said, I haven’t been here in a few days…did you miss me? (Bulgaria I’m fairly certain YOU did.) Life has been crazy this past week, or rather life has been normal. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, no major life changes took place, yet we haven’t really sat down all week.

We arrived home from Philly on Sunday evening. Within 2 hours, 2 of the 4 children arrived back home. By 7 am Monday morning, all 4 were reunited. Keep in mind this is summer vacation at our house, so there is consistently someone who is bored, whiny or being tortured because they are asked to take out the trash.

Laine returned to work on Monday morning, and my part time job required max hours this week. Between kids and work, I am also devoting massive hours to organizing the Phoenix Pride Silent Auction for the upcoming Gala. What I’m saying is, life cuts into my writing time. 🙂

After being at the conference in Philly last week, I walked away with a few thoughts. First major thought…Laine definitely made the right choice in surgeons. We sat through multiple presentations by multiple surgeons from all over the country. Dr. Curtis Crane presented the very last surgical presentation we attended. We went into the presentation already scheduled with his office for an August consultation. We walked out 110% certain this will be the only consultation we need and will be able to move forward from there without consulting with any other doctors. His professionalism, yet welcoming humor and personality eases this process for the patient and their support providers. His process (NO DRAINS!!!) is his specialized and perfected technique, which is proven to successfully shorten the pain and healing time. His extensive training shows through in his presentation and in the photos of his work. (Yes, this is a huge benefit of attending a conference like this where multiple doctors present themselves.) After the presentation we introduced ourselves to his business partner Dr. Satterwhite, the Dr. that Laine’s phone consult is scheduled with. For dinner that evening we went to Hard Rock, and guess who was seated at the table next to us…Dr. Crane and Dr. Satterwhite. Upon leaving the restaurant I interrupted his dinner (Sorry Sir!!) to thank him for an awesome presentation and for putting so many of Laine’s questions at ease even before his one on one consult. He stood up and shook both our hands and didn’t even mind that I caught him right in mid-bite of salad.

One of the most impactful workshops for me was presented by Denise Maynard. She presented a workshop for partners of Trans* individuals. This type of workshop is a minority at the conference, but she did it and she did it well. I only wish it was a double block or a part one, part two, two day workshop. She begins by telling her story about her partner transitioning (FTM) and how it impacted her life. There is some minor small group conversation and then it turns into a Q&A open conversation for anyone who wants to speak.

As partners, we have to transition throughout this process too. Some of us handle that transition easier than others. There are a variety of ups and downs, many of those within the same day, or even within a few hours of one another. As we discussed in the workshop, it is similar to raising a child. The hormone treatments cause parallel puberty effects, the changes in some cases are like starting over with a newborn, in which you don’t know what to do, because they don’t come with an instruction manual. You have no choice but to dive in headfirst and hope you know how to swim.

I listened to many other partners speak; I believe they were all cisgender women, but their partners were a mix of MTF and FTM. A few of them were still very angry, and for some it has been awhile since their partner began this process. They felt betrayed, hurt, and grieved a loss of who their partner was prior to beginning this journey. I sat and listened to the anger in their stories and I almost felt guilty. I never went through this phase with Laine’s transition. I was never angry with him, never felt like he lied to me, never felt the loss the others spoke of. Is this wrong of me? I don’t know. But I can’t force myself to feel something I don’t.

I attribute this lack of negative emotions to the fact that his transition began so near to the beginning of our relationship. Yes, we knew each other for almost a year prior to becoming a couple, but we truly got to KNOW one another when I started asking those questions (see the“Becoming Laine post). The changes I saw within him almost immediately once this journey began, left no room for any feeling of loss. I truly feel I didn’t suffer a loss, in fact I only gained the REAL Laine. I gained the person he has been all along and no one has ever allowed him TO be. I have no reason to feel any sense of loss, because since that day he came out to me, it has been an every growing mountain of authenticity and of him giving himself fully to me in every way possible without any holding back, no hesitation. I have seen the changes within him and his level of happiness and confidence is so much greater than before, I can’t imagine him NOT being on this journey.

So no, I didn’t experience any grief or loss throughout this process. Is it wrong, I don’t know, but it’s my path and for me it is right. Am I saying others are incorrect in their paths when they DO suffer that feeling of loss or grief; Of course not!! We all have different stories to tell. We all process things differently and deal with emotions in very different ways. For those partners who were sitting in that room and expressing their anger, I’m certain they found comfort in others who have gone through the journey on a similar path. I found comfort in the stories of anger of strangers mis-gendering one’s transitioning partner. (A huge pet peeve of mine and it’s good to know I’m not alone.) I related to the stories of dealing with the transitioning partner’s hormonal mood swings where one minute you want to kill them and the next you want to throw yourself in front of a moving train to protect them if that’s what it takes. I am almost certain everyone in that room related to at least one other person’s story in some way, shape of form.

That is why I tell our story here. If this story, OUR story, impacts just one other person…if one other individual can relate and it makes a difference in their world, then I have been successful. One day you will come here to read this blog and you will leave with a feeling that you are not alone. Someone in this world, (maybe you personally know Laine or me, and maybe you don’t) shares a similar piece of your story, no matter how large or small. When you leave with that feeling I hope you will remember how it feels to not feel so alone in this great big world and then maybe you too will tell your story, in whatever format that looks like, and you can pass on that feeling to someone else.

“Excuse me SIR, would you like a drink?”

We made it to Philadelphia! I’m fairly certain this is one of the most trans* advanced cities in the U.S. Today City Hall raised the Trans* Flag for the first time in city history, how cool is that??? Not to mention they have a city ordinance in place that includes gender protection and they are working diligently with their local police department to implement and uphold policies for interacting with the Trans* community.  That being said, even with as forward moving as they are, they still face the same issues as the rest of the country, a Trans-woman was murdered here just last month. There is still so much work to be done, it inspires and exhausts me all at the same time.

The keynote speakers today were powerful. The youth speaker reminded everyone in the room that we each have a story and every story counts. The main keynote, Tiq Milan a transman from GLADD….amazing!   Enough said. I don’t even know where to start with explaining the words of this man. He touched on the fact that although Caitlyn Jenner is a wonderful individual, Caitlyn is not the norm for mainstream Trans-women. The majority of trans-women don’t have access to the best surgeons and even if they did, they don’t have access to the funds to pay them. Caitlyn might get the conversations started within the media, but it is up to the mainstream community to normalize these conversations and make them realistic and true to life.

Not going to lie, I am in the minority here at this conference. As a cis-gender female, I had a brief moment where I thought, “Do I belong here? Is this ok, or am I invading a sacred space?” But when Tiq talked about telling our stories and utilizing social media as a very powerful tool to do so, Laine squeezed my hand and gave me that look that said “He’s talking to you!” My thought of “Do I belong here?” immediately dissipated and I reminded myself that as a SOFFA and an Ally, I am a part of this too. If Laine’s story though my eyes can impact just one individual, then I have made a difference by documenting his story.

The last workshop of the day focused on changing legal documents. I don’t know if you have ever thought about how many legal documents you might have that contain your name and/or gender, but when you write them all down, there is more than a handful. In order to change anything, you must begin with an official court order. This takes time and money. Every state is different but in AZ it will cost over $300 to file the court application. After appearing in court on whatever date the court assigns him, (which could take a few months depending on their availability) and presenting his case as to WHY he wants his name changed, Laine will receive an official court order of name change. From there he goes to the MVD with his court order and a letter from his doctor, at which point he can then change both his name and gender marker on his drivers license. Keep in mind the MVD must be done at least 2 days after the SS Office, but no more than 10 days after he receives the court order, so he’s working on a tight timeline. Once these items are completed he can continue on to update his passport, bank accounts, credit cards, and any other documents in which his name and gender appear.

The thought of all the steps involved in this process is a bit overwhelming, but when you break it down it becomes manageable if you take it one step at a time. I have to remind him of this and remind him I am here to help him through this process. We’ll conquer it together and before he knows it everything will be legal and there wont be any more explaining the double names or why the gender marker doesn’t match his presentation.

On this topic, yesterday was a pretty cool day for Laine when it came to travel. During the TSA check-in, the agent did a double take, trying to figure out why the “F” on the driver’s license didn’t match the male presentation. (Photo has been updated but the gender marker comes with a name change, which is as I outlined above, is a process we plan to begin as soon as we return from Philly.) Getting onto the plane, the airline attendant who was scanning boarding passes was calling everyone by Mr. or Mrs. and then their last name. When it was Laine’s turn, the attendant saw his legal (female) name on the document, saw his male presentation, and then skipped the pronoun completely and just utilized his last name. This made us laugh as we walked down the ramp to board the plane. While on the plane, the flight attendant came by to offer drinks and used “Sir” when referring to Laine. We both got overly giddy by this…if only the attendant had been a waitress, there would have been a $100 tip in it for her!

At only 5 weeks (today) on ‘T’ the physical changes are becoming more apparent to the general public. Even though I know there are days he feels like the changes are taking forever to appear, looking back over the past 5 weeks I can see the changes already taking place and I know he sees them too. Before we know it we’ll be headed to San Francisco for Top Surgery, a stranger referring to him as “Sir” will no longer make us giddy but instead become the norm, and I’ll certainly be pestering him to shave his “manstache” in order to save my own face from scruff burn when he kisses me. 🙂

My response to your “personal letter,” although I know you’ll never read this…

Dear “Not so anonymous letter writer”

Laine received your letter a few days ago. I have been writing and re-writing a response to you in my head since the moment I read it. He is a better person than I am. He read it and brushed your words off. I read it and instantly became angry, and continue to do so every time I think of it. I hope with all my heart that I never meet you face to face because I would have some “un-Godly” words for you.

He knew exactly what to expect when you informed him that you would like to write him a “personal letter.” He warned me what to expect so I wouldn’t be surprised by it. When I found it in our mailbox I instantly felt sick to my stomach. I wanted to tear it up and throw it away, pretending it never arrived, but that isn’t my place. So I gave it to him.

It is people like you, which I wish I could protect him from. I watched him read your words and although he brushed them off, I know they have to hurt. They hurt me and they have nothing to do with me.

You are entitled to your beliefs and your “religion.” However, your religion is not something to hide behind because you don’t understand something. It is not an excuse for lack of information or education. The very last line of your letter is proof that you lack information about the transition process. You will probably never read this letter, since you don’t read this blog, as that would make Laine’s experience a reality. Well guess what, this is REAL. This is his life.

You stated in your letter that you “can’t imagine what it feels like to walk through this life feeling that you’re someone else deep inside.” Since you admit to not knowing what this feels like, or the struggles it causes within ones mind, heart and soul, who are you to judge??

What you don’t understand is the journey Laine is on. He has not made the personal decision to “become” Laine, he has always been Laine, just by another name. He has spent his entire life telling himself to “sit down and be quiet” and to be what society expects, instead of who he is. It is people like you that have forced this upon him, not allowing him to embrace his true self. Can you imagine that?   What he HAS made the personal decision to do is to allow himself to be what and who he has always been, and for once he is telling society to sit down and be quiet.

There is one portion of your letter that is correct…you wrote to him and said “you are the most beautiful you that God created.” You are absolutely right about that. Laine is beautiful both inside and out, and God (in whatever form) should be proud. You should see the light in his eyes when he smiles now. They sparkle and shine a brighter blue than before. You should hear his laugh and feel the true happiness behind it. It’s no longer a surface level laugh, forced and uncomfortable. Step back and watch him look in the mirror and no longer turn away from it immediately because he is ashamed of what he sees. Instead the mirror is now his friend. He’s comfortable with it and he doesn’t hide anymore. His confidence makes him even more beautiful than before. He stands a bit taller and speaks a bit louder. The dark shadows don’t creep in like they used to, haunting him from the inside out. I’m certain “God” can see what I see, and I wish you would open your eyes and see it too. But unlike you, I’m not here to tell you what to do with your life.

No matter how many letters you write and address to “Joyce,” Joyce will never read them, but Laine might and he will do so knowing that God (in whatever form) loves Laine, for he has always been Laine, just by another name.

Sincerely,

Loving Laine (aka: the fiancé)

Man-Brain…its really a thing!

The best way to navigate something like transition, no matter if it is yourself, your partner or another loved one going through it, is by educating yourself. That being said, we are packing up to head to Philly on Wednesday. This trip is for a three day Trans* Health Conference. Looking over the workshop list again this morning, I am excited to learn as much as we can fit into three days. There is a workshop being taught by Laine’s potential surgeon, and one specifically for SOFFAS (partners). There are show and tell workshops regarding surgical options and workshops specifically for FTM’s transitioning over the age of 40 and 50. One of the most important things I am looking forward to getting out of the conference is the conversation that comes out of workshops and the experience, and flows over into dinner and drinks just between the two of us. I personally feel that a very important part of this process, while in a relationship, is communication. Laine and I typically talk about everything…and these types of experiences put some conversations on the table that might not otherwise arise.

The first month of transition is officially complete. Laine has been on testosterone for 32 days now. Over the last four weeks the most dramatic changes have been mood swings. Things seem to be balancing a bit better now but we’ll need a few more weeks to know for sure. He hasn’t experienced a “crash” since swapping to weekly shots. After the week three shot, his mood spiked the opposite direction of a crash and he had to figure out how to bring himself down from an “angry/aggressive” mood. The last week and a half has been fairly even and maintainable without any dramatic swings one direction or the other.

The other major change has been his sex drive. Ok, so it isn’t a MAJOR change, as his drive was high before…it has however doubled from the already high drive that it was and I am trying to keep up.   I truly now do believe without a doubt that the male “sex obsession” is no doubt hormone related. There are days I have to remind him that my eyes are “up here” and not in my cleavage when having a conversation. I just shake my head and laugh at him. Everything they say about the ‘T’ turning a grown (52 year old) adult into a 14 year old boy, its completely TRUTH!

The other reality we have discovered…”man brain.” Its really a thing!! No joke. Here’s perfect proof. Last week when Laine picked up my engagement ring from the jeweler, he looked at the ring and thought “Is that the one I ordered?” Man Brain kicked in and he decided that it must be because it had the right diamond in it and after looking at multiple rings they all begin to look alike. He brought it home without questioning the jeweler. If you follow this blog you know what happened next. He proposed, the ring was too small, I put it on anyway, 24 hours later I had to have it cut off and I was ring-less for one week. Fast forward from the proposal weekend to yesterday.

We’re sitting at lunch across the street from the Chandler mall. I’m bumming out because I KNOW my ring is across the street but I’m fairly certain I’m going to have to head home without it for at least a few more days. Almost on cue, Laine’s phone rings. It’s the jeweler. He explains to Laine that MY ring is ready and there was a mix up. At this point we’re confused, I’m ecstatic because my ring is ready but I have no idea what they mean by a mix up.

We finish lunch, and head over to the mall. I get to the jewelry store and the jeweler recognizes me immediately and says “Hi!” I say “Hi” He says “So there’s a really long, almost funny story….” He goes to the back and returns with my ring. However this is not the ring I had cut off my hand a week ago. This ring is even more amazing than the first one.   This ring is the ring Laine actually ordered for me. I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped for a moment when I put it on. It fit perfectly. Of course it does, this is the ring that was actually sized for me.

The jeweler explains what happened. Someone else ordered the “other” ring, within a day or two of Laine placing his order. When the other ring arrived in their store, it was somehow mixed up and given to their jeweler to place the center solitaire which Laine ordered into it. They tracked the ring from that point by owner of the solitaire, hence calling Laine to pick it up and giving it to him. Neither Laine nor the jeweler noticed it was the wrong setting…insert that “man brain” phenomenon here.

It just so happened that I had to have the other ring cut off so it was in their possession when MY ring arrived in store. At which point they looked for the solitaire that belonged in it and realized what had happened. Since they had the “other” ring in their repair line at that point, they swapped my solitaire to MY ring and then called us to pick up the RIGHT one.

Fortunately, we are able to verify the solitaire is the correct diamond. Laine ordered a Firemark diamond. If you know (or Google) anything about them, each diamond has been specially stamped inside the stone (with a secret method that DeBeers wont release the “How to” method to anyone.) Every stone has a unique number in it that can only be seen under 50x magnification. Usually diamonds are looked at under 10x magnification…so it’s a pretty cool tracking method. Needless to say we were able to compare the stone in the RIGHT ring to the number on the documents we have and they match. This time after seeing the RIGHT ring, Laine recognized the setting as well and no longer had the internal questions he had with the first one.

This entire experience has made us laugh, a lot, and yes I cried a bit last week when I had to have a ring cut off my hand…but through it all we learned a few lessons. For me, things happen for a reason. There was a reason I had to get the other ring cut off and hand it back to the jeweler within 24 hours of receiving it. As Laine posted on his Facebook page, he learned that when he has those gut feelings, he needs to speak up and ask questions. The internal questions are probably the right questions to ask out loud. No matter which ring is on my hand, the important part is that Laine is the one by my side and I am by his. We will forever have a memorable engagement story to tell, and as long as neither of us forget which venue we decide upon and we both show up at the right place on October 2, 2016…then life will continue to be perfect.