Show and Tell

 

This post is strictly photos showing the compression binder and at the very bottom of the post is the final result immediately after the binder was removed.  (6 days post surgery)  Please be aware that the last photo does show the nipple graphs and the incisions although the incisions are  covered with surgical tape.

Compression Binder prior to The Big Reveal.IMG_2622IMG_2623

This is the effects of the binder on Laine’s skin.  This photo was taken after I had been holding the elastic up off of him, allowing his skin to breathe for aprox. 10 minutes.  I could only give him this reprieve in certain areas of his back of course, as to not compromise his front chest area.   IMG_2625

 

The Big Reveal.  This photo was taken only moments after the compression binder and the gauze were removed.  You can still see the Dr.’s markings on his skin and slight swelling and bruising.  The tape will fall off within 2 weeks and the nipples will heal within 2-3 weeks.  IMG_2629

“The Big Reveal,” and the week leading up to it…

There are times I come here to write and I have nothing to say, or rather nothing that I feel is worth saying.  Then there are other days I come here and I am so overwhelmed with what needs to be said, that I don’t know where to start…today is one of THOSE days.  I have decided that the best way to go about this is to break it up a bit, so over the next few days you may see multiple posts come across this page.  I apologize now, but by breaking it up into sections, you can pick and choose what you want to read or view, and I can take a break in between.

That being said, let’s work backwards, as yesterday was “THE BIG REVEAL.”

On June 5, we flew from Phoenix to San Francisco, full of anticipation about what the next week would hold.  This was the last time Laine would have to explain to TSA WHY his chest appears as an anomaly on their body scanner when they press the male button prior to a scan.  This would be the last 48 hours of wearing the grey tank top style binder that has become a part of him over the past 18 months.  This trip would be the end to those painful moments of looking in the mirror and wanting to quickly look away because he was unhappy with what he saw looking back, his body not matching his spirit.  On Tuesday June 7, Laine had top surgery scheduled with Dr. Satterwhite, a partner at Brownstein and Crane in Greenbrae, CA, just outside of San Francisco.

We rented a very comfortable studio apartment from a wonderful lady named France.  (I highly recommend this location, to anyone looking to stay near Brownstein and Crane/ Greenbrae Surgery Center.  The apartment was homey, affordable, comfortable, and France was so sweet and very hospitable.  If you Google “Kentfield Haven” you will find the apartment available for rent on VRBO, Air B&B, etc.  I will add her personal email address here when I get it from her.)

Monday was the pre-op appointment, which was fairly uneventful but necessary.  Dr. Satterwhite took a final look at Laine’s chest, and we were given instructions about surgery and what to expect the following day. We utilized the rest of Monday by taking a ferry from Tiburon into San Francisco, Pier 41.  (This made me extremely happy, as I have a slight…and by slight I mean MAJOR…obsession with the city… and with fresh Clam Chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.)

Tuesday morning we arrived early for surgery, but ended up waiting about an hour before they began prepping Laine.  After three IV sticks, (testosterone has changed his easy to stick veins into tough and complicated which refuse to bleed.) he was hooked up, gowned up and ready to go.  They took him into the OR around 9am and surgery began around 930.  By 12:30 we were back at the apartment.  Yes, you read that correctly, three hours between the time surgery started, surgery was completed, recovery was monitored and we drove home (granted it was a 4 minute drive.)  Now the fun began…and by fun I mean battling with the extremely tight, chest compressing binder for one week.

Laine was given Vicoden for pain and Zofran for nausea.  Fortunately, he only had very little of the nausea and only needed to take a total of two Zofran.  The pain on the other hand, although it wasn’t extreme, it was extremely uncomfortable.  At the pre-op appointment and during surgery prep, multiple nurses informed Laine that the compression binder would be the worst part of it all.  Due to the fact that Brownstein and Crane doesn’t utilize drains post-surgery, the compression binder works to control swelling and to encourage the body to reabsorb the excess fluids.  Think about having your underwear band too tight on your waist, cutting into your flesh, and when you pull it away from the skin the elastic has left a deep, raw impression.  Now imagine that starting just above your belly button, and covering your upper torso, up to just under your armpits.  Feels good huh?

The week went fairly smooth, we hung out in the apartment for a good portion of the time (Grey’s Anatomy marathon helped pass the time) and we did manage to get out a bit for a change of scenery.  One day we went to a small town, two screen movie theater which was neat compared to our massive AMC and Harkins we have here locally.  Both Saturday and Sunday we were able to meet up with two different sets of friends for lunch.  It was wonderful to get to meet people I have only seen though Facebook, women that Laine introduced me to.  Both sets of women being amazing couples who I hope to get to know better with time and visit with again soon.

Sunday morning, we woke up looking forward to the final countdown of the last 24 hours of the compression binder.  Our excitement quickly turned to heartache when we checked breaking news on our phones (a normal daily routine for us).  We turned on the TV to get caught up on the early morning happenings in Orlando.  I have many thoughts and words about the tragedy in Orlando, but that is one of those things which deserves its OWN post in the near future.  It should not simply be thrown into the mix and quickly breezed over.  I will leave it simple here, and ask you to return to read about our reactions and emotions later, however it was a key turning point (of emotions) for the week, so I needed to be sure it was included in the story of our surgery experience.

Monday finally arrived and after packing our suitcases and loading the car, we headed to see Dr. Satterwhite for the post-op appointment.  This time we entered the exam room excited and anxious.  In just a few minutes we would see what Laine has waited a lifetime for, a male chest.  Kate (the nurse, who is super sweet I might add) came in and began to remove the binder and dressings.  (At this point I was slightly afraid Laine might fall in love with Kate right then and there, merely because she removed that binder and he could breathe again.)  J

As the gauze was pulled away from his chest, I was intrigued with what was being revealed underneath.  I even got up off my chair and went over for a closer look.  Kate removed the stitches around the nipples and explained to us that the nipples (which had been created from Laine’s original nipples, shaved down from original size to create a male nipple) would take 2-3 weeks to heal.  During surgery a natural scab is created out of a piece of Laine’s skin, placed over the recreated nipple.  Bacitracin is applied twice a day and the nipples are then covered with a gauze square.  Eventually this “scab” will peel off and his nipples will be healed.  When Kate finished up she told us Dr. Satterwhite would be in shortly to check the incisions and she left the room.  I looked at Laine and asked him how he felt.  At this moment, we both teared up and emotions overflowed. We managed to pull it together before Dr. Satterwhite entered the room.

We were told the tape covering the incisions which follow a very natural pec muscle line, would naturally fall off over the next two weeks.  We were taught how to apply the ointment and dress the nipples.  We were given after care instructions and reminders of limitations for the next few weeks.  And then we were sent on our way.  Laine stepping out into the world for the first time with his new male chest.

We returned home that evening, surviving an eventful afternoon of flights being delayed, rearranged and rerouted from a nonstop flight (SFO to PHX) to a flight which included changing planes in San Diego. After 9 days away, we were glad to be home and it was refreshing to sleep in our own bed, even if it did mean the dogs would wake us up at 5am and life would resume right where we had left off the week prior.  The only difference, now when Laine looks in the mirror, he no longer has to hide from himself.

As a side note, I just wanted to add, that anyone who may be considering using Dr. Satterwhite at Brownstein and Crane as your surgeon…do it!  He lives up to the reviews.  He does amazing work.  He has a positive personality and I’m fairly certain that man NEVER stops smiling.  The office staff is friendly, respectful and well trained regarding the trans* community.  The Greenbrae Surgery Center was wonderful as well.  They are literally in the same building as Dr. Satterwhite’s office which is super convenient.  The recovery nurses were great and we didn’t meet a single staff member we didn’t like.  So if you are considering top surgery, we highly recommend Dr. Thomas Satterwhite at Brownstein and Crane

Princess Consuela Builds a Banana Hammock

*Yes, I borrowed the title of this blog from Friends.  If you have never seen the show.. my apologizes.  Either way, it won’t affect your ability to read this blog. 🙂

Last week I stood in the men’s underwear section of Target for approximately 23.4 minutes of my life.  That is 23.4 minutes I will never get back, but I can now tell you exactly how the fly is sewn in every brand of men’s boxer briefs that Target sells.  I’m fairly certain by the time I left, the two women monitoring the dressing rooms, which happen to be located in the men’s underwear section, were talking behind my back, convinced I have some type of fetish with men’s underwear.  I mean why else would I examine the crotch area of every style, of every brand??  I strategically opened the multipacks, slow and gentle, careful not to tear the plastic.  Unrolling, examining, re-rolling exactly as I found it and replacing the pair back in the package with its partners.  I sent Laine a text message about this experience and wrote #transmanswife because no one else in their right mind would be doing this!!!

I however was on a mission.  Laine found a Youtube video that explained how to create a packer pouch (A “packer pouch” being fabric to hold a prosthetic, life like penis in place without allowing the silicone material to rub against skin and cause irritation) by cutting open the double layers of the already existing fly, instead of wearing a separate jock strap, etc.  Problem is the underwear in the Youtube video was a pair of 1980s tighty whities and manufacturers do not sew boxer brief package pouches the same as they used to.  So I had to come up with a new plan.  In order to do so, I had to examine every brand of underwear.  By the way, Jockey cuts their fly horizontally on the inside, and this seems a bit of a nuisance to me, but I don’t have the parts necessary to test it out, so maybe the up, over, around method isn’t as bad as it sounds in my head.

I settled on a pack of Hanes, in shades of blue, his favorite color.  Hanes boxer briefs have a double layer in the fly, both the inner and outer layer opening on opposite sides.  The solution was simple and not rocket science.  Sew one side (outer) of the opening shut, so it creates a pouch that only opens on the inside of the boxers.  This creates a natural pouch for the packer to be placed into and allows it to sit very naturally in position, keeping a single layer of material between the silicone and skin.  The June Cleaver in me dug my sewing machine out of the closet and within 30 minutes had all the flies sewn shut from the outside.  This plan worked exactly as I had hoped for.

Laine has dabbled in the packing space.  Months ago he originally ordered a 3 in 1 piece, Pack, Pee and Play. (If you follow this blog you probably read about the Peacock.)  Fact is, the Peacock isn’t ideal for peeing (I mean it works, but it is such a process to make sure it is lined up correctly, your flow isn’t too fast or else you overflow down your leg, he just never got into it.)  It’s a bit large for packing (even without the rod inserted it still is quite large in “flaccid” state of being making it difficult to keep adjusted properly in his jeans.) For playing his Peacock gets 2 thumbs up, but this is a blog about packing, not playing, so I won’t elaborate on this topic.  😉

After his surgery in March, Laine decided he wanted a true packer to wear daily.  So, we got online and ordered one after comparing options.  (props to Reelmagik by the way, they make a great product and shipping was fast!!)  After a day or two of wearing his new packer, Laine decided we needed to look into the pouch to keep the prosthetic in place better and away from his skin.  Fast forward and I am standing in Target, examining men’s underwear, assumed to have an underwear fetish.

Some of you may be asking, why silicone??? Why not play in the surgical space down there???  We have talked about it.  We have researched it.  We have sat through presentations about it.  Laine just isn’t willing to go there.  And that is ok.  For every trans guy it is a personal preference.  Some don’t feel complete until they do go there.  Some can’t afford to go there (approximately $100,000.)  Some just don’t want to go there.  Laine falls in that space between “it isn’t a necessity,” “there are still so many risks associated with it” and “age does make a difference when it comes to healing.”  After his surgery in March, he was reminded he isn’t 20 anymore.  Healing is a process for the body and age does make that process slow down and take a bit longer.  The risks involved aren’t ones he is willing to take.  The process for FTM isn’t nearly as perfected as the procedure for MTF.   There is a high risk of fissures in the urethra, and although no one wants to leak for the rest of their lives, many are ok with that risk, but Laine isn’t one of them.  The process also involves large areas of skin grafts, which means risk of infection and a lot of time needed to heal the grafted area.  Laine is more than ok leaving that area below the belt alone and having the option to put it in the drawer. Top surgery next month (yes, NEXT month!!!!  It’s finally almost here!) will be his final gender related surgery that he currently has any plans for.  Granted, things could change I guess, life always throws in surprises, but at the moment I write this, this is how things stand.

 

Reflections of the First Year

One year ago we were impatient and nervous to inject that first dose of testosterone.  We knew it wouldn’t change anything over night, but we truly had no idea how much it would change our lives over the next year.  My hand shook as I pulled back on the syringe to measure out the clear liquid.  I was cautious and strategic in my actions, making sure I was doing every thing exactly as the pharmacist had explained to us.  This morning I did the same, for the 53rd time…only this time I was groggy from just waking up.  No longer nervous, the steps have become a Thursday morning routine.  A routine I have perfected, almost able to do in my sleep.  I know the 18g needle is used to draw up the liquid, and there should be no air in the syringe which would prevent an accurate measurement of .5cc.  I know to change the needle out to a 21g before I inject. I know how to check the injection site for any signs of a vein or prior bruising, wiping with alcohol as I inspect.  I know what it should feel like when I push the tip of the needle straight through his skin and into the muscle.  I know how to hold the needle steady and how to avoid making him bleed.  And I know that next week we will do it all over again.

That first dose, and the 51 others which followed over the past year have changed his life.  They have changed OUR lives.  In some way or another they may have even changed the life of everyone reading this blog.  That is why I document this journey, because everyone is impacted in some way by it.  I don’t say that from an egotistical point of view, I say that because transition affects everyone we come in contact with.  This is something I didn’t know would happen when this journey started.  From doctors and nurses, waitresses, strangers, friends and family, acquaintances and silent followers, everyone we have stopped and taken the time to interact with, to have a conversation with, or who reads this blog and returns time after time, has been affected by this journey.

I could write a page, or ten, about this past year…but you always get to hear from me.  This time I feel it is most appropriate to hear it directly from him…and he is finally ready to break his silence.  The following words are written by Laine, they are his real, raw and honest reflections of the first year of this lifelong journey.

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With my 53rd injection this morning, today marks day one of my second year of transition.  I got up this morning and I shaved my sparse facial hair.  Yes, it’s finally growing at a rate where I need to shave every few days for work.  I can’t believe it’s already been one year since I began masculinization hormone therapy.  During the first chapters of my journey, I was so impatient, time was moving slowly and I was beginning to think I would never have any facial hair or be referred to as sir by anyone, ever.

Someone recently asked me, what’s been the best part about transitioning so far.  It’s the incredible confidence I feel in being authentic and true to myself and coming out at work. Thanks to my awesome therapist, I understand and have embraced that my transition has never been, and will never be, JUST about me.  And I’m speaking only for me.  My transition has affected almost every single person I have interacted with since coming out in early 2015.   Looking back, I remember being so worried about how I was going to come out at work and struggled a bit with where to begin.  I should have known better considering the amazing company I work for and their commitment to diversity and inclusion.  While I did struggle with some of the steps for coming out at work, I understood the need for the approach and more importantly the value and am extremely proud to have worked for this company now for almost 30 years.

Then the next question was, of course, what’s been the largest challenge.  The highs and lows.  I wish I could tell you the last 12 months have been completely filled with confidence and happiness and all that is good.  I am not going to tell you that lie.  The lows were difficult and happened way too often. Prior to beginning my transition, I viewed myself as having myself together on most days.  And if I didn’t, at least I appeared I did.  I should have known with that very first, and surprisingly intense hormone crash, less than 2 weeks after my first testosterone injection, this was going to be one of the biggest, if not the largest, roller coaster rides of my life.  Even with all my change management experience and managing change risk, I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was when it came to knowing and understanding just how testosterone was going to affect my body, my mind and my soul.  My therapist, Dianne, and nurse practitioner, Tracy, have had, and continue to have, a crucial role in helping me navigate the storm within me.  Dianne, as a very experienced and knowledgeable care provider for the transgender community, quite frankly didn’t accept any of my shit.  I am not a fan of therapy at all, but as my session draws near each month, I actually look forward to it and evaluate my experiences since the last session to identify what we need to address.  There is always something that needs to be addressed. I truly can’t imagine not having Dianne along with me on this journey.

And then there’s Tracy, my nurse practitioner who has a passion for what she does and while not highly experienced…yet… in providing transgender care, her commitment to my health and my well-being surpasses every single doctor I have had care for me…EVER.  Her willingness to listen to me and acknowledge my concerns is a dream come true when it comes to a medical health care provider.  She spends time talking to me and getting to know me. Being her first trans man client, I am honored to work with her and to know she wants only the best for me and will spend endless hours researching, reading and asking questions to ensure I am getting the best care possible.  Some may say I’m foolish, but to me, she is a gift.  Every three months I get my labs drawn and we review results.  This approach has allowed me to avoid medications to address concerns with numbers for blood pressure, red blood cells and diabetes.  It also allowed us to identify the growth of fibroids that had remained unchanged in size for years prior to starting testosterone, which then led me to a complete hysterectomy in March.  During my hysterectomy surgery experience, I found myself again working with care providers that had no experience whatsoever with trans men.   And again, they listened, they understood and hopefully they learned.  Throughout the last year and all the health providers I have chosen to interact with, I have not had a single bad experience.  And most have never had the opportunity to provide service or care to a transgender individual.  I found by choosing to be open and transparent, my experiences always yielded a positive result.

My support system has been and remains incredibly exceptional at work and at home.  I work with the most amazing people at work and I am so grateful for their support.  But I truly now need to shift my reflection and appreciation to the woman in my life who has endured it all; the good, the bad and yes, the ugly.  She has had to process the mood swings from lover to bastard so many times that I sometimes question how it’s even possible to love someone that deeply. But she does love me that deeply.  She never gives up on me even when she says she does in a moment of anger.  You all know her as Melanie, my fiancée.  To me she is my everything every day; my therapist, my care provider, my partner, my friend, my lover, my heart and my soul.  Without her, the last 365 days would have been unbearable at times.  And while I made many of those days unbearable for her, she has remained steadfast and unwavering.  Don’t’ get me wrong, she had days where she just wanted to give up on me.  Hell, I wanted to give up on me. I know there are many transgender individuals who would do just about anything to be loved by someone the way she loves me.  And to be loved like that during transition, it’s so rare and exceptional.  For that reason, when I step into behavior which is not reflective of the man I want to be, I only have to remind myself of how wonderful my life is and just how lucky I am.

To sum up my first year of transition, I’m the happiest I have ever been.  I wish I could find the words to share what it feels like to finally live my life as the real me.  Those words are elusive at this time, but the confidence is growing, the self-esteem issues are decreasing and I am working on making mirrors a place for affirmations versus self-degradation.

For now, I am looking forward to my upcoming top surgery in June and have high hopes this will help me eliminate any remaining negative talk and be the last obstacle standing in the way of Melanie and me embracing our dream to travel and educate others through the sharing of our story.

Recovery…

In an early episode of Season 3 of Grey’s Anatomy (yes, I am JUST now getting around to binge watching Grey’s and yes, I have become an addict…who isn’t?) McDreamy tells a patient’s wife to be patient with her husband’s recovery from brain surgery, recovery takes time.  I connected with this episode as I happened to watch it only a few days’ post Laine’s hysterectomy when I was exhausted, easily irritated and even a bit cranky.  It reminded me I need to be patient, this too shall pass.  The nights wont always be short with very little sleep, the days long with too much to accomplish and too few hours to complete the tasks.  The recovery period is temporary…or is it?

The surgical recovery period is listed at 2-6 weeks.  Only a blink of time in the big picture.  With each passing day his body will regain its strength.  Each night the pain will subside a bit more and allow for longer periods of sleep.  Eventually he will be able to return to normal daily life, the routine of work, kids, life; the surgical recovery will be behind us.  Recovery however, has only just began…

This entire past year, has been recovery.  Recovery from the first 52 years of his life.  Recovery from living a life as someone he was trying to be instead of who he is.  And I have to remember that recovery takes time.

Research studies have looked into the effects of recovery on a partner or spouse, (and yes, I skimmed a few via Google,) most of them refer to cancer, open heart surgery, major rehabilitative conditions.  But recovery is recovery and no matter the condition, the spouse is silently in the background as the caretaker and the effects are the same.  Let me insert right here, that I am not telling you this for sympathy.  I am not writing this to make you feel sorry for me, or to put myself as the center of attention.  I am writing this because people from all over the world read this blog and someone, somewhere is in my shoes.  If I can let that one person know that they aren’t alone, then I have done my due diligence today.

As spouses, fiancées, significant others, we are within the core of our partner’s transition, their recovery.  We are there to pick them up on the bad days.  To kiss their wounds when someone mis-genders them at the wrong time and place and to assure them we truly see THEM, even if someone else doesn’t. We are the ones standing silently, teeth gritting when an unaccepting parent consistently feels the need to tear down our partner’s confidence with a reminder of their birth given name and/or gender.  We are the ones getting looked at like a crazy person when we say “HE needs more ice water” because the hospital has him listed as FEMALE on all the surgical paperwork because he is admitted for a traditionally female procedure, even though his legal documents and insurance list MALE.  As the partner, we are the ones who attempt to educate the ignorant medical staff on some level as to why testosterone is on his medication list.  As the partners, we scoop them up and take them home with us post surgery and we tend to their needs, both physical and emotional.  The physical needs dissipating much faster than the emotional ever will.

We have been there for the hormonal crashes and fluxes since the first shot we helped them inject.  We have sat through doctor’s appointments, taking mental notes and trying to recall the questions which have arose in casual conversation at home.  We have watched them break down and doubt themselves, their decisions, this process.  We have stood back and waited for them to come to their senses and realize we are here to support them, not to fight against them.  We are the good guy, and even when they try to push us away we will be right here beside them. We want to protect them; we want them to be happy.  We want to make this “recovery” as easy as possible for them.  We just want to love them and be sure they know just how much.

As a partner of someone who is recovering, we get tired.  Some days it is exhausting.  Some days we don’t know HOW to fix them.  Some days we can’t piece them back together, fact is some days we are barely holding ourselves together.  And because of this, some days we feel like failures.  We are supposed to be the stable one holding them together through this recovery.  We don’t have the time or space to fall apart ourselves.  People ask all the time how transition is going, and when they do, they mean for him.  How is he handling the hormones?  How is he handling the changes?  When is his next surgery?  I can’t think of a handful of times where someone has said “How are you holding up?”  And I don’t expect them to.  If they did ask I think I would feel awkward, and I don’t think I would say very much more than “I’m good.”  Because that is what I am supposed to be.  The few times I have reached out because I just needed a moment to breathe, to put my walls down…it was reciprocated with “be patient,” “give him credit,” and “he is dealing with a lot of emotions right now.”  As if I don’t do these things every moment of every single day.  I give him more credit that anyone can probably even imagine.  I am so proud of him it is immeasurable.  Yet there are days even he doubts this, and that is a part of this recovery that I can’t protect him from.

I can shield him from the outside world as much as possible, but I can’t shut off his inner thoughts.  His inner doubts.  I can correct the nurses’ pronoun usage until I exhaust myself, but I can’t erase the dysphoria caused by a traditionally female medical procedure.  I can’t fast forward the physical recovery and speed up the internal healing process which leads to external reminders of the anatomy he was born with every time he has to stick the maxi pad in his boxers.  This will eventually pass, but the emotional recovery will continue…52 years to recover from.  Recovery takes time, and I have to be patient.  One day at a time.  I’m good and I will continue to be.  Even on those days I am extremely tired…

Can you spot the differences? 

What a difference a year makes!  These photos were taken at the 2015 and 2016 Fresh Brunch. Almost exactly a year apart (give or take a week I believe.)  I posted this on Facebook but I felt I should post it here for our readers who don’t follow on Facebook and for our own documentation as well.  It’s neat to have opportunities like this to really view the changes!  

 

Did You Miss Us???

It has been weeks, ok more like months, since I last sat down to type.  Some of you have even reached out to see if we are doing ok, since you haven’t heard from me in awhile.  The answer is yes, we are good…we are more than good, we are wonderful!  I can only blame my absence partially on writer’s block, the rest I have to blame on life.  There are never enough hours in the day, and by evening after the kids are in bed all I want is a glass of wine and quiet time with Laine.

Our biggest current piece of news is that the home we were building, which was projected to take 4-6 months to build and estimated to be move in ready around February…we moved into it two weeks ago.  Much to our surprise, the week of Thanksgiving, I opened an email that informed us we would be closing before the end of 2015!  Bittersweet. (NEW home SOONER than expected…YEAH!!!  Moving ONE week after the holidays…ummm…really???)  This meant the house we were currently living in needed to be prepped for sale and put on the market.  (Anyone here ever had four kids home on winter break, while trying to keep the house spotless just in case a potential buyer wants to drop in…I don’t recommend this process.)  We are still waiting for that house to sell, but we are all moved into OUR new home and life here is good.  (It is even better now that the 4 dogs figured out how to use the doggie door we had professionally installed…if I had to listen to them chop a hole in our brand new wall to put the damn thing in, the least the dogs could do is USE it without me tossing them through it!)

Dead in the middle of the holidays, packing, moving fiasco, we had to suddenly deal with every parent’s (Ok, at least THIS parent’s) nightmare…LICE!  Our oldest daughter (11 years old) came to me one evening saying her head itched.  I thought very little of it due to the fact that her beta blockers have always caused quite the case of psoriasis on her scalp.  So I started checking her scalp thinking I would need to get a treatment for her psoriasis in order to stop her from scratching her scalp…and then I saw it.  A little tiny brown bug in her hair.  WTF?  So I dug deeper…I said a few choice words…and then I freaked out.  Full blown case of lice!  AGH!!!  This discovery took place after the other children were in bed asleep, so I took my phone as a flashlight and started performing scalp checks on the other children.  Our son was clear, but both of the younger two girls, carriers as well.  I said a few additional choice words and then began rapidly Googling.  I left a message for the Lice Knowing You in Scottsdale and hoped they would call me first thing in the morning, preferably before the mommy melt down set in too deep.

We couldn’t do too much over night so the next morning began the process of washing and hot drying EVERYTHING!  And anything that could not be put in the dryer went into the freezer for 24 hours.  I haven’t ever done that much laundry in a single day before in my entire life!  Fortunately, the girls at Lice Knowing You called me by 8:30 that morning (keep in mind this is December 23, meaning Christmas Eve festivities were scheduled with family the next day…I had to get these kids cleaned and cleared or else Christmas was going to be shot to hell.)  The girls at the shop got ALL of us in within an hour or two.  All three girls were treated and our oldest, myself and Laine had scalp checks just to be sure we weren’t carrying any stow-a-ways as well.  (This isn’t a cheap service by any means, but it was well worth it, since those girls stand there and comb every single nit and louse from the kids’ heads and then guarantee their work for 30 days.) Due to the fact that the kids all have split schedules between our house and my Ex’s homes (two go one direction, two go another) that meant three households total had to be checked, cleaned and cleared of these pests.  (Oh and did I mention we also shared our lice with the neighbor who is like a sister to our kids…sorry Jess!!!)

Here we are almost a month later and the youngest has an outbreak at Preschool.  I had to go pick her up early on Tuesday due to the fact they found some nits in her hair during a random classroom check.  Thank goodness for that 30 day guarantee at Lice Knowing You!  Even though it wasn’t their fault the suckers came back, they still treated her again free of charge.  I found out later that 5 other kids also got called for pickup this week just in her class.  And 5 classrooms total right now are red tagged with Lice infestations.  Have I mentioned I would homeschool if I would have been given the gift of patience and a higher (or maybe it would be considered lower) level of sanity???

Laine’s transition is progressing smoothly overall.  It has its ups and downs, and fortunately there have been more ups than downs.  I could sugar coat it and tell you that it is always 110% perfection, but that would be lying.  If you are here reading this, then you probably want the truth and the facts right?  There are moments, and yes sometimes even a day or two at a time where Laine falls into a dark place of self doubt and frustration, one that I don’t and won’t ever understand.  Those days I feel helpless because I can’t always bring him back as quickly as I would like.  I have to give him the space, yet the support, he needs in order to pull through those moments.  Somedays I am better at that combination than others.  Space is a hard thing for me because I want him to always be happy and present.  When he falls into those dark moments I just want him back NOW.  Hormones are powerful, they change how he reacts to life.  They create mood swings and sometimes inconsistencies.  It is no joke when they say the first year of transition is comparable to being in puberty.  Watching it happen from the outside, I can see the moments Laine swaps from a 52-year-old man to a 14 year old teenager and back again.

Some of this hormonal conflict may be due to his Estrogen levels still fighting his Testosterone.  At his doctor visit this past week we got results from his most recent blood draw.  The blood results showed us that yet again his estrogen isn’t shutting down.  His doctor expects that his body should be in a forced menopause by now due to the testosterone, however its not.  There is no monthly physical cycle, but hormones are still functioning at a normal “female” level.  (In conjunction with a normal “male” range of hormones as well.)  Between those results and the results of a recent abdominal ultrasound where two fibroids were found to have grown in only 6 months’ time, he has a consult with our GYN next week.  (That appointment right there should make for a great blog post…although our GYN is totally on board with the transition process and she understands it, there is always the staff we have to explain things to 15 times, beginning with the receptionist on the phone when I called for his appointment and had to explain the legal name change since last visit and the girl still continued to call him “her” and “she” a dozen times…stay tuned for that potential circus.)  We are discussing a full hysterectomy.  Laine’s is looking to be medically necessary, which means insurance will cover it, which is a bonus. Everything else reported from the blood draw looks good.  His blood donation every 8 weeks is keeping his red blood cell count at a normal level and preventing it from getting too high.  Being on the T, there is still always the option that the levels will rise and he will have to donate every 4-6 weeks (or more often) instead of every 8 weeks, but the doctor has already said she will write the script for this procedure if we decide its necessary in the future.  All blood tests will be repeated in 3 months to continue to follow Laine’s overall health.

Therapy has been very beneficial for Laine throughout this process.  Laine has learned how to better cope in those (hormonal) moments and for the most part how to redirect himself when his hormones get the best of him.  This is part of the reason he has remained loyal to therapy on a monthly basis instead of only completing the bare minimum required per doctor’s requests.  I can’t imagine how others navigate this process without that monthly (or more often) check in with a professional.  He always seems to come home after a session with a new outlook on things.  She gives him things to think about and new ways to process.  She is real with him when he needs to change his thinking and look at things from a different perspective.  Changing your life and everything about yourself at ANY age must be difficult.  At the age of 52, the life experience which is built up can only make it more difficult.  Although I have always had a therapist aversion, if I could clone Laine’s therapist and give a copy of her to everyone, I would do it.  She doesn’t fit in my past experience mold of therapy and counseling and I’m so grateful she is a key player in Laine’s transition process.

Ending this post on a happy educational moment story, Laine needed a notary to transfer some paperwork to his daughter about a week ago.  The paperwork was under his birth name.  We weren’t sure how the notary would deal with this issue and if it would indeed BE an issue.  So he took the paperwork, both his old and his new ID, and his legal name change document with him to the notary.  The first thing the man behind the counter said when Laine placed the document on the counter was “Who is Joyce?”  Laine then had to “come out” and explain the situation.  The guy behind the counter, who was a retired PD office, was very cool about it and said “ok, lets figure this out.”  Laine was the first transgender individual in which he had an interaction like this with.  It was an educational experience for the notary and it was an educating others experience for Laine.  All it takes sometimes is one simple conversation to educate others.

This only begins to touch on the past two or three months of our lives, but I figure this is enough of my rambling for today.  🙂

 

Inside a body in transition…

Happy 6 months to Laine!!! Yes, this is week 26…officially halfway though the first year!!! I feel like we should have had cake or balloons or something after his shot this morning…but instead of throwing a party, lets talk about a topic that so many avoid…the reality of the health and proper healthcare of trans*men.

I am certainly not a doctor. I have no professional medical training. So everything mentioned here is strictly Laine’s experience and my personal opinion. That being said, I am discussing it simply because so many don’t discuss it and so many don’t realize it needs to be discussed.

When Laine began this process, there was a lot of research that took place regarding the effects of hormone replacement therapy (aka: taking testosterone.) There are the obvious effects, the public, visual ones such as the facial hair growth, the broadening shoulders and the voice tone drop. There are the not so public ones (unless you read this blog, then everything is pretty much public information) such as clitoral growth, and the excessive sex drive.

What most websites don’t tell you and what we have discovered even some doctors don’t stress enough, is how much is going on INSIDE a body in transition. There are effects that can’t be seen and maybe not even felt.

Laine recently changed doctors over this factor…he wanted to be sure there was nothing “hidden” going on, and his original doctor refused to test anything. Completely denied him and said it wasn’t necessary. Fact is, it IS necessary and fortunately Laine now has a doctor who is willing to listen to Laine’s concerns and is willing to spend the time and energy on full and complete routine checkups.

Here’s what we have discovered up to this point…

So far, the testosterone is not affecting his liver, kidneys or any other internal organ. This is a GOOD thing!!   He is just now at the 6 month mark of his transition. Keeping an eye on his organs, specifically the liver is important as testosterone can raise the risk for liver cancer, among other things.

For a 52-year-old male, Laine is overall healthy. However, there are a few issues he needs to focus on. The first is the fact that the testosterone is causing his blood to thicken. His red blood cell count is high and the cells are overly plump. The first step to attempting to combat this issue is blood donation. He will start with giving blood once every 8 weeks, through a blood donation program. If this doesn’t keep his count down far enough or long enough post donation, then his doctor will set him up on a medical donation process more often, possibly monthly.

The second issue is that his body is still in limbo. His testosterone numbers are through the roof, and his estrogen (the female hormone his body biologically makes) is still functioning at a totally normal level, with no sign of decline. This is confusing for his body…physically, mentally and emotionally. Basically his two sets of hormones are at a constant battle with each other. This can cause mood swings (think mellow testosterone based mood one moment, pms style estrogen mood the next….basically 0-60 with the snap of a finger…and then back again.) It causes some cramping and physical discomfort from time to time.

His doctor really wants to see the estrogen numbers start to drop. Based on our personal research and information from different “FTM guides,” six months is about the time this estrogen should start truly dropping. That also means this is about the time that biological female organs such as the uterus and ovaries should be shutting down. Were not really certain what is going on with Laine’s uterus. Based on hormone numbers, it should be fully functioning and cycling monthly. (He isn’t even showing signs of female menopause) However this isn’t the case, there has not been a visual cycle since May. (Which is fortunate from a mental standpoint, it means not having to struggle with the disconnect of being a male with a monthly period.) From a physical standpoint however the doctor can’t explain why the numbers read as they do, but nothing is happening. It could be a handful of things, some of which do lead to a full hysterectomy, possibly in the near future. We will have more answers in December when the blood tests are repeated and we look for a decline (hopefully) in the estrogen.

***PSA***

For trans*men who still have the biological female organs, they have to be sure they are not ignoring those parts of their body. Transition and living as your authentic self does not lessen your risk of cervical cancer. It doesn’t remove the need for pap smears and exams. Your uterus doesn’t just go away when you transition. It is almost shocking how many FTM individuals stop caring for this part of their body after beginning transition. Unless those parts have been removed, you have to take care of your whole body! Transition itself doesn’t change that.

Becoming Laine…

We had only been living together a few weeks when I entered the bathroom and found her standing in front of the mirror. Hands cupped over her breasts, trying to hide them and create the image of a flat chest. I had seen her do this many times before, but I didn’t question it. I assumed it was just a habit, some type of nightly ritual before bed. Every other night as I watched this happen, I didn’t say a word, but tonight was different.

Like a small child I began with the questioning. “Why are you doing that?” “Why are you trying to cover yourself?” “Don’t you like your breasts?” The answer surprised me. “No.”   I could have left it at that, but I didn’t…I began to push for more answers. “Are they too big? Too small? Not perky enough? Too perky?” The answer I received…”I wish I could cut them off.”

This opened a conversation I wasn’t expecting, as I had no idea up to this point how she was feeling. Hiding from the world around her, concerned about what others might think and always trying to conform to societal norms, she never bothered to stop and think about what she wanted or needed to truly be happy. As we explored this conversation deeper, I made her think about what would make her feel complete. The answer I received…”If I could be a boy…..”

Being the ally I am to the transgender community, I sympathized with him. Although I personally have never felt trapped in my body, (in fact if you know me you know I enjoy dresses, heels, makeup and glitter) I have watched others around me throughout all stages of the process. My first “girlfriend” came out as transgender, a few years after we stopped seeing each other and I was the first person he called to share the news that he was officially going to transition. One of my dearest friends is a transgender woman who is destined to change the world, or at least the political system within Arizona. I have marched in equality rallies along side many transgender brothers and sisters. So when my partner came out to me, I instantly became his biggest ally and supporter.

The first major change to take effect was the wardrobe. It started off slowly at first, a shirt or two would find its way to the Goodwill pile because it was too feminine. That pile quickly grew within a few days of embracing his new gender identity. We found our way to the mall to restock the closet, this time with clothing only purchased in the men’s section of the store. We ordered a real binder, which replaced the double-layered sports bras. As his wardrobe changed, so did his personality. He began to smile more. The confidence in his appearance began to shine through. I would find myself just staring at him, taking him all in and truly seeing HIM in front of me. Confident, sexy and handsome, still the individual I fell in love with, and as he began to find himself, I only fell more in love (and continue to do so.)

We began to have more conversations around how deep he wanted this transition to go. Would it stop with the wardrobe and simple gender expression? Would we explore testosterone and top surgery? Name change? I assured him I was good with whatever steps he wanted to take.

We keep in touch throughout the day via chat when we are apart. One day randomly in the middle of another conversation via chat, he slipped a message in that said “New name= Laine. Yep, I’ve been thinking about it.” I would have missed it if I wasn’t careful, but I did catch it, and my heart and soul lit up. Laine was the perfect name for him, and once he explained why he chose it, it instantly stuck. Born as Joyce Elaine, Laine held onto a portion of his given birth name.

Having four children in the house, ranging in age from 4-12, the questions quickly began to pick up in consistency. The youngest two, ages 4 and 5 instantly began to utilize his new name and they love to tell others that “Joyce is a girl, but she is going to be Laine and he is a boy.”   Multiple dinner conversations circled around this topic of discussion. In fact the oldest (and the only bio male in the house) decided he should be the one to give Laine “man lessons.” Entertaining and informative on both ends (you would be surprised what kids are discussing on the playground!!!) these conversations allow the kids to be a part of this process and this change. Transgender is nothing new to the kids, they have been raised to understand and accept diversity and to love people for who they are.   They have known many of my transgender friends and they have never been lied to about “so and so” was born into a male body, but she is actually a girl and vice versa. Children are inquisitive and they want to know how these things work, and I don’t lie to them. If anyone wants to criticize my honesty with them, so be it, but the only way to change the future of the world is to educate our children and to raise them with open hearts and minds.

In March, Laine began seeing a therapist. Neither of us ever having a positive counseling experience in our pasts, we weren’t sure what to expect, but therapy is a requirement in order to move forward in the process of transitioning. He was still undecided at this point regarding testosterone, afraid only of what he didn’t know. I personally was incredibly nervous the first time he went to a session. I’m not sure what I was anxious about, but when he returned from that first session reporting a positive experience, I was excited for him all over again. He returned with a resource guide, a list of doctors for hormone therapy and a list of surgeons for top surgery.

The therapist made him really think about this whole process. How far did he want to go with the transition from female to male? Did it stop at gender expression and an alternate name at home? Did he want top surgery with or without hormone treatment? She gave him the details of testosterone. The effects and the facts, and she dispelled the myths. This reopened the testosterone conversation at home, and we began to research surgeons for Top Surgery.

Laine decided to cut his hair to match his gender expression at this point. This meant short on the sides and back, with just a touch of curls left on the top. A very male model runway style. I loved it the moment he walked in the door after getting it done. It completed his expression and male style. He loved it too, but he was afraid of what his mother was going to say. She is in her mid 70s and isn’t the easiest to talk to about these types of things. Worrying about what she might think is part of the reason Laine waited 51 years to be his authentic self.

We visit her every Sunday afternoon, spending a few hours taking her to lunch and to pick up any groceries she might need for the week. Laine is her primary caregiver and only local family. We were not in her apartment two minutes when the conversation hit the ground running. She questioned why he had cut his hair so short. Laine told her because he wanted to. She then blurted out “What are you a man?” I stood in the kitchen like a deer in the headlights not sure how this conversation was going to turn at any moment. The oldest two children were visiting with us that day and they too stood back to watch this unfold.

Laine walked over and sat on the sofa and replied to his mother “What if I am?” I was watching him across the room, reading his eyes, his face, his body language. He was going to do this. He was having this conversation with her and he wasn’t going to back down this time. When Mom told Laine he is a woman, Laine corrected her and informed her that he has always felt like a boy. Although the conversation didn’t go deep that day, it was at least now out in the open. He did inform her that he will be removing his breasts in the near future, and he gave her a few memories to think about. She will take her own time to process and as more changes become visual hopefully the conversations will progress.

By the third therapy session, Laine had already scheduled an appointment with a local doctor who specializes in transgender healthcare for the following week. Testosterone quickly went from a maybe to a must. The therapist was fully on board with Laine’s request and she gladly wrote her letter of recommendation for the doctor.   The weekend prior to the scheduled doctor appointment, Laine went to the transmen’s support group in which we participate. His buddies there informed him that the doctor would draw blood and he might have to wait another full week before getting his script. Adding another week to the process was comparable to adding a lifetime. He was now at a place where he wanted these official steps started and they needed to start now. We prepared ourselves for the possibility of having to wait yet another week.

While we sat in the doctor’s office waiting room that afternoon, we discussed the process of legally changing his name and gender marker. That would be the next step to tackle on this journey, a multistep legal process, but one he certainly wants to take. The medical assistant called him to the back using “Laine” as his preferred name. This made me happy, as I was getting tired of strangers referring to him in female form. I want to post a sign on the table every time we go to a restaurant that says I’m with HIM, so the serving staff would stop saying “Have a nice day LADIES.”   I know I can’t fault them, as the only changes visual to strangers at this point is the wardrobe. But to me, he is HIM, HE and MALE.

The doctor visit was like any other routine well check. He checked all the basics, and ordered a blood draw to check for pretty much everything. (I have to say how impressed I was with the phlebotomist, Laine wasn’t in that room 2 minutes and he got his two vials. It takes people what feels like hours to get a draw out of my arm and that is after searching, squeezing, typically at least 2 blown veins, and multiple needle sticks!) We were ready to check out and the doctor said “ok, well call you tomorrow when your script gets sent to the pharmacy. See you in 5 months.”   Tomorrow?!?! What happened to having to wait a week? The possibility of starting the hormone before the week was over, made the process a reality all over again. This is happening and the waiting was finally over.

The next day, the doctor office called by 8:30 in the morning. The script was being sent to the pharmacy and would be ready in a few hours. We drove to the pharmacy that afternoon to pick it up. Much of the car ride was spent chatting with the youngest two children who had renamed the testosterone “boy shot” because testosterone was too difficult to say. We had already told all the children that once Laine started taking these shots, he would begin to look like a man as time progressed. To a 4 and 5 year old, that meant that once the shot was administered, he would wake up 110% visually a man the very next morning. (If only it were that easy…) so they had quite a lot of 4 and 5 year old appropriate questions, and we tried to explain the answers the best we could.

The pharmacist explained to us both how to administer the shot. 1 cc every two weeks, directly into a muscle. Fortunately Laine isn’t afraid of needles and neither am I. After we picked up the oldest two children from school, it was time to get this party started. Following the direction of the pharmacist, my hands were shaking slightly while I prepped the shot. Liquid in, air bubbles out, it was ready to go. I held it the way the pharmacist showed me and jab, directly into the right side butt muscle.

Much to the children’s dismay, Laine did not wake up this morning with a full beard and chest hair, but we are on day 2 of official hormone transition, and that is where this blog begins…