It’s been 10 months since my last confession… (Good thing I’m not religious!)

I haven’t been here (to write) in quite a long time.  There are multiple reasons for that really.  Reason #1 is life.  Life is busy.  Life gets crazy.  Want to dos get pushed behind the need to dos.  Once I started teaching in August, life only got busier…and I think that is about where I last left off…

In October, Laine and I got married.  If you are local and close to us, you were likely present for our special day.  Let me insert right here that we have been negligent with our “Thank You” notes, and we know this.  We admit and own it.  The thank you cards sit in a little white box on the edge of our bedroom dresser.  Staring us in the face, screaming at us to pick up a pen and write in them.  We have failed to listen.  So, to those to whom we owe a “Thank You” card, we also owe an apology.  And we mean it when we say, we have no excuse, but we are truly sorry for our failure to mail these in a timely manner.

The wedding itself was everything we planned it to be, down to every little tiny detail.  We each wrote our own vows, we committed ourselves to one another and to our family, we danced, we laughed, we cried (happy) tears.  I could not have hoped for anything differently…except I do wish we would have included a videographer so we could relive the day whenever we wanted to.  Fortunately, our photography turned out wonderfully and we will always have that to remember the day.  We took time to travel after the wedding, spending a night in Palm Springs and then multiple days in Huntington Beach.  We watched the sunset, took late night walks on the beach, roasted s’mores, discovered the local acai bowl shop, and just enjoyed the time together with no interruptions or responsibilities.

Then we returned to reality…and that goes something like this…

One thing they don’t tell you when you start teaching, it is NOT an 8-3 job like everyone perceives it to be.  The hours of 8-3 are just the hours you have 24 little shining faces under foot.  The other work has to be done outside of that window, to prepare for those hours.  Lesson planning, materials prep, professional development, conferences, emails, etc., etc., etc.  I come home each evening exhausted.  I want to grab a glass of wine and put my feet up.  Oh wait, there isn’t quite time for that!  By the time dinner is prepared and served, the kitchen is cleaned up, the girls are bathed, read to and in bed, its 8pm. Which then begins homework time.  For me.  Yes, in order to be a teacher, I had to take on more school for myself.  My BA in psych holds me over with the state on a temp basis, as long as I am in the program to obtain my early childhood education certification.  I started this 2-year program in January 2017, at which time I converted from long term sub to fully contracted teacher.  Fortunately, my classes are online and I can do them from home in the evening, sometimes in a zombie like state after being in the classroom with 24 5/6 year olds all day.  Truth is, even with as draining as it is, and as much work as it takes on a daily basis…summer break is killing me!!!  I want to be back in the classroom.  A week or two of a break was great.  After that I started hitting a wall.  I thrive on the fast-paced environment of the Kindergarten classroom.  I enjoy the ins and outs of each and every day. I miss the morning hugs and hi fives from 24 little humans, watching their light bulbs brighten when they learn something new, talking them through a problem when life just seems too tough to handle (“Yes, I know it hurt your feelings that he broke your blue crayon.  How can we fix this situation?”) and I can’t wait for summer to be over so I can meet my next group of kiddos and start all over.  I am in love with my job, and I never thought in my life I would ever say that.  Even on the hard days, and yes there are some really hard days, I know whole heartedly that this is what I am supposed to be doing.  If you know anything about the education system in AZ, you know I am not in love with the paycheck, or sometimes even the requirements handed down from above, but that is not what drives me.  It is the kids, the ever-changing environment, the unpredictability of each and every day, the laughter and the learning that goes on.  Those kids which need the most love wrap themselves around my heart and tug at me the hardest.  My school community makes me happy.  I keep seeing a t-shirt online (which I need to purchase!!) that says “I wanted to change the world, so I became a Kindergarten teacher!”  If you know me at all, you know this quote was written for me.

Now the part that I struggle writing about.  The part that originally brought you all here in the beginning.  Transition.  I struggle because to me, there seems to be nothing TO write.  Transition no longer runs our lives.  It isn’t the center of our world.  It doesn’t dictate our scheduling.  We are no longer running our calendar around surgeries.  It has stopped defining us as a couple, we appear as a heterosexual normative couple to the naked eye. Transition now occupies about 2 minutes of our Thursday mornings, long enough to draw up and inject the weekly shot.  For Laine, it is doctor check ins every 3-6 months and blood donation every 8 weeks to avoid too many red blood cells.  He continues to visit his therapist on a routine basis as well, just to make sure things are steady.  There are still a few surprises here or there like the increasing growth of facial hair which we were beginning to think might never show up.  Or the constant redistribution of body structure; just when you think it has settled where it is going to stay, the chest and shoulders thicken just a bit more and that t-shirt is just a little bit tighter.

Laine uses his personal experience as a way to educate others.  He is heavily involved in his work place in diversity conversations.  He tells his story often.  He talks about this journey to groups large and small.  He talks face to face and on conference calls.  It never fails at the end of one of these conversation days, he arrives home and tells me about someone who shared their own story with him.  Or someone who connected to his story because they know someone, or they are someone who…all it takes is an open and honest conversation.  We all have a story.

The rest of life is just life, not transition, so I feel as if I have little to say, expect that we are no different than any other couple.  We go to work, we come home and take care of household tasks and chores, we raise our family, we travel, we shop, we dine out, we watch TV, and we do it all as husband and wife.  When we meet new people, we don’t introduce ourselves as “Melanie and my transgender husband Laine.”  This in some ways is another struggle.  How much do people need to know?  We had this discussion a few nights back about hanging out with other couples and expanding a social circle.  Ours is quite small to be honest. We have many acquaintances and many who know about us, but few which we are actually close to. If we invite people into our home, our digital photo frame which sits near the front door plays our journey in photographs.  From the beginning.  For us, we look back and “remember when” or “wow I can’t remember you then, I only see you as you now.”  But for someone who doesn’t know our story, are they going to question?  Do we have to tell them?  Obviously full disclosure is not an issue for us, if it was I wouldn’t be writing on this blog read around the world.  The real struggle isn’t about us disclosing, it is about the other people, do they want or need to know? How much do we tell?  When?  Why is it even important?  Thinking through it, it isn’t necessary.  But what happens when a photograph is displayed somewhere in our home that depicts Laine early on in transition?  Or what if something is said in a conversation about growing up and childhood, a time in which Laine identified as female?  Are we supposed to clear our lives of photographs and memories pre-transition, or even from the first two years of transition when Laine looked different than he does today?  Transition doesn’t run our lives, or define who we are, however in some sneaky way it’s always hiding in the shadows I guess…

www.cyndihardy.com

Advertisements

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.

***********************************************************************

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…

Defining Our Norm…

Next month (April 30) we will celebrate Laine’s one year “T-versary.” We are ending this first year by celebrating with a complete hysterectomy. Woo-hoo! Ok, so most of you are thinking why in the world would anyone be excited about having surgery?? But the fact is, as a transman, he doesn’t need the parts and the parts are only causing him pain (as crappy as that is, it does mean the procedure is medically necessary and therefore insurance coverage helps pay for it).  He (and I) are looking forward to this surgery because his high sex drive equals need for orgasm release. Orgasm and fibroids are not a good combination…they equal pain post sex. Hysterectomy will solve this little issue.  Hence our excitement. Next Friday March 18, we will be (not so bright eyed) at 530 in the morning as we check into the hospital to complete another step in this transition process.  My anxiety is semi high regarding this surgery, not because of the surgery itself.  I know Laine will soar through it and recover quickly.  My anxiety stems from the thought of how many times will Laine have to “come out” or explain himself during this process, something that can be frustrating on any given day, much less when undergoing or recovering from a surgery.  I had to call the hospital billing department this week to make the copayment for the procedure, no less than 4 times did I have to correct the woman on the phone…HE, HIM, HE, HIM…”DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORDS COMING OUT OF MY MOUTH?!?”  What is really amusing is when Laine and I are sitting together, across a desk from a medical assistant and they start explaining the process and procedures etc. and the woman is making eye contact with me, clearly addressing her spiel to me and we have to politely inform her… “I’m not Laine…he is.” (This happened.)

Over the past month we have settled nicely into our new home and our lives. It is strange really, we have lived together since December of 2014, but that first year we never really settled into life. Laine moved in with me and the kids, into a home my ex and I had purchased a few years prior. For that first year of our lives together, that location served as a house for us, but never our home. There was always something preventing us from finding a routine. Something keeping us from creating a fluid transition from the early morning waking hours to bedtime each day. Now in OUR home, we have found the fluid schedule and routine that works for all of us, adults and kids alike. Life has finally settled in and I like it. I didn’t realize how much I craved what we now have, until we found it. Chaos has always been routine. Anxiety was normal for me. Now we have established a new (non-chaotic) routine and the day flows.  We are happy, the kids are happy.  Life is comfortable, but not at all in a boring way (!!!) and therefore life is wonderful.

Our youngest baby (ok so she’s a four legged furry baby) had surgery last week.  She had a bad knee that refused to remain in socket causing her to hop around on three legs for weeks now.  (I have never seen anything run so fast on three legs in my life, nothing slows this mutt down!)  She is healing nicely now and hopefully will be back on all fours within a few weeks.  Leave it to us to rescue a puppy with patella luxation. The day of her surgery, I woke at 230 in the morning with the stomach flu.  This meant I was out of commission for the day.  Laine handled kids, his work, household chores, vet drop off and pick up, cooked dinner (NOT TAKEOUT), and diligently took care of me while I got myself back in working order.  He deserved a Super Dad medal to say the least.  As if that wasn’t enough, the 11-year-old had a Mother/Daughter tea party the next day that all three girls were looking forward to.  With Mom (me) still recovering from dehydration, (step) dad had to jump in and save the day, even if he was the only guy in the room.  They decorated hats, ate finger sandwiches and cupcakes and made bracelets.  He lived to tell about it, and based on the pictures, I think he might have even had a little bit of fun.  😉

Towards the end of February, we gathered our friends and celebrated the last 9 months of our journey with a housewarming/engagement/celebrate legal name changes/birthday (Mel turns 29 for the 6th time) party.  As if having our house full of our family and friends wasn’t enough, we were extremely lucky that Sarah Smith was passing through Phoenix at the end of her tour.  If you haven’t heard of Sarah and her music, check her out (www.sarahsmithmusic.com) …her music is flipping amazing, and she’s pretty damn cool!  She (and Ken) performed LIVE IN OUR LIVING ROOM!!!!! (I’m fairly certain I am still trying to come down from that excitement high.) We are so happy we could share this experience with all of you who joined us that evening for food, drinks, laughs and live music.  Those of you who were unable to attend with us, we missed you and hope you will join us in October for our next big step.  Our circle of family and friends are what make our journey through life memorable.

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.

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “T” for TSA, Travel, and Trans*

TSA security checkpoints at the airport can be quite the experience no matter who you are. Heck, just a few months ago on the return flight home from the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, I was flagged at TSA for explosives on my hands after a random swab sweep. One full body groping, a complete bag search and 15 minutes of my life later, I was cleared to go based on the determination that my hand lotion is what flagged the system. Fast forward to this past weekend, we flew to and from Las Vegas and my anxiety was a bit extreme. This time the anxiety was not for me, as I made a point to skip the lotion and let my hands go dry to avoid that fiasco again. Instead, my anxiety stemmed from this being the first time Laine would be flying as legally male.

We see and hear horror stories all the time about TSA agents being disrespectful to the Trans community when passing through security. I am in NO way saying all TSA agents are jerks, because they are not…keep reading for proof that is in fact not the case at all!! But being the protective partner that I am, any possible risk of threat puts me on my toes.

Leaving Phoenix, I passed through the full body scanner and was cleared to proceed on. Then Laine walked into and out of the scanner, while I waited a few feet ahead near the conveyor belt where I needed to pick up my purse. The older woman working security begins frantically looking around, and asking the other guard, “Where did the female go?” “How did I miss a female?” Meanwhile Laine is standing in front of her waiting for clearance. I didn’t even realize what was going on until I finally processed what Laine was saying to the woman. He had to explain that he IS the female body that she is looking for and he is a Trans Man. The woman gave an embarrassed apology, did a quick hand sweep to the chest due to the fact that Laine’s binder flashes on the screen as an abnormality, and we were on our way to Las Vegas.

The return flight home followed along the same path. The lines at the Las Vegas security point were very long and Laine was calmer than I was waiting for our turn. This time I again went through security and waited for Laine who was behind me. This time he came through the scanner and the woman working the scanner immediately apologized, saying she “figured it out too late and was sorry she didn’t change the settings on the machine.” Again the binder had flashed yellow on the screen and again a very brief hand sweep was performed. The TSA agent was super respectful and friendly about all of it.

I’m quite certain it helped in both situations that Laine remained very calm, and respectful towards both agents. Of course both agents were quick to apologize and were respectful of him as well. I know this isn’t always the situation, so we are relieved he ended up with the individuals he did.

After this happening a second time, where the agents see Laine as male but the machine sees female, we started doing some research. I haven’t fully figured out how the machines work, but from what we have learned it looks like the agents select male or female setting based on their assumption of your gender. Notice I said assumption…we all know where assumptions can land us… The fact that Laine is fully passing as male is certainly pretty freaking exciting, but the fact that these machines read an individual based on what another human’s assumption is…could (and does) lead to problems. After reading more we learned that these machines commonly detect binders and packers, leading to possibly awkward situations for both the individual and the agent. For MTF patrons, if an agent selects female and bottom surgery has not been performed…guess what…that nice yellow box is going to flash on the screen.

I found some great information from the National Center for Transgender Equality about knowing your rights when traveling. These tips and the information provided are great to read and know when flying and interacting with TSA.   If you haven’t already, check out their page here: http://www.transequality.org/know-your-rights/airport-security