I am asked frequently by those who care about me how I’m doing. I never know what to tell them. I’ve actually started sending them a link to this blog because it helps explain a small glimmer of what I’m going through. That said, if I were ever going to epitomize this experience through one story, it would be by telling them (and you!) about what happened to me yesterday. It summarizes everything perfectly.
Yesterday was a very good day until it wasn’t. We sold one of our cars, which was sad as it was the car my mom purchased for herself after my parents divorced and eventually handed down to me. The Honda was an old lady and a wonderful car, but Katie and I just don’t need two vehicles where we live. The best part about selling it? We got to take the money from the car and make one final payment on my school loans. That’s right, I’m a school-loan free woman! Feels great! What made yesterday even better was that I had a massage scheduled at my chiropractor’s. It was overdue and felt like a treat (thank you, Union benefits!). So, everything is great? Right? Natalie, why are you complaining? What do you have to whine about?
After the massage, I checked my phone to see several texts from Katie, including one selfie. Katie had put on makeup in preparation for last night’s transgender support group. She chose this bright, bold red lipstick and she wasn’t smiling confidently in the photo as she normally does. It occurred to me that Katie wore makeup out of our house, down the street to the ATM, in an Uber with a stranger on the way to Capitol Hill, and then walking down the street again to the meeting. She left our house with makeup on for the first time. These small things that most women take for granted, wether they wear makeup or not, are such a big deal for Katie. She’s 32 learning how to put on makeup while still in the body of a man. Remember the first time you put on makeup? Maybe it was a school dance or just with your girlfriends. I remember feeling so adult and grown-up. I’m so proud of her bravery through this huge step in her transition. I know she was incredibly nervous. I’m sorry I missed sharing in the experience, that I couldn’t be there to be her wing-woman and cheer her on. I called her before leaving the chiropractor office to check-in before group started. The edge in her voice softened as I congratulated her for being amazingly brave and wished her luck.
After we talked, I ran an errand at Target and didn’t get home until almost 8:30. Katie was home by 9:30. I was watching Will and Grace (yes, still making my way through it!) when Katie came in, glowing from her experience. She sat on the couch facing me as we started to dissect how the support meeting went. Katie told me about being nervous to leave the house, about avoiding eye contact as she went down the street, about how no one even seemed to notice her. No one said anything at all – she passed! She smiled as she recounted every detail of that night’s meeting, as she fidgeted trying to figure out which leg to cross over the other. Back in December, I bought Katie a red, women’s beanie with rhinestone cat ears from Nordstrom’s. It’s totally her style and she wears it all the time. I think this is partly because she can get away with paring the beanie with men’s clothes while transitioning, but also because I think she loves the gesture of the gift itself. Katie wore this beanie last night and I noticed her hair is now long enough that it’s starting to curl just under the base of the hat. Her hair almost looks intentionally cut short versus a man trying to grow it out. This coupled with her red lips and all I could see was the woman I am now married to. Somewhere in the conversation, I stopped listening and, for the first time, I saw my wife and her red lips. All I could think about was how uncomfortable that made me and what I should do to handle it. Do I tell her I’m uncomfortable? Does that ruin her moment? Does that make me unsupportive? What does it mean that I’m uncomfortable? Does that mean we can’t make it? How can this day have been so good and now I feel so awful? Do I talk to her about this in therapy on Tuesday, or tell her now?
This onslaught of thought went on for probably five minutes as I nodded and half-listened to Katie’s retelling of events. Finally, I interrupted her, tears falling out of my body, and told her I was uncomfortable. Katie immediately offered to go take off the lipstick and stood up to do so. I told her she shouldn’t have to compromise who she is for me, but she insisted on taking it off. As she left the room to do so, I noticed the wind banging on the windows and the warmth of the teary curtain on my cheeks, the taste of salt in the corner of my mouth. By this point, I was laying down on the couch, unable to stop the flow of saline from my eyes as my brain wouldn’t shut off the agonizing thoughts that often plague these difficult moments. What does it mean that I’m uncomfortable? Ohmygod, I’m married to a woman now. How did this happen? Can I do this? How did we get here? What if I never get more comfortable with my spouse being a woman? Do we get a divorce? Do we stay in this apartment? Shit, we just sold the car I might need because we won’t live together! How long do I have to figure this out? I’m I a bad person for not being more in control of this? Did I hurt Katie’s feelings? Where do we go from here? Katie came back and held me on the couch as I wiped tears from my face. I examined my hands for evidence of my mascara smudging, but didn’t see black swirls of water color on the ridges of my finger prints. Eventually they stopped and I apologized for not being stronger, for ruining her moment. I reiterated that I am so proud of her. That I’m so sorry that such a happy and wonderful thing can be coupled with so much pain. Katie, like a fucking champion, said she knew my crying was not disapproval, that it was loss. Katie reiterated that my feelings are real, that I’m not weak, that I’m human and this is a process for both of us. We moved on from this moment, and eventually got ready for bed.
Last night is one example of many I have and will continue to experience as we move through this process. All of these moments as we both get to know Katie will either culminate into experiences we can work through, or they will become the road block to our ability to stay married. The fear of not knowing is entirely consuming. The hardest part of this experience is knowing that gender is playing a definitive role in the outcome of my marriage. We are not being broken by mistrust or miscommunication or fear or violence or cheating. We aren’t being broken by the things most couples plan to be broken by. As the many couples I know are building upon their futures together, getting married, having children, traveling, etc, I am trying to figure out if I can change my sexual identify as my spouse changes her gender-one. It’s a battle I wish on no one. I keep trying to come up with something to compare this to in order to help explain it to people when they ask me how I’m doing. I can’t seem to find the words. The only thing I can remotely think to compare it to is playing Death Cab for Cutie, Justin Timberlake, Mozart, and Nirvana at the exact same time in your headphones while you sit in a locked room alone in the dark. Do you cry? Do you dance? Do you head-bang? Do you unlock the door to get out of the room? Do you ask for help when you remember the door is locked? Do you look for the mute button? I’m still trying to figure that out. It’s really hard to think with 4 genres of music playing at the same time. I imagine it’s almost as hard as being proud of your spouse for being the bravest person you know, and devastated for losing the life you imagined for yourself at the same time. To explain how I’m doing to my loved ones and be met with considerate, empathetic and heartfelt “I can’t imagines” and “You’re so braves” and “Let us know what you needs” is the most lonely experience I’ve ever had in my entire life. What I’m supposed to learn from this, I’m not sure yet, but I am confident it’ll be the most important journey I will ever walk.