Not many people can say they have met their spouse twice and had them be totally different people, but I can. I know that my spouse is the same human (in theory) that I met in the beginning, but I’m still in the process of trying to marry those two images together. The man I met versus the woman I know now are still different to me. I don’t know if they will ever be the same, but for now, this is how I have to talk about the past stories. I met Kyle via OkCupid 5 years ago and our first date was to a Monster Truck rally in Tacoma. We were both sick with colds and miserable due to the illness, but we still managed to have a really good time. I remember thinking that I wanted to kiss him, which is quite forward for me. We didn’t kiss (DayQuil isn’t sexy), but I knew when we watched Robosaurus eat another car, flames everywhere, that the irony with which we both enjoyed the evening created a much deeper connection than I had planned on for a first date. At the time I was very committed to dating and not committing to any one person. Kyle ruined that commitment. I don’t know about love at first sight, but I do believe in good beginnings. Mine with Kyle was a very good one.
By comparison, the first time I met Katie feels so much harder and more painful. I know that I have been married to Katie all along, but the first time that reality felt real for me was Thanksgving this past year. Katie and I joined our friends for Friendsgiving as we weren’t on good terms with Katie’s parents and felt the pressure of the holiday too much for the fragility of our relationship with them. Summarizing that decision in one sentence seems a disservice to how painful it was. That week and the week before it eviscerated both Katie and me completely and we had a lot to evaluate in terms of our definition of “low”. That said, Friendsgiving did feel like a reprieve. No secrets. No lies. Just us eating too much in the company of some of the most forgiving and understanding people I have come to know. Before heading over to the Love House (yes, my friends are legitimately Loves!), Randy offered to wax Katie (Randy owns Love Salon). Shaving had been really hard on Katie’s skin, causing lots of ingrown hairs and discomfort. Katie and I agreed we would try and leave the Love house early-ish so we could go see a movie and have some us time. Little did we know about how long body waxing takes or how much we were going to go through that day. We got to the Love House around 11am and didn’t leave there until almost 8pm. This in part is due to cooking, socializing and Thanksgiving dinner in between, but do not let those things fool you into the underestimation of how long waxing all of your body hair takes. I’ve never done it, which I think makes Katie more of a lady than me. After that day, I can pretty confidently say waxing is not for me.
I was fairly determined to not watch Katie be waxed. I had lived through the first round of hair loss and all the pain it brought me and thought better of it. That said, sitting in a living room with 10 people who know how hard my life is right now wasn’t exactly easy or desirable either. I felt so out of place and alone. At the same time I want everyone to know about how hard this is for me, trying to bring that up in conversation or explain it feels so selfish. Trust me, the lack of harmony in my emotions on this matter are being explored in therapy. Several times throughout the day, I was asked how I was doing by those friends close enough to me to ask that question. I’ve talked about this before, but each time I’m asked this question, I don’t know what to say. Reliving how hard this journey is for both of us is not easy and trying to explain it succinctly with all the complications makes answering that broad question difficult. How am I doing? Today’s answer? The temptation to quit my job and run away from my life is very strong. Yesterday’s answer? Same. Tomorrow’s answer? I’m not a genie, I can’t see the future.
Eventually, the isolation of sitting in a room full of people led me to join Katie and Randy while Katie was waxed. Is it bad that it was somewhat satisfying to think “welcome to womanhood” with every strip removal and every whimper of pain? Still, I felt stuck between the two rooms, each one of them more than I could handle. Even now, it seems so obvious I should have just left and gone home, asked Katie to Uber or call me to pick her up later. At the time though, I couldn’t see that as an option. I felt like if I left, I wouldn’t be supporting my wife through a moment of her transition. I felt like I would be sending a signal of disapproval, which I didn’t want to do. This same train of thought is what led me to say “sure, go for it” when asked if Katie could try on some of the clothes in Randy’s Lady Closet. I want to shout out right now how important Randy is to me as a friend, even before this transition, and how much more important he is to me now. He can help put together the outfits that fit a man’s body that I don’t know how to shop for. He can teach Katie how to apply makeup that covers a beard. As much as I’m a woman, I’ve never had to do either of these things and the lack of judgement, love, patience, and sheer selflessness of my friend will never be appreciated enough by me. I owe him a lot.
I waited in the living room while Katie tried on women’s tunics and leggings and sweaters. I waited for almost 40 minutes, barely able to participate in the conversation around me, incapable of coming out of the fog my own emotions had built into my thoughts. Eventually, I knew I needed to cry, and I knew I wanted to be alone when I did it. I knocked on Randy’s door and asked if I could come in. Katie was standing there, tears in her eyes as she looked at herself in the mirror. She had on a mini-skirt, leggings, a padded bra and t-shirt. Katie looked at me as tears rolled down her face and told me she was seeing Katie for the first time, that this was the most herself she had ever felt. I hugged her, resisting the urge to cry myself, and told her that it was time to go. I had lost my patience for the day that initially had “me-time” built into it. Katie understood, she changed, we said good-bye, and we left. I drove and as we pulled away from the Love House, all the energy and stress of the day poured itself out of me, that familiar taste of salty water forming puddles around the corners of my mouth. It was raining, and Katie offered to take over driving, to allow me to cry without distraction, but I couldn’t even talk. I didn’t say a word the entire drive home, just cried. When we parked, Katie hugged me and held my hand as we sat there until I could collect myself to go inside. I don’t remember what conversation we had, but I do remember feeling guilty about showing how hard the day was. I felt terrible about letting her down, about not being stronger. Katie never accepts these apologies despite my efforts to make them. She knows I have my own story in this process.
The next week we had a therapy session together and we talked about our own version of how we met Katie. Thanksgiving was really the first time we both saw what our futures are going to look like. We talked about making space for me to remove myself from the parts of this process that are too hard still. Katie reassured me that my not being in the room for certain moments doesn’t mean I don’t support her or this process for her. I’m still trying to learn how to be better at connecting to that reality. Just because this is hard for me, doesn’t mean I don’t love her or don’t support her. As Katie gets to know herself as the correct gender, I’m getting to know the limits of my own transition. I’m having to learn when to pull away, turn off the care-giver instinct, and say “yes” to me. I feel like even in the 4.5 months that we started down this pathway, I’ve gotten better. I am learning.