Disneyland and a Birthday

Katie’s birthday is February 23rd. It’s the perfect time of year for a Seattle-lite to make an excuse to vacation somewhere sunny. It’s always in the 3rd month of wintery grey that those of us in the PNW start questioning the sanity with which we chose to live here. I really don’t think people decide to move here in winter. They decide to move here in summer, amongst the allure of 75 degree days, sunshine, and the buzz of a few beers on a patio somewhere. I mean, I know I did.

This year, we planned a trip with our wonderful and now long-distant friends, Josh and Curtis, to Disneyland. It was such a great plan because Josh and Curtis go to Disneyland so often, I knew I wouldn’t have to do a lot of mental work for planning. Plus, it’s Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth. Amongst the stress of our lives, Katie and I needed a reason to escape and be adult children, if only for a weekend. Neither of us have had more than a day off at a time since Thailand last May. Mind you, I take my vacation days (#earned), but not having a break since The Outing for us to both connect and be silly was wearing on both of us. We needed more than one day, so we took a Wednesday through Friday off and booked flights to sunny southern CA.

Before the trip, we both agreed, with much encouragement from me, that Katie should explore dressing as herself. Disneyland is the perfect place to experiment with presenting as a woman. There’s so many people, Katie would hardly stand out as the most outrageously dressed. We shopped at Target and got her jeans and t-shirts from the women’s department. I ordered her women’s rain boots from Amazon. She got new converse and insoles to support the many miles we would walk around the park in the 3 days we were there. For her birthday present, I bought us matching Star Wars sweatshirts that were women’s crewneck and floral print. Katie was ready to be Katie in public for the first time during daylight. (Release the vampires!) As we were going on this trip for her birthday, I wanted her to feel comfortable and to feel important. I wanted this trip to be something she would always remember. I think it was.

Katie spent 4 days dressed as a woman and no one shunned her. She had on a birthday pin so that every cast member at Disney wished her a Happy Birthday. We bought her rose gold mouse ears so that it was clear that a woman was waiting in line with me, not an androgynous man. She was so much herself that she used the women’s restroom for the first time. It was incredible to see Katie be herself. She was so comfortable and effortless, so happy. Our friends were endlessly supportive of her and I cannot ever thank them enough for that. They made Katie’s first experience  dressed and made up like a women out of the comfort of a support group and our home so much easier for me and for her. I’m glad they were there to help distract my anxiety about it. I haven’t laughed as much or as hard as I did in those 4 days in a very long time, and that is in large part to the capacity for humor and love that Josh and Curtis have for those they value around them. I’m so grateful.

As easy and wonderful as the experience was for Katie, it was equally strange and foreign for me. Katie put on makeup every day we were there. She’s still getting used to how to not put the mascara wand directly into her eye, so the process takes a long time. I find so much irony in waiting for my wife to get ready. In this same irony is interlaced appreciation for the time it has taken me to perfect putting on my makeup in 5 minutes. I never knew how much I take that for granted until watching my wife try to figure it out. Womanhood ain’t easy.

During this trip, not only did Katie use a women’s restroom for the first time, but I walked into a women’s bathroom for the first time with my spouse. I’m not sure if it’s the idea of this action itself, or the fact that I found it somewhat normal to be more foreign. In similar fashion, being with Katie when she is presenting as Katie wasn’t that weird, but it was weird at the same time. The entire time, I couldn’t help but think that this time last year, our story would be so different. I would be at Disneyland with my husband, not my wife. We would walk into different bathrooms. I wouldn’t be waiting for her to put on makeup. I wouldn’t be worried that someone would stare or make a nasty comment. It’s this part of the trip that was the hardest for me. I feel like I couldn’t fully relax. The entire time we walked around, I was hyper-aware of everyone around us, ready for stares, double-takes, and laughter. Fortunately, I don’t know that we experienced this in any way. If we did, I missed it. That said, the anxiety and trepidation of what I know will eventually happen to us in a public setting is heavy with every experience we have together now. There was one point that Curtis noticed a couple stare and laugh. I didn’t see it, so I have to wonder if their gaze just happened to be in our direction. It was night-time and dark on the ride we were on so I can’t be sure. That said, the idea that people could stare and laugh is overwhelming. There was a time I didn’t have to think about how I was perceived in public and I worry all the time about my wife being made to feel less-than by a world that doesn’t quite understand her yet.

On Katie’s birthday, we went to the Storybook cafe. The wait staff sang her “Happy Birthday” and she got a cupcake. We ate a fancy dinner at Carthay Circle where the waitress was lovely and asked to borrow Katie’s Birthday pin. When she came back, the pin was bedazzled with tiny rhinestones and Katie’s face lit up in a way I haven’t seen before. She was so excited and felt so special. I’m honored to have a front-row seat to this journey my wife is on. I’m so excited to be part of so many of her firsts. I get to know my wife in a way not many others get to know their own spouses, and that is special to me.

It’s such a mixed bag of emotions. Due to my tendency to be a caregiver, I checked in on Katie a lot the entire trip. How are you doing? Do you need anything? Do you feel special? Not one time did I tell her that I needed a moment for myself or that I felt overwhelmed and anxious. I never told her that I felt weird going into the bathroom together, or that she wore makeup when I wasn’t wearing any at all. As we were with friends, I didn’t speak up is in part because I don’t like to “cause a scene” in front of others. My personal feelings are mine and I am not one to advertise if I’m having a difficult time. I want people to ask me how I’m doing, which I know isn’t fair. No one is a mind-reader.

Let it be known, I had a wonderful time on this trip. I needed this vacation. I drank too much, I ate a corn dog, 2 corn on the cob, and churros. I rode rides and laughed uncontrollably in total and pure joy. I cried when I watched Frozen on stage because it was so good. We rode Grizzly River Run 3 times in a row at park closing in 47 degree weather, yelled “whoop!” until my throat hurt, and queen waved at strangers. I made memories I hope Alzheimer’s or dementia don’t rob me of in old age. I just wish that Katie had checked in with me. This is admittedly a vulnerability in our marriage and for me. I expect her to read my mind and she expects me to tell her what’s wrong. We are working on this together. When I pointed out that not one time did Katie ask me the questions I was asking her the whole weekend (How are you doing? Do you need anything? Do you feel special?), she was embarrassed for not realizing it and apologized. She pointed out that I never seemed to not be having a great time, which I admitted was true. I wasn’t mad about the lack of check-in. I pointed it out because it’s something we need to learn from and work on. I know I am the only one who can make me happy and whole. Even in a relationship. I take comfort in knowing that even straight couples have this struggle. Our marriage is experiencing a challenge that is entirely unique in cause, but everyone eventually has to figure these things out with their significant others. I’m not alone on that. I am so grateful to have Katie to help me through this.

Katie turned 33 this last Friday, but it was her first birthday as Katie. It was my first birthday with her as Katie also. And guess what? We survived. I did it. I walked around in public with my wife. I didn’t beat any small children crying in the park. If that isn’t a successful Disneyland trip, I don’t know what is.

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