For my 30th birthday, Katie booked us two nights at the Stehekin Lodge. For those of you who don’t know where that is, definitely look it up. It’s a small town at the north end of Lake Chelan. The only way to get there is by ferry, which at minimum is 2.5 hours. As remote and alone as I have felt over the past year, being in this remote place was exactly what Katie and I needed. It was perfect. We canoed and rode bikes and drank good wine. We watched a bear and her cubs climb trees while sitting on the water in the canoe. We ate a pot roast I don’t think I’ll ever eat again, it was so good. There was a moment while eating it that I was sad that people like Anthony Bourdain will never know how delicious that roast was.
While sitting in the sun, succumbing to a sunburn that still paints my shoulders, Katie and I observed a group of men who had been drinking since 9am. They invited us to come sit with them. Most were Pacific Crest Trail hikers, hiking north to south. Meeting them and listening to their stories, the reasons why they hike was enlightening. One person pulled up a chair and was unable to speak, tears in his eyes as he realized there were problems with his re-supply and he wasn’t going to have food for the next 5 days. He stood tall, at least 5’11” and had blonde hair. We learned later this person was 18, hiking the summer before college, walking 2,600 miles into adulthood. Not one person at the table, including Katie and I would have let him leave without food. That’s the way Stehekin is: strangers sitting together looking at a beautiful, remote lake, sharing a meal.
Katie was inevitably asked the questions we knew would eventually happen in public, the ones we had talked about, but weren’t prepared for. My memory for conversation is not great, but I know at some point a person we were sitting with asked Katie if putting on a woman’s shirt (she wore one with popsicles on it) and pulling her hair back makes her a woman. Without hesitation, I defensively asked this person what made pulling hair back feminine to him, trying to challenge the very confines of his definition of femininity. Katie stopped me and took the reins. I uncomfortably listened as this person asked uneducated question after ignorant question, trying to wrap his drunken brain around the concept of someone not feeling they are right in their own body. I could feel my blood boiling and I couldn’t listen anymore. I looked at the blonde boy next to me and asked, “Did you imagine getting a gender lesson on the trail?” He laughed, and told me he didn’t, obliging my need for distraction by answering my questions about his life, how he got here, and where he’s going next.
As the gender conversation winded down, eventually everyone left to go nap or shower or do laundry. When we got back to our room, I lit into Katie. I was furious that she so cavalierly answered questions I have saved only for my family and friends. Questions about whether Katie will have surgery or her coming out or how her family is accepting us or why I’m staying with her are personal and really not for anyone to ask without permission. Katie had given that permission by answering every question. She never once explained why those questions are offensive. She never explained the term transgender from the standpoint of someone who has a hormone imbalance which resulted in gender dysphoria. This gender dysphoria then caused other problems, which we are learning to address through therapy and HRT.
What Katie and I need to figure out is how to handle this situation in the future. It will happen again, and I want to be prepared. While Katie feels like these questions are only about her, by nature of our lives together I feel like they are also about me and it’s no one’s business. There is a fine line between educating the public on what being transgender is, the spectrum within it, and answering questions that will only further stigmatize this population of people. I don’t know that Katie opened the world for this person or further confirmed what he already believed. It’s complicated and I don’t really know how to speak about it yet. If anything, I think it’s given me the courage to finally read the research in more detail. I haven’t been able to until now, still wading through the emotional scars, focused on healing my internal pain. It’s time to learn how to defend us.
We saw this group of men several times more and we were welcomed to sit with them each time. It was a relief to know whatever they thought about Katie, it wasn’t going to stop them from being polite. I learned a lot about them. Some had children, 1 was out of the military hiking the trail a second time, one was a recovering drug addict, 1 was walking for a specific charity. They all had interesting stories that formed their identities and why they were in Stehekin. It’s always interesting saying goodbye to people you know you’ll never see again. As we boarded the ferry back to Chelan, on our way to the second wedding of the summer, Katie and I hugged or shook hands with each of them telling them we’d see them later. Who knows, some of them work in Seattle – maybe we will?
Last night, laying on our couch watching M*A*S*H, I looked at Katie and told her it was the best birthday I have ever had. Katie spoiled me and aside from the uncomfortable questions from an inebriated stranger, everything was pretty magical. We ended the weekend with seeing Katie’s family for a second time since The Outing, at Wedding Number 2. This wedding was incredibly beautiful, as were the family and friends that celebrated it with them. Once again, Katie’s loved ones welcomed her and embraced us. Two different women offered me an ear to listen if I ever needed it. We ate dinner with people who didn’t blink twice when Katie said her name. I looked around as we toasted the couple and thought to myself, “This is 30.” This is my life. It’s so different than I thought it would be, but still unequivocally filled with love. I spent my 30thbirthday with my favorite person in a beautiful place. I’m very fortunate.