It’s been warm in Seattle, the kind of warm Seattleites look forward to as early as February, but when it gets here in July we remember what it’s like to attempt sleep without climate-controlled surroundings. The kind of warm that makes us want ice-cream and cold beer 3 meals a day. The kind of warm that makes turning on the oven impossible, fills patio spaces at restaurants, and causes any space with a beach or shoreline to swell with skin held together by polyester and sunburns. It’s been wonderful to wear dresses and not worry about a jacket. I also have to shave my legs more which, I’m not a fan of, but what’s a girl to do?
Katie is experiencing her first summer dressing as a woman. It’s been fun for her, but complicated at the same time. I don’t fully understand it, but she really hates her legs. Shaving them is causing a lot of ingrown hairs and although it’s something I would never notice or care about, she’s really self-conscious about it. Katie wants to wear dresses and be feminine, but this requires showing a part of her body she’s insecure about. In our many conversations about it, I keep telling her that she has to learn to love herself as she is, even these ingrown hairs. I know this is easier said than done. I know that I don’t understand dysphoria and the resulting insecurities because I haven’t experienced it myself. I know I cannot tell her how to feel. It’s not that simple.
What I do know is that I’ve lived 30 years as a woman in a culture that has specific standards and ideas for how I should look. I have adopted some of that criteria and internalized it my entire life. I look at myself, step on the scale, and see a number I don’t like. My belly is bigger than I want it to be. I’m not toned. I named my inner fat child Lois because it allows me to justify my double-chin and eat things that aren’t always healthy for me. I am all these things, but I don’t work out. I join gyms and don’t go. I’ve done diets and started workout routines and never finished them. I’m not sure why that is or what stops me from committing. I may not know what dysphoria is or what it feels like to be transgender, but I do understand being critical of my own body. Sometime in the last year, I’m not sure when exactly, I started to think about my perception of myself differently, started questioning why I’m so insecure about these things. When I think about raising kids, I don’t want to raise them with an awareness that they are anything but enough. Enough for themselves, for others, for love and happiness. How can I do that if I’m critical of myself? I’ve started to be less hard on myself about the habits I’m not keeping, about the gym membership I canceled, about the fact my friends are more athletic and toned than me. I’ve decided I need to either 1) take the steps to change what I don’t like or 2) love me as I am. I’m not perfect at it, but I’ve decided Option Number 1 can’t happen unless I adopt Option Number 2. Loving myself as I am seems more important.
It is from this perspective that I’m trying to be Katie’s partner in this transition. She has spent her entire life living in a body she wasn’t comfortable in. Now she knows why, but she’s still in this skin that doesn’t quite match her identity. She can wear the clothes and shave her legs and put on makeup, but there are still ingrown hairs, among many other things, that she can nit-pick. I keep telling her the ingrown hairs are like the pimple on your forehead you can’t look away from in the mirror, but no one else notices: their significance is in her head. There are steps we can take to help the ingrown hairs. I also know it’s something that will change as hormones soften her hair, as her skin gets used to the hair removal and as we figure out how her legs want to the hair removed from them (waxing? epilator? laser hair removal?). My concern is that if she doesn’t learn to love these imperfections now, to accept them as part of who she is, what will happen if get to full transition and Katie doesn’t look like how she envisions she will?
As mentioned above, my words can only do so much here. Katie’s journey in her body and learning to love it as it changes is something only she can control or do. The one thing I can do is support the choices she makes to affirm her gender and listen when she needs me to listen and be there for her when she needs me to be. One way I did that this past weekend was by taking her to Target so she could get her first pair of women’s shorts. Didn’t I mention it’s been real hot here? When we got there, the sizes and styles were picked over. It was 3pm on a Saturday in downtown Seattle. The store was bursting with tourists wearing their Disney Cruise t-shirts, picking over the sunglasses remaining, and figuring out what swimsuit to buy. We shopped as one does, browsing each rack for likable things, looking for sizes that fit Katie’s male form. We managed to find one pair of denim shorts that weren’t high-waisted or denim-diapers. Those shorts coupled with the shirt with pink flamingos on it, gift wrap for a bridal shower, and shampoo led us to the checkout line and a $100 basket. I don’t know how Target does it, but it’s $100 every damn time.
When we got home, Katie was excited to try on the shorts, to escape the jeans she has been wearing during this heat wave to cover the ingrown hairs. Our plan was to eat dinner at Seafood fest, perusing the food trucks and indulging in sharable meal options. As I was putting away our finds from downtown, I shouted down the hall, asking Katie how the shorts fit her. She told me they were a little big, but that she felt great in them. For whatever reason, Katie’s insecurity about their legs is less sever when wearing shorts than wearing dresses. I think this could have something to do with the feminine overtones a dress has versus a pair of shorts which can be either gender. I asked her to come to the living room to show me, so I could approve her outfit before we left the house. What happened next surprised me. As I looked at her, assessing fit, and shirt pairing, I became overwhelmed by the fact that my spouse was in a pair of women’s shorts.
Before I could cry, I asked Katie if she could wait to wear the shorts in public, to give me a bit more time. This was really hard for me to ask. It was 90 degrees and if ever there was a day for shorts, it was this day. In kindness and without hesitation, Katie headed towards the bedroom to change. I felt terrible for asking her to change and followed her to the bedroom to explain myself. Katie reassured me it was okay, that she doesn’t want me to be uncomfortable. She knew I really just needed a day, that later in the week she could wear the shorts around me and it would be fine. I’m still confused by how shopping for clothes with Katie and for Katie is never hard for me, but seeing her in something new for the first time always is. I should expect it by now, but I’m never ready for it. We both have insecurities, about ourselves and our bodies. About shorts. There is an odd comfort in that somehow. I’m glad I can talk to her about when I’m not ready for steps of the transition. I’m looking forward to when these events are not frequent, to when we have checked off all the “firsts”.