Yesterday, in my Timehop, a selfie of Katie from last year came up. It’s dark, she’s in an Uber and her lips are red. It was the first time she went to support group fully dressed. At that point in my transition, I wasn’t able to go with her, I wasn’t ready. I was so proud of her, sending her supporting texts in response. She was so brave to go out fully painted, with a bold, red lip, getting into a car with a stranger, having to walk down the street to the group. Looking at the photo while at my desk yesterday, irritated by 1 of those work days where your intended plan 180s and slaps you across the face, I felt a wave of sadness while I was instantly taken back to this time last year. Our relationship through this transition has travelled a distance so breathtakingly beautiful that it sometimes feels unreal to me.
We just spent 2 weeks in Western Europe, Katie fully out. She sent an email to her coworkers and broader company about who she was, that upon her return from Europe, she would be Katie. It’s the final “outing” in her transition. Work was the last group that needed to know. The freedom this has allowed her is something we are still trying to wrap our minds around. It occurred to me while we were packing that she no longer needed to switch from her Kyle-wallet to her Katie purse, the former was no longer necessary to disguise her gender at the masculine-soaked environment of her workplace. She can get her eyebrows shaped to eliminate some of the more male-attributed bush. She can go blonder. She can get feminine glasses. She can record a Katie VM on her phone. Katie can shed the Kyle-mask. Most importantly, the energy spent on maintaining the facade of two identities can be channeled into more fulfilling activity. I only watched Katie consciously go between Kyle and Katie for 17 months. For those who maintain life in a closet for longer, you are the true MVP. If I could hug you now and tell you that you are valid, I would.
While on our trip, Katie was “Madame’d” more than once while not wearing makeup and fully cloaked in a winter coat, scarf, and hat. The validation of her gender recognition by strangers was exhilarating for Katie and a relief for me. Whenever we are out in public, I feel like a mother waiting for someone to hurt their child. I’m always anticipating the fuckup of Katie’s pronouns. I’m sensitive to these incidents as I never know how this will bruise, if at all, Katie’s ego. Which mis-gendering will send Katie into a dysphoric, disconnected spiral? I don’t fault the person who mis-genders in any way – muscle memory is a fickle bitch and we have been trained to identify gender based on visual cues for centuries. I wish I understood the brain more. There must be studies that show how long it takes to retrain our brains to stop doing something, the anti-dote to Pavlov’s bell. It’s really incredible this thing in our skulls controls so much without our having to really be aware of it. So far, we have been fortunate to not knowingly experience someone mis-gendering Katie with intention (other than those few familial outliers that need more time). I know that day will come and, as much as I know the responsibility of those actions are with the other person, I’m not quite sure how I will react. The very idea people believe transgender humans are deranged or that this affliction doesn’t exist is still unbelievable to me. I see Katie, and all of you. You’re fucking real.
It’s been a year since Katie came home with red lips, since I wrote about one of the more painful parts of my transition, the loss of my husband. It seems so far away upon reflection of everything we have worked so hard to do this year but, looking at that photo on my phone, it suddenly felt like yesterday. Sitting at my desk, I could feel the familiar swelling of salted-water in my eyes and quickly put my phone down, looking back at the email in my inbox. Our trip was so freeing. Katie and I feel closer than we ever have. Even when tensions rose due to a car break-in (longer post coming), I was confident in our relationship in a way I don’t know I ever have been. I love Katie, always have, but knowing her now as who she is meant to be makes our relationship better. The red lips no longer trigger mourning and yet, a year ago, they did. As Shakespeare and my diligent highschool English teacher, Kevin Dolan, taught me:
Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.