Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Kids are Alright part 3.

School's out for the Summer

The celebration of the start of summer usually brings teachers great joy, but for me, there was only more anxiety.  I have always found peace and solace, sitting on the beach late in the afternoon with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. But as sat in my beach chair on the first day of summer and I looked out over the cool blue-green Atlantic Ocean, I noticed my usual unobstructed view wasn't so clear.  On my horizon were several obstacles and a few promising new adventures.


While I had recently come out to my two sisters and one of my brothers, I still had the rest of my family to break the news to, that included three more brothers, and both parents.  Having a big family can be great, especially if you want to hide, but not when you have something important and intimate to share.  I was also trying to evolve within 20-year relationship with my ex-wife.  Our divorce was pending, yet we were still living together.  And, most exciting for me, was ending a lifetime of struggle with a body filled with male testosterone.  I couldn’t wait to begin hormone replacement therapy, which  included estrogen and testosterone blockers.  I just wished my therapist would hurry up and write the all-important letter to my endocrinologist so I could start living more freely.   

This specific story about transitioning at school, wasn’t supposed to include what happened that summer, and I thought of leaving it for another post, but in retrospect the summer of 2011 is too significant to ignore.  There were even more surprises, good and bad as the summer progressed.  During that time my strength and conviction living in my new true identity only grew stronger.  Each day seemed like a test, not just for me, but for the people in my life. Whether they liked it or not, I was here to stay. 

The success and relief of coming out to my sisters and my brother earlier that spring was a major accomplishment and it gave me some peace of mind.   Each had their own wonderful and unique reaction, and their unflinching love and support is something I will never forget. The next step was to tell the rest of my family.  Lucky me, their was an event planned later in June in conjunction with Father’s Day and my brother’s 50th birthday.  Little did they know we would be also be celebrating the introduction of their new sister and/or daughter to the family.  Happy days indeed.  

The anxiety in the lead up to that weekend was intense, but I always found ways to cope. Sometimes the methods weren’t the healthiest, like drinking and/or hurting myself, but my rekindled love of running and writing became welcome companions during this stressful time. After reaching out to a few allies for advice on how to approach this eminent event, I thought I had a plan in place. I decided to go slightly less feminine than my typical new, day to day, which meant no wig, etc.  I guess I didn’t want to shock and turn people away from who I was.  A cute tee, girly shorts, accompanied with a sweatshirt and hipster knit cap would have to do for the time being.  Clean-shaven and three months into laser hair removal, my complexion was improving, so I wore little makeup, just a little tinted moisturizer.  My nails were painted with a light gloss and I wore my typical bracelets. While my newly pierced ears were sparkling, I wondered if anyone would notice? 

As a family, we usually only get the opportunity to see each other twice a year.  That past winter was my last visit.  I had spent some time with my parents as my mom recovered from heart surgery in December, then again in January to watch a Patriots’ game. It was then I informed them I was planning on getting divorced.  I would be the first in my the family to do so and the conversation was emotional.  But I couldn't tell them the whole truth, and that ate at me all spring. 

The first event scheduled for the weekend was go-cart racing in honor of my brother’s birthday, look out Danica Patrick.  After a short drive to Massachusetts, I arrived in the industrial parking lot nervous as hell.  Shortly, a few other brothers arrived and I informed them as quickly as possible before I losing the nerve. One was quiet, yet curious and asked some questions, which I loved.  The other was outwardly understanding and surprisingly vocally supportive.  Wow, that went well, much better than feared.  There was still one more brother to connect with, but a crowd had gathered, and it was time to race.   

That morning, I raced against my brothers and a few nephews who had joined in the fun.  I got a few comments from other family members, mostly about my “hip” new look, and I remember a sister-in law mentioning my weight, I had lost quite a bit recently, and she wanted to know my secret to getting so skinny.  The truth wasn’t readily available, so I thanked her; welcoming the compliment.  After a few hours of harmless fun we headed to my parents’ for part two of the weekend.  On the way, a few of us stopped for lunch.  We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company, along with French fries and sandwiches, like we always have.  As far as I could tell, my recent news hadn’t overtly changed our relationships all that much, but it was still very early.

With 5 of my 6 siblings in on my news, I could see the end in sight, or so I thought.  After parking on the street, I entered my parents’ backyard to the familiar sights and sounds of nieces and nephews running and playing with each other.  I loved having cousins to play with when I was young and I expected a few to be at the event.  I probably will tell them as well, if I have the opportunity.  My parents usually invite other friends and extended family to join in our festivities.  More the merrier has always been a family motto, we are a family of nine.  Why did I pick this weekend to come out?  I started to make the rounds, greeting everyone with enthusiasm, like I always have. I said hi and hugged my parents, but I couldn’t say anything, it wasn’t the right time. Is there ever a right time, probably not.   While I got some looks, I tried not to let them get to me. 

The crowd grew and I had a few drinks to relax. Eventually, I had the opportunity to have a short conversation with the last brother.  Most of the conversations went something like this; “I like to share something important with you. I’ve been struggling with my gender identity most of my life and I have embraced that I’m a transgender woman.” As expected, there wasn’t much of a reaction, but he was inquisitive about what it actually meant to be trans*.  I do appreciate questions, and while I’m not an expert on the subject, I briefly shared what it meant to me.  And with that, I only had my parents and 30 other friends and relatives to talk to.  
 
As the night went on several more special people were included in my news.  A few cousins, who I’ve always felt close to, were easier to talk with, were now in.  Their support and knowledge of the subject helped ease some of my anxiety.  We planned on getting together the next day to get caught up away from this chaos.  In the morning, after spending a restless night on a weary couch, I continued spreading the word, my sister-in laws were wonderful, and seemed excited to hear the news.  Finally I had the chance to talk to my mom.  We had a private moment together in the backyard.  It was difficult and emotional, but my mom was awesome after I told her my news.  I think by definition moms are great.  She even mentioned a trans* person she had recently seen on Oprah.  Thank you Oprah.  My mom showed great compassion and courage at a time that was probably very distressing.  I can’t put into words how wonderful she made me feel. I asked for advice on how to talk to my dad and she suggested a letter.  That’s what I was hoping she would say. I don’t think I could’ve done it face to face. 


In the following week I wrote numerous letters.  I wrote a follow-up note to my brothers’ and sisters, as well as emails to several close friends, several of which I’ve known for nearly 40 years. I heard back from everyone, and some even called to say check-in and say hi. Wow, that felt good.  And, I wrote a letter to my dad, it was addressed to my parents.  My mom thought it would be better that way. Later, I heard through the grapevine how difficult it was for him.  And I can only assume it’s been hard for my mom and brothers and sisters as well.  In a way, their brother and son was leaving them, only to exist in memories, stories, and old photos.  I hope they would be able to see that within the sister and daughter that I was becoming, there was even a brighter spirit that was just waiting to shine. 


I was now home for summer, and I thought I could relax a little. It was time to enjoy the sun, run, and read.  At my last visit to my therapist, I asked her to write the “letter” to my doctor, so I could start hormones.  It was time. The letter was a professional statement regarding my mental status and official diagnosis, gender identity disorder.  New terminology, gender dysphoria, will be published this year, replacing the outdated and demeaning status.  The overdue change is welcome news to many in the medical and mental health community, not to mention the trans* community, that continues to be treated as freaks and monsters by many (sorry, I couldn't resist). My letter finally reached my endocrinologist, and I anxiously waited for them to fill my prescription.  It was Friday, July 1st and I just couldn’t bare the agony of waiting until Tuesday, Monday was the 4th of July and a holiday.  I had waited 44 years, why would 3 days matter, I don’t know, it just did.  Later that afternoon, I received word; it was in!  


With a bright smile, I thanked my pharmacist and I picked up my first month’s dose of estradiol.  I drove like a maniac directly to the beach; I had a plan, and I an excuse if I was pulled over for speeding, or so I thought.  Once situated in my favorite location, I poured a drink and opened the amber yellow pill bottle. There was no childproof cap, thank god, that would have really sucked.  Inside were the most beautiful pretty blue pills I’ve ever seen.  My initial dose of two pills rested preciously in the palm of my left hand like they were diamonds. I immediately thought of my favorite scene from the movie The Matrix, when Neo, the main character, is offered two pills from his guide, Morpheus.  “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back.”  I breathed out and placed the pills on the back of my waiting tongue, close my eyes to the bright setting sun and with a sip of vodka, they slide down my throat, like Alice sliding down the rabbit hole head first.