Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Little More Information

I'm going to try to answer the rest of your questions as best I can.  Please forgive the question/answer format, but it was just easier that way. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Q:  How does it feel for you to write about Mr. FW as "he" even when discussing events that happened pre-transition.  (For example, you wrote about your first date with him, not her.)  Does it feel like you are rewriting your own past?

A:  This is a really good question and an issue that can sometimes be a challenge for me.  I used to do more of the whole, "Mr. FW, well back then it was Ms. FW, she did blah blah blah" but that got really long-winded.  Plus it's difficult for me to go back and forth with pronouns and it's difficult for the listener to follow who I'm talking about.  At this point I probably refer to Mr. FW, past and present, almost exclusively as male unless his female gender is related to the story I'm telling.  Since nearly all of the people in our lives know that Mr. FW is trans, I don't typically have concerns that I'm hiding or re-writing anything.  That's probably part of why it's so important for me to tell the truth about my life and our history. 

Q:  Are the people close to you and your FI open to talking about his former female identity, or is it more important to him that others leave that to the past?

A:  Mr. FW is very open to it and the people in our life do bring it up from time to time, although I think there's always a pang of sadness for him at the reminder that he hasn't always been male.

Q:  What qualified Mr. FW to be legally be a man?  Was it the hormone therapy, the surgery, or a mix of both?

A:  For Mr. FW it was the surgery.  In general, a trans person needs a doctor's attestation that they've had an 'irreversible medical procedure' in order to legally change their gender.

Q:  Did Mr. FW's training as a psychologist enable him to understand himself and his desire to transition to a man any better?

A:  This is sort of like a 'chicken or the egg' question.  I'm going to guess that it was Mr. FW's interest in and capacity for introspection that led him to the field of psychology, and it's the introspection that helped him with his transition rather than anything specific to his study of psychology (although I'm sure it didn't hurt). 

Q:  Will you have to give Mr. FW the testosterone injections forever?

A:  There are many factors that go into this equation, but the short answer is yes.  After some time he may be able to reduce his doseage and/or the frequency of injections. 

Q:  Is it harder to identify with Mr. FW now that he's a man?  Did it ever feel like you were with a new person?

A:  Honestly, no.  For the entirety of our relationship Mr. FW has always been very stereotypically masculine in terms of his interests and hobbies.  He has a very male energy, and that's probably one of the things that attracted me to him.  But because he was brought up as a female, he also has many of the female socialization traits that are essential for me to have the kind of connection with him that I do.

Q:  Does Mr. FW feel relieved to be seen as part of a heterosexual couple, since he identified all along as beng a male attracted to females?  As you feel you lost part of your identity, does he feel he's been able to "reclaim" some of his, so to speak?

A:  Certainly this process has been all about him being able to reclaim part of his identity.  I asked him this question and I was surprised that he said yes, he does feel somewhat relieved to be seen as part of a heterosexual couple now.  He said he thinks it's because he's been visibly queer all of his life, so a heterosexual relationship affirms what was a previously invisible part of his identity.  For me, it was the other way around.  Because I'm feminine-appearing, I've never been visibly queer outside of a lesbian relationship.  To the extent that people previously seeing us as a lesbian couple would reaffirm his female-ness, being part of a heterosexual couple now affirms his male-ness. 

Q:  I was wondering if you found other couples treating you differently, both those that you knew before the transition and those that you continue to meet as the change occurs?

A:  Yes and no.  I think our friends pretty much treat us the same.  (Although something funny that's begun to happen is that friends will 'forget' we can't get pregnant naturally.  Ha!)  Family members seems to relate to us well as a male/female couple preparing to get married.  It makes me curious how they would have reacted if we were still a female/female couple, but I guess I'll never know.  And obviously in larger society heterosexual couples are just treated very differently than are lesbian couples.

Q:  Was Mr. FW's weight change purely hormonal?

A:  He wishes!  No, he was working hard to get healthier and he's done a really good job with it so far.

Q:  It has always appeared to me that switching genders enforces the typical and traditional stereotypes of male and female, which is something that bothers me.  Is this actually true?

A:  There's obviously some correlation between having stereotypically cross-gender interests and potentially being more inclined towards a trans identity.  That said, there are just as many ways to be transgender as there are to be male or female.  I think transitioning does reinforce stereotypes, but it does so in the same way that entering into normative heterosexual marriage reinforces stereotypes.  A person (or people) might look traditional and/or stereotypical from the outside but it doesn't have to be that way on the inside if you don't want it to be.  You might be a traditional couple with stereotypical gender roles (or a traditional man with stereotypically male interests), or you could be something else altogether.  Just like many other heterosexual couples we reinforce stereotypical gender roles in some ways (I take longer to get ready in the morning, Mr. FW likes to watch sports, and it's his job to take out the trash) and we don't in other ways (Mr. FW does the laundry, I manage all our finances, and he has a much stronger interest in staying at home with children than I do). 

Many of you asked about our feelings regarding getting legally married when so many other LGBT couples cannot, and because that's such a complicated and delicate question I will dedicate a separate post to that topic later.

And thus ends my class on trans issues as they pertain to our relationship.  :-)  Whew!  Did you make it this far?  Now it's share time!  Tell me - in what ways do you and your partner reinforce and defy traditions and stereotypes in your relationship?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

We Are So Loved

Two weekends ago we had what I can only imagine is the closest approximation to a wedding we will ever have - prior to our actual wedding, that is.

We had a wedding shower.

It was generously, and wonderfully, hosted by Mr. FW's aunt, sister, and mother who spent several months planning and then the better part of two days setting everything up. So unbelievably thoughtful! (Thank you all!!!)

The food was delicious, the company was incredible, I felt pampered beyond belief, I smiled so much my cheeks hurt, and we were surrounded by so much love that it's almost a little bit unbelievable to me. Bottom line: we had a great time. So what were the similarities to a wedding, you ask? Well, by the end of this epic party I had talked a little bit to a lot of people, had barely eaten anything, was forced to get over any uncomfortable feelings I had about being the center of attention, and I hadn't seen Mr. FW for most of the day. I have to say, it was great practice for the big day. When people say that at your wedding you have to consciously try to spend time with everyone (including your partner) because it won't happen otherwise, or that you have to make sure you eat, they're not kidding.

Our hostesses made a wonderful decision when they opted to make the shower co-ed because that is just so perfectly us. Sure, the tradition is for showers to be all-female affairs, and that knowledge certainly didn't escape several of our guests who were more than just a little curious about what men would do at a shower. But I think they fared just fine.

{observing/participating in the contest; the winner: three-dimensional accents and boho headpiece}

Mr. FW and I are so lucky, we are so loved, and we can't wait to get married!

If you've had a shower, did you find it to be a wondrous whirlwind like I did? Would you ever consider a co-ed shower?

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Timeline: Part 3

One year and nine months after coming out to me, 364 days after starting testosterone, and eight months after having top surgery, Mr. FW officially became a 'mister' in the eyes of the law.

{It's Mr. FW}
With guidance from the super helpful information provided by the Transgender Law Center, Mr. FW worked with his medical doctor for several weeks to draft a letter with all of the very precise language needed to satisfy the requirements of both federal (social security, passport) and state (court, DMV, birth certificate) agencies. With the letter and a lot of other forms firmly in hand, he was assigned a court date for his legal name and gender change hearing. We went together to court that day along with probably fifteen other people. Many were women changing their names and/or their kids' names due to marriage or divorce, some were just changing their first name to something they preferred better, and two people were there to change their name and gender.

The 'hearing' was quick. Just a minute at the microphone in front of the judge (and everyone else in the room), and half an hour later we walked out of there with a several certified copies of the court order that would very literally change our lives. For starters, Mr. FW could begin the tedious and annoying process of applying for new identity documents and changing his name on all of his accounts. For those of you who've changed your name before, I'm sure you recall the hours and hours of time you spent reading and filling out paperwork.

{a small sampling of said paperwork}

So the court order allowed Mr. FW to get new documents, yes, but it also had other important and mind-bending ramifications for our relationship. Now that he was legally male, we could legally get married. It's what I like to call the Marriage Loophole. Before we went to court that morning we were a lesbian couple in the eyes of the law, with no ability to access the rights and responsibilities of state-sanctioned marriage. But within just half an hour in front of a judge, well, then we could totally get married just like any other heterosexual couple. Same two people, same relationship, same genetic hardware - but now we could be official. (And just for fyi's sake, the Marriage Loophole usually works in the other direction as well, depending on the state. If one member of a married heterosexual couple transitions genders, that couple is allowed to remain legally married even though they will appear to the world as a gay or lesbian couple because their marriage was legal at the time it took place.)

image via Wikipedia

Having the power to choose whether or not to make our union legal is something I'd never dreamed of and it really made me evaluate my thoughts and feelings about marriage - what it means, what its purpose is, and how I feel about accessing it. Because I've stood on the other side of that marriage dividing line I can honestly say there is enormous privilege in being able to make that choice (something I'd assumed before, but hadn't felt firsthand until recently). That's a bigger topic deserving of its own post, though. For now I'm concentrating on a post answering your remaining questions before I get back to the nitty gritties of our of our wedding planning process.

Did you know about the Marriage Loophole? If you're a person who has access to legal marriage, would you ever consider having a ceremony without necessarily making it legal?

The Timeline: Part 2

Mr. FW started on testosterone in October of 2009, just a few days shy of our 5-year dating anniversary. As is typical, his primary care physician required the letter from his psychologist in order to okay him for hormone treatment. I went with him to his appointment and a nurse trained me before I gave Mr. FW his first testosterone injection. So I (of the needle phobia variety) have actually given Mr. FW the majority of his injections for over a year. I'm pretty proud of myself for that, actually, and it serves as a concrete way that I can be a part of his transition process.

From my perspective, there are a few testosterone-induced changes that really stand out. Most obviously there's the stuff like voice deepening and a massive increase in body hair (and that adolescent acne phase, but we don't have to think about that any more - thank you benzoyl peroxide). Listening to Mr. FW on old videos is like listening to an entirely different person, and it's so weird to think he ever sounded like that. Another really significant change is that Mr. FW doesn't cry as much now - like hardly ever. I knew lots of other trans guys experienced this change as well, but I secretly hoped it wouldn't happen for us. Boo... Mr. FW says that anger comes more easily for him now and he'll have to "sit through that rush of energy" in order for other emotions to come, but I haven't really noticed him being angrier so he must be doing a good job managing it. Other than those things, the testosterone changes have been really subtle and I've never once felt like Mr. FW was fundamentally different from the person he was pre-testosterone.

{our before picture}
Remember in this post, where I hinted about my engagement gift to Mr. FW? I wanted to get him something as lasting and memorable (and financially substantial) as a diamond ring, and it turns out that there was something he really wanted to have as well: chest surgery (or top surgery). Very few insurance plans will cover top surgery, so it's definitely a financial hardship. And that's how Fr. FW ended up with engagement surgery, while I got an engagement ring.

I totally understood why he needed to have top surgery. He was binding (minimizing the appearance of his chest) on a regular basis, but people were still reading him as female. His physique without the binder was definitely female-appearing, and he wanted to have a physical body that was more in-line with his internal gender identity. He needed surgery. Maybe I did too, at least on some logical level. If I was going to have a male partner I supposed I preferred one with a male chest rather than a female chest. That's logical, understandable. But it didn't matter. For him I was so happy, but for me I was so very sad. All of the masculinizing changes that happen with testosterone happen gradually, so I had a lot of time to get used to them. (Sometimes too much time - like the fact that Mr. FW still has adolescently-patchy facial hair. Yikes.) But this change was immediate and final. Once he was out of surgery I could never have him back the way he was before. As Mr. FW pointed out to me, this same argument could be made for facial hair and a deeper voice, but top surgery felt totally different to me. Even though both of us could understand where the other was coming from, I don't think either of us could fully relate to the other about this issue. All I could do was be happy for him, but I couldn't really join him in that happiness. And likewise all he could do was to be sad for my sense of loss because he couldn't be sad himself.

His surgery was scheduled for February of 2010, but because I'd just started a new job I wasn't able to go with him. So before I left for work that morning I kissed him (and them) goodbye. I still get teary thinking about that moment when I quietly whispered to them, "I have loved you well."

Post-surgery we both had a lot of adjusting to do to his new physique. Not only did he look different, but when we were hugging or cuddling he felt different too. But adjust we did, and now after many months of healing, Mr. FW is noticeably more confident in his appearance than he ever was before. That has been so gratifying for me, and I can't think of a better engagement gift I could have given him than the freedom he gained from that surgery.

So if you're following along the timeline, you'll notice that we started talking concretely about wedding planning in January of 2009 and Mr. FW had surgery in February of 2010. One of the (many) reasons we decided to wait a while to have the wedding was to allow sufficient time for Mr. FW's body to masculinize. It was important to me that we could look back on our wedding pictures and see the man that he is and not the woman he was. And now we can certainly do that.

{at our wedding shower this past weekend - more on that later}

Okay, I didn't quite get to the legal process in this post so that's what I'll tackle next. For now, Hive, tell me how you've stood beside your partners through situations that the two of you didn't agree on, and how did that impact your relationship?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Timeline: Part 1

To the Hive: I just want to thank you again for the overwhelming support you gave to me and Mr. FW in my last post. You are incredible, and I am so very proud to be a part of such an amazing community. I have noted every one of your questions, and I’ll be slowly working my way through them over my next few posts. You rock!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In January of 2009 Mr. FW and I took a weekend trip to Los Angeles, and on a romantic walk down the hill from the Getty Museum we talked seriously for the first time about planning a wedding. The prospect of that started to feel real, and we were elated.

{sunset at the Getty}

Just a day later we were driving back to San Francisco from Los Angeles when Mr. FW tearfully told me that he was jealous of a female-to-male trans friend of ours. (Female-to-male, or FTM, means born biologically female and transitioning to male.)

Over that 6 hour car ride Mr. FW told me about his long history of questioning his gender identity and how hard he’d worked over the years to find ways to be happy with himself as a butch lesbian. He explained to me that he was genuinely happy with his life, but that he had a strong sense he could be happier and more comfortable if he could live his life as a man. What stopped him from seriously considering this in the past, he said, was a fear that he would lose me or his family, and he told me that if transitioning meant losing me that he wouldn’t even consider it. Loving him as I did, I of course wanted nothing more than for him to be happy, comfortable, and authentic. So we both started coming to grips with the idea that he would very likely begin a gender transition at some point in the future.

Looking back I can see all of these ’signs’ that Mr. FW was exploring his gender identity, like making attempts to masculinize his appearance in various ways and expressing discomfort with his name and feminine aspects of his body. But because we believe so strongly that gender is both a spectrum and a social construct, I can honestly say that I didn’t consciously equate this exploration with a trans identity. I was just accepting of him expressing his female identity however he wanted to, so him saying he thought he was trans came as a complete surprise to me.

{Valentine's dinner followed by a show}

We had a wonderful evening together on Valentine’s Day of 2009, but apparently that night we came home and I began expressing concerns that maybe our relationship wouldn’t be able to sustain this trans thing. I say ‘apparently’ because I honestly don’t remember most of the conversation and I don’t know what spurred it. I just remember feeling distant, almost numb, and sincerely fearful that our relationship might end because of something I had little control over.

It was sensitive between us for the next few days, but I think in that time I realized some important things about my own process. I learned that I was worried a gender transition would fundamentally change the partner I knew and loved. When I expressed that to Mr. FW he was easily able to convince me that if and when I had those concerns, he would listen to them and take them seriously. I also realized that my primary fears about him being a man were based on the worst stereotypes about masculinity run amok—things like explosive anger and a lack of emotional sensitivity—traits that I logically knew were so far from who Mr. FW is that it would take more than just a little testosterone to result in those changes. Throughout this process, my love for Mr. FW and my desire to spend my life with him never waivered, and I also never doubted his commitment to me.

Over the next few months we talked to each other about gender stuff honestly, openly, and often. We made little changes like experimenting with updating the name and gender of Mr. FW’s Mii on our Wii system or calling him “papa” to the dogs. Because Mr. FW is in graduate school for clinical psychology he was already required to completely 45 hours of personal psychotherapy prior to graduation, so he began counseling both to complete the requirement as well as to establish a therapeutic relationship so the psychologist could write the necessary letters for him. (Medical doctors will often require an assessment of psychological stability prior to beginning a hormone regimen or clearing someone for surgery.)

{ATV'ing in port}

There wasn’t really a way to masculinize Mr. FW’s female name, but he did want to keep the same first initial because he and his siblings all share it. We talked about various potential names, and I distinctly remember being really excited the morning we considered the awesome name Mr. FW eventually chose. I’m also pretty sure I single-handedly chose his middle name, though Mr. FW disagrees with that. We went on a cruise in June of that summer and Mr. FW asked if I could use the cruise as an opportunity to practice using male pronouns and his new name. That very first night we were at the buffet and we got separated. I turned around and I could see him looking for me, but his back was to me. In that moment I honestly would have preferred to just trail him for the next 5 minutes with a loaded down tray than to have to say that new name so he’d turn around. I felt so embarrassed, like somehow people would know I was calling someone by the ‘wrong’ name. That name was so foreign it had no meaning, and I felt pissed that I was being asked to do it in the first place. And truthfully I’m not sure I felt any more comfortable with it by the end of the week than I did at the beginning, but I was trying.

In August of that year, I addressed a birthday card to his new name for the very first time. (A birthday is a poignant time to welcome a new identity, no?) That birthday kind of marked the point when we both started making a concerted effort to consistently refer to him by his male name and male pronouns. We began the long process of coming out to everyone in our lives, and there were some people who had a difficult time with the news. Of course that was really painful for us, but by that time we’d been living with this reality for seven months, which made it a lot easier for us to fully understand and comfort each other through those challenges. Overall, though, we are exceptionally lucky and blessed in that we have so many supportive people around us in all areas of our lives (and that now includes the Hive!).

And that’s the story of how all of this started for us. In my next post I plan to cover our experiences with hormones, surgery, and the legal gender change process.

Has anyone else gone through a name change (gender-related or not) with someone before? How did you handle it?