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?

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