Monthly Archives: August 2012

stepping out

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We attend a local church, one that is a combination of liberal and conservative, with a congregation skewed towards the older and wiser amongst us. The pastor of our church is a woman a few years younger than I; I knew she was going to be “one of us” from the very beginning because of the colourful pink streak in her brown hair and the funky skirts she wore when “off-duty.” We’ve already told both priests (the other priest is also a woman; clearly we attend an Anglican church!), and several other folks at church about Melody; she’s been welcomed graciously, and some of the choir members are already calling her by her “girl name.”

And so it was that on a recent sunny Sunday, Melody stood in front of her closet, in her skimpies, a half-hour before we had to leave for choir practice. She seemed a little pensive; when I asked her what was wrong, she shrugged one shoulder and said, “I have these cute skirts and dresses, and I haven’t gotten to wear them yet. I kind of want to wear a dress to church today.” She fingered the green/blue/yellow patchwork gypsy dress that had so transformed her in my eyes a couple of months ago.

“Well…” I said, taking a deep breath. “Are you ready? I mean, I know you said that you wanted to wait to Dress until you could present as a woman more clearly. (“to Dress” is our euphemism for dressing in unmistakably female clothing, such as a dress or a skirt. We say it with a slight emphasis, as though it were, in fact, capitalized.) The electrolysis is going well and your face looks great, but you still have your Adam’s Apple…” I trailed off, seeing the disappointment in her face.

“But they already know I’m Melody. I’ve been wearing feminine tops and shorts for weeks now to church. What would be the difference?”

I needed a few minutes to think. I wasn’t sure what was going on inside my own head, and I had an idea it was important to try and understand my own reactions to this. To gain myself a bit of time, I waved at the dress and said, “Well, why don’t you get Dressed up the way you’d like to today, and we’ll see how things are when you’re all put together.”

I turned over thoughts and feelings within me as I helped her pull the dress over her head, find a necklace, then a bracelet, and held up various earrings she might wear with the outfit should she ever decide to get her ears pierced.

As we debated shoes, I realized that I was feeling hesitant, cautious, maybe even…nervous. Perhaps even the beginnings of scared. Up till now, no one had to know what was going on if we didn’t want them to know, because we had to specifically tell them. Melody’s dress and speech, her gestures and facial features, her hair and body are, for the most part, those of a young gay male, perhaps a bit on the I-want-to-wear-girl-clothes side of things. But anyone who wanted to ignore who and what she is could do so. That was just fine with us, as it protected our privacy out in public to a great degree.

Walking into the church choir pews in a dress, well now. There’s no way to hide that, not if you’re a six-foot-tall person most of them first met as “Nicholas.” Wearing a dress to church would be making a very public announcement, in a non-verbal fashion, in a way that would not allow us any control over what people would think, or what conclusions they came to, or even what name they gave to what they were seeing. We also lose control of who knows; we don’t get to choose only the “nice” people, the people we know will be supportive.

Talk about coming out of the closet: Sunday morning choir practice, small-town Anglican church, and more than half those folks have been in the congregation for thirty years. Hoo-boy.

No wonder I was feeling wee bit apprehensive.

As I fixed her hair for her, trying to bring a bit of femininity to a haircut that had originally been chosen for its professional appearance on a male professor, I realized that, while she might be ready to step out, perhaps I wasn’t ready yet. When I admitted this to her, she looked up at me and said, “That’s completely understandable. These folks are an important support system for you right now. And even if I’m completely comfortable with Dressing today, which don’t know that I am, your comfort level is important, too. So if you’re not ready, we don’t have to do this yet.”

I’d finished with her hair, and we stepped in front of the mirror to see how she looked.

She was utterly adorable. Her smile, the glow of happiness, the aura of self-confidence, the absolute “rightness” of the outfit on her, all of these made the Adam’s apple and other masculine cues not quite so noticeable or significant anymore.

Chagrined, I thought to myself: “There she is, brave and confident and ready to make her first public appearance in a dress, and it’s ME who’s holding her back, it’s ME who does not have the courage to take this step. I’ve been expending so much effort trying to convince everyone–the cats, the dog, Martians, whomever–that Melody’s transition is about HER, not about me, that it was hard for me to admit that in fact, yes, if she was stepping out of the closet as a transwoman, then I would be holding the door for her, and then following her right through that same portal. I wouldn’t be a “normal” married woman any more; I wouldn’t be “one of them,” someone they could joke to about their husbands with a knowing raised eyebrow. As I crossed that threshold, I’d be making my own transition, from hetero married woman to lesbian wife of a transgendered person who is barely a few months into her journey. Because of this, I would have to have my own bravery, my own confidence, my own readiness to face whatever might come after we step out of that closet together.

My feelings were telling me that I wasn’t quite there yet. I wasn’t feeling that brave, I was shaking in my shoes at the thought of what some of the more conservative fok might think or say or do, and I hadn’t prepared myself for this moment, not in any real way. Maybe one cannot prepare for such an event, but I wanted to somehow, someway, feel a bit more solid and courageous than I did now.

Front

Melody kissed me, and told me it was OK, that it was totally fine, there would be plenty of days to Dress in the years ahead. She took off her dress and changed into one of her less obviously feminine tops, and a pair of linen shorts; and we took the clips out of her hair; however, she insisted on leaving the necklace around her neck.

I felt disloyal, as though I had chickened out on some promise I had made. Here she was, being all brave and stuff, and it’s SHE who will have to bear the brunt of people’s reactions, and yet, I’m the one who’s afraid. I could see how disappointed she was, but she was also very gentle and gracious and understanding.

We walked to church hand-in-hand, and because of her recognition and gentling of my fears, I felt loved. No matter how courageous and politically correct a transwoman’s wife I try to be, it’s realistic to be scared, it’s normal to be nervous.

After all, it’s my transition, too.

P. S. Some of you asked for a photo of Melody in her prettiest dress. A photo of the dress on its own will have to do for now; we’ll post other photos when we’re ready.

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fun with pronouns

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You think you have a good command of English. You score in the top percentiles of every verbal test anywhere, you win prizes for essays and poems, and, oh, yes: You write for a living.

Then, one day, your husband chooses some dresses, gets some electrolysis, and changes his name to Melody, and suddenly all of your hard-won language skills mean nothing. Suddenly, you’re a first year language student studying a language where tables are “la” and doors are “el” and El Gato is still El Gato even if El Gato is an adorable she-kitten.

I’m Melody’s wife, for heaven’s sake. I’ve been with her every step of the way, and you’d think I’d be flawlessly smooth in my deft usage of the correct pronoun at the correct time.

Not a chance. Someone asks how Melody is doing, and I answer, “Oh, he’s doing, I mean she’s doing fine. He wants to…She. She wants…aw heck. He. She… HimHerIt. Whatever.” And then I laugh, to let the person know that this happens all the time to me.

It’s practically pronoun soup at our house.

It all seems so simple. Just stop using the words “he” and “him” for someone, and start substituting the words “she” and “her”.

That’s not the way it is, at least not for us. We find that we pretty much have to make up our own grammar rules around pronoun usage. In my daily speech, I still use the “wrong” pronoun or name, by accident, all the time. But as time goes on, and especially as I try to find a way to write about my experiences as Melody’s wife, I find myself making more and more deliberate choices about pronoun usage.

For instance, if you’ve read other posts on this site, you may have noticed me referring to my spouse as Nicholas, using “he” and “him” as though Melody weren’t on the scene at all. Well, in a way, she wasn’t, at least not at certain points in our past. I tend to refer to the person I met nine years ago and married eight years ago as Nicholas. Back then, he was not presenting as a woman in any sort of conscious way, and he referred to himself as male. He dressed exclusively in male clothing, and even though he admitted he was transgendered, he was (somewhat) content to be seen as a man on the outside. He was a guy, and living as a guy, so it makes sense to refer to that person during that time as a guy.

In some of the posts, you may have seen me mixing gender pronouns within a single sentence, making a terribly confusing mess out of an already complicated story. (My only advice to you if you are going to follow along with us in these adventures is: Buckle yourselves in; make sure your tray tables are in the upright and locked position.)

Those posts tend to be about the last year or so, when Nicholas had just started asking me to call him Melody, when we had just begun exploring the changes to come, when no one outside of the two of us really knew what was going on. That was an interesting (and confusing) time for both of us. Nicholas would answer to either name; half the time I called him one thing and half the time I called her the other. We tried out nicknames, we experimented with telling our dog to “Go see Mama Melody!” instead of the usual “Go see Daddy!” This was only when we were alone together, of course; it was important for us to test-drive this new situation way, way before we got others involved in the grammar fun.

Now when I write about that time period, I choose each pronoun carefully, with much thought, in order to convey the state of the change-in-progress, a switchover from male-to-female that was happening right before my eyes at that moment.

For present-day happenings, I refer to my wife, she, and Melody.

There are days, however, when my temper gets the better of me and I get all riled up and yell at “Nicholas”. Because of course, my wife is PERFECT. Melody, my lovely sweetheart, is the apple of my eye and can do no wrong. (Poor “Nicholas”. That guy really puts up with sooooo much.)

Sounds like I am joking, right? Maybe yes, maybe no. It is true that I have a more difficult time getting mad at Melody; after all, I’ve only had a wife for a few months now. It’s a new stage of our relationship. There’s a tendency to mentally lump all the annoying characteristics of one’s spouse onto the identity which is being shed, leaving only the good stuff behind in the new persona.

Trouble is, though: We both know about this now, and whenever I start talking to my husband instead of my wife, Melody raises her eyebrows and says something like, “Oh, so now I’m Nicholas, am I? What did Nicholas do this time?” At which point, we dissolve in giggles and that pretty much is that.

After all is said and done, all I can say is: If you think you’re confused, you are definitely not the only one.

clothes as chrysalis

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The journey from “biological male with a woman’s brain” to woman, inside and out, is long, complicated, and full of things people are fascinated by but don’t dare to ask about. One has to start somewhere, however. We started with the women’s section of the Land’s End website.

Nicholas (not quite Melody just yet) had been gradually adding slightly more feminine items to his wardrobe, mostly tops, one or two at a time, as his male clothes wore out. Then one day, he called me to the computer and asked me to help him pick out the real beginnings of his (or actually, her) new wardrobe. We went through every garment, every choice on that site and several others; I discovered that he has a playful, yet elegant sense of style and and an excellent instinct for colour. Together, we chose several items; I felt incredibly touched that he wanted my opinion and help with these first outward symbols of his emerging inner self.

The packages arrived; he was excited, but for some reason, they sat in their packages for a day or so, on the main worktable in our front room. Perhaps we were getting used to their presence in our lives, the existence of flowery things belonging to him, instead of to me. That first time, we came up with a little ritual to help welcome the changes to his wardrobe and to our lives: Trying On The Finery. I asked Nicholas if I could see him in her new things. With the aid of a full-length mirror, together we explored these visions of a new self. We’ve since done this with every new purchase; it’s become something we cherish and make time for no matter what else is going on.

The first try-on session was mostly shirts and tops, but it was a revelation to me nonetheless–a moment held in time in my memory, a sacred event. For me, that was the day the transition really began, even though for Melody herself the changes had begun long before.

This next part is hard to explain, but I’ll give it a go.

Having helped Nicholas choose his purchases, of course I knew what the clothes looked like. On the internet. In the catalog. Folded flat in their plastic packaging. As the first flowered shirt became three-dimensional by enveloping his body, as he buttoned it up to claim it as her own, a shift happened inside me. You know that moment in the Wizard of Oz movie where Dorothy steps out of her tornado-tossed, monochrome house into the technicolour Land of Oz? That’s what it was like watching Nicholas don her girl clothes. One moment my husband Nicholas was opening a package from Land’s End, and then, as he raised his head from buttoning the shirt, the “he” fell away and the “she” looked up and smiled at me. I saw my wife for the first time that day. She was beautiful.

As she took off the shirt, I watched her change back to Nicholas. Trouble is, though, once you have seen what’s really there, you cannot go back. Several more blouses were tried on, and my view of the person in front of me wavered from husband to wife, from male to female, from Nicholas to Melody and back again. Then…well.

We’d saved the dress for last.

We’d chosen one dress, after considering and rejecting dozens of summer styles. It’s multicoloured, almost patchwork, with embroidered embellishment, beads, and lovely buttons in clever places. Melody had fallen in love with the floral motifs, the bright colours, the playful feel of it. She was worried it wouldn’t fit; I could tell she liked it so much that she did not want to return it.

I helped her slip it over her head; as I stepped back, I saw her toss her hair to get it out of her eyes. The motion was so completely feminine that I stopped and just watched her for a few moments as she moved her shoulders and her arms to settle the dress more comfortably, just as every woman does with a new outfit.

And then I watched as her shoulders relaxed, and her face relaxed, and her smile grew, and her arms relaxed, and I know it’s sappy and cliché, but I felt as though I was watching a butterfly fresh from the chrysalis, shaking out her wings, getting to know her new self, relaxing with the joy of finally discovering her own beauty.

I cried. I stood there, my hand over my mouth, tears running down my face, and marveled at the wonder of a woman emerging from a long time hidden from the world. “That’s my wife,” I thought, and savoured the sound of it. “My wife, Melody.”

And I cried more tears of wonder and revelation, gobsmacked by the immensity and the sacredness and the simplicity and the reality and the love encased in this moment.

I knew then that we were never going to live in Kansas again. The Land of Oz, the land of unfolding wonder, the country of talking trees and dangerous wicked witches and generous townspeople, this would be our home and our strange new journey from now on.

the frog princess

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The boy, a tow-headed little guy of about six, had been staring at the person sitting next to me for some time. I smiled encouragingly at him, and he inched closer to us. Unable to hold back his curiosity any longer, he stood in front of my partner and blurted out, “Why are you wearing girl’s clothes? That shirt has flowers on it!”

My companion and I exchange glances and small grins. “Here we go again,” I think. My companion says, “Well, I like flowers. Don’t you like flowers?”

Small pause from Master Short Stuff, and then a protest. “But flowers are for GIRLS! You’re a boy! And last time at church you were wearing other girl clothes. You need to get some boy clothes, maybe.”

Oh, how hard it is not to dissolve into giggles at this solemn advice. It’s nearly impossible, in fact, but we soldier on so as not to embarrass Master Short Stuff. Also, we are conscious of the presence of Short Stuff’s mother, who by now is standing with her hand on her son’s shoulder. She looks at me, I smile questioningly at her, and she gives a tiny nod.

Melody sees her nod, and proceeds to recite what has become the background chorus of our daily lives. “I’m wearing girl clothes because I am a girl. I know I don’t look like a girl yet, but I’m working on changing my outside so I look like what I really am inside.”

Short Stuff examines Melody intently, head to toe, taking inventory, measuring her words and her appearance against everything he has learned about boys and girls in his six short years on the planet.

“Nuh-uh,” he concludes, with all the confidence of a child who knows that dragons exist. “You’re a boy! You’ve got a beard that you shave off just like my dad, and no girls have beards. Besides.” He nudges a finger in my direction. “You have a wife. Wifes are girls and only boys marry girls.”

Thankfully, at this point, his mother chimes in. “Remember Ann from summer camp, and how she has two moms? Well Ann’s mommies are married to each other, and they’re both girls. Girls can get married to other girls if they want to. Do you remember what the word for two mommies is?”

Thoughtful nod from her son. “Lizibins,” he says proudly.

Really, there are some times I think I ought to get a medal in Not Laughing Out Loud At Things Children Say.

His mother is not quite so amused. “Lesbians,” she corrects gently. She glances at us and makes a “so sorry” face. (We’re in Canada, after all. One must apologise at every and any opportunity.)

Short Stuff looks back at us. “So you’re lez-bee-uns? Two girls who are married together? Then why do you (pokes a finger at Melody) have a beard if you’re a girl?”

“Because there was a mistake in my body when I was born: I got the brain of a girl, and the feelings of a girl, but some boy parts on the outside. I’m changing things so I can be a girl on the outside, too, but it takes a long time. I know it’s confusing, but in a couple of months, I won’t have the beard anymore and I’ll start looking more like who I really am.”

A young girl, Short Stuff’s sister, has crept up and is standing on the other side of her mother, a fistful of Mom’s skirt in her hand. “Like the frog prince!” she exclaims, seeming very pleased with herself for figuring this out. “Except instead of a prince, you’re a princess. And maybe she–a small pink-painted fingernail points in my direction–kissed you and now you are gonna change into a fairy princess.”

Best description I’ve ever heard of what it is to be the wife of a transwoman, a girl born with boy parts who is struggling to grow into herself. Of course, my kisses don’t make her into who she is–but I’m sure they help somehow.