Author Archives: sandi

About sandi

Knitter. Spinner. Quilter. UFO Wrangler. Sometime bead artist and weaver. 2 year-old kittens, 1 permakitten, 2 grownup cats, 1 beloved dog angel, 1 spouse, 1 crazy life. I suppose that the 5 cats make me 1 crazy cat lady; OTOH, apparently, yes, I do need that much feline supervision.

the joys of unwanted facial hair

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It’s not as though anyone hands you an instruction manual when you and your partner start out on the TransGender Pathway. Oh, sure, there are a zillion websites, organizations, community groups, medical sites, books, TV documentaries, tweets, and blogs out there, all of them trying to help sort through the crazypants journey that is the transgender life.

If you read/participate/listen to enough of the above, you very quickly realize that Everyone Has An Opinion About Hair Removal. This is an extremely hot topic in the trans community, as you might imagine. In particular, females born into a male body who wish to have their outsides match their insides are passionate about hair removal, as the presence/absence of facial hair is perhaps primary amongst the gender cues we humans respond to. In our society, if you have facial hair, you’re a dude and you get called “Sir.” (Notice that the opposite is not true. The LACK of facial hair does not automatically signal gender. Only the presence of facial hair. Interesting.)

It doesn’t matter that in Real Life, gender cues are not as tidy as Beard=Male and No Beard=Not Male. I know many self-identified females in otherwise female bodies who also have prominent beards or mustaches or both; I know many self-identified males who have male bodies, yet have little or no facial hair. The former tend to make many people uncomfortable; indeed, in the past, bearded ladies could make good money as circus freaks. (I hate that word, freak. But these days, some of the college-age crowd are trying to reclaim it, to say, yep, I’m a freak, as a badge of pride in their individuality. To them, I wave and say: Freak Power!)  The latter, males without facial hair, go unnoticed, for the most part; at the very least they are called “baby faced” or “boyish.”

But if you are a transwoman, in general: The beard has got to go.

Melody has always been the sort to shave frequently. Even when living as Nicholas, he hated five o’clock shadow. She was delighted at the prospect of not having to shave, of having smooth, soft, womanly skin.

Trouble is, it’s a long road from Beard to No Beard.

Melody is a research scientist; meticulous, thorough research is what she does for a living. So naturally, she spent months and months researching all sorts of hair removal methods, and based on her skin type, her hair type, and consultations, she decided on electrolysis for removing her beard and mustache. (We know that many folks are advising her to try a newish laser treatment; we’re looking into it. Trust me, Melody has Done And Is Doing The Research.)

Electrolysis, for those who don’t know, is where you literally burn out the hair follicles, one at a time, with a tiny electric probe. In order to know where the follicle is, you have to be able to see the hair above the skin. This means that before you can start an electrolysis treatment, you have to grow out your facial hair. So, for the first time in her life, Melody has had to actually grow a beard.

Before the beard, people tended to call her “Ma’am” if they called her anything at all. Now, it’s “Sir” and “Mr.” and it doesn’t matter what frilly blouse she is wearing, the beard (which is really just five o’clock shadow, not actual beard-length at all) says I Am A Dude.

This makes us laugh: Here she’s finally decided to come out and live her life as a woman, she wears frilly, lacy blouses, and NOW they’re calling her “Sir,” when they never did so pre-transition.

She says it doesn’t bother her. She says she is resigned to looking weird, and to having people stare at her, and to having her face “look awful” (her words). But, c’mon. She’s a human being. All of us humans care what our faces look like. ALL OF US CARE. In order to not care, she has to erect a shell, to dissociate her self from what she looks like.

Wait. Isn’t this what she’s had to do all her life, living as a woman in a male body? I thought that’s what we were moving away from, that horrible disconnect between body and soul, that sense of cognitive dissonance that she has suffered from every day, all the days of her life.

She doesn’t believe me when I say she’s cute, beautiful, or pretty. She is all these to me…and yes, I admit that I am slightly prejudiced. But I have friends with terrible facial scars…and I don’t think they “look awful.” Their faces are beloved to me. I have women friends with beards. I love their faces, how they look. In fact, I don’t know that I have any friends who might be considered beauty queens (or kings); they are all just regular folks. But each and every one of them shines, each and every one of them has a face that I find pleasing to look at, that I find lovable and beautiful.

Does a face have to be perfectly formed (what does “perfect” mean?), symmetrical, and totally in line with all the fantasies and prejudices and stereotypes that the world can throw at us to be beautiful?

I think not. And yet, I know that if I were to suffer some sort of facial scarring, I would struggle to feel beautiful. Heck, I struggle to feel beautiful even without any scars or beard hairs.

As usual, I started out intending this blog post to go in one direction, and it has ended up somewhere else. Like I say, no one hands you an instruction booklet.

This part of her struggle to feel beautiful, to accept her outer self, is temporary, we both know that. She’s had months of electrolysis and already, the shadow is lighter, the hair more sparse, the hairs that grow back more pale in colour.

Still. In all our research, all we heard about was the pain, the potential for scarring, the physical stuff. No one told us that, on her journey to become a woman, she’d have to take a step or two backwards for a while and wear a beard.

Life is so very much more odd than one can ever imagine.

did God make a mistake…?

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In one of the comments, Tatyana asked a question that deserves its own blog post as an answer.

Do you think God make a mistake [in] creating Nicholas a man?

That’s one of those all-time great questions, isn’t it? It’s a great question for two reasons: because it contains at least two big important questions within itself, and because it cuts to the heart of the matter: In the world of PinkAndBlue, what exactly ARE transgendered folks? How do they fit in? DO they fit in, or are they an error to be erased, blotted out, expunged somehow?

Questions within questions

I suppose there are actually quite a few more than two questions-within-the-question here.

  1. Is there a God?
  2. Does God make mistakes?
  3. Is transgenderism something God would be involved in?
  4. Is transgenderism a mistake?
  5. If it is a mistake, is it God’s mistake?
  6. If transgenderism is not a mistake, then what is it?
  7. If there is a God, and God doesn’t make mistakes, then what’s up with all these things that don’t follow The Rules in the world?
  8. Did God create Nicholas, the man….or did God create Nicholas, the Melody-in-waiting, the chrysalis from which a woman would later emerge?

There is no way I can answer any of these questions authoritatively. I’m not a scholar, I’m not a priest, I’m no Guru on the Mount.

But I am Melody’s wife, so of course, I have my opinions on the matters above.

I reserve the right to skip around and address the questions out of order, to skip a question completely, and to end up with no satisfactory answers at all any time soon.

NUMBER 1: Is There A God?

This blogger answers: Yes.

Your answer may vary. If you have a different answer to this question, then your answers to all the other questions may vary from mine as well. There’s no judging on this blog, we’re all just stumbling along the road to eternity together. So play nice if you leave a comment. Thank you.

I am a God-person, in that I believe in God. Not the Old Bearded White Guy Sitting On A Cloud, but God. The God Who, rather than sitting on a cloud, IS the cloud, the cloud of knowing and unknowing, the dust of aeons, the ether from which and to which and in which we all are formed. The Ancient of Days…that sort of God.

NUMBER 3: Is Transgenderism Something God Would Be Involved In?

See what I did there? I skipped #2. I’ll go back, promise.

The God-as-I-Understand-God, if you will, would indeed be involved with transgender stuff. That’s because the God-as-I-Understand-God is involved with everything, at some point. For me, this is exactly what, or who, or where, God IS: The Being Who Is Involved In Everything At Some Point. God created, and then God stuck around to see what would happen with what She’d made. She didn’t take off on a long Vegas vacation, She didn’t hop on over to the next para-meta-omniverse to meet with Doctor Who, She created and then She stayed.

Since God created everything (in my opinion), then God is The Being Who Is Involved In Everything At Some Point including Transgender Stuff.

I am not, however, saying that God is involved with Microsoft products or bad plumbing. We can’t blame God for everything. We may be the children of God, but at some point, we have to step up and become the grown-up children of God. (Just sayin’.)

NUMBER 2: Does God Make Mistakes?

First, I want to know how many angels are dancing on the head of YOUR pin.

My answers are, in no particular order: “I don’t know” and “I don’t think so.”

I believe God is an artist. We’re the artwork, trees are the artwork. Beagles and kittens, snow and fire, tachyons and sub-atomic particles named Strangeness and Charm, all of these are God’s artworks.

However, when you’re making art, you’re not working logically, from a laundry list of items:

  1. Create electrons.
  2. Create molecules.
  3. Come up with periodic table of the elements.
  4. Make a tapir.

In other words, I really doubt God was working from a checklist. The joy of creating leads to a certain flow of energy, a flow that can cause checklists and logic to dissolve in a frenzy of ecstatic Making.

Creating is fun. I say this from my own wee perspective as someone who might be called an artist: an artist with fiber, an artist with yarn, an artist with lace charts, an artist with beads, an artist with words. Besides being just about the best fun there is, creating is also the biggest act of trust anyone can perform…and I’m pretty sure that includes God’s creating, too.

God creates because that is God’s job, God’s vocation, God’s calling and love and passion.  In fact: Just-try-to-stop-God-from-creating-I-dare-you. God creates because She must, because creating is His nature. (No reason to stick to a single gender pronoun for a being that is a cloud of knowing and unknowing, right?) And in the act of creation, God must trust Himself…mustn’t He? God must acknowledge, and then trust in, the range of Her abilities, the scope of which He is capable, the Potential nestled within the Self from which all things Become.

God, in my opinion, does not know doubt. God does not doubt Herself, Her creative process, nor Her creations. This means that God does not doubt US.

One of the most powerful conversations I ever had with a priest was this:

Me: “I’m not sure I believe in the Christ. I believe in God, I’m pretty sure I do, anyway.”

Priest: (with a wicked little smile) “Do you realize that God believes in YOU?”

God believes in me. God believes in you. Just think about that for a while. Blows your circuits, it does.

Anyway, God believes in Himself and the works of Her hands. So, in the ultimate act of self-trust, God, in the process of creation, rolls up Her creative sleeves and just lets it all Rock And Roll. There is no self-judgment when God creates; God isn’t thinking, “Oh, this dolphin, this looks so awkward, these fins, are they a dumb idea? It’s supposed to be a mammal, and it looks like a fish.Will the archangels like it? And this platypus, I meant it to be a bit of whimsy, but I think I heard the cherubs giggling about it yesterday. Maybe this whole mammal that lays eggs and fish that has live babies vision I have is too, I don’t know, just too twee or something.”

Everything God makes is as it is: Awe-some. And God knows it.

There is no holy second-guessing, no godly self-criticism, no creatorly false starts. Thus: No Mistakes.

And if you think of what God does as Art: Every artist knows that there are no real mistakes in artwork; there are only inspirations that, if followed up on, can lead to wondrous new things. Self-criticism is anti-creation, it blocks the vision and the energy of making. Self-doubt causes creation to stop. Self-trust, the knowledge that what one creates is Good, this is the very source of love and life and new beginnings.

And with that, we have actually also answered:

NUMBER 5: If Transgenderism Is A Mistake, Is It God’s Mistake?

Nope. IF transgenderism is a mistake (and please note that I have not given my opinion on that one yet), then it is not God’s mistake…because God does not make mistakes.

Until next time…

That’s a lot of post to chew on, so methinks I’ll stop there for now. I’ll address the other stuff in another post, because I do think we’re only half-way to any sort of answer that I (for one) can live with.

Tatyana, I hope I’ve pretty much given you what my thoughts are regarding your basic question. This is big stuff; I think every question, well-asked, brings up more questions. Thank you so much for asking such an insightful, wonderful question.

Being human is complicated. God is not a simpleton; we used to say in the seventies that “God doesn’t make junk.” Nor, apparently, does God make simple IKEA stick-figures with instruction booklets.

seeds of gender

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Language, particularly the language of gender, has deep, deep roots in us.

Old habits die hard; the older and more engrained the habit, the harder it is to change. When you approach an infant, or a young child without clear gender markers, the very first thing you do, and indeed the socially polite thing to do, is to ask, “Boy or girl?”

Well, OK, that’s not quite true. The FIRST thing usually called for is some declaration of amazement at the utter cuteness of the small human, even if it’s just a heartfelt “Awwwww….”. Once the baby’s cuteness has been suitably noted, then the NEXT question called for by etiquette is “Boy or girl?” The reason for this is obvious: You want to gush to the parent about the baby a bit more, or you want to ask how old the child is, or why it has one nose instead of two, and all these are somewhat awkward to ask without the use of a gender-specific pronoun or three.

There are thus only a few short seconds at the beginning of our interactions with a child when we do not treat Baby as “Baby Boy Blue He Him His” or “Baby Girl Pink She Hers Her.” Think of that: For just a tiny bit of time at the start of conversations in our childhoods, all of us are gender-neutral…for the merest of milliseconds.

I’m a wicked, custom-defying vixen, I am. I try to prolongue those few moment of Unknowing as long as possible, just to see how it affects what I say to the parents, how I speak to the child, what sort of things happen in the interaction. Of course, sometimes it’s just plain impossible NOT to know that the little critter encased in pink frills and surrounded by dollies and butterflies and kittens and bows and flowers is a wee girl child. Parents often beg the question by loading up the child and its clothing with gender cues. But in those situations where it’s not clear, try an experiment for yourself: try not determining the child’s gender for as long as you can.

What will happen is that your sentences will become awkward and full of weird constructions, such as referring to the child as Your Baby or That Little Charmer or You Rascal You; you will tend to address the baby itself  more directly than you might otherwise. After all, if one is talking to Baby, one can say “Oh, you are so bright-eyed, aren’t you?” instead of saying “Oh, she’s so bright-eyed, isn’t she?” as one would to the parent. And chances are, the level of tension in the air will start to rise…

What will also happen is that the parents will be unable not to tell you. The parents desperately (and usually, quite unconsciously) want you to know what gender behaviours are appropriate in the presence of their precious babe. This is, after all, how we train children what gender is and what to do about it, literally from the moment they are born: We ensure that everyone surrounding the babe knows its gender and uses gender-appropriate cues right away. You may be able to avoid classifying the child for several minutes before the awkwardness of speech becomes too much to bear; the parents, however, will likely last less than a full minute. They’ll blurt out “We’re so proud of our baby girl!” or a more subtle announcement: “He’s still keeping us up at night, so we’re a bit punchy right now.”

There’s no judgment here; it’s simply a fact that for most of us, gender is the first thing everyone knows about us, and something that humans consider to be one of the top three most important factoids about anyone (the other two being name and age). There was a movement a while back to dress children as unisex, to cut their hair as unisex, to give them gender-ambiguous names (Riley, Jamie) in an effort to erase as much of the gender-biased treatment as possible. They’d give trucks to the girls, and dolls to the boys…and usually what would happen is the little girls would proudly use their dump trucks to drive the kitten to the grocery store, and the boys would put a stick in the doll’s hand and pretend it was Young Zorro.

Gender runs deep in us. Nothing to be ashamed about there. Like anything else about being human in this world, it doesn’t matter if there are differences between us; it matters how we respond to those differences, and the part those differences play in our thoughts, decisions, relationships, and actions. (I could go on and on about gender stuff; if you are interested in the degree to which gender-specific behaviour still affects us on a daily basis, have a look at Everyday Sexism.)

Add to this the fact that gender is rarely something one has to think about, and it’s no wonder that even I get tongue-tied when I come to a pronoun in a sentence about Melody. Boys grow into men; girls grow into women, and everyone stays tidily on their own side of the pink-and-blue divide. We desperately want our world to be binary, and to have a fairly substantial gap between the two sides. Woe betide anyone who gets too close to that line: a boy who carries around a baby doll, a young woman with heavy facial hair, a man with “man-boobs”. Those folks make us uncomfortable because they Break The Gender Rules, they blur the pink-blue divide, they confuse us and force us to actually Use Our Brains and think about Gender. And for some folks, their confusion takes the form of fear, mistrust, and anger. Those are the hardest folks for anyone who straddles the PinkBlue Divide to deal with…

We’re acutely aware of the potential for discomfort when Melody is in the room; her outward gender cues at this point in time are mixed: She gestures and smiles and uses facial expressions more as a woman would, she has a very pronounced waistline and hip-flare, she dresses in somewhat-feminine styles. However, she doesn’t yet wear skirts or dresses, she’s six feet tall, and most of us stare straight up into her Adam’s apple when we stand next to her! She’s still got a five o’clock shadow, despite hours and weeks of painful electrolysis on her facial hair. And her voice is higher than some men’s, but it can’t pass for a woman’s voice yet. Oh, and of course: No boobs. (“Yet,” she is quick to remind me.) These mixed physical cues put Melody in a sort of no-gender land, where people sense that something is different, yet are either too polite, too shy, or too uncomfortable to ask.

Usually, in my case, I spare them the struggle and Just Say It. “This is my wife, Melody. She’s transgendered, moving from male to female.” That’s pretty much all I say, unless the person looks puzzled and needs more information.

So far, every single person (welllll…OK. There are a couple of notable exceptions), has been gracious and welcoming at the news, offering congratulations and good wishes, just as one would for any new venture in life. We’ve told children, we’ve told elderly folk; we’ve told men and women; we’ve told straights, gays, and other transfolk; educated, uneducated, you name it. Nearly everyone has been the soul of kindness and welcome to Melody.

And then, just as with a new baby, what I call The Gendering begins. Just as with an infant, people start re-forming language and actions to support Melody’s true gender. Once I tell folks Melody’s a woman, she’s no longer in the land of the genderless; she’s female, and people want to make sure that they behave “properly” around her.

First: The person asks what they should call Melody, and which pronouns to use. (We answer, “Melody, and female pronouns.”)

Second: The person will admit to having a fair bit of curiosity about the situation, and asks if it is OK to ask questions. (“Of course it’s OK. This can be pretty confusing sometimes! Ask anything you want, and we’ll answer it if we can. But we’re new at this too, so there’s lots of stuff we’re still discovering as we go along.”)

The third thing which will happen, within the first few minutes after the other two, is that the person will use The Wrong Pronoun or The Wrong Name. They’ll be chattering away, congratulating or asking questions, and it will just slip out, “So what will Nicholas do about his Ph.D.? Oh, I mean Melody. I mean she.” And they’ll usually be embarrassed and a wee bit mad at themselves for this perceived social gaffe.

We’ve had so many lovely folks come up and apologise to Melody for using the “wrong” pronoun, or the “wrong” first name, and it’s very humbling and touching each time this happens. It shows that people CARE. Folks truly want to treat Melody as she wants to be treated, they want to respect her as a person and as someone seeking wholeness, and they want to participate in creating an atmosphere of welcome so that she feels comfortable to be herself. This is so amazing, that when someone apologises, I thank them for doing so–and then tell them not to worry, change takes time.

After all, I still sometimes go to the top of the stairs and yell, “Nicholas!” down to my wife in her office.

Getting to the bottom of things

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When there is a transgendered person in the room, we all become the most human of humans. We become transfixed with curiosity about things usually left unspoken; we are consumed with questions normally too intimate to ask.

Because, you see, we all want to know about The Sexy Bits.

I have had many people ask me if Melody was going to get The Surgery. This is a completely natural subject of curiosity, but I gotta tell ya, it’s blimey awkward when folks I barely know ask about my wife’s private parts. And, of course, sooner or later folks ask, “Are you OK with this? I mean, how are you dealing with…you know…all these changes?”

They usually mean they want to know how am I coping overall; but sometimes it is obvious that, at least on some level–a level they may be too embarrassed to admit to having–that they want to know how am I dealing with the (assumed) changes in our sex life.

Please realize that I have to explain that my wife is transgendered at least once a day, sometimes a dozen times a day. Every day. So every day, there may be at least one conversation where I can tell that the other person desperately wants to Pose The Penis Question.

People are O B S E S S E D with penises. Understandable, as the possession or lack of a penis is the single biggest determinant of status, power, expectations, and opportunities available to us. It is the first thing we want to know about a brand-new, five-seconds-old baby: Does it have a penis or not? Life bifurcates at the answer to that question. This question and its answer are so vital to our society’s way of being that the birth of an intersexed child–one born with genitalia outside of the Pink Or Blue, Check One Box Only paradigm–is usually met with a flurry of agonized whispering, and wrenching decisions, often leading to a life of long-held family secrets and shame.

If you are a male, you have to have a penis. If you are a female, you have to NOT have a penis. Any other situation causes deep anxiety and a certain amount of beneath-the-surface revulsion in most people. Thus, if you start out as a male (and thus have a penis), and change to being a female…people get nervous about The Penis Problem. They unconsciously want everything to be neat and tidy, to have the pink be really pink so that they can tell it apart from the blue.

In short, if a male becomes a female, it makes folks nervous if the penis is still in the picture. They would feel much more comfortable, thankyouverymuch, if that penis were discreetly whisked away, so that they can rest assured in the notion that no females are allowed to have that symbol of patriarchal power, the phallus. A female with a penis is such a taboo image that we relegate such imagery to the closets of erotica too bizarre for any but the most adventurous fringe of back-alley perverts.

You’ll note that I am skewing this discussion towards the change from male to female. Well, of course I am. I don’t have any personal experience with transmen, those who change from female to male; it would be presumptuous of me to speak about that situation. I am one of those asking the questions in this case: Is a transman ever considered by others to be a “real” man, given that we do not have the medical skills (yet) to create a fully functioning penis? Is a transman ever accepted into the Boy’s Club, given the level of power, privilege, and access that a biological male who identifies as male has as a birthright? And what do transmen feel, in their inner hearts: Do they feel they must always fight for the rights of a Penis Bearer even if they do not actually bear a penis?

See? I can ask the awkward questions just as well as anyone else.

It does not help matters any that we are so obsessed with the presence or not-presence of a penis that we lump anything having to do with that dichotomy into the same file folder, a folder simply labelled: SEX. Gender, genitalia, and sex are all mixed together in our western cultural mind. These three are so intertwined that most people use the terms “gender” and “sex” interchangeably when they are referring to whether one is male or female. We ask the sex of the baby (“It’s a lesbian! Hooray!”), we confuse a change in gender identity with a change in sexual preference. It’s quite common for people to ask if Melody is going to start dating men now that she is a woman. (Sorry, gentlemen, she’s taken.)

I tell people that gender is who we are and sex is whom we love. (Well. Sometimes I use a more evocative Anglo-Saxon idiom for the latter because it’s actually more accurate. Start with the letter F and you’re on the right track.) I try to make a clear distinction between the two when I speak or write about any of these issues, in the hopes that clarity of language can help bring us clarity of communication and thus, understanding. After all, gender and genitalia and sexual preference really are inter-related even though they definitely are not interchangeable.

However, it is important to address the fact that in our society, we have melded gender with genitalia, genitalia with sexual preference, and sexual preference with gender. If there is a penis present, the person is a male AND the person wants to have intimate relationships with a female. If there is no penis present, the person is a female AND the person wants to have intimate relationships with a male. Ipso facto, QED, that’s the way it is, forever and ever, Amen.

We’re only just starting to realize that Penis = Male just might mean Dances With Men and that No Penis = Female can mean Dances With Women. Most of society still does not realize that Penis might not mean Male; Penis might mean Female Born With Birth Defect Resulting In Excess Penis-tude. Likewise, No Penis can mean Male Born With Birth Defect Resulting in Lack of Penis-tude.

AND then we get to the really fun part, the part where all hell breaks loose and we become the much-celebrated rainbow of humanity:

  • No Penis; identifies self as Female; prefers Dancing with Men.
    • Result: Hetero Biological Female without Penis.
  • No Penis; identifies self as Female; prefers Dancing with Women.
    • Result: Lesbian Biological Female without Penis.
  • No Penis; identifies self as Male; prefers Dancing with Men.
    • Result: Gay Transman (FTM) without a Penis.
  • No Penis; identifies self as Male; prefers Dancing with Women.
    • Result: Hetero Transman (FTM) without Penis.
  • Has Penis; identifies self as Male; prefers Dancing With Men.
    • Result: Gay Biological Male with Penis.
  • Has Penis; identifies self as Male; Male prefers Dancing with Women.
    • Result: Hetero Biological Man with Penis.
  • Has Penis; identifies self as Female; prefers Dancing With Men.
    • Result: Hetero Transwoman (MTF) with a Penis.
  • Has Penis; identifies self as Female; prefers Dancing With Women.
    • Result: Lesbian Transwoman (MTF) with a Penis.

(FTM = Transgender, Female to Male transition; MTF = Transgender, Male to Female transition)

And goodness knows that there are yet still more people who are most comfortable living between those neat categories, people who prefer not to check any box, no matter what colour it is. (Oh, and I left out bisexuals. Sorry, fellow BiFolk, if I started to include other categories, I’d end up trying to chart Polyamory and Open Families and good golly miss molly, I’d go bonkers just trying to explain it all.)

Penises and power; appearance and identity; who we dance with and who we say we are–we certainly are a colourful species, are we not?

You see how clever I am? I didn’t actually answer the particular personal questions mentioned in the post above. I’m not avoiding giving answers out of propriety or prudishness; I’m not answering yet because we don’t know the answers yet. Remember: We’re new at this, too. We don’t know how we feel about most of this on any given day; we’re working things out as they come up. Sometimes we feel one way one day about something and then we feel another way another day about the very same something. This is a journey; we’re still working out which route to take; at times, we have to alter our path to avoid obstacles and storms. Sometimes we decide to take a side road for a bit to admire something interesting or beautiful. Ask us anything you like; keep in mind that the answer might truly be: We don’t know yet.  

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.

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.