Author’s note: 12-24-18. My wife has made a very reasonable request that certain details regarding my perceptions of her personal outlook and thoughts in regards to the issues in this post not be made public, so the red x spaces represent a redaction. I do want to say that my wife of more than thirty years has been kind and understanding in what is for her and our family an inextricably unfair circumstance. I am grateful for her, and the pain I cause my family due to my transgender circumstance remains the greatest sorrow of my life, and my relationship with them remains the greatest joy. Lona.
Hello and Good Morning! I want to start off by boring y’all with an exclamation about how wonderful and extraordinary this day is. It is early, there is snow on the ground (unusual for Alabama even in January – but that is not why today is special). I combed my hair and brushed my teeth (both of these activities I perform on a more than regular basis, so that is not why today is special). I emptied my bladder (also not unusual for me – and yes all of you with sensitive micturition triggers can now pause reading and go empty your bladders, but please come back and keep reading). 😉
The reason why today is so great is because I feel so good and feel what I have imagined most of my life what it may be like to feel normal. (Wow, I used the word feel four times in that sentence, so you just might want to turn back now if you are not interested in feelings today). We sometimes remember the course of our lives as a series of momentous events of great significance framed by the mundane activities that propel us to memorable landmarks. The sleeping, the waking, the brushing, the eating, the breathing, the working… these all make the moments of love, ethos, charity, despair and rapture possible, but they seldom inhabit any singular meaning in our hearts and minds. The punching in and punching out eventually makes the awesome beach vacation possible. But the so-called “normal” background of our lives is the majority of how we spend our time, and we miss out on much of the significant beauties and trials of our lives if we neglect the static emotional and intellectual world that occurs in the spaces between the major touchstones. If we focus too much on the mountains and valleys of life, we will miss some of the most meaningful parts of our journey. One of my professors wisely told me that Life is that thing which happens when we are waiting for something else to happen.
This tension between ground and foreground, subject and frame reminds me of my favorite picture by M.C. Escher called “Three Worlds.” It is a picture of the air, earth and water layered out in a single view showing trees, leaves, and a fish. As in many of Escher’s works, your eye drifts between the differing planes unable to distinguish how ground and foreground separate. The subject of the picture is, intermittently, the trees, the leaves, the water, the fish, the air (yes it is there), as one element frames the other, it shifts from being a frame to the subject, tying all involved spheres into one place simultaneously. A lot of things are about to happen here: the wind is going to blow more leaves onto the water, the fish is about to move, the clear glass of the pond’s surface is about to explode into concentric ripples shattering the dual mirror and window it presents to the world. The three worlds captured in one moment of the mind’s eye, are about to separate again into disparate planes. Escher has shown many brilliant examples of ground and foreground reversal in his works, but this particular example is my favorite because it captures a layered stillness tied together in a moment before cohesive unity is about to be dispelled.
In similar fashion, you might think of the extraordinary episodes and high points of life as being the subject and focus of our existence and the mundane normal activities we hardly think about as being the background that frames those episodes. Much of my normal background emotional state through my life has been colored with the shades of gender dysphoria. In fact, I would have to say that the symptoms of gender dysphoria have been present in some iteration every day of my life since I was three, but they have not always been prominent, terrible, or even clearly identifiably to my consciousness because, (like many transgender individuals), I had become adept at heaping loads of psychic earth on them to try to bury or even extinguish these feelings. But eventually these feeling would crawl up out of their crypt and demand to be acknowledged (picture the typical zombie movie scene where the hand claws up through the ground grasping to get to the air – but the hand is not a zombie hand, it is a gorgeous clean hand with a great shiny manicure and a small delightful shiny bracelet around the wrist – ok on second thought don’t picture that, forget it).
I think of a time soon after High School. I was sitting at night on a swing in a city park soon after graduation, excited about the prospects of college and life, and feeling so alone even though I was surrounded by loving family and friends, just sitting there and feeling not quite right with my body, my expectations, my roles. There was nothing earth shattering or dramatic about this moment, it was just a small image that remains in my head, it was part of the normal music. The importance of the background normalcy which frames so many of our decisions becomes clear to me when I reflect on changes in how I feel within the static emotional hum compared to even just a month ago.
About a year and a half ago (Fall 2014) during a crisis point in my life, I was faced with what seemed like three terrible choices. I may write more about this period later, but I will just touch on a single key element here. I had recently come out in rather clumsy fashion to my wife about being transgender. This was a trauma and shock to her, xxxx xxxxxx xxx xxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xx xxxx xx manifest by the following little traipse down memory lane.
Soon after our marriage in the late 1980’s she discovered that I had once in awhile dressed in her clothing while she was gone, I found it calming and relaxing. xxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxx xx xxx xxxxxxx xx xx xxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxx x xxxx xxxxxxx Nevertheless, I was so happy and blessed by our new life together, her beauty and passion, my voracious attraction for her, and our common goals and values that I was able to lock these desires away to some extent. It was all like a perfect dream- except I still wished I was a girl almost every day, I pushed the feminine as deep as it could go.
Some years later (early 1990’s) I obtained a dangerous “super-power”, I obtained the license to prescribe medications, and as a resident in a stressful training program, my ability to suppress a desire to be female was tested to the core. I felt like I had to read all that I could find on how to make that happen, this information drew me with a compelling resonance, but I also loathed myself for not being able to turn away. Eventually I surreptitiously self-prescribed female hormones for about 3 months. I felt amazing, on them by the way, comfortable and relaxed, and rested and energized, I felt in a vague way like I was finally myself. Nevertheless I stopped taking them because I knew this was nuts. No doctor should self prescribe such a profound and far-reaching step, especially without regard to how it would effect my wife and young son as the changes would surely wreck my marriage wrapped in such blatant dishonesty. I stopped the meds, but she found them (In the midst of 70 hour residency work weeks I had forgotten I still had them), and it was only with many tears and prayers that we stayed together. I told her that I had had some thoughts about wanting to be a woman, but that I had never desired to be with anyone other than her (true to this day). I told her that I had stopped the meds but did not really tell her how this persistent desire was a part of my daily background noise. xx went back to the proverbial chalkboard and ascribed this episode to the stresses of residency taking their toll (partially true no doubt in regards to the unwise actions on my part).
(“WAIT- OK NOW!!!” Harvey Cat in conscience mode interjects now in a decidedly assertive manner, he actually has hackles and he appears neither aloof and certainly not charming: C’meown now Lona! Unwise is a wimpy euphemism – what you did was dangerous to you and your wife and your son, and although you were not a big fat liar – yes I admit you are willowy and lithe – it was not merely unwise – it WAS a one way drive to lonely stoopid town and maybe blood clot city and maybe lose your license – C’mon you can do better than unwise“
I reach down and try to rub Harvey between the ears, but he tries to scratch my hand. “Jeeminy Harvey, relax kitty kitty, you are right I know, unwise doesn’t even start to describe it, I’m sorry.” Harvey quiets and arches his head up to my hand but turns to look away from me as I rub him, answering with a cautious purr).
Nearly twenty years of married and professional life ensued. These years can only be described like those things that happen in any life, they were years of joy and sorrow. I excelled and thrived in my profession, I had the chance to serve my country in the military, we added and lost a lovely daughter together and then were blessed with another lovely daughter a few years later. We had a succession of meaningful church callings which gave us great joy in sharing the love that God had showered on us. We had great vacations and procrastinations and almost every day I had at least some longing to be a girl, but was also very happy and in love with my wife and the life God had given us. But about a year and half ago, the need to be a woman started strangling at my heart, a background static longing to be who I was gave way to a dark feeling of hopelessness about being a man and needing to be a woman. It consumed my thoughts and dreams almost constantly despite long prayers, busy work schedule, scripture reading and increasing church and temple service. Those things that I loved started to feel like empty shells framing a desperate need to finally be female and that it had to happen or I could just rather die. I started to pray that if God would will it, would he just remove me from the scene and take me home. “Come and Get us” became my favorite line from the Wild Sweet Orange song ‘Ten Dead dogs’ and I would scream it in punk metal violence at the top of my lungs over the lilting guitar and restrained voicings of Preston Lovinggood while driving to work.
I started intensifying my exercise and decreased my food portions by about thirty percent, and I soon started looking healthier. This was energized by a desire to appear more willowy and lithe, to appear more feminine rather than by a deep desire to be healthier. I received many compliments, and patients and friends would ask me what my secret was. I told them how I was wanting to finally practice what I preached and tell them my basic techniques, but with every question I would chuckle ironically inside and suppress the desire to see the look on their faces if I told them, “well you see the secret to my weight loss is that inside my brain I am really a woman, and I have a strong desire to appear more feminine.” I intend to write at a later time about how this period impacted my faith journey as an active, devout, believing Latter-day Saint, miracles occurred that I won’t refer to here that helped to keep me on what I feel to be the beautiful covenant path of Mormonism, (Thank God), but that will be a topic of emphasis in a later entry. (Editor HarveyCat note – Lona did write about this later. see BTT #19 – Roots and Blossom Petals for this). Suffice it to say that the feelings of being a woman would not be prayed away, my prayers were answered in rather different unexpected ways.
I do have to say that it was not in answer to prayer that I found myself in a Wal-Mart parking lot with bottles of once again self-prescribed estradiol, progesterone, spironolactone in my hand. I had arrived there by a powerful aching need that seemed impossible to control. I had the feeling in that moment that I had no choice, I needed these hormones, I needed to be who I was (Harvey stiffens his spine at this point: “We all know who it is that preaches that we have no choice don’t we Lona?”
“Yes'” I think (I can’t even speak it aloud to Harvey, my alternate second life avatar, conscience, bodyguard, accountant and kitty cat, I can only bring myself to think it) “I do know where the philosophy of powerless determinism comes from, it is demonic… but sometimes it still feels like the real truth. Is even God unable to choose not to love us? His love is so great that he seems powerless to make any other choice. Can our own needs be so great that we feel like something is inevitable? Yes we can feel that way, but the illusion that choices are based on drives which overpower true love is demonic” (Harvey senses that I have acknowledged the truth of his barb, and relaxes into a soft compassionate purr again). So… it was certainly not in answer to prayer that I at first tentatively opened the bottles and weighed them in my gaze for several minutes; and then briskly swallowed the pills. If there is a wrong way to do something wonderful, I had found it. I soon started to again feel the benefits. My energy increased, I felt more alive and soft, I felt that my body was becoming right. I was taking powerful doses, and I liked the changes that I sensed in my body even though they were not apparent to others.
Once again, I kept the hormones a secret from my wife. A couple months earlier I had clumsily told my wife how deeply my transgender feeling ran and it was a shock and sorrow to her, even after the events of a couple decades prior. When I say clumsy, it was not a little tripping-on-cobblestones clumsy, it was troll-on-a-rampage-in-the-Hogwarts-girl’s-room clumsy. I sought no advice on how to do this. I had consulted no therapist. x xxx xx xxxx xx xxxxxxxx xx xx xxxx xxxx xxx xxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xx xx x xxxxxx x xxxxx xxxxxxx xxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xx xxxx xx xxxx xxxxxxx xxx xxxx x xxxxxxx she had given up so many career opportunities for independence in order to build our marriage and our life together, which was a difficult act of deep trust and faith on her part. xxx xxxx xx xxxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx xxx xxxx xxx xx xxxxx xx xxx xxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxx xx xxx xxxxxxx xxx xxx xxxx xx xxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxx xx xxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxx xxx xxx xxx xxxx xxx xxx xxxxx xxxx xxx xxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxx x xxx xxx xxxx xxx xxxx xxxxxxx xx x xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxx brought me the most sorrow I have felt in my life. Even the loss of our first daughter had been tempered by faith-sustaining Spiritual manifestations of hope that eluded me now. With our oldest son serving faithfully on a full-time mission, xxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxx xxx xx xxxxxx xx xx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xx xxx xxxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxx xxxxxxxx x xxxx xx x xxxxxxxx My sense of physical well-being was offset by the sorrow I was bringing to my wife. My skin was already feeling softer, and I felt like I was starting to get a more feminine shape. I knew that as breast development started becoming more visible, my wife would definitely know, and I remember looking in the mirror and imagining the dreaded confrontation with a twist that made me both laugh and sob: “You are sooo busted!” is what I pictured she would say.
It seemed to me that I had only three choices: 1. continue to transition, tell my wife, end our marriage, subject my pre-teen daughter and my young adult son to the shock and trauma of a startling revelation and the end of a great family life together. 2. stop the hormones keep up appearances and return to the daily suffocating dysphoria that had always been part of the background, but for the past eighteen months pounded daily in my brain and made my heart feel icy and dark. 3. remove myself from the picture altogether. It would have to look like an accident, nothing that would add trauma of suicide to the loss of a father and nothing that would endanger my wife’s access to the insurance money. I would be gone, I would go to hell for a time and then be paroled to the telestial kingdom. (yes Harvey, I realize that this thought exhibited a profound minimization of the import of teachings in Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-18 – Harvey just keeps purring). I would save my family the greater sorrow that I felt would come from the two other choices. I knew the spot on the way home where the car could slam into the rock wall coming down the mountain without hurting anyone else, I would be unbuckled and reaching for a cell phone I had “dropped” going at a high rate of speed. My wife would be free to move on, they would grieve me, it would be a big tragedy for them, but they would be free. After a particularly hard night and day of work, in which my wife had shed tremendous tears at her predicament, I started home alone on the roads quite late on the Friday before Thanksgiving after clearing all of the pending work off of my desk. Coming down the mountain I unbuckled my seat belt, opened my antiquated flip phone, entered my answering service number to set up the distracted driving scenario and readied it on the passenger seat to press send. I pushed my foot on the accelerator (Harvey is fast asleep now as I write this).
I think I may have been less than 10 seconds from the planned impact point, and I was feeling surprisingly calm, when a thought intruded that changed my plans. In four days my parents were arriving to visit us for the Thanksgiving Holiday week, and a picture flashed in my mind of subsequent Thanksgivings for my family through the years. They would be heavy at first and then at the very least laced with that twinge of grief whenever the holiday came around. Instead of being the usual festival of family appreciation and togetherness, it would be, “oh yeah, this is when Dad slammed into the mountain reaching for his damn phone.” I felt grief for my family, and aborted my plan and continued down the road and re-engaged my seat belt. That is how Thanksgiving saved my life. Thank you President Lincoln. In the coming days the Holy Spirit gushed into my life that I had made the right choice to choose life, and especially to be trying to choose love. I do not think, however, I would have stopped the secret hormones at that time without some other tender mercy that had come my way.
As I was losing weight, it became apparent that I had a HUGE tumor in my right flank. it was hard and rubbery and non-tender, and so I knew it was likely a lipoma – a harmless fatty tumor. But there was always a chance it could be a deadly sarcoma since it was so huge, and I am amazed I had not noticed it before. Arrangements had been made to have it removed the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. It was not going to be a little office procedure, the thing ended up being insinuated between multiple planes of chest wall muscles was more than 20 centimeters big when it was out and required the resources that a full surgery center would provide. I knew that surgery and high doses of hormones both can increase the risk of blood clots, so having decided that I was not going to off myself, I stopped the hormones. The surgery and recovery went well. My wife was so kind and supportive during my brief but painful recovery, that I felt so close to her again and resolved I did not want to do anything to imperil being able to be together for time and eternity. The peace of the holiday and the pain of the surgery and the love of having family nearby was a tremendous balm to me, and I started to think a little bit more clearly.
First of all, I started to act happy again, the corny jokes returned, and I felt the Spirit increase in my heart.
Secondly, I resolved to get some help. I was blessed to find an excellent therapist with experience working with transgender individuals, and she has been full of good advice and insight, but more importantly has helped me re-affirm my basic humanity and worth irregardless of the trials dysphoria brings. She has no agenda, she is not judgmental of my faith decisions, she is not condescending in the least, she truly cares for the well being of her clients and she is worth every penny. Also… she is very smart. She has helped me engage my choices in a more reasonable way than painting stark borders between tragic catastrophes. There are many who have lived with much greater daily suffering than me, and I have been able to be happier as I formulate a different approach that includes open and honest discussion with my wife.
Thirdly, my wife xxx xxxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxx xxx xxxxxxxx xxx xxx xxxxxxxxxx xxx xx xxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxxx xxxxxxx xxx xxx xxxx xxx xxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxx xx x xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxx x xxxxx xx xxxx xxxx xxx xxxxx xxx xxx xxxxxx xxx xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxxxxxx xxx xxx xxxxxxx xxxxxx xx xxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx xxx xx xxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxxxxxxx xx x xxx xxxx xxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxx xx xxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xx xxxx xxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxx xx xxxxxxxx xxx xxxx xxxxxxx xxxx xxxx xxx xxx xxx xxxxxxxxxx xxx x xxx xxxx xxx xxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxx xxxx xx xxxxxxxxx xx xxx xx xxxxxxxx xxxxx I have resolved that it is hard to be a transgender person, but it is absolute hell to be a stinking lying person. I have resolved that no matter what I am feeling, I won’t compound the misery of gender dysphoria by lying to my wife. I am not sure that she even yet completely trusts me, and I cannot blame her. But just as I am not going to travel back to the shame box regarding my gender identity, neither do I want to live again in the world of convoluted deception that would tear any marriage, and basic sense of cohesive self apart.
In a profoundly surprising miracle, I am now on female hormones with the xxxx xxx xxxxxxx xx xx xxxx in this decision. I have consulted an experienced specialist in order to help me make sure I did not have an esoterically rare intersex condition, and to counsel about possible low dose therapy that might help ease the gender dysphoria (which has still been really super really bad) but which might not bring on a dramatic physical change that would require social transitioning. As mentioned before, I had prayed, and received on multiple times the answer that such a step would be good for me if it were done xxxx xxx xxxx xxx xxxxxxx xx xx xxxxx xx x xxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xx xxxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx x xxx xxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxxx xx xxxx xx x xxx xxxxxxxx xx xxxxxx xx xxxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxx xxxxx xxxxx xx xxx xxx xxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxxx xx xxx xxxx xx xx xx xxxx xxxxxxxxx xxx xxx xxxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxxx (The above redaction also contains the information that this time I did start the female hormones with the knowledge of my wife, as of this redaction update in Dec 2018, I have been on them nearly three years, Our relationship has many difficulties and it is safe to say that it is vulnerable, but I am grateful that we are still married) no surreptiously higher doses, maintain every effort to keep the treatment and its effects private so that I can continue in my male roles as father, husband, and church priesthood holder. There will be challenges and logistics to deploy to walk this line. It does not hold everything that my little heart desires, but it is such a generous and loving step from her perspective that it really increases my love for her. A person usually cannot get everything one part of her heart desires without losing something that is precious to another part of her heart, why should my predicament be any different?
I have continued to feel in these weeks since being on my hormones that this was truly the right choice for me. I already feel better, I feel more like I think I should feel like to be myself. The other night I was walking along the border of a lake in our neighborhood on a beautiful clear evening. My mind went back to that night on the swing after graduation so many years before and I was struck by the contrast in how different I felt on that evening from how I felt now. The beautifully isolated nighttime darkness was similar to both settings. There was nothing but starlight and familiar surroundings to keep me company. But now I felt well, I did not feel as incongruent. And I now still feel grateful and loved, and the hope that I might have many more such moments of astounding normalcy. Like the fish and the leaves and the trees and the water surface in Escher’s painting, I realize that this confluence might be fleeting. But for now I feel that I am present in multiple worlds, and with God’s help I may be able continue to navigate them. At least I have hope that as the ongoing hum of my emotional background noise shifts back forth in and out of primary focus, life might feel more like it should. I think I can feel good.
Love to y’all for making it to the end of this thing-a-ma-jig. Lona.
Copyright January 2016, all rights reserved. (but y’all can keep all the wrongs).