Four years later, and a new country

I was asked to contribute to a  collection of essays by and about partners of transgender and other non-conforming people. More on the book when it’s published next year. We decided to use a reprint of my Boston Globe article from 2011, and I would add an epilogue. While organizing my thoughts for that, I realized I was feeling a little stress that I hadn’t articulated. Funny how writing brings out those things. Here’s what I wrote a few days ago:

I’m writing this, coincidentally, on the 4th anniversary of the day that Lina came out publicly as a woman, in 2010. We hadn’t even thought about the date, but her mother sweetly called to wish her daughter of four years a “happy birthday.” Lina was out on an errand, so the message was relayed through me – “send him my greetings.”

“You mean her?” I said with a laugh, offering my mother-in-law a light-hearted correction.

Indeed, years into the process, I sometimes get it wrong too. Lina and I take it in stride. While I can’t seem to forget the old pronouns, I can hardly remember my former husband. One day recently I asked Lina to send me a photo of the two of us in front of the first house we bought together, in 2003. When I opened the file, I was shocked to see myself sitting on the porch with a man. In my mind, I’d pictured myself with Lina – even though until recently we still displayed a wedding photo of husband and wife in our bedroom. While the physical images of my mate, past and present, are a jumble, what remains constant is a feeling of love, warmth, and safety. I suppose some would call that a soul.

Over the years, I’ve written several articles about us for large publications, always worrying something bad would happen. It never did. A religious cousin seemingly disowned me, and my car mechanic stopped flirting with me, but otherwise life carried on. The biggest hassles have been administrative and legal – name changing, document updating and the like. But as for our daily life, I joke that we’re just two middle-aged dykes. In many ways, I wish that were the whole story.

In 2014, we embarked on another life change – we moved to the Netherlands to be closer to Lina’s family and culture. She’s Dutch and had planned to work in the U.S. for only a few years before we met. Some people assumed we were moving to a country known for its tolerance because Lina is transgender. In fact, several trans laws are more generous in the United States, and Dutch people are no more used to seeing or necessarily accepting trans people than Americans are, from what I can tell.

For me, the move has brought an unexpected stress – who to tell when, if ever. While Lina’s colleagues and family know the full story, I’m in the process of making new friends. I’ve told them I have a Dutch wife, so they’ve categorized me as a lesbian. Most of them haven’t met Lina yet. What happens when they do? Will they figure it out? Even if they don’t, do I share our past? I’m still working through these feelings of caring what people think and of balancing our privacy against wanting to be open and intimate with others, which is my usual way of forming friendships.

And then there’s the advocacy component – the path to acceptance is through personal stories, just as I’d written about in the Boston Globe in 2010 regarding the director of the New England nonprofit who was reluctant to open up to reporters. Later, director Nick Teich did decide to discuss his personal transition and invited journalists to visit the awesome camp he started for gender-questioning youth. Since then, Camp Aranu’tiq has received fantastic positive exposure and expanded in amazing ways.

I realize my tension surrounding who to tell what and when will be a lifelong challenge, but the more I examine it, the more tolerant I become of other people’s differences and fears – and of my own. All of us are souls, worthy of embracing.

Posted in Friends, Marriage, Out and about, Politics, Writing | Leave a comment

Jill Soloway discusses her TV show ‘Transparent’

Today’s New York Times magazine has a lengthy profile of Jill Soloway and her comedy series “Transparent,” starting Sept. 26 on Amazon Instant Video. Jill, who wrote and produced “Six Feet Under,” has created plenty of edgy shows. In her personal life, her father revealed to her a few years ago he/she is transgender.

The leader character of the 10-episode series, launching in full, is transgender. Played by Jeffrey Tambor (not a trans actor), the “parent” will be the focus of the show in which family members react to the father’s revelation. Cast members include Amy Landecker, Gaby Hoffmann, Jay Duplass and Judith Light.

I haven’t studied up on the show enough to know if the father is currently married. I’m still amazed at how many male-to-female transgender stories are told in which the wives play no role. We do exist! So I’m happy the topic is getting more exposure, but a little nervous about the contents. We shall see!

 

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‘Trans Bodies, Trans Selves,’ a must-own

201407_11_Trans Bodies Trans Selves coverOver the past few weeks I’ve been thumbing through the behemoth compilation “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community,” planning to write about the recently published book soon.

I did see an Associated Press story about it in May, just before it came out, but nothing more. So I was super thrilled that a “Fresh Air” segment this week featured this awesome addition to the meager but growing body of transgender literature. That’s some great publicity!

Host Terry Gross interviewed editor Laura Erickson-Schroth; Jennifer Finney Boylan, who wrote the introduction; and Aidan Key, who contributed the chapter about gender-nonconforming children. Laura is a fellow in public psychiatry and LGBT Health at Columbia University Medical Center; Aidan is founder of the family education and support organization Gender Diversity; and Jenny is … well, you know!

The collection of essays by professional writers and experts as well as plain folks is patterned after the groundbreaking “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” a book by women for women in 1973 in response to men controlling them in many areas, especially in health care. When I was a budding feminist in 1979 and read that book, I felt radical, powerful, connected. It helped change my worldview. I’m sure that “Trans Bodies” will do the same for people marginalized by society who are searching, need affirmation or want to feel a part of something powerful.

The breadth of the 672-page book, published by Oxford Unitersity Press (it costs $39.95 in paperback) is staggering. It’s written for and by trans and gender non-conforming people, and gets up close and personal, as did “Our Bodies.” Each chapters tackles an important trans issue, such as race, religion, employment, legal issues, families, medical and surgical transition, mental health, relationships, sexuality, parenthood and culture. Parts of it are quite graphic — which is quite laudable.

I would say that “Trans Bodies” is on its way to becoming a classic, but indeed it already is. Jenny rightfully calls the book “nothing short of revolutionary.” I’d like to think of it as evolutionary as well. May hearts and minds continue to open, inside and outside the movement.

Posted in Books, Coping, Family, Fashion, Friends, Legal issues, Marriage, Media, Out and about, Physical appearance, Politics, Public reaction, Romance, Surgery, Therapy, Transgender, Work, Writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

New book gives wives insight

201405_41_LesliebookcoverI recently received a copy of “My Husband’s a Woman Now” from Leslie Hilburn Fabian, a fellow (sister?) “wife of,” asking that I consider it for my list of transgender resources. It’s been added! There are so few books out written by or about wives affected by their husband’s transitioning (it’s OUR transition too!), so it’s great to see another one to choose from. The long-standing classics are by Helen Boyd, and I devoured those when seeking information. Those delve into quite a bit of gender theory, while Leslie’s story is totally personal and positive, living up to its subtitle: “A Shared Journey of Transition and Love.”

Any woman whose husband or partner is a cross-dresser or who has pondered transitioning, is transitioning or already has, and anyone who cares about those women will get a lot of reading this book. Those not directly impacted will be educated and those in the trenches will see themselves.

While my story is different from Leslie’s — Lina and I don’t have children and we never considered starting over in a new town — we have much in common. Some similarities that I think have helped us both: we’re older (I’m 56 and she’s 65), we met our partners later in life (in our more mature skins) and we are both soul searchers and not afraid to acknowledge vulnerabilities. Our sources for knowledge and strength are a little different, but we’re both seekers (although we both have gained support from the Unitarian Universalist church.) We also, from the beginning, knew our future spouses cross-dressed. I think women who accept and even embrace that tap into a deep reserve of empathy and care as opposed to the spouses who know but refuse to see their husbands “en femme” or acknowledge it. (I’m guessing those relationships don’t stay intact if there’s a transition.)

Leslie and I also have loving and mature spouses. In the preface, she wrote something that had me saying “Amen!” — “If you’re married to a jerk, transitioning will only provide additional fodder for your anger, judgment, resentment, and pain.” Some of the stories I’ve heard, I want to say to the women, this has nothing to do with being transgender, it’s because your husband is an immature SOB.

Leslie also says something akin to what I repeat to the hurting women who email me: “it may not work for you to remain in the relationship. However, it may be possible for you and your mate to create an end to your marriage with sensitivity, deep caring, and respect for your time together…” Another Amen!

One thing of note: David (now Deb) told Leslie he wouldn’t transition without her blessing because she meant so much to him. I hope spouses reading the book don’t get hung up on that. They would have been miserable without him transitioning, and that’s no formula for a happy marriage, and also there’s no way to know if he really would have held off forever. So don’t expect this of your spouse unless you want to stay in an unauthentic relationship with a depressed person. Instead, consider watching your beloved be true to him/herself — while also working to meet your own needs.

No spouse who reads “My Husband’s a Woman Now” is going to relate at every level, but I am sure the basic stages and reactions will feel familiar. First, the cross-dressing, then the realization it’s not enough, followed by the what-if scenarios. Throw in fear of the unknown, societal shame, fear of job discrimination (the Fabians are fighting a lawsuit), fear of losing friends and family, potentially losing sexual desire, and, above all, grief and depression over losing one’s husband, and you’ve got yourself a typical spouse’s transgender experience. But here’s another hallmark of it all — open yourself up to your spouse and those around you, educate them a little, show your vulnerabilities, and in the vast majority of cases, you’ll be embraced. I see this over and over and over.

Leslie and Deb have been together for several years now, have survived and are thriving. I can say the same about Lina and me and I’ve seen this happen with many other couples. If you’re a questioning spouse, maybe that will be your outcome. Maybe not. But, please, do your best to keep your heart open while on this journey. I promise it will help!

Posted in Books, Coping, Family, Marriage | 1 Comment

Jared Letos’ Rayon doesn’t do a disservice

Several people have asked me what I thought of Jared Letos’ transgender character, Rayon, in “Dallas Buyers Club.” I finally saw the movie, now that it’s out on DVD. Overall, I was thrilled to see a transgender character who the audience loved. It’s that simple to me.

Here’s what Steve Friess wrote in Time magazine: “Dallas Buyers Club’ has garnered praise for the actor’s supposedly brave portrayal of a transgender woman. Don’t expect anyone to find it admirable 20 years from now.” He compared Rayon to Mammy in “Gone with the Wind,” saying, “Back in 1940, when Hattie McDaniel took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Mammy in “Gone With The Wind,” Hollywood was incessantly proud of itself. … In the light of more than seven decades, that moment and performance are tainted by our collective understanding of how hypocritical and patronizing it was.”

I totally see his point. But back then, in 1940, it WAS brave of the Academy to give her an Oscar.

He continues: “Not long from now — it surely won’t take decades, given the brisk pace of progress on matters of identity and sexuality these days — Leto’s award-winning performance as the sassy, tragic-yet-silly Rayon will belong in the dishonorable pantheon along with McDaniel’s Mammy.”

I’m not sure I agree, but to me, that’s not the point. In the here and now, Rayon is more a good thing than a not-good thing. I think that as people, like Friess, get deeper into subcultures – and I’m talking any subculture, including animal rescue, bicycle advocacy, adoption, craft beer, and, yes, LGBT issues — they lose sight of where the public is vs. where they are. I’ve taken this position in all the above subcultures I’ve been a part of. I’m in the moderate camp, but I really appreciate the more left-of-center view too. There’s room for all of us. (When Lina sees the movie, I’ll add her thoughts.)

I don’t think Rayon will advance the transgender cause all that much, but I don’t think she’ll hurt it. And to me, that’s hopeful.

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Seven answers about transgender issues

The Washington Post’s “She the People” blog ran a piece today titled “Seven Questions About Transgender Issues You Were Afraid to Ask.” that deserves mention. The biggest takeaway for me was this: “Sometimes it helps to think of gender as a spectrum instead of a binary where everyone fits neatly into two little boxes. Some people’s gender presentation is hyper feminine, others are hyper masculine, and some fall somewhere in the androgynous middle.” I’d add that it’s not just about “presentation” but also intention and internal thinking.

This for me has been challenging. I was much more comfortable when Lina became the other binary and not somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, at least externally. Not saying that’s right, just saying it’s what I felt. My struggle is to stay as open as possible — and I’m pretty darn open already and have been for decades.

The “Seven Questions” are wide-ranging, from sex vs. gender to ENDA and more. Worth a read, and I’m happy to see the exposure, as always.

Posted in Legal issues, Out and about, Physical appearance, Politics, Transgender | Leave a comment

‘Modern Love’ book spreads the word

201402_11_Love IlluminatedI was thrilled to learn a few months ago that my New York Times “Modern Love” column would be referred to in “Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers),” by Daniel Jones, editor of the wildly popular feature in the Times’ Sunday Style section.

Yeah, sure, ego played a role in my elation, but much more important is that the topic of transgender couples gets some attention. The more we’re out there, the more that other couples in our situation will feel that maybe, just maybe, they can make it work. And if they can’t or don’t, that’s OK, but perhaps they’ll be more inclined to stay open, respectful and loving during the process.

First, the book in general — read it! It just came out today! If you care about romance, relationships and love on any level, it will touch you. Dan divides chapters and organizes his material into various headings, including Pursuit, Connection, Vulnerability, Trust, and Infidelity. Lina and I are under the Loyalty heading. More on that later.

One lovely review in Elle and a feature/interview in Marie Claire say more than I could and better, so read them. Here’s a brief excerpt from the excellent Elle piece by Lynn Darling: “Jones proves an exceptional guide — droll, compassionate, nonjudgmental –through all of love’s many phases. …. Jones is an unabashed romantic, God bless him, and he celebrates love’s accidental nature, its capacity for mystery and — more important — redemption. ‘After all,’ he writes, ‘isn’t that what love, at its best, is about — healing wounds and being good?’ ” (I should add that the Elle piece mentioned our marriage as well — spreading the trans couple message even further!)

So, back to Lina and me. At first I bristled when I saw we were under the chapter titled Loyalty: The Devotion Test. (The book imparts stories and wisdom through little quizzes, a play on the ones found in women’s magazines.) My first thought was: I didn’t stay with Lina out of any sense of loyalty, but out of love, pure and simple. But, it’s true that I felt devoted to this person and her well-being, so perhaps loyalty kept me open to exploring the possibilities. To explain our story, Dan quoted from my Times essay. The quiz consisted of laying out parts of our story and then asking readers, “what would you do?” Dan praised those who kept an open mind and wanted more information. (The other example, by the way, involved a woman who stayed with a man who was HIV- positive, much older, and a former addict.)

At one point he wrote, “When we try to guess what we’d do based on hypothetical questions, we often underestimate our capacity to be able to adapt, to grow , and to love. We think: I could never do that. But when we find ourselves in the situation, we seem to find a way to do it. We’re stronger than we thought we were. Or perhaps we’re more attached than we ever imagined we could be.”

The answer, at least for me, is, we discover that love is the most powerful force imaginable.

I appreciated the way Dan summarized our story: “All in all, it has been a multiyear devotion test they have passed with flying (rainbow) colors. And today, years later, they remain very much together and in love.” The “rainbow” reference amused me. And it’s true, we are still together and very much in love!

So, I hope you’ll read the articles, the book, and keep up with Dan on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. If Dan is in your area, check him out in person (his schedule is on FB and he’ll Tweet it.) Tell him Diane and Lina sent you!

Posted in Books, Marriage, Media, Out and about, Transgender | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments