‘Modern Love’ essay: the gift that keeps giving

The essay that keeps giving returns to the spotlight, in a manner of speaking. Modern Love editor Daniel Jones has revised his compilation of essays to coincide with the upcoming Amazon series based on the popular New York Times column.

So you can now buy a copy of the “revised and updated” book, titled “Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Redemption. The best of the New York Times “Modern Love’ column.” (Broadway Books, $17, paperback)

My essay, first published in August 2011, is under the section titled “Holding on Through the Curves,” which, in my case, could be taken literally and metaphorically. Amusing. I can’t recall the headline from the original book, but in this one it’s the incredibly dull “My Husband is Now My Wife,” which was the online headline. But in print, the headline was the poetic “Once, a Husband.” I love that headline. Oh well. I’m still proud to be in the book and happy to have any trans views shared with a larger audience. I’m pretty sure they will never include our story in the TV series. That would be way too weird. (Although it was featured in the podcast, in 2017.)

So to anyone here seeking an update to our story: We’re still married (15 years this Oct. 30!), having tons of fun, argue well, bicker even better, and love each other deeply. We live in the Netherlands because Lina/Selina is Dutch. Some people assume we moved here for political reasons. Not the case at all. In fact, until Trump was elected, trans rights were stronger in the U.S. That is no longer the case, but I find the Dutch overall to be “tolerant” but not particularly progressive. The laws are on our side, and that counts for a lot.

In both the U.S. and NL, Lina and I have had no big issues with other people, and it’s not a thought that weighs on me heavily. That’s not to diminish the ongoing discrimination around the world and in the U.S., which is why I donate yearly to several advocacy groups and am happy to speak with any people seeking my assistance.

Although our life feels normal and happy, perhaps one day I’ll write about how certain stresses and fears never go away, or at least haven’t for me. Such as who to tell, who to let figure out, how and why I care what people think. Basic human emotions that we all grapple with in various areas of our lives. Meanwhile, my overall feeling is this: gratitude. Major, major gratitude for the love in my life. (And for that essay that keeps giving!)

Posted in Books, Family, Marriage, Media, Out and about, Politics, Transgender | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Empathetic electrologist highlights ‘Transgender Profiles’

There’s a classic TV commercial for hair-dyeing (as they used to call it back then) with the tagline “Does she or doesn’t she: only her hair dresser knows for sure.” In the male-to-female trans world, the tagline could be: “only her electrologist knows for sure.”

Hair removal is certainly one of the most stressful parts of transitioning. I still remember the name of Lina’s electrologist in North Carolina – Dana. I also wondered how she felt about falling into the trans world of hair removal, as she had become a favorite in the community.

Linda DeFruscio found herself in the same situation in the Boston area, and she’s written a book that shares lovely transition stories of some of her clients. It also includes FAQs and more.  “Transgender Profiles: Time for a Change” is sure to inspire anyone fearing those first steps, and is also a good primer for friends and family members. While everyone’s story is different, there are, as always, universal themes. Most of the tales are written in third person and a few in first person, along with the sharing of some transition letters. There’s even a father/son to mother/daughter story. All are told very much through the eyes of the person transitioning, so I can’t say that the spouses’ stories are heard, but of course it’s important to understand both sides.

One thing I really appreciated, along with the personal insight, is that Linda, in a brief paragraph at the end of most of the profiles, shares an overview of their treatment and the cost. Very helpful for people to see what goes into fighting facial, arm, etc., hair.

A personal aside: One of our friends noticed Lina’s smooth legs early on and said to me, rather horrified, Does W shave his LEGS???? And my immediate answer was, “Yeah, it’s a cyclist thing,” which in fact it is IF you’re a competitive (or wannabe) racer. Which Lina was not. But my friend didn’t know, so there. (To the few people who commented on Lina’s getting-longer-by-the-month hair, I’d say, “Yeah, it’s a Euro thing,” and since she is in fact Dutch, they seemed to accept that lame excuse as well!. All in all, I hated all the lying, but that’s a whole other story!)

I appreciated seeing a bit of Linda’s story as well, how she kind of fell into the transgender community. She knew people connected to Tapestry Magazine, which was an early “cross-dressing” magazine in the Boston area, and she ended up writing for them about hair removal and skin care. The magazine was affiliated with the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE), formed in 1990. I was quite aware of the group because as a newspaper writer in the Boston area in the 1990s, stories about the association and its support group would pop up from time to time. (Little did I know then….) It seems they no longer exist, but I can’t tell for sure. But for its time, the group was crucial for gender-questioning people.

And while indeed times have changed, and more and more people are transitioning earlier or have chosen to live non-binary lives, I’m sure there are and will continue to be a number of middle-aged folks (like many in Linda’s book) who finally find the courage and acceptance to transition after being held back by decades of fear, life circumstances, etc. Linda has all the empathy in the world for them, which shines through in these stories. They’re lucky to have her as a friend.

Posted in Books, Coping, Fashion, Out and about, Physical appearance, Surgery, Transgender | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

‘She Said’ a universal, personal wive’s tale

The thing that most surprises me and never surprises me at all is how other “wife of” stories are not at all like my story and totally like my story. Yep, the personal is universal, and indeed Anne M. Reid gets personal in her memoir “She Said, She Said: Love, Loss and Living My New Normal.”

An Australian expat living in rural Virginia (that’s a story alone!), Anne writes in almost real-time about her relationship with Paul, who became Paula. She navigates this surreal terrain while also raising their three young children. Anne writes in a very conversational, emotive style, which will appeal to women going through this or having gone through it. Every reaction she has, we’ve likely had or will, for those reading early on in the transition phase.

She aptly describes what she calls “living grief,” that is grieving for someone who is still there, but not. And, like most of us, she battles the “what-will-people-think” curse, converting to a same-sex marriage, and a change in physical and even emotional intimacy. And, as an expat myself, I deeply felt her personal and cultural isolation. I might have fled “home.” Overall, Anne is not afraid to show us her anger, vulnerabilities, and, most importantly, love.

Along with telling her deeply reflective personal story, Anne did exhaustive research into everything gender- and trans-related. And I do mean everything. Wow. So she’s really written two books in one – one focused on feelings and personal narrative and the other on much-needed education for spouses, families, children, friends, the workplace, the world! You’ll find it all in “She Said She Said.” (The second “She” refers to a portion that Paula wrote.)

Also, check out Anne’s website for a great collection of resources. Thanks for adding so much to the conversation, Anne!

Posted in Books, Coping, Family, Marriage, Out and about, Public reaction, Transgender | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The gift that keeps giving

Apparently my “Modern Love” article and podcast will be featured in a compilation of podcast listeners’ favorite episodes, airing today. I never realized how wide of a reach one essay could have. I am thrilled that my 1,400 words have helped open hearts and minds. Especially in this political/cultural climate, we can use every bit of understanding we can get. What a gift!

I also want to give a shout-out for the compilation show. I loved hearing all the different voices of listeners (voices are so powerful!) and also bits from the producers at the end. The editor, Dan Jones, mentioned how powerful it is to hear actors embodying the words of writers. Yes, that’s a big part of it, but I’ll add that equally important is the work the behind-the-scenes producers do, from the questions, timing, coaching and editing to the music and other sound effects. All these elements coming together to remind us how we’re all part of this human experience together.

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Danica Roem paves way for transgender politicians

Among the many pieces of positive election news today is this: Danica Roem was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and will be the first openly transgender person to serve in a state legislature. This, folks, is a big, big deal.

Perhaps even more shocking? She sings in a heavy metal band.

Danica won because she’s been an advocate for local issues for years. She won because people saw what she could do for them and voted accordingly.

Sometimes humanity wins out. Good luck, Danica, and thank you on many counts! (And here’s a nice PS to the story in the Washington Post.)

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Love goes a long way, but so does your support

Love is a super-human powerful tool, but it goes only so far. The truth is, bad things are happening all around, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions issuing back-to-back discriminatory actions aimed at revoking vital transgender protections and putting transgender people in harm’s way. Or Trump issuing an order to ban transgender people from serving in the military. If you care about transgender rights, I hope you’ll consider signing up to get news and alerts from some of my favorite nonprofit groups below. Even better, donate to the cause! And of course, please help spread the LOVE! Thank you!

Here they are:

Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. Transgender people still experience much prejudice and violence. TLDEF is committed to ending discrimination based upon gender identity and expression and to achieving equality for transgender people through public education, test-case litigation, direct legal services, community organizing and public policy efforts.

Human Rights Campaign. As the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, the Human Rights Campaign advocates on behalf of LGBT Americans, mobilizes grassroots actions in diverse communities, invests strategically to elect fair-minded individuals to office and educates the public about LGBT issues.

PFLAG: Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (and Trans, though it’s not in the name) is the grandmother of all gender preference/gender identity family-support groups. Though it does focus on gay families, there is a trans component. It’s a great place to start.

National Center for Transgender Equality is a social justice organization dedicated to advancing the equality of transgender people through advocacy, collaboration and empowerment.

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) holds the media accountable for the words and images they present and helps people and grassroots organizations communicate effectively.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force works to build the grassroots political power of the LGBT community to win complete equality through lobbying and legislation. It also reports on the positions of candidates for public office on issues of importance to the LGBT community.

Campaign for Southern Equality, based in Asheville, NC, is a national effort to assert the full humanity and equality of lesbian,gay,bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in American life and to increase public support for LGBT rights.

Posted in Legal issues, Media, Politics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Turn up the volume — the ‘Modern Love’ podcast is here!

So, OK, the podcast reading of my Modern Love essay is out! You can hear it in two places. If you go here you get the transcript and photos.  If you go to the original essay, there’s a button halfway down for the podcast. Here’s the backstory of how the podcast was made.

Of course, I feel exposed all over again, but I know the spotlight loses its glare quickly. All the attention is worth it if it helps open any hearts and minds.

The reader, actor Ann Dowd (“Handmaid’s Tale”), breathed life and love into my written words, expressing emotions that revealed her own humanity. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ann! The producers did an outstanding job of creating their own work of art, adding sound effects to my story and crafting a transcript that touches on its main points. Hours and hours of work go into each episode.

Although reading or hearing my essay immediately takes me back to those times, seven-plus years ago, I feel so very differently now. Life has totally normalized, with only the occasional issue of “what will people think?” and also the constant “coming out” that goes with living as a perceived lesbian. These things are pretty minor. Day to day, I feel zero trans-related trauma or sadness.

And, now, a few final words on the podcast content. Overall I loved it and have totally positive feelings. But as an editor, I must do my editing duty. And so … I wish they hadn’t started with a focus on marriage vows and commitments. My staying with Lina has nothing to do with that. It’s because I love her and am happy with her.  Nitpick: I wished they’d specified “North Carolina” with “Durham.”

There are two larger topics I wish had been included, but I totally understand and respect that these are craft decisions made within time constraints. First, I want people to know that the trans political and cultural climate is no better or worse here in the Netherlands – we’re here only because it’s Lina’s turn to live in her country. Lina is Dutch and her family is here. Some people (wrongly) assume that all Dutch are liberal and progressive. Second, there was no mention of living as a lesbian. This is a big concern to many “wives of.” Not only do we lose our husbands, we must take on a new public identity. Big change. It’s something a lot of people ask me about. For me, that part is fine, but for many women, it’s understandably unacceptable. As I tell every transitioning couple who ask, there should be no pressure to stay married!

And, finally, this blog is mentioned as something I keep up, but the truth is I rarely post because trans topics are not top of my mind. That said, I do keep up the all-important Resources page, I answer every trans-related email that comes my way, and I stay politically aware and involved from afar.

Thank you, dear readers and listeners, for caring!

Posted in Coping, Family, Friends, Marriage, Media, Out and about, Physical appearance, Public reaction, Romance, Surgery, Transgender, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

When the ‘Modern Love’ podcast comes calling

I got word in early August that WBUR in Boston, which puts together the “Modern Love” podcast, was going to use my 2011 essay about going through Lina’s transition. (The episode is “dropping” later today here, and since I’m six hours ahead in the Netherlands, I might have to wait until tomorrow to hear it.)

My first thoughts were Yay! followed by Crap! As a writer, it’s a huge honor to receive that sort of recognition. As a relatively private person occasionally sharing transgender stories in the safety of my little blog and with “friends who know,” it means another round of being in the spotlight. (For those who wonder how Lina feels about the spotlight, our deal was this: She gets to be the transgender person she is and I get to be the writer I am. We support each other’s authentic selves!)

I’m super excited that actor Ann Dowd is the reader. Her last role, as “Aunt Lydia” in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” recently earned her an Emmy, and her acceptance speech was charming. I read that she’s a supporter of foster care, and as a former foster mother, I salute that! She seems down to earth (check!), and I like that she was born in 1956 and I’m from 1957, so we’ve both lived long enough to know what our priorities are. I’m curious to hear what she’ll say about my essay during her podcast remarks. Heck, I’m curious to hear what *I’ll* say, because in case you don’t know how these things work, here’s a behind-the-scenes summary. (I worked briefly on a public radio show, so luckily had a clue beforehand.)

First, for the “where they are now” segment after the reading, I was pre-interviewed by managing producer Jessica Alpert, who led the team that launched the podcast last year. I knew she was using the content from that talk to formulate questions for the taped interview. We ended up taping at WUNC in Chapel Hill, N.C., while I happened to be visiting the U.S. in late August. (WUNC is also where I had my little stint in radio – too funny.) I wrote down major topics and keywords on a piece of paper to keep me on point as I sat alone in a studio wearing a headset while Jessica spoke from her studio in Boston. Also in the ‘BUR studio was Caitlin O’Keefe, who later would edit my hour-long of rambling down to I’m guessing 10 minutes max. (I’ll find out soon enough!) Everyone was super respectful and sensitive, as expected.

As for Ann Dowd’s part, weeks later, ‘BUR producer Amory Sivertson directed Ann’s reading. I’m guessing Ann was in NYC and Amory in Boston, but I don’t know. The way it works is producers match essays with hoped-for readers, sometimes offering them up a couple to see which resonates. (For the record, neither the writer nor the “talent” are paid. We donate our time for various reasons, but I’d like to think it’s mostly because we believe in the power of story. And, yeah, there are the PR points as well.) What will surprise non-radio folks is that the host, Meghna Chakrabarti, doesn’t interact with the reader or writer. Ahhh, the magic of audio mixing.

So, as you can see, it takes a village – and that’s not even counting the engineers’ important role! Also, going back even further, I received invaluable essay feedback from the amazing Anna Jean “AJ” Mayhew and her writing group in Hillsborough, N.C. , in early 2011. Then, after my essay was selected to be published (in 2011), “Modern Love” editor Daniel Jones tightened and polished it further.

In a funny twist, today happens to be Coming Out Day. So, OK, here we go again! The reason I “come out” is to show support for people transitioning and their loved ones and anyone grappling with trans questions. Now, as the political, legal, and cultural scenes grow darker and darker, I’m glad to offer any ray of light, but donating time and money to activist causes also is key. See my “Resources” page if you want some ideas. Please give of your time, your money and, most of all, your heart!

Posted in Family, Friends, Marriage, Media, Out and about, Romance, Surgery, Transgender | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

A transgender marriage? What’s the big deal?

On one hand:

What’s the big deal? We’re just a normal married couple leading a typical life.

On the other:

Yes, it’s a BIG DEAL! We went through a gender transition and it was traumatic and I want to keep talking about it so others going through it will know they’re not crazy or alone. And so the rest of the world might be a little more understanding and empathetic.

Therein lies the duality of I’m guessing anyone who has suffered anything traumatic but ultimately positive. You want to talk about it, you want to explain and share and hopefully help others going through the same thing. But you also want to live a normal life and be treated normally because the truth is, you FEEL normal. (Putting aside the esoteric “what is normal” question.) In a way, maybe it’s like “I can talk mean about my family, but don’t YOU dare!”

There’s also the issue at the core of transgender rights – most transgender people don’t want to be “out” any more than someone with something they’re hiding and have dealt with wants to share that – be it a scar, missing limb or hidden past. What has helped the gay rights movement is to be OUT, to show everyone that they know someone who is gay. That’s a lot tougher in the trans world. So, it’s why I do what I do, but I don’t always want to do it. For instance, in my hometown and around most new people I meet, it’s not something I reveal.

Because, like I said, it’s a BIG DEAL. I mean, what’s the big deal, right?

Posted in Coping, Family, Friends, Marriage, Out and about, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

‘The Ties That Bind’ an unflinching look at family

About a decade ago, while living in Durham, NC, I met Diana Newton through PFLAG Triangle. She was just starting to work on a documentary film about her former brother now sister, Christine, with a focus on examining how her Southern family reacted to the news and to one another. I was working on a writing project, and we got to together regularly to give feedback, trade ideas and mostly cheer each other on.

Fast forward: I’m cheering WILDLY for my friend, whose film – “The Ties That Bind” – came out this year! It’s now on the festival circuit, even winning the “best documentary” award at the Marquee on Main Film Festival sponsored by Arts of the Pamlico in NC.

I’m thrilled to include the film in my resources list here. It’s  especially great for families because it’s a deep, honest and hopeful look at how a regular family with a mix of ages and conservative and liberal views grapples with a transgender transition – and, most importantly – with one another. Because as we alumni know, when one person transitions, everyone around us does too.

Diana, often with Christine, has attended screenings and answered questions afterward. I’m so proud of and grateful to both of them for sharing their stories, not only about the effects of transitioning, but the ways we all struggle in our families to remain empathetic, loving and respectful. Everyone can all relate to that, whatever the circumstances.

You can view a trailer here, which also includes information on streaming or purchasing the film. I hope you’ll check it out!

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